What Is a Minor Sentence?

These common aphorisms are examples of minor sentences.

A fragmented, elliptical, or incomplete sentence or clause that still conveys meaning. Also called a minor clause, an abbreviated clause, or a sentence fragment.

There are several types of minor sentences and clauses in English. These include exclamations and interjections (for example, "Wow" and "What the hell"), aphoristic expressions ("Like father, like son"), answers to questions ("Not right now"), self-identification ("Mary here"), imperatives ("Go!"), and vocatives ("You over there!").

As shown below, minor sentences are used more often in speech and tweets than in formal written English.

The use of the term minor to describe this sentence pattern in English has been attributed to both Leonard Bloomfield (Language, 1933) and Eugene Nida (dissertation, 1943; Synopsis of English Syntax, 1966).

See Examples and Observations, below. Also, see:

Examples and Observations:

  • "That's the grub signal. All out for breakfast. First come, first served."
  • "One of his sons suddenly turned his head and exclaimed, 'Hullo! What is that?' He dived through the door and I heard him shout. 'Fire! Fire!' We crowded after him pushing our way past the buffaloes."
  • Minor Sentences at the Market
    "[O]ften purchases may be made entirely with the use of minor sentence types: How much for these? Fifty cents a dozen. Too much. How about these over here? Well, how much for them? Forty cents per. All right. A few sprigs of parsley too, then? Okay. Thanks. Good-bye."
  • Stylistic Advice
    "Not all sentences contain verbs; completeness is not dependent on the presence of a finite verb. Grammarians do, however, put sentences without finite verbs in a special category of their own. They call them 'minor sentences.' 'To return to the matter in hand' and 'What an absolutely perfect day!' are, like 'Yes!' and 'Really?' minor sentences.
  • Minor Sentences and Illocutionary Force
    "[M]inor clauses which function independently may have illocutionary force, . . . as can be seen from the following two examples of minor clauses from the dialogue, to which we add an example of a moodless -ing clause:
    • Simon here. (minor clause)
    • Fantastic! (minor clause)
  • Minor Sentences in Tweets
    "A decision also has to be made about how to handle minor sentences (yeah, wow, hey, haha, etc.), which are a noticeable feature of Twitter data. Presumably elements such as lol, omg, btw, smh, and emoticons should be classed as minor sentences, even though some etymologically represent something more complex (laughing out loud, scratching my head). These appear in 25 tweets (17 percent) and are a major feature of the style of some tweeters, who can introduce three or four in a single message:
    • haha yea that's the best language to speak lol
    • In all, 36 tweets (25 percent) incorporate minor sentences of one kind or another."

Sources

Samuel Hopkins Adams, The Harvey Girls. Random House, 1942

Wilfred Thesiger, The Marsh Arabs. Longmans, 1964

Eugene A. Nida, A Synopsis of English Syntax. Walter de Gruyter, 1973

Angela Downing and Philip Locke, English Grammar: A University Course.

Routledge, 2006

David Crystal, Internet Linguistics: A Student Guide. Routledge, 2011