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What word or phrase adequately describes a series of words which may have a distinct meaning, but fail to adhere to normal grammatical rules? In particular, they might not have any finite verb or even proper noun.

"Morphine 20mg prn."

"God almighty!"

"Sleepy now: less tired later"

"Implacable November weather."

Nominal group is the closest I can come up with, but I'm not sure that this is quite accurate. More generic terms such as "chunk", "phrase" or "segment" also feel inappropriate.

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, Drew, curiousdannii, jimm101, Mitch Mar 29 '16 at 13:54

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  • There is more than one definition of a sentence, and your examples fit most of them. If you think that these are not sentences, you are welcome to name them whatever you want. That won't change the fact that they are sitll sentences in other people's books. And even more to the point: why does it matter to you what you name these? What aspects of the world will change at all depending on whether you call these sentences sentences, nominal groups, or Khabarovsks? It's just a label. Label them X42. That's fine. – RegDwigнt Mar 28 '16 at 17:41
  • Just for the sake for completeness, though: the linguistic term for a "nominal group" is noun phrase. Which, again, is completely orthogonal to whether it is also a sentence. Your third example is a sentence, but not a noun phrase. In fact it does not feature a single noun, much less as its head. – RegDwigнt Mar 28 '16 at 17:53
  • @RegDwigнt specifically? Use of Natural Language Processing software that would have difficulty making sense of the above: trying to find the correct syntax to describe such a problem ("copes well with sentences, but poorly with sentences" doesn't really cut it.) – Stumbler Mar 28 '16 at 19:47

The term "sentence fragment" is often used to describe a meaningful sequence of words that lacks a subject or a verb, including implied ones, or that otherwise does not form a complete idea (on account of being a prepositional phrase, for example). That would certainly be applicable to your first, second, and fourth samples.

Your third example would probably be understood by most people to have an implicit subject and verb, so that it is equivalent to "I am sleepy now, but I will be less tired later". The usage of the colon in the original is actually the oddest thing about that one; I don't think it fits in the same category as the others.


I would just classify these phrases depending on their meaning, rather than generically. They are are, as others have pointed out, (noun) phrases, or sentence fragments.

Take your second example, for example:

God almighty!

I would call that an exclamation, or exclamatory phrase/fragment.

Sleepy now: less tired later

Perhaps a declarative phrase?

Morphine 20mg prn.

In full English, we might say, "twenty milligrams of Morphine when necessary." This almost feels like that answer to a question. It is a short statement of fact, a prescription label.

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