What is a sentence?
Nov 28, 2016 Teaching 685 Views
What is a sentence?
by Mirta Martes-Rivera
Guys, what is a sentence? Read the following examples:
Help!, I’m here. , Please, open the door. Teaching English for Academic Purposes (EAP) to undergraduate students helps them write academic essays aimed to achieve different purposes (i.e., to inform, to persuade, to explain, to define, to describe). In this academic task, students need to master aspects of writing, namely style; it is here where I find myself asking them, Guys, what is a sentence? Frankly, the response to the question is not simple but complex, as there are multiple answers, and guess what, all of them are correct.
The question “What is a sentence?” is answered by traditional grammar “as a group of words that expresses a complete thought.” (Priscian c. 500 A.D.). However, one asks what mark of punctuation does this “group of words expressing a complete thought” need? The answer to the question is simple: capital letter in the opening, and a mark of punctuation (e.g., period, ellipsis, exclamatory mark, question mark) at the end. And this answer is acceptable since it relates to rules of mechanics. However, can one say that “a group of words expressing a complete thought” has a subject and a verb? Of course, this answer defines the syntactic structure of a standard sentence in English. Nevertheless, what happens when college students answer the question with “a sentence is a group of words used to say something, to give an order, to ask. ” Is this answer incorrect? Certainly not! It refers to different kinds of sentences: declarative, exclamatory, imperative, interrogative.
Furthermore, is it correct to answer the question as “a group of words that has a main clause and a dependent clause.” Yes, this answer highlights types of sentence structure, namely simple sentences, compound sentences, complex sentences, and compound-complex sentences. What can the teacher say when first-year students answer, “a sentence has a noun, a verb, and a complement.” Is this answer incorrect? Nope, it merely relates to the standard order (i.e., syntax) parts of speech follow in a non-deviant sentence in English. Moreover, what about the answer “a sentence has meaning.” It is also correct as it covers the area of meaning(semantics). Last, what can the teacher say when students answer “A sentence is an expression said by one speaker, and the other speaker listens to it.” Well, the teacher needs to say the answer is correct; it refers to acts of speech (i.e., communication, speech pathology).
The answer to the question “What is a sentence?” is not simple but complex. It covers many linguistic aspects, namely meaning (semantics), structure (syntax), and mechanics (punctuation), and grammar among others. To answer the question “What is a sentence? requires thinking and analysis. First to define it, and second to analyze it…. Yesterday she went to the park
and saw her fiancé sitting on a bench talking to a woman, so when she approached them, they were so surprised that any of them could speak to her, so she said to him,“ Hi, are we gonna have lunch as we planned on Monday?”, so he replied , “I forgot.”, and she said “you forgot? ”
Bolinger, D. (1981). Aspects of Language. Boston: Harcourt College Pub.
Palmer, F. R. (1981). Semantics. 2nd. ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mirta Martes-Rivera, M.A., M.Ed.
College of General Studies
University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras