Verbless Sentences
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Verbless Sentences

By Bill Ball

Although there have always been verbless sentences in English, many grammarians of old insisted that a sentence had to contain at least one 'finite' verb. Examples of finite verbs are 'is', as in 'The weather is fine', and 'plays', as in 'He plays tennis'. The word 'finite' broadly means 'having a subject'. In the above examples, the subjects of the verbs are 'The weather' and 'He'.

So what does a 'verbless' sentence look like? Here are a few examples:

A wonderful achievement.
Of course not.
Now for those other matters.
So far so good.

Verbless sentences are usually preceded by 'normal' sentences, without which the verbless sentences would have no real meaning. Using 'Of course not' as the verbless sentence, here is an example that includes a 'normal' preceding sentence:

Do you know who I am? Of course not.

'Of course not' is short for 'Of course I do not know who you are', which is what many of the grammarians of old would have insisted on. Indeed, there are still some people today who would condemn verbless sentences, even though they are and always have been acceptable English.

It has to be admitted, however, that verbless sentences should never be used in formal writing (legal documents and the like) or by schoolchildren or students in their school or college work. It is often said that it is acceptable for established writers to commit occasional grammatical errors, because they have learnt all the rules and therefore have the right to modify them to suit their purpose if they so wish. That may be so, but there is one 'rule' that says that verbless sentences should be used sparingly and with good taste. Any writers who choose to ignore this rule (for whatever reason) do so at their own risk.

Verbless sentences should not be confused with 'interjections', which are words that are 'thrown' into a sentence without playing any part in its grammatical construction. They are usually single words but can also be phrases. They are normally followed by an exclamation mark (!). Examples are:

My goodness!
Dear me!
Good for you!