Complete and Incomplete Sentences — Definition and Examples

Writing sentences in its proper form plays an essential role in communication. If you want your words to make perfect sense for readers and listeners to fully grasp, then you must learn how to differentiate a complete sentence from an incomplete sentence.

Understanding the difference between complete sentences and incomplete sentences is simple. Aside from the right use of punctuation marks, these sentences have distinctive characteristics that set themselves apart from one another. For us to develop a deeper knowledge of this subject, we must first define the two accordingly.

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Complete Sentence

Learning how to construct a complete sentence is a necessary skill that one needs to possess. But in order to understand how complete sentences work, we need to understand what sentences actually are.

Sentences work as a framework for individuals to properly express their thoughts and feelings in the form of words. It isn’t difficult to recognize a complete sentence from an incomplete one, especially if you’re familiar with its standard components. Generally, a complete sentence has most, if not all, of the following characteristics:

  • It starts with a capital letter.
  • It must have a subject and a predicate (verb).
  • It must convey a complete thought.
  • It ends with a period (.), a question mark (?) or an exclamation point (!).

A complete sentence must have a subject, which tells us “who” or “what” is being referred to, along with a predicate, which is the action of the subject. The predicate may even contain compliments, which are words that accompany the verb. Another important characteristic to take note of is to see whether or not the sentence expresses a complete thought. If you’re left hanging or feel as if there’s something missing from it, then it’s probably an incomplete sentence.

However, there are instances when a statement starts with a capital letter and ends with a punctuation mark, yet cannot be considered as a complete sentence. This is because it may be missing the main clause. The main clause in the sentence consists of both the independent subject and verb. If it lacks either of the two, you may have written a fragment as opposed to a complete sentence.

Let’s take this for example:

  • Because a group of great white sharks swam by the shore.
  • Because a group of great white sharks swam by the shore, Blake and Leighton decided to return their surfboards back to the van.

The first line represents a fragment, while the second line is a complete sentence. You can see that by adding a main clause to the fragment, it helps complete the overall thought of the given statement. Complete sentences may consist of a number of clauses, as long it has one main or independent clause present.

Listed below are a few examples of complete sentences under the following categories:

1. Declarative Sentence

Declarative sentences are mere statements that relay information. These statements may either be simple or compound sentences that end with a period. But because these sentences are the most common type in the English language, it’s easy to identify them as complete sentences. It’s important to remember that although declarative sentences are always complete sentences, not all complete sentences are declarative sentences.

Examples:

  • Annabelle went for a swim.
  • Felix and Marco are going to the gym.
  • The dog jumped and fell in the pool.
  • I ran all the way here.
  • Jennifer gave a speech at the auditorium today.
  • She slept the whole day away.

2. Interrogative Sentence

Interrogative sentences come in the form of a question, which means it typically ends with a question mark. You may have difficulty locating its subject, considering how it may either appear between parts of the verb phrase or directly after the verb.

Examples:

  • Can you come to the store with me?
  • Should I take the night bus home?
  • Do you have questions for me to answer?
  • Have you received your birthday gift yet?
  • Will you be leaving town this summer?
  • Can you repeat your question?

3. Exclamatory Sentence

This type of sentence is considered to be a forceful, more expressive version of a declarative sentence. An exclamatory sentence portrays a feeling of excitement or intensity that the speaker wishes to express. In order for one to properly convey their emotional outburst, an exclamation is added to the end of the sentence instead of a period.

Examples:

  • I cannot believe you fell for my joke!
  • She ran away from home!
  • You can’t tell me what to do!
  • I don’t want to listen to you anymore!
  • I’m too tired to finish everything!
  • I don’t believe you!

4. Imperative Sentence

An imperative sentence is a lot similar to a declarative sentence in form but is easily distinguished through the message being conveyed. Imperative sentences, which consist of requests and commands, are typically an exception to the rule. Even without indicating the subject in the sentence itself, it is still implied. Something as simple as, “Come.” may already be considered as a complete sentence even with the sole presence of a verb.

Examples:

  • Get my keys from the drawer.
  • Please lead the way.
  • Get down from there.
  • Stand in the corner.
  • Run faster.
  • Clean up when you’re done.

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Incomplete Sentence

An incomplete sentence also referred to as a sentence fragment, is surprisingly a common mistake even in today’s age. While they may be acceptable in spoken English, they can cause confusion and misunderstanding in writing.

Example:

The following depicts a dialogue between two individuals. There are two ways to respond to the given question, you could answer with a complete sentence or through a simple sentence fragment.

“Why are you crying?” 

  • “Because Johnny pulled my hair.”
  • “I am crying because Johnny pulled my hair.

The first response consists of a dependent clause and not an independent clause, which may be normal in spoken English, but is incorrect in writing. To deliver a clearer message, an independent clause is added in the second line of the given example.

Independent Clause

A group of words that can stand alone to send a clear message is referred to as an independent clause. It is typically composed of a subject, a verb, and a complete thought.

Examples:

  • He ran for his life.
  • I was late for the meeting.
  • She spent the entire day studying for her upcoming Science exam.
  • He ate caramel apples at the fair.
  • Cara went to the mall alone.

But even though an independent clause can stand on its own, it does not mean you can’t add one or more independent clauses or dependent clauses to form a compound sentence and a complex sentence respectively. If you want to keep your readers engaged, using a variety of sentence structures can do the trick.

Dependent Clause

Examples:

  • Since I woke up late this morning… (what occurred?)
  • When we arrived home… (what happened?)
  • If my roommate fails to pay his share of the rent… (what will happen?)

As you may have noticed, dependent clauses tend to be a bit confusing. It may consist of a subject and a verb yet fails to communicate a complete thought. Dependent markers, which are usually composed of subordinating conjunctions, appear at the beginning of the clause. Examples of subordinating conjunctions include: after, although, as, as if, because, before, where, until, while, once, since, and rather than, just to name a few. When this happens, it’s important to attach it to an independent clause to form a proper sentence.

As important as it is to use complete sentences in writing, expressing your thoughts in complete sentences through verbal communication is a good practice to enhance one’s speaking fluency. What they learn during face-to-face encounters and dialogues can then be incorporated into a person’s writing. While it may sound weird and awkward at first, there’s no denying how helpful complete sentences can be in developing clear communication.

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