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Can a phrase that needs more to make a complete thought ever be its own sentence? What about the following phrase that begins with preposition "for"?

I'm waiting for the answer. For any reply at all.

closed as unclear what you're asking by KarlG, curiousdannii, Skooba, Mitch, Nigel J Jan 26 '18 at 15:52

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  • "Why?" is my response. – Jasen Jan 25 '18 at 8:09
  • @Jasen I guess that's what I'm asking. – user3293056 Jan 25 '18 at 8:09
  • @NigelJ i think you're being unhelpful – user3293056 Jan 26 '18 at 14:44
  • Did you check what 'sentence' means in a dictionary? – Mitch Jan 26 '18 at 14:51
  • @Mitch yes, not sure what your point is? – user3293056 Jan 27 '18 at 18:37
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In fact, your example does not fully illustrate your question as you have put it. If a stretch of words has no verb, then it is neither a clause nor a sentence.

But your example, as it stands, has no verb, and so is not a clause. It is a phrase. Except that it does have a verb. It borrows the verb from the previous sentence: “I’m waiting”. This trick of style is called ‘ellipse’ (from the Greek ‘ekleipsis’, which simply means ‘leaving out’). This is left for you to assume. The fact that you have understood the sentence proves that you did.

The writer used a rhetorical trick to make sure you understood. S/he repeated the key word ‘for’ from the previous sentence, reminding you of “I’m waiting”. Making you work in this way give greater force to the phrase “for any reply at all”. This trick is one kind of what is called ‘anaphora’ (which is only the Greek for ‘repetition’!)

But there are phrases that can stand as sentences: usually exclamations. “Sharon, your manners!” would be an example. Or, more topically, when Gordon Brown muttered to himself “bigoted woman!” in his car, that could be called a sort of sentence, as would his assistant’s warning “Gordon, the microphone!”. Even these, are hinting at complete sentences, which the listener is left to intuit.

  • To the OP, @Tuffy's answer is correct. My previous comments were not! 'For' was being used in exactly the same way both times in your first example. – Ross Murray Jan 25 '18 at 10:23
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You may. But be careful! I think your example is fine, despite it being obviously ungrammatical.
This well-known quote may interest you:

“It is an old observation that the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric. When they do so, however, the reader will usually find in the sentence some compensating merit, attained at the cost of the violation. Unless he is certain of doing as well, he will probably do best to follow the rules. After he has learned, by their guidance, to write plain English adequate for everyday uses, let him look, for the secrets of style, to the study of the masters of literature.” ― William Strunk Jr., The Elements Of Style

  • obviously ungrammatical, ok thanks. i was never taught grammar – user3293056 Jan 25 '18 at 8:30
  • while i'm at it, may i ask if i can use a comma there with or without a conjunction like 'or'? – user3293056 Jan 25 '18 at 8:31
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    Either of these is grammatically correct: (1) "I'm waiting for the answer, for any reply at all." or (2) "I'm waiting for the answer or for any reply at all." A comma before 'or' in (2) is allowable, but you should rarely use commas when only joining only two clauses with a conjunction. As soon as there are three elements in a list you must then use the Oxford comma style or the non-Oxford-comma style. – Ross Murray Jan 25 '18 at 8:38
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    @user3293056 That last one's a little more awkward--it's not obvious how it works (also I'd use "were", not was). In your original sentence, a dash might be effective: "I'm waiting for the answer--for any reply at all." The quoted advice in the answer, to study the masters of literature, is a very good point. – Xanne Jan 25 '18 at 9:09
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    Okay. I'll do my best with this but this explanation is incomplete. 'For' is most commonly used as a preposition but has other uses as a coordinating conjunction. Commas are usually wrong when placed before prepositions. They are often used before coordinating conjunctions, and much then depends on whether you are joining two or more elements in some sort of list. In your first example, the first 'for' is a preposition and the second a conjunction. The second example has a preposition. I suggest you start learning more by searching for "BOYFANS". It's a mnemonic worth understanding. – Ross Murray Jan 25 '18 at 9:10

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