The Farlex Grammar Book > English Grammar > Syntax > Sentences > Major and Minor Sentences (Regular and Irregular Sentences)
Major and Minor Sentences (Regular and Irregular Sentences)
What is a major sentence?
A major sentence (also called a regular sentence) is any complete sentence that is made up of or contains an independent clause—that is, it has both a subject and a predicate (a verb and any of its constituent parts).
What is a minor sentence?
A minor sentence (also called an irregular sentence), on the other hand, is any sentence that does not have at least one independent clause—that is, it does not have both a subject and a complete predicate—and yet is used in writing or speech as a complete sentence that stands on its own.
All of the other sections in the chapter on Sentences deal with major sentences, so we will focus on minor sentences in this section.
Minor sentences can be made up of single words, sentence fragments, interjections, or set expressions (such as idioms and proverbs. We’ll examine several examples of each below to see how they are used in everyday English.
In conversational English, we very often use single words to get across required information in response to another person. These are known as sentence words, one-word sentences, or just word sentences. For example:
- Person A: “Where is your meeting again?” Person B: “Denver.”
- Person A: “I think it’s best that we don’t get involved.” Person B: “Agreed.”
- Person A: “When do you need these reports finished?” Person B: “Tomorrow.”
Even though the second speaker’s response is only made up of a single word in each of these examples, it contains all the relevant information that is necessary in the context of the conversation.
We also commonly use sentence fragments (phrases, incomplete clauses, or dependent clauses) as standalone sentences. Again, these are typically used in conversational English when we are responding to someone else. For example:
- Person A: “Are you going to have lunch soon?” Person B: “In about an hour.” (prepositional phrase)
- Person A: “Do you want to come to a movie with me later?” Person B: “Sounds good!” (incomplete clause)
- Person A: “When did you realize that you wanted to pursue politics?” Person B: “When I was in college.” (dependent clause)
Single words and short phrases are also commonly used as interjections (also known as exclamations) to convey a strong emotion, such as surprise, alarm, excitement, dismay, etc. These are divided into primary and secondary interjections.
Primary interjections are single words derived from sounds, rather than from existing word classes. They still have widely recognized meaning, however. Some common primary interjections are:
- argh (an expression of frustration)
- brr (an expression of being cold)
- eww (an expression of disgust)
- grr (an expression of anger)
- ooh (an expression of amazement)
- phew (an expression of relief)
Primary interjections are often linked to a major sentence with a comma, but they can also stand on their own as minor sentences, in which case they are generally punctuated with an exclamation point. For example:
- “Ooh! That’s a beautiful dress.”
- “Brr! It’s freezing in here!”
- “Eww! I hate coconuts!”
Secondary interjections are single words or short phrases that do belong to other existing word classes. Some common secondary interjections are:
- bless you
- good grief
- oh my
- oh my God
- oh well
Secondary interjections are also often punctuated with exclamation points. For example:
- “Oh my God! We won the lottery!”
- “Wow! What a great achievement!”
- “Congratulations! That was an impressive victory.”
However, we can also have weaker secondary interjections that are punctuated with periods, or interrogative ones that use question marks. For example:
- “Well shoot. I really thought we were going to win.”
- “Good grief. I didn’t see that coming.”
- “Well? Are we going to watch a movie?”
- “What? You don’t like coconuts?”
Idioms, Proverbs, and Set Expressions
English has a large number of expressions that have a set, established understanding, even if they technically are not grammatically complete or do not make literal sense. Many of these are idioms (expressions that have a non-literal meaning) or proverbs (short sayings that carry a basic truth or precept), though there are other expressions with set meanings that are in frequent and widespread use, as well.
There are thousands of such phrases, so we will only cover a few here that are considered minor sentences. To learn more, check out The Free Dictionary’s Complete Guide to Idioms, Proverbs, and Phrasal Verbs.
Idioms are phrases whose meaning cannot be gleaned from the literal words they’re composed of, often having a unique grammatical structure. Because of this, they are frequently used in ways that go against traditional grammar rules, and they are often used as sentences unto themselves in conversation. For example:
- Person A: “Hi, how are you?” Person B: “Hey, Jeff! Long time no see!”
- “Be more careful next time, or there might not be a ‘next time.’ Catch my drift?”
- Person A: “How can you evict us from our house like this?” Person B: “Orders are orders.”
- Person A: “When will you have that report ready for me?” Person B: “Any minute now!”
Idioms are so frequently used and understood in everyday speech and writing that they are often truncated or abbreviated, with the full phrase left to be implicitly understood by the listener or reader. For instance:
- Person A: “I went through all the trouble of getting her this job, and she still managed to screw it up.” Person B: “Well, you can lead a horse to water.” (Short for “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”)
- Person A: “I took them to the best restaurant in town, but they said they would rather have had cheeseburgers.” Person B: “What do you expect? Pearls before swine.” (Short for “cast (one’s) pearls before swine.”)
Proverbs are similar to idioms in that their codified meaning is widely understood due to frequent and widespread use. Proverbs are self-contained sentences that express a truth based on common sense or shared experience. Many of them have become pared down into minor sentences over time. For example:
- “You should try and form better habits in your day-to-day routine. Early to bed, early to rise, that sort of thing!” (Short for “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”)
- “I’m not sure why people are shocked that he’s suspected of stealing. If the shoe fits.” (Short for “If the shoe fits, wear it.”)
- “Sure, bring your friends. The more the merrier!”
Other set expressions
There are other common expressions that stand on their own as minor sentences that are not necessarily idiomatic or proverbial but nevertheless have a particular meaning that is inherently understood. (Many of these are forms of (or similar to) the interjections that we looked at above.)
Expressions of greeting and farewell are a prime example of set expressions that function as or form minor sentences. For example:
- “Hello! How are you?”
- “Good afternoon! It’s a pleasure to see you.”
- “I’m afraid I must depart. Good day, gentlemen.”
- “Goodbye. I hope we meet again.”
Expressions of well wishes operate the same way:
- “I hear you have a big exam coming up. Good luck!”
- “This is a big trip you’re undertaking. Godspeed!”
Some set expressions have been adapted from other languages, as in:
- “Bon voyage! Enjoy your trip abroad!” (From French, expressing good wishes to a departing traveler.)
- “I hope you enjoy the meal. Bon appétit, everyone!” (From French, a salutation to someone about to eat.)
- “Gesundheit!” (From German, meaning “health,” used in English as a verbal response to someone who has sneezed.)
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