Submitted by Carolyn Burt on January 23, 2012
Can “Fine.” be considered a complete sentence?
January 24, 2012, 6:44am
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January 25, 2012, 6:41am
Surely not. Doesn't a sentence require a subject and a verb? I have read in several places that the shortest sentence in the English language is "It is"
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January 25, 2012, 7:39am
Surely not. Doesn't a sentence require a subject and a verb?
Then how do you explain your "Surely not." above?
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January 26, 2012, 5:30pm
I have been told the shortest English sentence is actually "Go!" (It is an imperative, and the subject "you" is implied.)
"I am" is shorter than "It is."
I am fine with "Fine."
What about "No"?
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January 27, 2012, 11:33pm
No, 'fine' is not a sentence. A sentence needs a subject and predicate. People do not always speak in complete sentences (by definition), but often in single words or phrases, like 'no', 'surely not', 'in the house'... there are endless examples.
January 30, 2012, 8:29am
"A sentence needs a subject and predicate."
You have decided to fall back on that old crutch: the because-I-say-so-school of grammar.
That approach is fine at the very basic level of language training but it's not much use as language proficiency improves. As that happens, it starts to becomes quite apparent that one-word sentences can and do exist.
* Ha ha!
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January 30, 2012, 8:33am
Oops! Looks like I had more than a couple of typos up there. Mea culpa! It's Monday morning.
Let me try again.
You have decided to fall back on that old crutch: the because-I-say-so school of grammar.
That approach is fine at the very basic level of language training but it's not much use as language proficiency improves. As that happens, it starts to become quite apparent that one-word sentences can and do exist.
January 30, 2012, 3:00pm
Professor Ballantyne, clearly, my post needs elaboration. My definition of a sentence is not 'because I say so'. Most dictionaries give the same definition. If you disagree with their definitions, then take it up with them.Oxford Dictionary defines a sentence as 'a set of words that is complete in itself, TYPICALLY containing a SUBJECT AND PREDICATE, conveying a statement, question, exclamation, or command, and consisting of a main clause and sometimes one or more subordinate clauses.'Webster Dictionary's definition is 'A combination of words which is complete as expressing a thought, and in writing is marked at the close by a period, or full point.' Therefore, by both definitions, 'fine' and 'sure' are not sentences. Neither are 'not so', 'there', and 'done'. These words do not mean anything if written or uttered by themselves since they do not express a complete thought. However, put them into a proper context, and the thought is complete. They are then sentences. The subject and predicate are inferred or understood (and therefore not necessary).Example: 'fine' by itself is not a sentence, but an adjective. Put it a context: 'How are you feeling today?' 'Fine' is accepted as a sentence since it means 'I am fine' ('I am' is understood)Example: 'not so' by itself is not a sentence. Put it in a context: 'A sentence has a subject and a predicate.' 'Not so.' means 'It is not so', so it is acceptable as a sentence. ('it is' is understood)So your assertion that 'One-word sentences can and do exist.' has to be qualified by saying it depends on the context in which they are used.
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January 30, 2012, 4:59pm
And furthermore.... to answer your question above re: 'surely not', Professor... the subject and predicate are inferred and understood: ('Fine' is) surely not (a sentence).Try saying 'surely not' to someone out of context and see what reaction you'll get. It lacks meaning without a subject and predicate. Hence, it is not a sentence.
January 30, 2012, 7:41pm
Fine. I believe this could be a sentence because "fine" can be a verb, as in to levy a penalty of money. It would be a sentence if it were used as a command.
February 1, 2012, 3:15pm
Professor Ballantyne is strangely silent. Please enlighten us as to WHY you think 'fine', 'sure', and 'surely not' ARE sentences. Perhaps you come from the same 'because I say so' school of grammar you accuse me of coming from? Or is it that other school of 'I see it so it must be true'. LOL. Have you not progressed beyond the basic level of language use of single words and phrases? :)
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February 2, 2012, 6:11am
Ah, I see that you're falling back on an ad hominem argument; a sign of desperation? Anyway, I rather suspect that my level of language is at the very least quite the equal of yours.
Dictionaries can do no more than offer informed opinions on grammar. Again, I consider my opinions on how grammar functions at least as valid as theirs.
Your context argument is a nonsense. A single-word sentence like "Shit!" can require little context to be understood wholly in itself. But one of your "proper" sentences like "It is not so." has little or no useful meaning without further context.
The dictionary definition of a sentence is useful for someone at the ab initio stage of language instruction. Beyond that, any writer with a modicum of flair and talent will ignore it whenever it conflicts with their writing style.
Language is too expressive to be contained by petty and contrived regulations.
February 2, 2012, 7:15am
Well, Professor, you still fail to enlighten me as to WHY 'fine', 'sure', 'done', and 'there' are complete sentences then, if you discard the context explanation (you make no mention of the inferred/understood explanation). And back it up with some sources, would you? You merely deride my explanation without offering your own. I didn't claim to have a higher level of language than you, though like you, I did take Latin 101.'Shit' is not a sentence, but merely an interjection, much like 'ouch' or 'wow'. 'Language is too expressive to be contained by petty and contrived regulations.'But they are necessary. Language anarchist, are you? You're probably one of those who not only approve of, but say 'If you need help, just call my wife and I.'
February 2, 2012, 9:29am
OK, JJMB, you don't like the definition of a sentence in structural grammar. The dictionary meaning is too simplistic for you. Tell me then how Chomsky would explain 'fine', 'sure', and 'shit' in TG terms. What are their deep structure? Show me their tree diagrams.Or are Chomsky's rules too 'petty and contrived' too?
February 3, 2012, 1:59pm
While it's possible "Fine." may not technically be a complete sentence, it is nevertheless true that it can be "considered" as a complete sentence -- an elliptical sentence. Q.E.D.
February 3, 2012, 3:05pm
Yes, (that is) exactly (right).The omitted words can be inferred, as I explained to JJMB. Perhaps he has not reached that higher level of thinking yet? lol.
February 3, 2012, 11:04pm
I thought a sentence would be al least something you could agree with or not.Sure, It is, Surely not...This does not tell me anything at all out of context...
February 14, 2012, 11:17am
Ah yes, dear old Noam Chomsky.
"There are three things in life you must never run after: a bus, a woman and a theory of transformational grammar. There will be another one along in a moment."
February 14, 2012, 11:20am
"This does not tell me anything at all out of context..."
And just what does the following sentence tell you out of context?
"There will be another one along in a moment."
February 15, 2012, 8:46am
JJMB, your responses are laughable. Again, you have failed to give YOUR reasons why 'fine' and 'sure' are sentences, besides the fact that you say so. You have merely put down my and other posters' responses or asked more questions. You have waved off dictionary meanings and definitions from structural grammar. Lastly, you have dissed 'the father of modern linguistics'. By the way, did it take you so long to figure out who Chomsky was? I guess we will have to wait till YOUR book comes out to find out YOUR theories on grammar.I will not reply to another post from you until you have something thoughtful or credible to offer to the original question.
February 19, 2012, 3:05pm
I do encounter one word sentences in my reading (often in modern novels) from time to time. Usually they are mid-paragraph, but sometimes they are in dialogue. I was always taught that a sentence must make complete sense, but I now think that's incorrect. Rather, it's a sufficient condition that what appears has a capital letter, is followed by a full stop and it's meaning/intention can be understood, within it's context.
February 25, 2012, 3:03am
It's an ellipsis, which means it's perfectly cromulent since the rest of the sentence is pragmatically implied.
February 27, 2012, 1:59am
Hamish - Imagine one is giving a written description of someone in a noisy bar, and he keeps hearing scraps of conversation and describing his (puzzled/wondering) reaction. What are the words in ellipsis for the fragments?:
March 14, 2012, 3:48pm
The one word sentence "Fine." when uttered by your wife or partner is a very clear danger signal often followed by hospitalisation due to concussive injury..
March 14, 2012, 5:22pm
Hairy, 'fine' is merely a single word utterance, not a sentence, by your wife. It is so often the final word in a 'discussion' with a wife. This is in contrast to 'I do', which IS a sentence... a life sentence at that.
March 14, 2012, 5:44pm
Maybe a bit off topic but it does illustrate the dangers of having the balls or guts to continue an argument after the utterance of "Fine!" :-To those of you who are nit-pickers about the meaning of words: there is a distinction between Guts and Balls.GUTS - is arriving home late, after a night out with the guys, being met by your wife with a broom, and having the Guts to ask, “Are you still cleaning, or are you flying somewhere?”BALLS - is coming home late after a night out with the guys, smelling of perfume and beer, with lipstick on your collar, and slapping your wife on the butt and having the Balls to say,“You're next, Chubby.”I hope this clears up any confusion on the definitions.Medically speaking, there is no difference in the outcome. Both result in death.
March 17, 2012, 2:47pm
I think its fine when used in the right contect.
Ops that is supposed to read in the right context.
April 14, 2012, 6:49pm
Grammar was invented to attempt to formulate a system describing our spoken language. It is merely descriptive and approximate. Authoritarians of all stripes then insist that the rules rule, that instead of being merely descriptive, it is law. Phooey on them.
April 15, 2012, 4:29pm
Let me make another suggestion. Many one word utterances may be frequently seen in writing. On the one hand, lexicographically, they may be sentences, specifically, beginning with capitals and ending with a period, but, at least in the "traditional" sense, they're not sentences, grammatically. Here's what I'm offering up here. They may not be sentences, but the mistake is assuming that we are somehow obliged to write in full sentences. Rather than insist that all of these short snippets are sentences, I would put it to you that there's nothing wrong with using sentence fragments, short exclamations, etc., even in formal writing. It's done all the time (by your own admission).
April 16, 2012, 12:57pm
Still at it, eh?
September 29, 2012, 1:05am
Additional Facts About SubjectsThe "Understood You"Sometimes, as in the case of imperative sentences (see verb mood ), the subject does not actually appear in the sentence. At such times the invisible subject is called the "understood you":
(You) Rent The Last of the Mohicans from the video store.
when used imperatively are complete sentences.
September 29, 2012, 1:26am
an interjection can form a complete sentence (that is, expressing a thought without need of a subject and verb): ouch, wow. etc
Major and minor sentencesA major sentence is a regular sentence; it has a subject and a predicate. For example: "I have a ball." In this sentence one can change the persons: "We have a ball." However, a minor sentence is an irregular type of sentence. It does not contain a finite verb. For example, "Mary!" "No" "Coffee." etc. Other examples of minor sentences are headings (e.g. the heading of this entry), stereotyped expressions ("Hello!"), emotional expressions ("Wow!"), proverbs, etc. This can also include nominal sentences like "The more, the merrier". These do not contain verbs in order to intensify the meaning around the nouns and are normally found in poetry and catchphrases.Sentences that comprise a single word are called word sentences, and the words themselves sentence words.
A pro-sentence is a function word or expression that substitutes for a whole sentence whose content is recoverable from the context. A pro-sentence is a kind of pro-form and is therefore anaphoric.In English, yes, no, okay and amen are common pro-sentences. In response to the question "Does Mars have two moons?", the sentence "Yes" can be understood to abbreviate "Mars has two moons."Pro-sentences are sometimes seen as grammatical interjections, since they are capable of very limited syntactical relations. But they can also be classified as a distinct part of speech, given that (other) interjections have meanings of their own and are often described as expressions of feelings or emotions.
fine is a minor sentence and a pro sentence
JJMBallantyne is correct!!!
September 29, 2012, 9:03am
@dougincanada - the operative word in that Oxford dictionary definition was 'typically', which you yourself capitalised. And in Webster the idea of a complete thought. And then you yourself say - Put it a context: 'How are you feeling today?' 'Fine' is accepted as a sentence since it means 'I am fine' ('I am' is understood). But when would we ever use 'Fine.' when the context is not understood? And note that both Carolyn Burt and JJMB carefully capitalised their examples and ended them with full stops.
And by the way, you don't help your case much with the cheap references to 'Professor Ballantyne'
While taking on board and quickly checking out and accepting what Jacob has said,especially about word sentences, I would tend to agree with Rachel Madcow and call 'Fine' an elliptical sentence - eg: (That's) fine.- it's what is called 'answer ellipsis' in the Wikipedia entry on Ellipsis.
I do think there is a basic difference here between the linguistics approach, which looks at how language functions (major and minor sentences etc) and the traditional grammar approach which seems to to be more concerned with structure. For example, traditional grammar doesn't usually recognise structures such as 'Walking up the path' or 'Having finished his dinner as clauses because they don't have a finite verb. Linguists, however, do see these as clauses, because they function in just the same way as if they had finite verbs - 'As he walked up the path' or 'After he had finished his dinner'.
But ultimately I would have to agree with porsche: is it really that important whether we call these sentences or sentence fragments or anything else? The important thing is that they are valid utterances, something with which I think we can all agree.
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