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Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin sententia feeling, opinion, from sentent-, sentens, irregular present participle of sentire to feel


b : the punishment so imposed <serve out a sentence>
  • 3: archaic : maxim, saw
  • 4a : a word, clause, or phrase or a group of clauses or phrases forming a syntactic unit which expresses an assertion, a question, a command, a wish, an exclamation, or the performance of an action, that in writing usually begins with a capital letter and concludes with appropriate end punctuation, and that in speaking is distinguished by characteristic patterns of stress, pitch, and pauses
b : a mathematical or logical statement (as an equation or a proposition) in words or symbols


A sentence is a linguistic unit consisting of one or more words that are grammatically linked. A sentence can include words grouped meaningfully to express a statement, question, exclamation, request, command or suggestion. A sentence is a set of words that in principle tells a complete thought (although it may make little sense taken in isolation out of context); thus it may be a simple phrase, but it conveys enough meaning to imply a clause, even if it is not explicit. For example, "Two" as a sentence (in answer to the question "How many were there?") implies the clause "There were two". Typically a sentence contains a subject and predicate. A sentence can also be defined purely in orthographic terms, as a group of words starting with a capital letter and ending in a full stop. (However, this definition is useless for unwritten languages, or languages written in a system that does not employ both devices, or precise analogues thereof.) For instance, the opening of Charles Dickens's novel Bleak House begins with the following three sentences:

London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather.

The first sentence involves one word, a proper noun. The second sentence has only a non-finite verb (although using the definition given above, e.g. "Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall." would be a sentence by itself). The third is a single nominal group. Only an orthographic definition encompasses this variation.

In the teaching of writing skills (composition skills), students are generally required to express (rather than imply) the elements of a sentence, leading to the schoolbook definition of a sentence as one that must [explicitly] include a subject and a verb. For example, in second-language acquisition, teachers often reject one-word answers that only imply a clause, commanding the student to "give me a complete sentence", by which they mean an explicit one.

As with all language expressions, sentences might contain function and content words and contain properties such as characteristic intonation and timing patterns.

Sentences are generally characterized in most languages by the inclusion of a finite verb, e.g. "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog".[1]