Sentence (grammar)

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A sentence is one of a word existing or more words self-contained linguistic unit. Definitions of the term sentence have been given in different perspectives which do not coincide with one another. Above all, the term sentence can be defined grammatically as the largest unit that can be generated by the rules of syntax . Some views also see the sentence communicatively as the smallest unit of understanding with which a speech act (a speech act ) is performed, according to other views the term utterance is used for this.


There are many different approaches to defining the concept of a sentence, collections come to nearly 200 definitions of sentence . Each linguistic school develops its own sentence concept. The different logical, philosophical, communication-scientific and psychological perspectives are seen as "difficult to reconcile". Accordingly, it is assumed "that behind the term sentence there is not a single term, but a whole family of overlapping terms."

Definition finding

Only a few common definitions of the sentence can be given here:


A Schulduden definition of the sentence is: "The sentence is a closed linguistic unit, which is composed of smaller units (words and groups of words)."

Since there are also sentences with a word (example: “Go!”), Such a definition cannot distinguish the sentence from the word. It is also unclear what is meant by the term “linguistic unit”. A word group ( syntagma ) is also a self-contained linguistic unit. In the above definition, the word sequence “self-contained linguistic unit” is a self-contained linguistic unit, without it being clear from the Dude definition how such a group of words should differ from a sentence.

Duden grammar

The Duden grammar offers several set definitions:

"A sentence is a self-contained unit that has been formed according to the rules of syntax ."

- Variant I, Duden: The grammar

This definition is possibly circular , as "syntax" is sometimes viewed as the technical term for the theory of syntax. That is, according to variant I, a sentence is a linguistic unit which, according to the doctrine of the sentence, is a regular sentence. But on the one hand you have to know what a sentence is.

On the other hand, syntactically incorrect structures can also be referred to as sentences (example: “I've finished!” ( Trapattoni )). There are also incorrectly formed sentences that are accepted (acceptability despite a lack of (school-based) grammaticality). This is the case with deliberate violations of selection restrictions (example: “We are Pope” ( Bild-Zeitung )).

"A sentence is the largest unit that can be created using the rules of syntax."

- Variant II, Duden: The grammar

This definition is based on the sentence definition of Bloomfield , who defined the sentence “as the largest independent syntactic form, which in turn is not embedded in a larger syntactic form by any grammatical constructions” and whose sentence definition is considered that of American structuralism.

This definition also shares the possible circularity with variant I of the Duden grammar. In addition, according to this definition, subordinate clauses are not clauses, but only parts of sentences. This purely formal definition also appears to be conditioned by the hostility to meaning (meaning) of American structuralism in its behavioristic version.

"A sentence is a unit that consists of a finite verb and all the clauses required by the verb ."

- Variant III, Duden: The grammar

The words we and the phrase moved south are normally not a sentence in and of themselves. The word sequence We moved south, however. But elliptical usage is also possible (example: moved to the south. To find happiness. And yet didn't find it. )

Sentence as subject and predicate unit

The sentence is also defined as a linguistic unit consisting of subject and predicate. This is said to go back to Aristotle .

Correspondingly, traditional grammar defines the sentence as consisting of: sentence statement ( predicate ), sentence completion ( object ) and sentence object ( subject ). Under the influence of the non-Aristotelian predicate concept of modern logic it can also be formulated that sentence in the sense of a statement consists of the naming of an object (subject) and the connection of the named object with a property in the broader sense (predicate).

However, this does not describe the grammatical sentence in general, but only the declarative sentence in the perspective of traditional or modern logic. A sentence in the narrower sense is a “linguistic form” for logic, the peculiarity of which is to be true or false. If sentence and declarative sentence are often used in the same sense ( synonymously ) in modern philosophy and logic, question sentences, command sentences and desired sentences etc. are not covered by such a narrow definition.

Sentence as speech or text element

The sentence is also defined as the basic unit that makes up a speech or text .

But this exchanges the difficulty of defining the sentence with the difficulty of defining the speech or text. There is also the phenomenon of 1 word = 1 sentence = 1 text (example: "Help!").

Sentence as a communicative unit

The sentence thus only appears to be pragmatically communicatively definable. Bühler defined sentences as “the simple, independent, self-contained performance units or, in short, the meaning units of speech.” Similarly, sentence can also be defined as “any independent, self-contained linguistic utterance that is uttered in a communicative context (and understood in principle can) ”or as the smallest communicative unit of understanding through which a speech act is performed.

Sentence as part of the parole or langue

The sentence is predominantly assigned to the level of parole (de Saussure) or referred to as the “unit of meaning in speech” (Bühler) (see above). It should not make sense "to look for a symbolic unit of 'sentence' on the level of the langue ... which - like word and morpheme - consists of a fixed expression and content page". Nevertheless, in grammar (above all?) "The phonetic or written carriers of a sentence ... syntactically ... that is, secondarily on the level of the langue, are examined".

Sentence classification

Sentences can be classified according to different aspects. Amongst other things:

Front set, core set, clamping set

According to the position of the finite verb, one differentiates between:

Front sentence ( verb first position )
The finite verb comes first in German, especially when it comes to questions about decisions or prompts.
Examples: " Are you going already?" " Go now!"
Core sentence ( verb second position )
In second place is the verb in German in main clauses that are declarative clauses.
Example: "I am now writing this sentence."
Tension sentence (verb-last position)
The final position has the finite verb in German in introduced subordinate clauses.
Example: "After I wrote this example have , I stop."

Simple and compound sentences

A traditional distinction is that between a simple sentence and a compound sentence.

Simple sentence

The simple sentence (also: single sentence) is a sentence that contains only one conjugated verb.

The simple sentence can also contain other parts of the sentence , either as a necessary addition (e.g. subject) or as an indication (e.g. attributes or adverbial terms )

  • Example: "The wolf howled at the moon in the night."

Simple sentences also include elliptical sentences and short forms.

  • Example: "Come!"

Compound (complex) sentence

A compound sentence (also: complex sentence) is a sentence in which more than one finite verb occurs or - in other words - which is composed of simple sentences (partial sentences).

If the sub-clauses of a compound clause are of the same order, they are called main clauses and the whole clause is also referred to as a series of sentences or parataxes .

In the case of superordinate and subordinate clauses , the complex sentence is also referred to as a sentence structure (also hypotax ) and a distinction is made between the main clauses (HS) and subordinate clauses (NS). The subordinate clause is the subordinate clause in terms of content - which, for example, defines the statements of another clause in more detail. The sub-clause that does not describe any other sub-clause is a main clause.

Another subordinate clause can depend on a subordinate clause.

  • Example: "I went for a walk (HS) because the sun was supposed to be shining (NS 1), but it did not appear (NS 2)."

A complex sentence with sentence series and sentence structures is also called sentence period .

Sentences can be linked with one conjunction ( syndetic ) or with multiple conjunctions ( polysyndetic ) or without conjunctions ( asyndetic ).


  • Syndetic: "I came, I saw and I won."
  • Polysyndetic: "I came and I saw and I won."
  • Asyndetic: "I came, I saw, I won."

The subordinate clause can often be recognized in German by the position of the inflected (finite) verb form . A sub-clause with an introductory word ( relative pronoun , question word, subordinate conjunction) and a finite verb form at the end is a subordinate clause. In addition, however, there are also uninitiated subordinate clauses.

Incomplete sentence

The term “sentence” also includes incomplete sentences, i.e. sentences that are missing a necessary part of the sentence or more. There are different types:

  • the anacoluth [on] (= broken sentence), often in the spoken language. Invented example: "What did we want again about ... Oh, yes, I remember: It was about the game yesterday."
  • the ellipse , almost the rule in headings; Example: "Biathlon: Many women at the start". Sentences that are subordinate clauses can also be used independently: "That you won't be late for me again!"
  • the nominal rate , usually understood as a set without an auxiliary verb to be . Example: "Wife gone, money gone, apartment gone".
  • the (sentence) fragment, an appearance of mutilated texts.

The sentence in the spoken language

When talking , a short pause separates one sentence from the previous one. The sentence melody depends on the type of sentence (statement, question, request). A sentence can (mostly) be recognized as a unit. The assignment of sentences and their meaning is not always clear.

The sentence and the (German) spelling

For written identification, the beginning of the sentence is capitalized in German; the movement ends with a punctuation mark : point [.], exclamation point [!], question mark and possibly [?] ellipsis [...]. Within compound sentences, commas [,], semicolons [;] and the dash [-] are used to identify the structure of the sentence .

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: Sentence  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Tugendhat, Wolf: Logical-semantic propaedeutics . 1983, p. 22
  2. ^ Kessel, Reimann: Basic knowledge of contemporary German language , Fink, Tübingen 2005, ISBN 3-8252-2704-9 , p. 1.
  3. ^ So Gadler: Practical Linguistics , 3rd ed. (1998), p. 107.
  4. a b Pelz: Linguistik (1996), to 8.1, p. 147.
  5. Duden: Die Grammatik , 7th edition (2005), ISBN 3-411-04047-5 , Rn. 1163.
  6. Langemann, Felgentreu (ed.): Duden: Basiswissen Schule: Deutsch , 2nd edition (2006), ISBN 3-411-71592-8 , p. 130.
  7. a b c d Duden: Die Grammatik , 7th edition (2005), ISBN 3-411-04047-5 , Rn. 1164.
  8. a b So referring Hadumod Bußmann (Hrsg.): Lexikon der Sprachwissenschaft. 3rd updated and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-520-45203-0 (“sentence”).
  9. a b Pelz: Linguistik (1996), to 8.1, p. 148.
  10. similar to the Duden boiler, Reimann: Basic knowledge of contemporary German language . Fink, Tübingen 2005, ISBN 3-8252-2704-9 , p. 1: "A sentence is a linguistic construction made up of different parts of the sentence, with a predicate at its center."
  11. ^ According to Michael Dürr, Peter Schlobinski: Deskriptive Linguistik (2006), p. 271, in addition to the verbal sentence definition, the second main definition.
  12. ^ So Volmert: Language and Speaking . In: Volmert (Hrsg.): Grundkurs Sprachwissenschaft , 5th ed., 2005, ISBN 3-8252-1879-1 , p. 25.
  13. Quine: Grundzüge der Logic , 8th ed. (1993), p. 25.
  14. Detel: Basic Course Philosophy I: Logic (2007), p. 22.
  15. ^ Duden: Spelling and Grammar - Made Easy (2007), p. 183; Pospiech: syntax . In: Volmert (Ed.): Grundkurs Sprachwissenschaft , 5th edition, 2005, ISBN 3-8252-1879-1 , p. 1 15.
  16. ^ According to Michael Dürr, Peter Schlobinski: Deskriptive Linguistik (2006), p. 2 71.
  17. Homberger: Subject Dictionary for Linguistics (2000): "Satz"; similar to Kuno Lorenz : sentence , in: Jürgen Mittelstraß (Hrsg.): Encyclopedia Philosophy and Philosophy of Science. 2nd Edition. Volume 7. Stuttgart, Metzler 2018, ISBN 978-3-476-02106-9 , p. 222: “a linguistic expression that is complete in the communicative aspect, as opposed to the word as a complete linguistic expression in the significant aspect”.
  18. ^ So (referring and doubting) Tugendhat, Wolf: Logisch-semantische Propädeutik (1983), p. 22.
  19. Volmert, Sprache und Sprechen, in: Volmert (Ed.), Grundkurs Sprachwissenschaft, 5th edition (2005), ISBN 3-8252-1879-1 , p. 25
  20. Kuno Lorenz : sentence , in: Jürgen Mittelstraß (ed.): Encyclopedia Philosophy and Philosophy of Science. 2nd Edition. Volume 7. Stuttgart, Metzler 2018, ISBN 978-3-476-02106-9 , p. 222
  21. Duden: Spelling and Grammar - Made Easy (2007), p. 184
  22. Kürschner: Grammatical Compendium . 4th edition 2003. ISBN 3-8252-1526-1 , p. 2 06 (“a single predicate verb”).
  23. ^ After Gadler: Practical Linguistics . 3rd ed. (1998), p 1 09, must contain at least one simple sentence a subject and a predicate, but see below for short forms.
  24. a b Pospiech: Syntax . In: Volmert (Hrsg.): Grundkurs Sprachwissenschaft . 5th edition, 2005, ISBN 3-8252-1879-1 , p. 1 19.
  25. ^ Gadler: Practical Linguistics , 3rd ed. (1998), p. 109.
  26. See Kürschner: Grammatical Compendium . 4th ed. 2003. ISBN 3-8252-1526-1 , p. 206 (containing more than one predicate verb).
  27. ^ Kessel, Reimann: Basic knowledge of German contemporary language . Fink, Tübingen 2005, ISBN 3-8252-2704-9 , p. 8.
  28. Eichsfelder Tageblatt , May 23, 2008, p. 23.
  29. heading in picture .