I proposed a programming puzzle, where the question is to generate gramatically correct sentence with the shortest program (see: [https://codegolf.stackexchange.com/questions/78138/linguistic-code-golf][1]).

One suggested solution was "Hello, World!", this is an standard output at a special language where no code is written.

My question is: Can "Hello, World!" be rated as a correct English sentence? My feeling is, that it is not, because there is no verb in it. But since I'm not clear what is the correct definition of a sentence, I want to raise the question to the linguistic experts here.


Based on the feedback I got here, there are several different possiblities on how to define a sentence. This was a bit of a suprise to me. Since the answer to this question seems to be opinion based. I suggest to close this question.

  • 1
    There is more than one definition of a sentence, and your example fits most of them. If you think that this is not a sentence, you are welcome to name it whatever you want. That won't change the fact that it is sitll a sentence by other definitions, and even more to the point, it won't change the fact that it is 100% impeccable English. You can take any English utterance and name it whatever you please, and it won't care one bit. No aspect of the world will change at all. It's just a label. Go ahead, label it X42 or Khabarovsk. – RegDwigнt Apr 21 '16 at 14:44
  • This is an interesting topic and I wish this received more attention because the question becomes what makes a sentence a sentence? If "Hello, world!" were a sentence then I'd suppose "Hello" was also a sentence but this is, as I agree with the OP, very subjective. – Chris Gong Apr 21 '16 at 16:38

Based on the following definition of Hello, "Hello, World!" is an exclamation + a noun. Note that in this utterance, "Hello" is not a verb, and not a predicate.

Hello, exclamation 1 Used as a greeting or to begin a telephone conversation: hello there, Katie! - ODO

According to David Crystal's A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics (thanks, snailboat!),

The largest structural unit in terms of which the grammar of a language is organized. Innumerable definitions of sentence exist, ranging from the vague characterizations of traditional grammar (such as ‘the expression of a complete thought’) to the detailed structural descriptions of contemporary linguistic analysis.
- p.432, Crystal, D., A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics

The entry goes on to describe analyses of sentence patterns:

Most analyses also recognize some such classification of ‘sentence patterns’ into simple v. complex or compound types, i.e. consisting of one subject – predicate unit, as opposed to more than one. Whether one calls this subject–predicate unit a clause or a ‘simple’ sentence, or uses some other term depends on one’s model of analysis – but something analogous to this unit emerges in all theories, e.g. NP + VP, actor–action–goal, Subject–Verb–Object.
- p.433, ibid

Crystal also defines minor sentences as follows:

minor (adj.) (1) A term used by some linguists in the classification of sentence types to refer to a sentence (a minor sentence) with limited productivity (e.g. Please, Sorry) or one which lacks some of the constituents of the language’s major (or favourite) sentence type (e.g. vocatives, elliptical constructions).
- p.307, ibid

If you use the subject-predicate unit definition of sentences, then "Hello, World!" isn't a sentence.

If, however, you allow the broader definition of sentence based on "the expression of a complete thought", and in particular consider minor sentences to be sentences, then "Hello, World!" is a sentence.

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"Stop." And "Go" are complete sentences because the declaration implies both subject and predicate. Following that logic, I would say that "Hello" implies that a person is speaking to the world, and their statement is the predicate.

I would say that "Hello world" is a complete sentence.

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Technically, "Hello, World!" is not a grammatically correct sentence since it takes the form of a dependent clause. Dependent clauses are parts of a sentence that cannot stand on their own, which makes sense in this case. "Hello, world!" cannot stand on its own as a sentence. There needs to be a independent clause joining that dependent clause to make this a grammatically correct sentence. Or, two independent clauses can be joined together with certain conjunctions and punctuation. However, "Hello, world!" can definitely used as dialogue in the proper context.

For example,

In response, Joe said, "Hello, world!"

"Hello, world!" he exclaimed.

Doesn't even have to be used in dialogue,

"Hello, world!" is the trademark phrase of computer science.

In conclusion, the phrase "Hello, world!" would not necessarily be tolerated in a formal paper or a playwright without formal context. However, it is heard in spoken English anytime and can be interpreted in any way, shape, or form. Therefore, it is up to the reader's discretion to decide whether the phrase can stand on its own. What do you think? Because that's what matters.


To further justify my answer, this quote was taken from http://www.chompchomp.com/terms/clause.htm which states that

"The important point to remember is that every sentence must have at least one main clause. Otherwise, you have a fragment, a major error."

My original answer stated that each word in the phrase could be treated as a clause, which is incorrect since clauses require a subject and verb. I immediately retracted this answer. So I'm trying to argue in my updated answer that "Hello, world" is a dependent clause with a implied subject (the speaker). A dependent clause needs an independent clause and to make it clear I used examples in my answer. If you argue that it's not a clause, then it's simply just a fragment or an utterance, not a sentence.

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  • 2
    I don't think they are clauses by any common definition of clause. – dangph Apr 21 '16 at 15:17
  • you could argue that "Hello, world!" by itself is one dependent clause – Chris Gong Apr 21 '16 at 15:20

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