Sentence (grammar)

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This article is about the meaning of sentence in the study of grammar. AWE also has articles on

the different meanings of sentence; and
the spelling of sentence

The sentence is the Unit of Language that is most obvious when you read it - it starts with a Capital (upper case) letter and ends with a full stop.

(Some writers are not sure where to put the full stop in their own writing. If you understand grammar, it may help; see also punctuation. Basically, you need a full stop every time you use a new Subject word - unless you have some other kind of connection, usually a conjunction or 'joining word'.)

The easiest sentences to analyse are those that contain exactly one Clause. These are called Simple Sentences. (This is an example.) However, most sentences - certainly in academic English - are multiple sentences. These contain more than one Clause, in one or both of two ways.

  • The first is the compound sentence, which contains at least two Clauses linked by co-ordinating conjunctions ('and', 'but', 'or', and 'nor' - as well as 'either' and 'neither'). The two Clauses are of equal importance in a grammatical - if not a logical - sense. "I got up and I got dressed and I had breakfast and we went out" is a typical childish version, with four Clauses. A more academic example with two Clauses is "Demand rose, but supply fell". All the Clauses in a compound sentence are called Main Clauses, chiefly because of the fact that the other kind of Multiple sentence - the complex sentence - contains subordinate clauses
  • Complex sentences have a Main Clause which is felt, in grammatical terms to be 'commanding' the sentence. It may not be as important in terms of its meaning as the other, subordinate, Clauses. (The word subordinate implies that they 'take orders from', or are less important than, the Main or superordinate, Clause.) For example, the sentence "He said that he would resign the next day" has two Clauses, "He said" and "that he would resign the next day". The first has a Subject + (transitive) Verb, and so needs to be completed by a Direct Object. The second, subordinate, Clause, is the Direct Object - it is what he said. In context, the information about the resignation is probably more important than the news that the speaker spoke. But "He said" is still the Main Clause, grammatically speaking.