The Sentence

We now come to the sentence. You already know about the phrase and the clause.

What is a Sentence?

A sentence is...

  • either a single finite independent clause

  • or a group of connected clauses among which at least one is finite and independent

A Sentence with a 'Single Clause'

Example: A man had two sons.

A single clause, as above, is sufficient for a sentence since it is finite and independent...

  • finite - because it contains a finite verb had.
  • independent - because it can stand on its own without needing another.

Having a finite independent clause is both a necessary and sufficient condition.

  • "necessary condition" - i.e. the fulfilment of the condition is required (or there would be no sentence)

  • "sufficient condition" - i.e. having a finite independent clause is enough for a sentence; nothing extra is needed.

A Sentence with a 'Group of Clauses'

Example: After he had collected his share of the property, the younger son left for a distant place and there (he) wasted his money on a life of debauchery.

There are three clauses and two connecting words in this example.

  1. After
  2. he had collected his share of the property
  3. the younger son left for a distant place
  4. and
  5. there (he) wasted his money on a life of debauchery

2, 3, and 5 are the clauses; and 1 and 4 are the connecting words.

How are Clauses Connected Within a Sentence?

When two clauses are connected, they may have either of these two relationships:

  1. a relationship of equality

  2. a relationship of dependence

The Relationship of Equality

The following two clauses...

  • the son left for a distant place
  • there (he) wasted his money on a life of debauchery
...are connected with the connector and, and in the resulting sentence, either clause has equal rank.

How do we know they are of equal rank?

Here's a test...

If with either of the two clauses, we ask any of the following questions: what, whom, which, what kind of, how, when, where, why; we do not get the other clause as an answer, because that other clause is independent.

For instance, if you ask the question:
"The younger son left for a distant place" - when/where/why/...?
you don't get the other clause as the answer.

The Relationship of Dependence

Here too, we have two clauses...

  • (after) he had collected his share of the property
  • the younger son left for a distant place
...connected with the connecting word after. In the resulting sentence, the first clause depends on the second.

How do we know that?

If you use the test I mentioned above, and ask the question when with the second clause, you get the first clause as an answer along with the connecting word. That's why we always include the connecting word as part of the dependent (i.e. depending) clause.

  • Question: "The younger son left for a distant place." - When?
  • Answer: "after he had collected his share of the property"

So, What is Essential in a Sentence?

  • There should be at least one finite independent clause.
  • The total number of clauses may be only one or interconnected many.

You may have any number of clauses. You may have more than one independent clause. It does not matter.

It doesn't also matter if there are non-finite clauses or not. They are not essential.

Types of Sentences

The various types are Simple, Complex and Compound (also sometimes a fourth type, Complex-compound). They are based on the pattern of combination of independent and dependent finite clauses.

Simple Sentence

It contains a single clause. Remember it needs to be an independent finite clause. - e.g. Then he came back to his senses.

Complex Sentence

It contains a number of clauses, which depend, directly or indirectly, upon one single independent clause. - e.g. When he had spent all the money, that country experienced a severe famine.

Compound Sentence

It is a mixture of sentences. Each sentence that is part of a Compound Sentence is called a Coordinate Clause.

A coordinate clause may be a simple sentence or a complex sentence. This means...

A Compound Sentence may have any of the following mixing patterns:

1. Simple + Simple + ....

e.g. I will leave this place and (I will) go back to my father.

When the Coordinate Clauses are all Simple Sentences, then the combined sentence is called simply a Compound Sentence. (In my opinion, it should be called a Simple Compound Sentence.)

2. Complex + Simple + ....

For example: While the young man was still a long way off, his father saw him and (he) was moved with pity.

Some people call this type of sentence (as well as the one following) a Complex-compound Sentence because at least one of the constituents is a Complex Sentence.

3. Complex + Complex + ....

e.g. Now the elder son, who was out in the fields, was coming back and as he drew near the house, he heard music and dancing.

I Think...

As I implied a little earlier, I would find it more consistent to divide Compound Sentences into...

  • Simple Compound Sentences, and
  • Complex Compound Sentences

...if we have at all to divide them!


<  Phrase <  Clause Sentence

For Further Reading and Study...


Related Pages

The World of Sentences

The Phrase

A Semantic Understanding of the Phrase

The Clause

The Sentence

Parts of a Sentence

Sentence Structure

Subject of a Sentence