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Is "Happy Birthday!" a complete sentence? And if it is, what role are the words happy and birthday playing? Where is the verb? Can "happy" be a verb? I know in a sentence like "Go get the milk" there is an implied "You" at the beginning that makes it complete. Is there an implied verb?

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    There is a faction that considers statements which do not consist of complete sentences as always wrong. While sentence fragments should not be used where lack of clarity would result, and their overuse is bad style, fragments such as 'Happy Birthday(!)', 'No', 'On the table' etc are commonly used and not wrong per se. You could consider 'Happy Birthday' to be an elision of 'You have a happy birthday' via 'Have a happy birthday', but the phrase stands well enough alone (and has achieved double-capital-letter status). – Edwin Ashworth Aug 10 '13 at 21:19
  • @EdwinAshworth Thank you so much! Can you please post that comment as an answer so I can accept it for others with the same question? – scohe001 Aug 11 '13 at 0:54
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    That’s like asking whether Really? is a “complete” sentence. It is a complete utterance. It just has no predicate. – tchrist Aug 11 '13 at 4:09
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There are those who consider statements which do not consist of complete sentences as always wrong. While sentence fragments and other sentence substitutes (see http://www.thefreedictionary.com/sentence+substitute ) should not be used where lack of clarity would result, and their overuse is bad style, strings such as 'Happy Birthday(!)', 'No', 'Thanks', 'Ciao', 'On the table', 'Up the Reds', 'Too bad!' etc are commonly used and not wrong per se. Some are formulaic (eg 'On yer bike!') and, even if they are elided forms, that might now be hard to deduce. Less formulaic examples are usually more obviously elided forms (Where are the keys? - (They are) On the table.)

You could consider 'Happy Birthday' to be an elision of 'You have a happy birthday' via 'Have a happy birthday', but the phrase stands well enough alone (and has achieved double-capital-letter status as a fixed expression of salutation). As Janus Bahs Jacquet says in his comment, “Happy Birthday!” is not a sentence according to the normally accepted definition. But that does not make it unacceptable (as is usually quite obvious when it is used).

  • Or I wish you a happy birthday. – bib Aug 11 '13 at 16:10
  • Or We wish you a happy birthday. Or We really hope you have a happy birthday. Or... – Edwin Ashworth Aug 11 '13 at 18:22
  • and a happy new yeeeeeear – Ian MacDonald Nov 14 '18 at 15:44
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In ‘The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language’, David Crystal distinguishes between major sentences and minor sentences, as follows:

‘[A major sentence] is a type of sentence which is highly productive, such as those with a subject plus predicate structure; contrasts with minor sentences, where there is limited productivity, or where the structure lacks some of the constituents found in the major type.’

On that basis, ‘Happy Birthday’ is a minor sentence.

  • The AHD demands that a sentence have 'a predicate that contains at least one finite verb' whilst Collins and Webster's do not. So, according to the AHD, a 'minor sentence' lacking such a verb cannot be a sentence. Reminds me of the 'are intransitive prepositions prepositions' debate. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 11 '13 at 18:30
  • Functional Grammar deals with it by speaking of 'non-clausal material'. – Barrie England Aug 11 '13 at 18:48
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'Happy birthday' is a shortened form of Have a happy birthday. 'Merry Christmas' is a shortened form of have a merry Christmas. 'Good day' is a shortened form of have a good day. These are all expressions, and as expressions, they don't have to be true sentences in order to be inserted into text.

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    Again, as with David’s comment, why do you assume that they are shortened forms? There is no evidence to suggest that, as far as I know. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 11 '13 at 12:36
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"Happy Birthday!" is a complete sentence. As in many imperatives, the subject is "you" and is implied. Here, the verb "have" is also implied. Essentially, it's "You have a happy birthday" with "you" and "have" implied.

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    There is no reason to assume an implied subject and predicate. As Edwin and tchrist note in their comments, non-sentential phrases can stand on their own in many cases. No elision is necessary. Besides, even if it were elision, the elision would still result in “Happy Birthday!” no longer being a complete sentence in its surface form. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 11 '13 at 8:17

protected by RegDwigнt Nov 14 '18 at 15:23

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