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To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children
;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better,
whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
to know that even one life has breathed easier
because you have lived.

This is to have succeeded.

Are these sentences called something specific, in grammar? These don't seem to have any subject. Can they be thought of as complete sentences?

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  • They are definitely not complete sentences. The first "sentence" is an enumeration of infinitive phrases. They aren't subjects, they aren't objects. Example of an object: "to err is human" -- "to err" is a direct object of the verb "is". Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 21:26
  • Or maybe I'm mistaken about "to err", which might actually be a subject. Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 21:28
  • @VictorBazarov Yes. In fact, be does not take any object: it takes a predicate complement. Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 22:03
  • @StoneyB, ah, so is "to err" in that expression a predicate complement or is it a subject? Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 22:09
  • 1
    @saySay Keep in mind that sentence is something of an artificial concept. We don't use periods and capital letters when we speak. If someone were to say your example out loud, and two different people were to write it down, they might use punctuation very differently!
    – user230
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 22:45

2 Answers 2

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This is one long "sentence". Replace the full stop with a comma or dash, and you have an unusually long but otherwise unremarkable example of left dislocation.

    CANONICAL FORM: To laugh often is to have succeeded.
LEFT-DISLOCATED FORM: To laugh often, this is to have succeeded.

In your example, the dislocated subject is a list of infinitival phrases: to laugh ..., to win ..., to earn ..., to appreciate ..., to leave ..., to know ... .

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  • Ah. So, what I gathered is that a sentence is somewhat artificial. “Canonical” and “Left-Dislocated Form”. . . interesting! I don’t think I’ve read infinitival phrases used as subjects so often. So, for example, to laugh, or to laugh often I guess I think of as the subject? I guess I have three questions to clarify: I thought subjects require nouns? I guess, grammatically, you can place a full stop (;, here) even though I thought full stops only get used after a noun and intransitive verb, or noun, transitive verb, and object?
    – saySay
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 1:11
  • And, if I may ask, where did you find this citation so that I may maybe try to read it a bit?
    – saySay
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 1:11
  • 1) Yes, it's very rhetorical. 2) Various sorts of subordinate clauses, full or reduced, can act as subjects. 3) Contexts like this really fall outside the purposes for which the codified punctuation you read about in style manuals is designed. 4) There's a Wikipedia article on Dislocation (syntax) you may find helpful. Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 1:27
  • Wait, what's rhetorical? So, to laugh (subject) in to laugh often and much (noun phrase?) same with (to win the respect of intelligent people, etc.?). And so is this really more of a list with (;'s), when I would usually see commas? As I don't really see them as sentences in that they seem just like infinitival phrases, or noun phrases? So, like I would think of it like To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people, and the affection of children . . .—This is to have succeeded.
    – saySay
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 3:28
  • I guess I don't get how he can, (in a grammatically correct way), use (;'s) as they aren't complete sentences, and (;'s) signify to me (not sure if they get called a full stop) an end to a complete sentence.
    – saySay
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 3:34
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Periods (.) are full stops. They indicate the ends of statements.

Question marks (?) indicate the ends of questions.

Exclamation marks (!) indicate the ends of exclamatory statements.

Semi-colons (;) are not full stops. They separate related thoughts that are part of the same sentence.

Commas (,) are less significant than semi-colons. Commas are used to separate items in lists.

According to http://emerson-legacy.tamu.edu/Ephemera/Success.html, the original poster's quotation is adapted from Bessie A. Stanley's poem "What is Success?", which was published in 1911:

He has achieved success,
who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much;
who has gained the respect of intelligent men
and the love of little children;
who has filled his niche and accomplished his task,
whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
who has never lacked an appreciation
of earth's beauty, or failed to express it;
who has always looked for the best in others
and given the best he had;
whose life was an inspiration
and whose memory a benediction.

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  • So, if I write, He confused me; he was always late. this is considered one sentence? As, (;’s) are not full stops, and they separate related thoughts that are part of the same sentence?
    – saySay
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 22:44
  • @saySay -- Your comment is worthy of its own question. By the way, each half of your example is a complete sentence. (You could replace the semi-colon with a period, capitalize the second "he", and be grammatically correct.) I do not see the relationship between the two halves of your example. When using a semi-colon, you should make sure that there is a clear relationship between the thoughts.
    – Jasper
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 22:52

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