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A star shoots.

I read something like this somewhere. Can this be thought of as a complete sentence? How does one analyze this, grammatically? It looks as though it is missing some phrase. On the other hand we do say shooting star, so it isn't very clear if this is a complete sentence or not.

So, it may seem like a complete sentence? I guess, “A man runs.” and “It bites.”, seem like this, too? Same with: "A twig swayed.", "A ball rolls.", "A man jumps."

  • The question has been edited to ask about the grammaticality rather than the 'completeness' of the sentence. Surely, we have zillions of similar questions. And in so doing, I have had to change not a single word of my answer (although it might do to augment it to take consider other verbs that were added to the end of the question. – GoDucks Feb 2 '16 at 7:21
  • The author's intent is paramount in terms of the question. What one respondent does in their answer and whether they need to change anything is incidental. – Araucaria Mar 6 '16 at 23:03
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A --------(article)
star -----(noun)
shoots --(verb)

from a syntactic and structural standpoint is a sentence.

However, it is ambiguous from your example if the star shoots (various usages of to shoot ):

a turkey
a basketball
a photo
across the sky

It is also ambiguous if the star is (various meanings of star ):

an exceptional person
a heavenly body
an exceptional person with a heavenly body

The only unambiguous part of the sentence is that it is singular:

A star


Grammatically

A star shoots

is a correct complete sentence (your original question) but so is

A star poops


Semantically

A star shoots might be confusing and may lead to lively discussions, though it would generally be understood to be a light streak with a tail moving quickly cross the sky (not to be confused with comets or man-made objects: planes, satellites, rockets, space stations).

The phrase a star shoots can be found in literature:

A star shoots bleeding across the skyline - Joë Bousquet here

Does he know why a star shoots? - The Awakening here

She disappeared as suddenly as a star shoots, - Anecdotes of the Delborough Family here

Technically

(Astronomical) stars do not shoot anywhere: across, up, down, in, out, in front of, behind, (insert preposition of choice). The phenomenon commonly referred to as a shooting star is actually a meteoroid (the supposed star) which disintegrate due to physical forces caused by contact with the Earth's upper atmosphere. When this happens in groups of shooting stars it can be referred to as a meteor shower.

Stars shoot and meteors shower
Candy's sweet and lemon's sour

One of the more well know meteor showers is the Perseids and there is a more complete list for those who are interested here

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    But this sentence is ungrammatical if the sense is as in shoots across the sky. – Araucaria Jan 21 '16 at 15:59
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    @Araucaria This sentence is not ungrammatical. People walk. Animals sleep. A star shoots. They are all grammatical. And Peter clearly stated that it is ambiguous. Whoever downvoted it, I upvote it. – user24743 Jan 21 '16 at 16:52
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    @Araucaria I have read your answer and upvoted it. It makes sense even though I thought "in the sky" could be omitted as in "The star's just shot" looking or pointing at the sky. I lose, you win. BTW, Did you read my answer on murder? – user24743 Jan 22 '16 at 13:33
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    @saySay You can use "A star shoots", people will understand what you mean. The point I was making about shooting stars being meteriods is very technical, but does not take away from the general understanding of "shooting stars". – Peter Jan 25 '16 at 3:47
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    Dictionary.com noun 3. any heavenly body. Also, The Easter Bunny comes down the chimney is as grammatical as Santa Claus comes down the chimney regardless of how true either of them may be. – Jim Reynolds Jan 31 '16 at 2:29
7

Yes,

A star shoots

is grammatical.

This is true whether star means a famous basketball player or a shooting star. In either case, a is a determiner, which is almost always required before a singular count noun; star is a singular count noun; a star is a noun phrase functioning as the subject of the sentence; and shoots is the verb. It is shoots, not shoot because the noun star is third person singular.

Another sentence is

2 A basketball star shoots.

Here, the verb shoots is being used intransitively, that is, without a direct object. You could also A basketball star shoots a basketball and now the verb shoots is being used transitively, with a direct object.

I could also say

3 A basketball star doesn't dribble. A basketball star shoots.

This is using the verb to define the noun. A basketball star becomes famous by shooting, not by dribbling.

I could also say

4 A (shooting) star doesn't crawl. A (shooting) star shoots.

This also uses the verb shoot intransitively. It is similar to the above sentence, because the verb is used to define the noun. It tells how a (shooting) star moves from Point A to Point B.

5 A moth doesn't zing. A moth flits.

This is the same as sentence 4.

6 A twig doesn't crawl. A twig sways.

This sentence is not describing motion from Point A to Point B. The twig is not changing its location, but the wind is causing it to move in place. So we could also say The wind sways the twig or The twig is swayed by the wind. This is similar to A flag flutters.

Hope this is helpful!

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    I think, where I read it, it seemed to mean a I think nightly star. So, I guess that works? And, so, “A star shoots.” seems grammatical and a complete sentence? – saySay Jan 21 '16 at 19:58
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    @saySay No, that won't work with a nightly star. – Araucaria Jan 21 '16 at 22:39
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    No. No. I think it may have meant, "meteor". So, "A star shoots." A star noun phrase, shoots intransitive verb, and, so I guess that may seem grammatical? I thank you. – saySay Jan 22 '16 at 0:36
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    Yes @say, your sentence A star shoots, with 'shoots' used intransitively, is grammatical in some contexts just as is A moth flits. That's the whole point of my answer. – GoDucks Jan 22 '16 at 3:57
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    I upvoted this answer just for this example: A basketball star doesn't dribble. A star shoots. (It's probably not what the O.P. had in mind when asking the question, but it does an excellent job of showing the can of worms that gets opened when asking, "Is this grammatical?") English is flexible enough that we can very often make something grammatical by contriving the right context. – J.R. Feb 1 '16 at 0:58
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+100

TL;DR ANSWER

Learners should not be expressly taught that "A star shoots." is a grammatical, complete sentence.

Verbs like shoot, race, whiz, etc. (in the sense of move quickly) are rarely used without a complement, and a descriptive grammar must reflect this fact, as well as a good dictionary (see the usage note for each of the verbs in the Oxford Dictionary, the Longman Dictionary, etc.). For example:

shoot #2:
Move or cause to move suddenly and rapidly in a particular direction:
[NO OBJECT, WITH ADVERBIAL OF DIRECTION]: 'the car shot forward'
[WITH OBJECT AND ADVERBIAL OF DIRECTION]: 'he would have fallen if Marc hadn’t shot out a hand to stop him'

One would think that if we choose a logical approach to grammar, we can draw parallels between the verb 'shoot' and some other verbs that don't require complements and have a similar meaning, and it will only seem sensible to rule that 'shoot' can also be used without a compliment. But language, as is actually used, does have countless illogical features and limitations. Many of these details have their own uses and benefits, and therefore should not be disregarded.

LONGER ANSWER

This problem is broader than it seems at first. Chances are you can find a bunch of verbs in your own language that you have to ask yourself: "Do they absolutely require a compliment? Can I use them without any?". Well, I had come across some in two other languages before, and now in English too. So, I'll try to answer with a broader view.

IMO, there are (at least) three different ways to perceive the rules of language, particularly grammar. We should separate these in our mind, especially when we want to teach a language to somebody. You may already know about the first two:

  • the prescriptive approach
  • the descriptive approach
  • the logical approach
    It's a made-up name :)

Prescriptive grammar is now considered obsolete and is frowned-upon by authorities. It tends to impose additional outdated and/or opinion-based restrictions and guidelines on language. It instructs you, for example, to avoid saying "I was shot.", "What are you talking about?", and many other decent sentences.

Descriptive grammar intends to reflect the way a language is actually used, by basing every rule on the way people actually speak, write, etc. You go as far as the usage goes; beyond that, no. You have to respect the detailed conventions of usage.
For example, if you hardly ever hear someone use the verb shoot (in the sense of move quickly) without a compliment, you deduce: Shoot must not be used without a complement.

The Logical approach is a name I made up to describe the way I see liberal-minded people (including myself) sometimes tend to use the language: to relax unreasonable conditions and limitations, and make language rules more symmetrical and simple. Here you extract some basic rules from the common usage (as raw material), and, taking a step forward, analyze those rules and see if there are any ways to expand them consistently, or relax some limitations.
As an example, take the verb shoot, which is not normally used without a complement. But we can draw similarities between shoot and some other verbs or verb phrases (e.g.: accelerate, move quickly, etc.), and judge that it's passable to say "A star shoots." without a Locative Compliment.
Mind, I'm not saying that anything is permitted in logical grammar. For example, "A shoots star" is impossible because there are no similar constructions: it's an inconsistent stretch.

One important difference between the descriptive and logical approaches is how they handle absence of evidence. In the former, you look for a construction in a large corpus to judge its validity, and if you don't find evidence, you avoid it. But in the latter, absence of evidence is not necessarily reason enough. There are other consistency considerations, e.g.: simplicity and symmetry of the rules, similarities, etc. (One might also add other factors like comicality, wittiness, etc., but then one should look for a title more apt than logical approach; something like innovative approach would be nice then.)

Now, when we want to teach someone a language, what approach should we choose? The descriptive one of course, because that's the one that describes the language as it is.

Is the logical approach of any use then? It is indeed.
For instance, many times people reform the structure of a sentence to give an ironic ring to it. You may want to alter the usual order of some adjectives or use shoot without a complement or even create a new word for humorous or emphatic effect. Note that this kind of effect would be less possible if it weren't for the asymmetries of the language (e.g.: if there were no adjective order, changing the order would be of no effect).
Furthermore, if people were to always follow the same words and constructions, languages would never have changed, and the same things would have been repeated forever. But we all know that's not true. Languages do change for many reasons, one of them being the fact that people just love to be creative, to bend and break the rules and realize new possibilities. Shakespeare himself is believed to have invented hundreds of unprecedented words and expressions.
But that is not to say that learners should be introduced to conventional rules and innovative/logical ideas at the same time. You have to master the standard language first. If you jumble up half a dozen "logical" abnormalities in one sentence, you'll only get yourself laughed at, and get bad grades in your exams.

I would ramble on about the relation between conventional and innovative approaches, but I'm not an expert, and also my English is not yet good enough to give proper explanation with illustrative examples by well known authors or by myself. As a learner, I'd rather stick to the descriptive approach for now.
I've talked too much already anyway. But with the dispute in the previous postings, I hoped a longer answer would be fitting.

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    On what basis do you assert how learners should be taught? Maybe that's right. Maybe it's wrong. Maybe it's fodder for a great debate. But it doesn't respond to the question. – Jim Reynolds Jan 31 '16 at 3:39
  • @JimReynolds As I've said before, a descriptive grammar is what a learner must aim to finally master, not an abstract structure that is just a simplified sketch of the language. On this basis, A star shoots, while structurally fine, shouldn't be deemed grammatical. So my answer does respond to the question. – Færd Jan 31 '16 at 3:58
  • I think you should spell out the names of the dictionaries you link to, and make sure you are looking to the dictionary you name. Are you really looking to the Oxford English Dictionary? – GoDucks Jan 31 '16 at 15:30
  • @GoDucks Yes, spelling out is a better idea. Thanks. – Færd Jan 31 '16 at 16:25
  • The question wasn't whether this is a good example sentence to teach learners; it asked whether the sentence is grammatical. Undoubtedly it is grammatical; also undoubtedly, its meaning is unclear without a lot of context, and it should therefore only be used with care. – Michael Kay Mar 1 '17 at 22:20
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  1. A twig swayed.

  2. A man jumped.

  3. A star shoots.

The verb shoot is used in different senses. But let's look at the folloeing meanings relevant to the sentence #3 being argued:

  1. to move or cause to move very suddenly and quickly (transitive and intransitive verb).

  2. To emit.

  3. To appear suddenly.

If you think that a star means a shooting star, falling star, or a meteot, you can use the shoot in the sense #1. But I have never found a star to mean a meteor in a dictionary: meteors or shooting stars have nothing to do with stars. So the sentence doesn't express this sense. However, you can say:

A shooting star/meteor shoots.

Regarding the sense 2, you can say,:

A star shoots rays of light. Rays of lights are shot by a star.

As for the sense 3, it's the only sense the following sentence conveys:

A star shoots. Stars shot through a break in the clouds.

The verb shoot has been used as an intransitive verb like the verbs sway and jump used in the sentences #1 and #2.

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