11 Characteristics of a Complete English Sentence

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The sentence is the most significant grammatical unit consisting of words, phrases, and clauses. The grammar of any language is organized based on this largest structural unit. Though innumerable definitions of the sentence exist, there is no complete, perfect, or undisputable definition.

As we don’t have a perfect sentence definition, it is better to know its essential characteristics. I have identified 11 characteristics of a sentence. If any of the features I am about to mention is not found in a sentence, we cannot consider it a complete sentence.

1. Must have a group of words

complete sentence

A sentence is the largest structural unit of a language and must contain a group of words that convey a complete idea. This is crucial for effective communication, allowing speakers and writers to express thoughts clearly and coherently.

In language learning, forming complete sentences is essential. A sentence must consist of multiple words to make sense. This group of words works together to convey a full thought, the cornerstone of clear communication.

When children learn a language, they start with single words and gradually combine them into longer phrases. The ultimate goal is to form complete sentences that express full ideas. A sentence like “Rashid is a very brilliant boy” shows how a group of words can communicate a complete thought. It has a subject (Rashid) and a predicate (is a very brilliant boy).

Example 1: Rashid is a very brilliant boy.

Example 2: He likes sweets.

Similarly, “He likes sweets” is another complete sentence. Although shorter, it has a subject (He) and a predicate (likes sweets). Both examples illustrate that a sentence must be more than just a single word; it must be a group of words that convey a complete idea together. This grouping of words is fundamental in making the sentence a complete and understandable unit.

Complete sentences are vital for clarity. Communication would be fragmented and confusing without a group of words working together. This characteristic ensures that sentences are clear, making communication effective and meaningful.

2. Should make complete sense

complete sentence

A complete sentence must be meaningful. If a group of words is put together but doesn’t make sense as a whole, it cannot be considered a complete sentence. For a sentence to be complete, it must convey a clear and understandable meaning.

A sentence that doesn’t make sense fails to communicate effectively. For instance, “Goes he every day gym to the” is just a jumbled group of words. It doesn’t form a coherent thought and therefore is not a complete sentence.

Incomplete sentence: Goes he every day gym to the. (Does not make any sense)
Complete sentence: He goes to the gym every day. (Makes complete sense)

The examples show that merely stringing words together doesn’t always result in a sensible sentence. The words must be arranged in a logical order to convey a clear message. A sentence like “He goes to the gym every day” makes sense because the words are in the correct order, and the sentence conveys a complete idea.

Having a meaningful sentence is crucial for communication. It ensures that the listener or reader understands the message being conveyed. Therefore, to have a complete sentence, the words should be put in a sensible order that makes total sense. This characteristic is fundamental to effective communication.

3. Must contain a subject

complete sentence

Every complete sentence must contain a subject. The subject is the mandatory element that the sentence revolves around, discussing its action, being, or existence. A subject is usually a noun or a pronoun and can be the name of a person, place, thing, or concept.

A subject gives a sentence its focus. Without a subject, there is no clear indication of who or what the sentence is about. For instance, in the sentence “Sadik plays football well,” the subject is “Sadik,” a person. The sentence focuses on Sadik’s action, which is playing football.

Example 1: Sadik plays football well.
(Sadik—a person, is the subject of this sentence. The sentence is all about an action of Sadik, which is “playing football.”)

Example 2: Sadik is an intelligent boy.
(Sadik—a person, is the subject of this sentence. The sentence is all about the being or existence of Sadik.)

In some cases, the subject may not be explicitly visible but can be understood from the context, especially in imperative sentences. For example, “Please, call the police” is a request directed to someone. Here, the subject is implied, understood as “you.”

Example 3: Please, call the police.
(This is a request to someone. The subject “you” is implied.)

The presence of a subject ensures that the sentence has a clear focus and meaning. It allows the sentence to convey who or what is performing the action or being described. This characteristic is essential for constructing complete and coherent sentences.

4. Verb is mandatory

complete sentence

A verb is an essential component of any English sentence. We can’t think of any clause or sentence without a verb. Though a sentence may have more than one verb, and there can be different types and forms of verbs, a sentence must have a finite verb and a subject at the minimum.

The verb is the action or state of being in a sentence. Without a verb, a sentence cannot express what the subject is doing or experiencing. For instance, in the sentence “We like to play cricket,” the verb “play” indicates the action.

Example 1: We like to play cricket.
(“Play” is a finite/main verb in this sentence.)

Example 2: He writes very well.
(“Writes” is a finite/main verb in this sentence.)

Example 3: My brother is a teacher.
(“Is” is the finite/main verb in this sentence.)

It’s important to note the difference between finite/main verbs and non-finite/auxiliary verbs. Finite verbs like “play,” “writes,” and “is” change form based on the subject and tense. Auxiliary verbs like “am,” “is,” “are,” “was,” and “were” help form different tenses, moods, or voices of the main verb.

In every complete sentence, the verb is mandatory as it expresses the action or state of the subject. This makes the sentence meaningful and allows it to convey a full idea.

5. Must have two parts—subject & predicate

Subject and predicate are two essential parts of a complete sentence. The subject tells us what or who the sentence is about, and the predicate tells us about the subject. The subject is always a noun or a pronoun, while the predicate is the rest of the sentence, containing the verb and any necessary modifiers.

A sentence must have both a subject and a predicate to convey a complete idea. The subject introduces the main focus of the sentence, and the predicate provides information about the subject. For example, in “Steve Jobs was a brilliant guy,” “Steve Jobs” is the subject, and “was a brilliant guy” is the predicate.

Example 1: Steve Jobs was a brilliant guy.
(“Steve Jobs” is the subject the sentence is talking about, and “was a brilliant guy” is the predicate that tells us about the subject—Steve Jobs.)

Example 2: The children are playing football in the garden.
(“The children” is the subject here about whom the sentence is talking, and “are playing football in the garden” is the predicate that tells us about the subject—The children.)

In both examples, the subject identifies who or what the sentence is discussing, and the predicate details the subject. This structure is crucial for forming clear and complete sentences.

The subject and predicate work together to create a meaningful statement. Without both parts, a sentence would be incomplete and unable to convey a full idea. This characteristic ensures that every sentence is informative and complete.

6. Contains one or more clauses

A complete sentence must have at least one clause. We can have four kinds of sentences depending on the structure or number of clauses. Whether a sentence is assertive or imperative, simple or compound, it must have a clause or more than one clause.

A clause is a group of words with a subject and a predicate. Sentences can have a single clause or multiple clauses. For instance, “It may rain today” is a one-clause sentence. The clause includes a subject (“It”) and a predicate (“may rain today”), making it a complete sentence.

Example 1: It may rain today.
(One-clause sentence)

Example 2: Please wait right here until your brother comes.
(Two-clause sentence)

In the second example, “Please wait right here” is the main clause, and “until your brother comes” is the subordinate clause. Together, they form a complete sentence with two clauses.

Note: There are two kinds of clauses—independent and dependent. A sentence without an independent clause is not a complete sentence. An independent clause can stand alone as a sentence, while a dependent clause cannot.

Having one or more clauses ensures a sentence is complete and conveys complex ideas. This characteristic is vital for creating informative and structurally sound sentences.

7. Must have a communicative function

complete sentence

A sentence must have a definite communicative function. The purpose of uttering any sentence is to communicate. We communicate for many reasons, including providing information, asking for information, requesting actions, and expressing feelings or attitudes.

Each sentence serves a specific communicative purpose. For instance, “Rana is a bright student” provides information about Rana. This type of sentence conveys facts or details about someone or something.

Example: Rana is a bright student.
(To provide information about something or someone)

When we need to find or ask for information, we use questions. For example, “Is Rana a good student?” seeks information from someone about Rana.

Example: Is Rana a good student?
(To find or ask for information about someone or something from someone)

We also use sentences to ask someone to do something. For instance, “Sit down, please” is a polite request for action.

Example: Sit down, please.
(To ask someone to do something)

Finally, sentences can express feelings or attitudes. For example, “How cute the baby is!” conveys a feeling about the baby.

Example: How cute the baby is!
(To express feelings or attitudes about someone or something)

All these example sentences serve the sole purpose of communication. Therefore, having a definite communicative function is one of the essential characteristics of a sentence. It ensures that sentences are meaningful and purposeful in various contexts.

8. Begins with a capital letter

One of the common characteristics of a complete sentence is that it begins with a capital letter. No matter what kind of sentence you write, you must start the sentence with a capital letter. This rule applies to all types of sentences, ensuring clarity and proper punctuation.

Starting a sentence with a capital letter signals the beginning of a new thought. It helps readers easily identify where one sentence ends and another begins. For example, “This is my cousin” starts with a capital letter, making it clear and easy to read.

Incorrect: this is my cousin. his name is John.
Correct: This is my cousin. His name is John.

In the incorrect examples, starting the sentences with lowercase letters makes them harder to read and understand. Proper capitalization at the beginning of each sentence improves readability and maintains standard grammatical rules.

Beginning sentences with capital letters is a simple yet crucial rule that ensures sentences are easily distinguishable and properly formatted. This characteristic is essential for writing clear and grammatically correct sentences.

9. Ends with a punctuation mark

If a sentence does not end with any punctuation mark, it is not considered complete. Sentences usually end with one of three punctuation marks: a full stop (.), a question mark (?), or an exclamation mark (!).

Punctuation marks signal the end of a sentence and clarify its function. For instance, “Allah helps those who help them” ends with a period, indicating a declarative statement.

Example 1: Allah helps those who help them.
(A declarative sentence ending with a full stop/period)

Example 2: Are you from India?
(A question ending with a question mark)

Example 3: What a beautiful moon this is!
(An exclamation ending with an exclamation mark)

The function of the sentence determines the punctuation mark used. A question mark is used for interrogative sentences, such as “Are you from India?” An exclamation mark is used for exclamatory sentences, like “What a beautiful moon this is!” A full stop/period is used for declarative and imperative sentences, such as “Allah helps those who help them.”

Proper punctuation at the end of a sentence ensures clarity and proper sentence structure. This characteristic is essential for making sentences complete and easily understood.

10. Should have one of the five functions

English sentences can be categorized based on their functions. There are five types of sentences in English, each serving a specific purpose. These functional categories are:

1. Assertive Sentences

Assertive sentences, also known as declarative sentences, state facts or provide information. They end with a period.

Example: The sky is blue.

2. Interrogative Sentences

Interrogative sentences ask questions and end with a question mark.

Example: What is your name?

3. Imperative Sentences

Imperative sentences give commands, make requests, or offer invitations. They often end with a period but can also end with an exclamation mark for emphasis.

Example: Please close the door.

4. Optative Sentences

Optative sentences express wishes or prayers and often start with “may.”

Example: May you have a great day!

5. Exclamatory Sentences

Exclamatory sentences express strong emotions or feelings and end with an exclamation mark.

Example: What a beautiful day it is!

Each type of sentence serves a unique role in communication, helping to convey different kinds of information and emotions. Understanding these categories is essential for mastering the use of English sentences.

11. Must follow one of the four structures

English sentences can be categorized based on their structures. There are four types of sentences in English, considering their structures or forms. These types are:

1. Simple Sentences

Simple sentences contain one independent clause. They have a subject and a predicate and express a complete thought.

Example: The cat sleeps.

2. Complex Sentences

Complex sentences contain one independent clause and at least one dependent clause. The dependent clause provides additional information but cannot stand alone as a complete sentence.

Example: Although it was raining, we went for a walk.

3. Compound Sentences

Compound sentences contain two or more independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) or a semicolon.

Example: I wanted to go for a run, but it started to rain.

4. Compound-Complex Sentences

Compound-complex sentences have at least two independent clauses and one or more dependent clauses. This structure combines the elements of both compound and complex sentences.

Example: While I was reading, my friend called, and we decided to meet later.

Understanding these structural types of sentences is crucial for effective writing and communication. Each type allows for varying levels of complexity and detail, enabling writers to convey their messages clearly and effectively.


Final Note

Now, we know the different essential characteristics of a sentence. Since it is difficult to define a sentence in just a few words, it is better to remember all the attributes of a complete sentence. Understanding these characteristics will help us identify whether a sentence is grammatically correct or incorrect.

I hope the above discussion will provide you with a guide to learning how a complete sentence should be.

Thanks for reading.

Happy learning!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a complete sentence?

A complete sentence is a group of words that contains a subject and a predicate and expresses a complete thought. It starts with a capital letter and ends with a punctuation mark.

Why must a sentence have a subject?

A sentence must have a subject because the subject tells who or what the sentence is about. It provides the focus of the sentence.

What role does a verb play in a sentence?

A verb is essential in a sentence because it indicates the subject’s action or state of being. Without a verb, a sentence cannot express a complete thought.

How do punctuation marks complete a sentence?

Punctuation marks complete a sentence by signaling the end of the sentence. They ensure clarity and indicate whether the sentence is a statement, question, or exclamation.

What is the function of a predicate in a sentence?

The predicate provides information about the subject of the sentence. It includes the verb and explains what the subject is doing or describes the subject’s state of being.

How many types of sentences based on function?

Five types of sentences are based on function: assertive, interrogative, imperative, optative, and exclamatory. Each type serves a specific communicative purpose.

What are the structural types of sentences?

The four structural types of sentences are simple, complex, compound, and compound-complex. These types vary based on the number and types of clauses they contain.

Why must a sentence make complete sense?

To communicate a thought or idea effectively, a sentence must make complete sense, and words must be arranged in logical order to convey a clear message.

Can a sentence have more than one clause?

Yes, a sentence can have more than one clause. Sentences can be simple, complex, compound, or compound-complex, depending on the number and types of clauses.

What is the importance of starting a sentence with a capital letter?

Starting a sentence with a capital letter signals the beginning of a new thought. It helps readers easily identify where one sentence ends and another begins, ensuring clarity.

Niaj A A Khan is an ESL Instructor with over 8 years of experience in teaching & developing resources at different universities and institutes. Mr. Khan is also a passionate writer working on his first book, "Learn English at Ease."

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