MAJOR AND MINOR SENTENCE Explanation: Major and minor sentences A major sentence is a regular sentence; it has a subject and a predicate. A minor sentence is an irregular type of sentence. It does not contain a finite verb. For example, "Mary!" "Yes." "Coffee." Other examples are headings, stereotyped expressions (Hello!), emotional expressions (Wow!), proverbs, etc. This can also include sentences which do not contain verbs (e.g. The more, the merrier.) in order to intensify the meaning around the nouns (normally found in poetry and catchphrases). Major sentences So far, we have referred to sentences without providing any definition of a sentence. The question "What is a sentence?" is more difficult than it might appear. An American linguist, C. C. Fries, counted more than two hundred definitions of the sentence. In defining a sentence, too, it is important to remember that written prose and informal spoken language are different. The sentence is the basic building block of written language. In the past, sentences were often defined according to their meaning. For example, they were said to contain "a complete thought". This raises all sorts of questions about the difference between a complete thought and an incomplete one. A common definition today is: "A sentence is marked by a capital letter at the beginning and a full-stop at the end." This works for many English sentences, but there are many languages, such as those in Asia, that do not use this punctuation. Also, it is possible to have written sentences without capital letters and punctuation marks. NO SMOKING tomatoes $3.50kg BEWARE OF THE DOG In traditional school grammar, a sentence was said to contain a subject and a predicate: a major classroom occupation was analysing sentences into subjects and predicates. (The predicate is all the rest of the sentence after the subject.) Subject Predicate The cat smiled. The cat smiled enigmatically at Alice. This is how the American linguist Leonard Bloomfield, writing in 1926, defined a sentence: Each sentence is an independent linguistic form, not included by virtue of any grammatical construction in any larger linguistic form. In other words, a sentence is capable of standing alone. Utterances It is even more difficult to define sentences in speech. I drove it into town - and um - yeah 'cos I knew that area quite well 'cos that was the same area as I stayed in - two years ago at Point Chevalier - and then that night we - Mike made a - curry vegetable pie - we had that - and um - that was it - um - then that was the evening yeah we had a couple of nice bottles of red wine - we drank really nice red wine all weekend there - and what else did we do - Saturday we got up and he put the fire on 'cos it was cold and stormy - quite stormy up there ... For this reason, the term utterance rather than sentence is often used for spoken material. Minor sentences There is a small group of sentences that are called minor sentences. These tend to have a set form that is not often changed. They cannot be analysed in the same way as regular or major sentences. This book is concerned mainly with major sentences. Minor sentences, however, occur often in everyday conversation. David Crystal, in Rediscover Grammar with David Crystal, has suggested the following classifications of minor sentence types. Formulae used in social situations: Thanks. Hello. Yes. No. Cheers. How do you do? 'Bye for now. Interjections (emotional noises): Tut-tut. Hey! Ugh! Ow! Eh? Shhh! Proverbs or pithy sayings (aphorisms): Easy come, easy go. The more the merrier. Like father, like son. Abbreviated forms, used in instructions, postcards, and commentaries: Mix well. Once more with feeling. Wish you were here. One more lap. Words and phrases used as exclamations, questions, or commands: Bother! Happy birthday! Nice day! The hell with it! All aboard! Oh for a drink of water! Taxi? No entry. Some of the examples above contain finite verbs: Mix well; wish you were here. These have been included as minor sentences because elements of the basic clause structure have been omitted: Mix it well. (major sentence) Mix well. (minor sentence) I wish you were here. (major sentence) Wish you were here. (minor sentence) Minor sentences also occur as answers to questions or depend for their meaning on a previous sentence. PC Timms: Where are you going? Aiden: To Greymouth. PC Timms: When are you leaving? Aiden: Early tomorrow morning. PC Timms: Who's going with you? Aiden: My brother Tim and his girlfriend Nancy. Aiden's answers to PC Timms's questions are still sentences, but they are minor sentences. These can also be called elliptical sentences because part of their structure has been omitted (Latin ellipsis: "falling short"). A: Where are you going? B: [I'm going] to Greymouth. A: When are you leaving? B: [I'm leaving] early tomorrow morning. Minor sentences are not the same as incomplete sentences. "I hope that you ... " Sidney choked and stopped. "I can tell you who the murderer is! Look at the ..." A shot rang out, and she slumped to the floor. Early language learners may have difficulty in recognising sentences and will need guidance. They need to understand that there are different kinds of sentences without necessarily knowing the appropriate labels for them. Minor Sentences Minor sentences are not constructed in a regular way. They use unusual and abnormal patterns which cannot be clearly analysed into a sequence of clause elements in the same way that major sentences can. There are only a few minor setence types but we find them all the time in conversation and when conversations are represented in fiction, or in signs and notices, headlines, websites and similar settings where a message has been represented as what Crystal calls a 'block' (p. 216). Minor sentences do not obey the same grammatical rules as major sentences which is why appear so odd when we analyse them. Examples include componets of conversation such as 'hello', and 'how do you do?', or emotional or functional noises such as 'Ow!', 'Ugh!', 'Shh!' and 'Eh?' as well as proverbs and sayings like 'easy come, easy go,' and words and phrases used as exclamations, questions, and commands, such as 'nice day!, Taxi?, and All aboard!' In their form all minor sentences are characterised by reduction. There are three basic types: ellipsis, formulaic non-sentences and irregular sentences.