What Makes a Sentence?

An excellent question! I’m talking grammatically rather than judicially.

In fact, ‘an excellent question’ isn’t really a sentence, if you follow the basic rules.

The Simple Rules for Sentences:

Every sentence must have a subject.
Every sentence must have an object.
Every sentence must have a verb.

(There are more rules, by the way. Such as: full stops, capital letters;.never start a sentence with ‘and’, ‘but’ or ‘because’; never end a sentence with a preposition.)

Back to ‘an excellent question’.
There’s no subject in that sentence. There is no verb in that sentence.

Now, we can argue that the subject and verb is implied: that is an excellent question; ‘that’ is the subject and ‘is’ is the verb, even though they aren’t actually there. But who wants to think that hard? You understood it, didn’t you?

But then again, we could just disregard the rules and accept that not everything follows the rules.

“Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men.”― Douglas Bader

The truth lies somewhere in the middle. It’s OK to disregard the rules, if you know the rules to begin with. Ignorance is not an excuse for bad grammar. Some of the cleverest pieces of prose and poetry have been written by blatantly ignoring the rules, but by doing so knowingly.

We live in an age where brevity is king. Why use 10 words when three will do? Why even use three words, when just three letters will do — OMG, LOL? Why use three letters when an emoji will do — 😲 😂? (Unless you are in ‘management speak’ when the motto is: why use 10 words when 30 will do?) But neither of these make good reading — unless you are in a hurry (or want to impress your boss!).

So, what does make a sentence? I believe that a sentence is whatever makes sense in the context in which it’s used. Let’s be honest, a text that said ‘laugh out loud’ instead of LOL every time would be just plain weird. But if you were happily writing the next crime or romance novel, having an 😲 emoji every time someone was shocked would be just as strange.

Whilst, as a proofreader, it is my job to notice the sentences that don’t follow the rules, it is also my job to ignore the rules for the sake of the whole piece, just as long as it makes sense.

So, in the spirit is disregarding rules as long as you know them to begin with, I am renaming sentences and calling them ‘sensetences’.

See what I did there?