Spot the complete sentence

Can you tell which of the following, if any, are complete sentences?






Here’s your first hint: Yes, one of these is a complete sentence. But only one. The rest aren’t errors, mind you. There’s nothing wrong with punctuating an incomplete sentence as if it were complete. When you do so, it’s called a sentence fragment. And writers — even many of the very best writers — use sentence fragments all the time.

A while back, I wrote in a column that "onward" and "outside" are not complete sentences, which irked some readers. If you yell either of these words at someone, they argued, your point is 100% clear and complete. So why was I being such a pain and refusing to acknowledge they’re complete sentences?

Answer: Just because a thought is clear and complete doesn’t make it a complete sentence.

A complete sentence must contain at least one clause. A clause is a subject and a verb, and neither can be left implied, with one exception: Imperatives, that is, commands, always leave their subjects implied. It’s not a problem because the subject is always the same: “you.” So when you tell someone “Eat!” the subject is already built in to the verb, if you will.

But in four of our five sentences above, not only is there no subject, there’s no verb either. Outside! Now! Onward! and Beautiful! aren't verbs. Yes, they make clear the verbs that they’re implying. (Go) outside! (Do it) now! (Move) onward! (That is) beautiful! But verbs must be explicit in order to make a complete sentence.

So  on our list only Stop! is a complete sentence because it’s the only one that meets the criteria of having a verb (which must be explicit) and a subject (which, in commands only, can be left implied.)

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