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Reading & Writing Across Curriculum

Complete Sentences

A complete sentence consists of

  1. a subject
  2. a main verb
  3. any other words needed to make a complete idea.

Sentences that do not have all of these elements are grammatically incorrect. To learn more about grammatically incorrect sentences, see the pages on fragments and run-ons.

Subjects

A subject is a noun that is the topic of a sentence (find out more about nouns). There are often many nouns in a sentence, but it is not difficult to figure out which one is the subject, because in English, the subject almost always comes before the verb. Below are a few additional clues that will help you identify the subject of a sentence.

Subjects with Action Verbs

In a sentence with an action verb, the subject usually does the action expressed by the verb (find out more about verbs). For example, consider the following sentence: "Jennifer ran to the store." The subject, verb, and other words are as follows:

subject verb other words
Jennifer ran to the store.

 

In this sentence, Jennifer is doing the action of running. Jennifer is the subject, and ran is the verb. Even though there is one other noun in this sentence, store, we can tell it is not the subject for couple of reasons: 1) it comes after the verb ran, and 2) it is not doing the action of the verb (how could a store run?).

The following sentences all use action verbs. In each sentence, Jennifer is the subject and she is the one doing the action expressed by the verb.

subject verb other words
Jennifer slipped on a banana peel lying on the sidewalk.
Jennifer laughed out loud.
Jennifer contemplated the absurdity of the universe.

 

Jennifer is doing the actions of slipping, laughing, and contemplating. That makes her the subject of those verbs, and the subject of the sentences.

Subjects with State-of-Being Verbs (Linking Verbs)

State-of-being verbs (also called linking verbs) are those that describe what the subject is rather than what the subject does (find out more about verbs). For sentences with state of being verbs, the verb and the words that come after it describe the subject. For example, consider the following sentence: "Jennifer is a pediatrition." The subject, verb, and other words are as follows:

subject verb other words
Jennifer is a pediatrition

 

In this sentence, Jennifer is being described by the verb and other words. She is a pediatrition. This makes Jennifer the subject of the verb is. There is one other noun in the sentence, pediatrition, but it cannot be the subject because it comes afte the verb is.

The following sentences all use state-of-being verbs. In each sentence, Jennifer is the subject and she is being described by the verb and the words after it.

subject verb other words
Jennifer used to be a poor student.
Jennifer became interested in science.
Jennifer will be a role model for her younger siblings and cousins.

 

Each of the sentences above describes the subject, Jennifer.

 

Compound Subjects

Some sentences have more than one subject linked together with the word "and." This is called a compound subject. The following sentences each have more than one subject.

compound subject verb other words
Jose and Felicia moved from Mexico to the United States.
Lasagna, pizza, and spaghetti are my favorite foods.
Honesty and hard work will help any student succeed in school.

 

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Main Verbs

Sentences may have many verbs, but usually only one verb or group of verbs is the main verb of a sentence. The main verb is the one that has a tense or time. For example, the following are tenses of the verb "love."

past present future
loved love/loves will love

 

These verb forms can be used in sentences that take place in the past, present, or future.

past The cat loved canned catfood.
present The cat loves canned catfood.
future The cat will love canned catfood.

 

Compound Verbs

Some sentences have more than one verb linked together with a coordinating conjunction. Find out more about conjunctions.This is called a compound verb. The following sentences each have more than one main verb.

subject verb #1 other words verb #2 other words
The jello wiggled and jiggled on the plate.
Dimitra loves cats but hates dogs.
The track team runs sprints and jumps hurdles.

 

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Other Words

Some sentences are complete with just a subject and a verb.  For example: “Susan jumped.”  

subject verb other words
Susan jumped. (none)

 

Susan is the subject and jumped is the verb.  More elements could be added to make the sentence more interesting, informative, or descriptive (“Susan fearfully jumped into the cold, deep water.”), but the sentence is grammatically correct without them.

However, some sentences are not complete with just the subject and the verb.  This is usually because the verb requires extra information to make sense.  For example, consider the sentence, “Alex likes to play chess.”  The subject, verb, and other words are as follows.

subject verb other words
Alex likes to play chess.

 

Alex is the subject—the doer of the action.  Likes is the verb—the action word.  Even though a subject and verb are the most important and necessary parts of a sentence, with just those two words, the sentence would sound strange and incomplete, and it would not be grammatically correct. 

subject verb other words
Alex likes. (none)

 

The sentence above is not grammatically correct. This particular verb, “likes,” needs extra words to show what is liked, in this case, to play basketball . The following are some other examples of sentences that would be ungrammatical with only a subject and a verb.

subject verb other words
Alex cut his finger.
My mother believes in ghosts.
Jennifer will serve as a role model for her younger siblings and cousins.

 

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This page was created by Karin Spirn.

Reading and Writing Resources

Richard Dry
Coordinator

RAW Resouces Website
Originally Created by Karin Spirn
and Meghan Swanson

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Page last modified: May 31, 2009