Content EditingWriting

What Makes a Sentence Complete?

Conveying Thoughts
Even though I’ve been writing for decades, I still like to remind myself why I write. People write to convey thoughts, i.e., to communicate.  So, we do our best to express ideas by using sentences.  But does a proper sentence always illustrate something well?  Does a complete sentence always capture a complete thought?  Let’s look at some examples.
Here is a complete sentence:
You can’t always get what you want.
Here is an incomplete sentence (a phrase):
If you walk away.
What do you think?  Do you think one sentence does a better job than the other?

Check out two more sentences:
She is falling.
“Yikes” expresses a complete thought, but it is not a complete sentence.  “She is falling” is a complete sentence, but it will leave most folks hanging (literally).
Decoupling Completeness – Back to Basics
We’ve seen that incomplete sentences can convey a complete thought while complete sentences may not. Instead of tackling the subjectivity of what is complete, it’s better to go back to the basics.
Whether or not it represents a clear thought, a proper sentence must always have two things:

  1. A subject (i.e., a noun or pronoun)
  2. A predicate (i.e., a verb)

To make a sentence complete, the subject and predicate must stand on their own— be independent.
Here are two proper sentences:
Here comes the sun.
I said, “It’s alright.”
Now, let’s take two incomplete sentences and turn them into complete sentences.
If you walk away.
When the sun shines.
If you walk away, I will follow.
When the sun shines, they slip into the shade.
Whether any collection of words complete a thought is subjective.  Therefore, using the idea of a complete thought to guide your sentence structure is risky.  Instead, loosely decouple (separate) the concept of completeness from the mechanics of a sentence.  Create proper sentences that are independent, have a subject, and a verb.  Then, you can spend your energy arranging your proper sentences to communicate your ideas.
By: Mark C., On Demand Editor for editorr

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