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In particular I'm interested in the sentence:

Meet with friends and family.

It is a sentence in the 'interests and hobbies' section of a resume, so it can be deduced who the subject is. Is the sentence correct?

More general, I would like to know when we can drop the subject in a sentence.

Edit: The complete section that contains this sentence is:

Interests and hobbies

Meet with friends and family. I like sports, mainly swimming and running.

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First, a conventional and grammatical phrasing would be:

I like (or enjoy) sports, mainly swimming and running, and spending time with friends and family.

That is how I'd write it. In general, position the item that you wish to emphasize at the end.

Another option:

Sports, especially swimming and running, and enjoying my friends and family.

Keep the elements grammatically concordant; for example, both of them noun phrases. Sports ... is a noun phrase, but meet needs to be changed to an -ing form to be a noun phrase.

Is it grammatical/acceptable?

The sentence

Meet friends and family.

is probably not acceptable or grammatical in this context, or is marginal, because it's not what we expect in relation to the heading (interests and hobbies).

Most would probably say that the sentence is grammatical, on its own, but doesn't, in this context, mean what you intend, and does work as a matter of style.

I disagree with the common idea that grammar describes nothing larger than a sentence, however, so I'd personally say it's ungrammatical.

Explaining why is a bit tricky. Here's my amateur analysis:

We will likely read the heading as representing part of an implied expanded sentence:

My interests and hobbies are: ... [something]

The something is a complement and is expected to be supplied after the heading.

If it were an ordinary sentence, not split between heading and list, we would have the structure, if we simplify it:

[Some things] + [are] +(complement).

Let's further simplify it by making it singular, and include someone as an alternative. It may make the illustration more clear:

[Something or someone] + [is] +(complement).

Logically, the verb be here often functions like an equals sign. It is a copula. In many traditional or elementary grammars it's called a linking verb.

Meet, in your sentence, is a verb. Verbs don't work as complements to a copula:

  • OK: Something is wrong. (adj)
  • OK: Mary is tired (adj)
  • OK: My favorite drink is whiskey (noun phrase)
  • OK: Sam is outside (adverb or adverbial)
  • OK: The fly is on the window (propositional phrase/adverbial)

But:

  • *Something is eat.
  • *Someone is walk.
  • *David is swim.
  • *The bird is sing.
  • *Jens is meet.
  • *Jens and J.R. are meet me.
  • *My hobby is meet them.

None of these are grammatical because they try to use a verb phrase as a copula complement.

The issue of -ing forms is complex and confusing with respect to this issue. In brief, when we have

The bird is singing.

Is functions not as a copula, but as an auxiliary to the present continuous verb singing.

In My hobby is meeting my family and friends, is does function as a copula, but meeting functions as a noun heading a noun phrase. Thus it is grammatical. However, that utterance would be odd to native English speakers, because of the connotation that meeting tends to convey in that context.

My hobby is swimming is felicitous, with is functioning as a copula and swimming as a noun (some say gerund, some say verbal noun).

The Wikipedia entry cited above lists the type of word classes or sentence parts that are normally permitted as complements following a copula:

The predicative expression accompanying the copula, also known as the complement of the copula, may take any of several possible forms: it may be a noun or noun phrase, an adjective or adjective phrase, a prepositional phrase (as above) or another adverb or adverbial phrase expressing time or location.

Meeting My family and friends

Meeting my family and friends

could be grammatical and acceptable, if we present it as an element of a list.*

The reader would interpret the heading like, for example,

[I enjoy the following activities:] Meeting friends and family, singing in the bathtub, drinking heavily before work, etc.

When can we omit subjects from a sentence?

Many sentences don't contain a subject. Really.

Really, above, is an example.

Most dictionaries say that sentences typically contain a subject. Implying that some do not.

Implying that some do not, above, is a sentence that contains no subject.

Me: Where did you go?
My friend: Haircut.
Me: Handsome.

Haircut and handsome are both sentences. Neither contains a subject. Ugly would be a much more fun alternative. It would also be a sentence.

This dictionary definition is different from most:

A sentence is a group of words which, when they are written down, begin with a capital letter and end with a full stop, question mark, or exclamation mark. Most sentences contain a subject and a verb.

-- https://www.collinsdictionary.com/amp/english/sentence

From Wikipedia's sentence (linguistics) page:

A sentence is a set of words that in principle tells a complete thought (although it may make little sense taken in isolation out of context). It may be a simple phrase, but it conveys enough meaning to imply a clause, even if it is not explicit; for example, "Two" as a sentence (in answer to the question "How many were there?") implies the clause "There were two."

-- https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sentence_(linguistics)

The Wikipedia entry repeats the idea commonly heard in elementary school: A sentence is a complete thought.

This may feel satisfying, but if we include a conjunction, a sentence often contains more than one complete thought, like this one.

It qualifies the statement with in principle, suggesting we are swimming in murky waters.

It suggests that a sentence is (probably or somehow?) complete, but maybe not by itself. So, the Two, for example, is complete when it follows a How many? question.

What does complete mean if it needs something else?

The Wikipedia entry goes on to present a seemingly more straightforward alternative definition, essentially the same as that quoted above from the Collins Dictionary:

A sentence can also be defined purely in orthographic terms, as a group of words starting with a capital letter and ending in a full stop [period].

Following the above,

Dog car yellow while.

is a sentence.

lol

is not.

Lol.

Sentence.

lol.

Not.

This is not a completely satisfactory, either. Is STOP on a stop sign a sentence? What about Have a gd day as a text or chat message, with no end punctuation?

I suggest that the "real" answer is very complex, and that PhDs in linguistics continue to trade papers seeking to define what a sentence is.

Or actually, most linguists understand that sentences do not exist as real things in nature, but only represent our efforts to make sense of something that is complex (and evolving) beyond our present capacity to understand.

When definitions are given as if sentences were something real, we tend to feel comfortable with the illusion that we can describe the indescribable, or we feel frustrated and lost when we realize that our descriptions don't hold up under even a couple of layers of questioning.

More on the elusive quest of defining sentence:

https://www.thoughtco.com/sentence-grammar-1692087

A professor of linguistics on What is a sentence?

http://pandora.cii.wwu.edu/vajda/ling201/test1materials/syntax.htm

The following is one of the most sophisticated discussion I've seen on the problems with defining a sentence, by another professor of linguistics. He settles on defining it as a maximal clause, i.e. a clause that is not part of another clause. However, he goes on to say that we cannot find a good definition of clause and deems it a primative notion: one that's ultimately undefinable!

When can we drop subjects?

We have the same problem when we try to accurately define a subject. The linguist Geoffrey Pullum discusses the problems with commonly held definitions here, and indicates that subject can only sensibly be defined in syntactic and morphological terms: it (whatever it is) must agree in number with its verb, it can only be in the nomitive if it's a pronoun (I think, not **me think,* etc.): https://www.chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2014/09/19/being-a-subject/

"When can we drop subjects?" is probably not a useful question because the answers lead to more questions until they become metaphysical.

A better question is "Is this acceptable to others (other English speakers)?"

Then the answers might include:

  • Yes.
  • No (people don't talk/write that way).
  • To speakers of some types of English, but not others.
  • In some contexts but not others.
  • It's of marginal/questionable acceptability.

The best way to learn how to write acceptably is to read a lot and listen a lot to the output of proficient speakers, and focus on the meaning of the messages instead of trying to analyze the forms of the language. Our brains, through unconscious processes, are better at figuring out "grammar" on their own, uninterrupted and not distracted by textbook grammar rules, which do not faithfully represent what proficient speakers know about how to use English. What we know but usually can't explain or describe.

Your sentence, if that's what it is, appears to be an element in a list. To determine if it's acceptable, conventional, or "good", we'd need to see how it fits with other elements of the list, how the list is introduced, and how it's formatted.

Because meet has different connotations, such as gather for business purposes, or emphasizes the moment of contact, spend/enjoy time with or some other phrase would probably better communicate what you want to say, and would be more conventional on a resume.

  • 1
    I like your answer. It shows that it (seems) impossible to define 'sentence' in the context of natural language. As an aside: I don't think that 'Xfgrfs' would qualify as a word, but you got your point across. From a more practical point, I am interested in the question: 'is my sentece acceptable to others', especially since I wrote it in my resume. Since you said that answering that question requires more context, I added the full context to my post. Could you, given the full context, answer the question on whether it is acceptable? Kind regards – Jens Wagemaker Sep 3 '19 at 9:48
  • I don't think the section on an orthographic definition of a sentence is helpful or accurate. The Wikipedia definition is shaky at best; following the citation, you find out that this "definition" is associated with how children learn about sentence structure and not how sentences are actually defined. I think your answer would benefit from removing this section. – Dancrumb Sep 3 '19 at 16:05
  • @Dancrumb I have strengthened and clarified the points I wanted to make. I clarified that essentially the definition is also given by Collins. I have supplied several links to one expert who mentions the idea (ThoughtCo), and two more linguists on the broader point I wish to make: language is so complex that it has so far escaped a complete description system. In fact, it's primary or fundamental terms are often carried as folk notions, which may seem to make sense until we probe them. This also applies to trying to define a noun or verb, etc. I don't argue that descriptive grammars are – Jim Reynolds Sep 4 '19 at 4:50
  • useless. I like them. I argue that it's smart to understand that they grasp at phenomena we do not yet understand, including the nature of language. I take your argument as a valid opinion, but not as an objective injury to my arguments or their supporting facts. Thanks again. chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2012/06/20/being-a-noun – Jim Reynolds Sep 4 '19 at 4:55
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A subject is required in an indicative sentence. This is a sentence that states something. For example "John will meet with friends and family."

However, sentences can also be questions or commands. Questions do still have an explicit subject (though the subject might not be the first word) "Who will John meet?" (the subject is "John") or "Who will meet with friends and family?" (The subject is "who"). Commands, however, have no explicit subject. "Meet with friends and family." is an imperative sentence and there is no explicit subject.

There are a few other situations when the subject is dropped. These are usually situations in which there is limited space, like newpaper headlines or advertising, and are not complete sentences. For example "Making America Great".

Normal full sentences always require an explicit subject.

  • Q: How old are you? A: Two. The answer is a statement, yet contains no subject. It's implied. It's also an "indicative sentence", though it contains no verb. – Jim Reynolds Sep 3 '19 at 3:36
  • You wrote "questions have explicit subjects". Why? My question, "Why?" has no explicit subject. Yet it's a sentence. – Jim Reynolds Sep 3 '19 at 3:37
  • You wrote commands have no explicit subject. John, go home. is a command. It has an explicit subject. I would suggest that my example sentences represent quite typical ones, and I'm not sure what you mean by normal full sentences. – Jim Reynolds Sep 3 '19 at 3:46
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    @JimReynolds, I was specifically talking about the sentences I used as examples. It is highly unlikely one would use "will be there" in any formal writing. That's what I meant by "technically incorrect". – urnonav Sep 4 '19 at 13:22
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    which used to be available online as a marketing promotion, and still is if you know where to look. And I do ;) Here: www.cambridge.org/assets/linguistics/cgel/chap1.pdf . Check out the section on p. 8 "Confusing informal style with ungrammaticality". Oh. I guess that is a word. (And Oh can be a sentence that has no subject and can appear in formal discourse.) It makes more sense if you read from p 1. I skip over parts of this book here and there where it gets too detailed or hard-to-follow for me. Chapter 2 is also available if you change 1 to 2 in the URL. – Jim Reynolds Sep 4 '19 at 14:36

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