Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Is the following grammatically correct? My friend says the second sentence is grammatically incorrect, but couldn't explain why.

I have always been fascinated by statistics. The different ways in which you could look at data and infer knowledge from it.

share|improve this question
2  
@darthvader I've edited the question for you. Hope I'm getting your point across ok. –  Urbycoz Jan 11 '12 at 16:14
    
@darthvader: Your friend objects because the second sentence is just a noun (noun clause, to be precise). Most sentences contain at least one main verb as well. Syntactically it's no different to "I have always been fascinated by the different ways in which you could look at data and infer knowledge from it. Statistics." Is the word "Statistics" a valid sentence? The answer to that simply depends on how pedantic you (or your friend) are. –  FumbleFingers Jan 11 '12 at 16:17
1  
Well, syntactically, it's not clear. That's because punctuation doesn't occur in speech, and syntax is about speech, not writing. So if one had punctuated the sentence with a dash instead of a period after statistics, it would be just fine. Your friend is making the common mistake of confusing writing with language and grammar. –  John Lawler Jan 11 '12 at 17:44
2  
Yes, the sentence is grammatically incorrect because, as you say, it has no verb. This makes it a "sentence fragment" rather than a complete sentence. This does not necessarily mean it should not be used. I often use sentence fragments when it conveys the desired meaning, and such fragments can be very effective. Like, "Never do that again. Never." Clearly "Never" is not a complete sentence, but the meaning is clear, and it is more effective than a longer, complete sentence. –  Jay Jan 11 '12 at 17:53
    
So, is it fine to use this in an official document such as an essay for an application to a University? –  darthvader Jan 11 '12 at 18:44
show 2 more comments

6 Answers

Traditional grammar defines the sentence as 'a complete thought containing a subject and a predicate'. So by this definition the second 'sentence' is incorrect, but of course writers constantly break the rules of grammar to achieve a particular effect.

The problem I see with the 'sentence' is that it may lead the reader astray. He or she gets to the end of the string of words (a long noun phrase) thinking that they comprise the subject, but then the predicate is missing. This will possibly cause a backtrack to reread the first sentence in order to make sense of the whole. It's generally inconsiderate of your readers to make them do this.

(And no, I would not recommend breaking this traditional rule in an application letter.)

share|improve this answer
1  
And what about: "You can use A, B or C. Or all of them." I don't think the reader needs to return back in that situation. –  Gangnus Jan 22 at 15:54
add comment

The main problem is that "the different ways in which you could look at data and infer knowledge from it" is an appositive that explains the noun statistics, and, as such, shouldn't be in a sentence of its own:

I have always been fascinated by statistics, the different ways in which you could look at data and infer knowledge from it.

If you're attempting to convey why you're fascinated with statistics, it's best to set off the second part with dashes, per this guideline:

I have always been fascinated by statistics -- the different ways in which you could look at data and infer knowledge from it.

share|improve this answer
add comment

The second 'thing' in your quote is not a sentence, by most generally accepted notions of sentence.

Linguistically, in English (not necessarily so for some other language) a sentence is -defined- (I'm not saying 'should be') as having a noun phrase and a verb phrase. That is an academic definition, which may be more or may be less restrictive than grade school grammarians, and which may be more or may be less restrictive than styles acceptable for publication/email/formal speech/informal speech/etc, etc

Stylistically, a 'sentence' that is missing a verb is not considered good style in written publications, and would show a lack of writing experience which would get you thrown out of a job for a newspaper, or would stand out as 'poor grammar' in an essay for a university application.

Of course, people (even English speakers) go around making utterances that don't include verbs, or verbs without nouns, or quite often just plain interjections. And they're not berated for that.

So whether you call your things sentences or not, in a serious narrative (fiction or non-fiction) especially for an educational institution, missing a verb is considered 'bad grammar'. For other things (more loose narratives, poetry, fill in the blank answers on tests, etc) a verb might be optional depending on what you want to get across.

share|improve this answer
1  
IMO "in written publications" and "serious narrative" are much too broad. Here's a random example by Hemingway: "You don't know Frances. Any girl at all." Written publication. Serious narrative. A sentence without a verb is not a complete sentence, and that's a grammatical rule. It's not a stylistic rule. Style is all about achieving the desired effect. The OP's example is clumsy style, and not the right style for a university application essay. That doesn't mean that every use of an incomplete sentence is bad style. –  Ben Crowell Jan 12 '12 at 19:04
add comment

The "sentences":

"I have always been fascinated by statistics. The different ways in which you could look at data and infer knowledge from it."

are an incorrect way of writing:

"I have always been fascinated by statistics -- the different ways in which you could look at data and infer knowledge from it."

Any scrupulous reader or software would flag the error, not recognizing the break-up of a proper sentence into one complete sentence and a dangling clause.

At the same time, I must add that this is indeed found not so infrequently, even considered an acceptable form from repeated usage.

share|improve this answer
add comment

IMHO, a sentence without any verb could be correct.

Yes!
No!
Away with flying saucers!

I.e., any slogan.

share|improve this answer
add comment

"Could" is a verb - it's a conjugation of "to be able to" - e.g. I can, I could (conditional and also past), I will be able to, I am going to be able to (immediate future)

share|improve this answer
    
This is wrong on several levels. First of all, could is not a conjugation of "to be able to". That doesn't even make sense. Secondly, could is not the predicate here. It is the verb of the dependent clause starting with which, and its subject is you. The subject of the main clause, however, is ways, and it has no verb to go with it. –  RegDwigнt Oct 14 '12 at 16:02
    
Can you give a fuller complete example sentence of what you mean? –  Mitch Oct 14 '12 at 19:31
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.