The Sentence: A definition
What is a sentence? A sentence is "a group of words that contains a subject, a verb, expresses a complete thought and makes sense."1 In English, as in other languages, there are four main types of sentences. The four types are declarative, interrogative, exclamatory, and imperative.
Sentences can be simple - containing only one subject and one verb, complex - containing two or more subjects and verbs with a subordinating conjunction on either clause, compound - containing two or more subjects and verbs joined by a coordinating conjunction or a semicolon.
Jim went home.
Although Jim went home, he will come again tomorrow.
Jim went home but, he will come again tomorrow.
The key to identifying sentences is the ability to identify the parts of a sentence.
The first part of a sentence that you should be able to recognize is the verb. The verb is the most important part of a sentence,
because it tells what is happening or what it is that exists. NOTE: If no verb exists, no sentence exists.
Finding the Verb
To find the verb in a sentence, ask which word shows action:
run jump play think
or state of being.
is were have became
Next, decide whether the word can be changed to show past, present, or future time.
He is here. He was here. He will be here.
He runs home. He ran home. He will run home.
A word that does not show time is not the main verb of the sentence. Look at the following sentence. Which word is the main verb of the sentence.
The barking dog jumped on the woman.
Try changing the sentence to future tense. Which word would you change? The word that changes to future tense is the main verb.
Could this be a sentence?
The will bark dog jumped on the woman.
It isn't a sentence because "barking" is not the verb of the sentence. The word "barking" in the original sentence is functioning as an adjective and is modifying the noun "dog." The verb in the original sentence is "jumped." The tense of the verb "jumped" can be changed to future tense.
The barking dog will jump on the woman.
Finding the subject
Once you find the verb, the next step is to locate the subject. This should be relatively easy once you know what the verb is. The subject is the noun (person or thing) doing the action of the verb or being the rest of the sentence.
The guests enjoyed the party. [Did the guests enjoy or did the party enjoy? The guest enjoyed so "guests" is the subject.]
I ate breakfast at the hotel this morning. [Did my breakfast eat? NO. Did this morning eat? NO. I ate, so I is the subject.]
1Most textbooks define a sentence as "a group of words that contains a subject,
a verb and expresses a complete thought." I have added "must make sense" because I have read many sentences that meet the
original criteria but do not make sense.