- 1: obsolete : opinion; especially : a conclusion given on request or reached after deliberation
- 2a : judgment specifically : one formally pronounced by a court or judge in a criminal proceeding and specifying the punishment to be inflicted upon the convict
- b : the punishment so imposed <serve out a sentence>
- 3: archaic : maxim, saw
- 4a : a word, clause, or phrase or a group of clauses or phrases forming a syntactic unit which expresses an assertion, a question, a command, a wish, an exclamation, or the performance of an action, that in writing usually begins with a capital letter and concludes with appropriate end punctuation, and that in speaking is distinguished by characteristic patterns of stress, pitch, and pauses
A sentence is a linguistic unit consisting of one or more words that are grammatically linked. A sentence can include words grouped meaningfully to express a statement, question, exclamation, request, command or suggestion. A sentence is a set of words that in principle tells a complete thought (although it may make little sense taken in isolation out of context); thus it may be a simple phrase, but it conveys enough meaning to imply a clause, even if it is not explicit. For example, "Two" as a sentence (in answer to the question "How many were there?") implies the clause "There were two". Typically a sentence contains a subject and predicate. A sentence can also be defined purely in orthographic terms, as a group of words starting with a capital letter and ending in a full stop. (However, this definition is useless for unwritten languages, or languages written in a system that does not employ both devices, or precise analogues thereof.) For instance, the opening of Charles Dickens's novel Bleak House begins with the following three sentences:
- London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather.
The first sentence involves one word, a proper noun. The second sentence has only a non-finite verb (although using the definition given above, e.g. "Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall." would be a sentence by itself). The third is a single nominal group. Only an orthographic definition encompasses this variation.
In the teaching of writing skills (composition skills), students are generally required to express (rather than imply) the elements of a sentence, leading to the schoolbook definition of a sentence as one that must [explicitly] include a subject and a verb. For example, in second-language acquisition, teachers often reject one-word answers that only imply a clause, commanding the student to "give me a complete sentence", by which they mean an explicit one.