I understand the classic definition of a sentence is one that contains a predicate and a subject, but is it okay to have shorter sentences that don't follow this structure for effect?

For example, if I was to write something like the following:

Inside was something ancient. Something powerful. Something mysterious. Something that...

I realize I could put the 'Something ancient' and 'Something mysterious' between commas, but would it be okay to use them as stated (between periods) for a kind of more dramatic effect even though they don't fit the classic definition of a full sentence?

  • 1
    Yes! This is perfectly fine as long as this is for a narrative book or something similar. It indeed adds quite a bit of drama. – katatahito Jun 20 '19 at 8:11
  • Literary techniques that are strictly ungrammatical are used all the time by authors for deliberate stylistic effect. – Jason Bassford Jun 21 '19 at 18:23
  • @JasonBassford There is nothing whatsoever “ungrammatical” about the cited mutterances. They are merely minor sentences. – tchrist Jun 21 '19 at 21:35

Grammar is a social convention; specifically it is within linguistics, which is a social science. Grammar and syntax dictate/describe the rules for "well formed" speech (like XML rules). "Well formed" here is defined loosely as, "a native speaker should understand or nearly understand the intended message, even if they don't understand the words."

That's the basis of this joke from Spongebob (YouTube):

Mr Krabs: We've been duped!

Spongebob: Duped?!

Mr. Krabs: Bamboozled!

Spongebob: We've been smeckledorfed!

Mr. Krabs: That's not even a word and I agree with ya!

After having listed 2 synonyms for having been tricked, Spongebob invents a word, but he uses the morphology of how in modern English common verbs form the past tense with the dental suffix "-ed"; compare this with irregular preterites like "went" for "to go" (although this actually follows a conventional rule, albeit in another older language). So Mr Krabs uses the grammatical/linguistic context to assume Spongebob is listing another synonym for tricked or cheated.

As other users here have stated, literature and rhetoric can employ grammar as guidelines, but are much less bound by it than formal or business communications (perhaps an application of technicalities to an excess is epitomized in law texts and legalese).

Just be careful. I think with writing the old saying attributed to Pablo Picasso applies more than ever:

"Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist"

With writing, breaking the rules like an artist is indeed a high discipline which could be said to manifest with something like poetry.

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  • People are confusing grammatical utterances with predicate structures. Oh really? Yes, really. – tchrist Jun 21 '19 at 21:36

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