I Know It When I See It: The Sentence

Sentence: Stop!

Sentence: You stop!

Sentence: You better stop right now.

Each of these three word groups is a sentence. That's because they each meet the three requirements for a sentence. To be a sentence, a group of words must …

Strictly Speaking

How can “Stop!” be a sentence, when it's clearly lacking a subject? It is a sentence because the subject, you, is understood rather than stated outright. A one-word command is the shortest possible English sentence.

A sentence has two parts: a subject and a predicate. The subject includes the noun or pronoun that tells what the subject is about. The predicate includes the verb that describes what the subject is doing. Here are some examples of complete sentences.

New York Cityis called the “Big Apple.”
The forward with the knee bracemade 10 baskets.

Seek and Ye Shall Find

Being able to recognize the subject and the verb in a sentence will help you make sure that your own sentences are complete and clear. To check that you've included the subject and verb in your sentences, follow these steps:

  1. To find the subject, ask yourself, “Self, what word is the sentence describing?”
  2. To find an action verb, ask yourself, “Self, what did the subject do?”
  3. If you can't find an action verb, look for a linking verb. For example: Herman is the winner. “Is” is the linking verb.

Hidden Treasures

Some sentences are not that cooperative about the placement of their subject and verb, however. In most sentences, the subject will come before the verb. Not so with questions. In a question, the verb often comes before the subject. Here are some examples:

To find the subject in a question, rewrite the question as a statement. The question “Is the frog in the freezer?” becomes “The frog is in the freezer.” Now the subject, frog, is in the usual position before the verb.

It can be equally tricky to find the subject in sentences that start with here or there. Remember that here or there never function as the subject of a sentence. For example:

To find the subject in a sentence that starts with here or there, use the same strategy you learned for questions: Rewrite the sentence to place the subject first.

book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style © 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at and Barnes & Noble.


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