…What do you think? Is that a sentence? I speak it daily. I hear it often. I write it occasionally. You see I live with small people who like to throw food/clothing/punches so I feel that this sentence is very integral to my life currently.
But is it a sentence? Well, to work that out lets use Libby’s checklist of wonders, which includes logic and the Australian Curriculum.
Logic states that a sentence should “make sense”. Does it makes sense?- Yes! Tick!
Aus Curriculum English: Recognise that sentences are key units for expressing ideas.
Woah! Slow down! Maybe I’ll look back a year level in the curriculum…Wait. no, I can’t. Because that is the FOUNDATION LEVEL OUTCOME!
Blimey, we are in trouble! Or maybe I should say, I am in trouble. If 5-year-olds (and some 4-year-olds) need to understand that sentences are key units for expressing ideas then surely 34-year-old me should have this sentence thing sorted. Right? (Is that a sentence?)
Well, here is the thing. English is lovely and squishy and I mean that in a nice way. We can mold it and manipulate it based on our purpose and based on the context in which we are using it.
Right now, I’m just blabbing on as I do, here in my blog. So as I write sentences I do it with some with some degree of informality. I do it as though you and I have some shared understanding about what I am talking about (do I assume too much?). There are many ellipsis here. I can’t be bothered writing out everything I want to say so I dash around it. I just give you the dots and you have to connect them with our collective understanding. So when I write sentences like…
There is hidden meaning. Use your x-ray googles and find it with me:
- No don’t eat my chocolate!
- Wait let me share it with you.
- Finally you have given me some chocolate.
What did you notice? Not only do I have a chocolate addiction but there was a lot of meaning I expected you to infer. It would have been easier to see it in context right? So this ellipsed content. It existed. But like the matrix…only in our minds. In our shared understanding. It is this ellipsed content that helps this sentence to “express an idea”.
So when the chips fall. If a sentence has to express and idea what does that mean? Well in functional grammar terms it means that something is happening, there is a Process (verb group). We find it by asking, “What is happening?” lets find it now to make sure those are sentences:
- No, don’t eat my chocolate!
- Wait, let me share it with you.
- Finally, you have given me some chocolate.
*What’s the green about? Find out in this post.
But sometimes this Process or “happening” is hiding in our shared understandings. Nod nod wink wink. Yeah, you know? Yeah, nah?
So, next time a sentence doesn’t seem to have something happening in it pop on those ellipsis x-ray goggles and take a closer look.