Is the following grammatically correct? My friend says the second sentence is grammatically incorrect, but couldn't explain why.

I have always been fascinated by statistics. The different ways in which you could look at data and infer knowledge from it.

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    @darthvader I've edited the question for you. Hope I'm getting your point across ok.
    – Urbycoz
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 16:14
  • @darthvader: Your friend objects because the second sentence is just a noun (noun clause, to be precise). Most sentences contain at least one main verb as well. Syntactically it's no different to "I have always been fascinated by the different ways in which you could look at data and infer knowledge from it. Statistics." Is the word "Statistics" a valid sentence? The answer to that simply depends on how pedantic you (or your friend) are. Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 16:17
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    Well, syntactically, it's not clear. That's because punctuation doesn't occur in speech, and syntax is about speech, not writing. So if one had punctuated the sentence with a dash instead of a period after statistics, it would be just fine. Your friend is making the common mistake of confusing writing with language and grammar. Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 17:44
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    Yes, the sentence is grammatically incorrect because, as you say, it has no verb. This makes it a "sentence fragment" rather than a complete sentence. This does not necessarily mean it should not be used. I often use sentence fragments when it conveys the desired meaning, and such fragments can be very effective. Like, "Never do that again. Never." Clearly "Never" is not a complete sentence, but the meaning is clear, and it is more effective than a longer, complete sentence.
    – Jay
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 17:53
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    @darthvader: there's a tendency here to answer what you asked, rather than what you meant (which I think is a good tendency because all we can see is what you write and not what you think). So you should ask that as part of your question if you want that twist on things.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 22:04

9 Answers 9


Traditional grammar defines the sentence as 'a complete thought containing a subject and a predicate'. So by this definition the second 'sentence' is incorrect, but of course writers constantly break the rules of grammar to achieve a particular effect.

The problem I see with the 'sentence' is that it may lead the reader astray. He or she gets to the end of the string of words (a long noun phrase) thinking that they comprise the subject, but then the predicate is missing. This will possibly cause a backtrack to reread the first sentence in order to make sense of the whole. It's generally inconsiderate of your readers to make them do this.

(And no, I would not recommend breaking this traditional rule in an application letter.)

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    And what about: "You can use A, B or C. Or all of them." I don't think the reader needs to return back in that situation.
    – Gangnus
    Commented Jan 22, 2014 at 15:54

The main problem is that "the different ways in which you could look at data and infer knowledge from it" is an appositive that explains the noun statistics, and, as such, shouldn't be in a sentence of its own:

I have always been fascinated by statistics, the different ways in which you could look at data and infer knowledge from it.

If you're attempting to convey why you're fascinated with statistics, it's best to set off the second part with dashes, per this guideline:

I have always been fascinated by statistics -- the different ways in which you could look at data and infer knowledge from it.

  • Strictly speaking, that should really be a single em dash: —
    – Mike
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 16:49
  • +1. This is the only answer that focusses on the precise text quoted by the OP. All the discussion about verbless sentences in general is barely relevant. You could put a verb in the appositive phrase, and that should satisfy the grammarians, but it would make awful reading. I'd use a colon myself, rather than an em-dash, but that's just a matter of style.
    – JeremyC
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 23:00

The second 'thing' in your quote is not a sentence, by most generally accepted notions of sentence.

Linguistically, in English (not necessarily so for some other language) a sentence is -defined- (I'm not saying 'should be') as having a noun phrase and a verb phrase. That is an academic definition, which may be more or may be less restrictive than grade school grammarians, and which may be more or may be less restrictive than styles acceptable for publication/email/formal speech/informal speech/etc, etc

Stylistically, a 'sentence' that is missing a verb is not considered good style in written publications, and would show a lack of writing experience which would get you thrown out of a job for a newspaper, or would stand out as 'poor grammar' in an essay for a university application.

Of course, people (even English speakers) go around making utterances that don't include verbs, or verbs without nouns, or quite often just plain interjections. And they're not berated for that.

So whether you call your things sentences or not, in a serious narrative (fiction or non-fiction) especially for an educational institution, missing a verb is considered 'bad grammar'. For other things (more loose narratives, poetry, fill in the blank answers on tests, etc) a verb might be optional depending on what you want to get across.

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    IMO "in written publications" and "serious narrative" are much too broad. Here's a random example by Hemingway: "You don't know Frances. Any girl at all." Written publication. Serious narrative. A sentence without a verb is not a complete sentence, and that's a grammatical rule. It's not a stylistic rule. Style is all about achieving the desired effect. The OP's example is clumsy style, and not the right style for a university application essay. That doesn't mean that every use of an incomplete sentence is bad style.
    – user16723
    Commented Jan 12, 2012 at 19:04

IMHO, a sentence without any verb could be correct.

Away with flying saucers!

I.e., any slogan.


The "sentences":

"I have always been fascinated by statistics. The different ways in which you could look at data and infer knowledge from it."

are an incorrect way of writing:

"I have always been fascinated by statistics -- the different ways in which you could look at data and infer knowledge from it."

Any scrupulous reader or software would flag the error, not recognizing the break-up of a proper sentence into one complete sentence and a dangling clause.

At the same time, I must add that this is indeed found not so infrequently, even considered an acceptable form from repeated usage.


In her statement, there are verbs in it. The verbs are, Could (helping verb) and look (main verb). Instead of using the word "the" use "there are". "There are different ways on which you could look at data and infer knowledge from it. " Now your sentence make sense. .


second sentence has both subjects and verbs:

subject:you - verb:look - object:data subject is still:you - verb::infer - object:knowledge

whats the issue? - its only the beginning of the sentence that is a problem - not the subjects or verbs, which are plainly indicated.

  • You haven't used a single capital letter or apostrophe in your abrupt answer. The question is more about orthography and punctuation, a topic which you may be unfamiliar with.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 5:44
  • The down-vote is not mine.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 6:40

There are two schools of grammar. The proscriptive and the descriptive. The proscriptive creates rules that users of the language must follow. The descriptive seeks to discover rules from the way the language is commonly used. From the first two sentences written here, you can see I am from the descriptive school.

A period is a complete stop. That is what I wanted for the first sentence, because it gives he reader a chance to take in this thought, which is probably new. To follow the proscriptive rules, I should have said, "The two schools are the proscriptive and the descriptive schools." I did not want to repeat the predicate nominative of the first sentence as the subject of the next sentence, because it would be a waste of time. Since the sentence had no subject, it would have been confusing to have a verb.

Did you have any trouble understanding those sentences? Unlikely, unless you did not know the meaning of prescriptive and descriptive in this context. But I explained that right away.

If it ever seemed to you that proscriptive grammer was awkward and at times seemed to be alien to English, then you were right, because it is based on the rules of Latin grammar, somewhat altered.

Academics love to tell people what to do. But before academics took over the field of grammar, there was a common definition of a sentence as, "a complete thought." Just that. It is a flexible definition and works well. Look in grammars from the 19th century and you will find it.

The English language is the most used and influential language in the world, because it is flexible and accurate, and because we have one of the only descriptive dictionaries in the world: the OED. Our great writers are, as a group, often cited as the most respected in the world. Our literature is full of "non-conforming" sentences like this. I suggest it is better to follow the example of our great writers instead of the example of our officious academics.

As G.B. Shaw pointed out in his play Man and Superman, "He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches." (Often misquoted.) It's a witty generalization that is not entirely true, but it points out a situation that is too often present.


"Could" is a verb - it's a conjugation of "to be able to" - e.g. I can, I could (conditional and also past), I will be able to, I am going to be able to (immediate future)

  • This is wrong on several levels. First of all, could is not a conjugation of "to be able to". That doesn't even make sense. Secondly, could is not the predicate here. It is the verb of the dependent clause starting with which, and its subject is you. The subject of the main clause, however, is ways, and it has no verb to go with it.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Oct 14, 2012 at 16:02
  • Can you give a fuller complete example sentence of what you mean?
    – Mitch
    Commented Oct 14, 2012 at 19:31

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