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Can a sentence have no verbs in it?

If I say "I went for a run yesterday" then I am using a verb (to run) but if I say "This is a door" then am I using any verbs in that sentence? You can argue that 'is' is a verb cause the verb 'to be' can be argued as 'to is' but that would be incorrect. An example where I can't see any verbs would be the first sentence of this page. 'Can a sentence have no verbs?'This sentence seems to have no verbs but still I am doubting if it doesn't have any verbs.

In short, does every sentence need a verb and if doesn't is it grammatically correct?

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It depends how you define "sentence", which you haven't said.

Here is your question repeated with all the verbs highlighted in bold:

Does every sentence need a verb?

Can a sentence have no verbs in it?

If I say "I went for a run yesterday" then I am using a verb (to run) but if I say "This is a door" then am I using any verbs in that sentence? You can argue that 'is' is a verb because the verb 'to be' can be argued as 'to is' but that would be incorrect. An example where I can't see any verbs would be the first sentence of this page. 'Can a sentence have no verbs?' This sentence seems to have no verbs but still I am doubting if it doesn't have any verbs.

In short, does every sentence need a verb and if [it] doesn't, is it grammatically correct?

The verbs you used:

(In)Transitive Verbs

  • to say: say (1st person, singular; present) ("I say" x 2)
  • to go: went (1st person, singular; simple past) ("I went")
  • to seem: seems (3rd person, singular; present) ("[it] seems to have")
  • to run: run (infinitive) ("to run")
  • to see: see (infinitive) ("I can't see")
  • to have: have (infinitive) ("can [it] have" x 2, "[it] seems to have", "it doesn't have")
  • to need: need (infinitive) ("does [it] need")
  • to argue: argue (infinitive) ("you can argue"); argued (past participle) ("[it] can be argued")
  • to use: using (present participle) ("I am using", "am I using")
  • to doubt: doubting (present participle) ("I am doubting")

Copula Verbs

  • to be is (3rd person, singular; present) ("This is a door", "[it] is a verb", "is it"); be (infinitive) ("to be", "[it] would be" x 2)

Auxiliary Verbs

  • to be: am (1st person, singular; present); be (infinitive) ("I am using", "am I using", "[it] can be argued", "I am doubting")
  • to do: does (3rd person, singular; present) ("it doesn't" x 2, "does it need")

Modal Verbs

  • can/could: can (present) ("can [it] have" x 2)
  • will/would: would (subjunctive) ("[it] would be" x 2)

Note: modal verbs are defective in English because they have no infinitive, and there is no difference in the present tense conjugation.

As you can see, every sentence you used does contain at least one verb.

Your use of "run" is not a verb but a noun, because it is "a run". You can see that it's not a verb if you replace it with "meal": "I went for a meal yesterday", because "meal" is not a verb (except for a very old, rare usage).

The word "to" is not part of the verb. One of its many uses is to introduce a verb's infinitive. Your definition of "verb" seems to be a word that can take "to" in front of it. This is not the case. "is" is a conjugated form of "to be", and since it is not the infinitive, it can't take "to" in front of it.

"to be" can be used as a copulative verb (linking two things together), e.g. "This is a door" which can be thought of as "This = a door". The other use is as an auxiliary verb, a kind of "helper" verb. This allows expressing forms that we don't have a conjugation for in English, e.g. the progressive aspect which is used much more than the present tense, e.g. "I am using a verb" which can't be thought of as "I = using a verb".

Modal verbs are also truly verbs, but you may have missed them because you can't put "to" in front of them.

So, back to your original question. If we replace "sentence" with "grammatical utterance", then we can come up with many examples of grammatical utterance without verbs, some of which can be expanded to include a verb, some of which can't:

Hello!

Ouch!

What? (What was that?, What did you say?, etc.)

Oh dear!

Hells bells!

Sorry.

What about this?

Most of these are interjections. There is a humorously written "story" which contains the following:

[...] if a sentence can refer or allude to itself, why not a lowly subordinate clause, perhaps this very clause? Or this sentence fragment? Or three words? Two words? One?

The purpose of the story is to explore the relationships between grammar, thought, and meaning, and most of the story would not be considered ungrammatical by most people (with a few very obvious exceptions). As such, "Or three words? Two words? One?" would be considered three distinct but related sentences without any verbs. There are other "sentences" that are deliberately ungrammatical as it explores the connection between grammar and comprehension. Most of these sentences use incomplete clauses, or just single words.

If you are interested, the full text is here: This is the title of this story, which is also found several times in the story itself. However, it is recommended that you have a very good understanding of English to be able to appreciate it fully.

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  • Haven't read the entire post, but auxiliary "do" doesn't have the infintive form either. It's always finite because it always has a tense. And by the same token, the term "verb to do" is no longer acceptable.
    – user178049
    Jul 15 '18 at 11:03
  • @user178049 Yes, pretty much by definition an auxiliary is always finite.
    – CJ Dennis
    Jul 15 '18 at 11:31
  • @user178049 "I want to do it". Here "do" is not an auxiliary and is preceded by a finite verb. Auxiliaries are not defective (and therefore do have an infinitive) unless they are also modals ("can", "must", "should", etc.).
    – CJ Dennis
    Jul 15 '18 at 12:36
  • But I said "auxiliary 'do'", which is meaningless and only used in interrogative and negative clauses.
    – user178049
    Jul 15 '18 at 13:07
  • @user178049 But I do think it has other uses.
    – CJ Dennis
    Jul 15 '18 at 13:09
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I went for a run, and This is a door both contain verbs went and is. (Run is being used as a noun).

Some people may argue that by definition a sentence must contain a verb. However this is the OED's sense 6a of the word sentence. Note that there is no mention of a verb.

  1. a. A series of words in connected speech or writing, forming the grammatically complete expression of a single thought; in popular use often (= period n. 16), such a portion of a composition or utterance as extends from one full stop to another. In Grammar, the verbal expression of a proposition, question, command, or request, containing normally a subject and a predicate (though either of these may be omitted by ellipsis). In grammatical use, though not in popular language, a ‘sentence’ may consist of a single word, as in Latin algeo ‘I am cold’, where the subject (= I) is expressed by the ending of the verb. English grammarians usually recognize three classes: simple sentences, complex sentences (which contain one or more subordinate clauses), and compound sentences (which have more than one subject or predicate).
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    It mentions 'predicate' several times, and a predicate is head of a clause/sentence, a function filled by a verb phrase. It also talks of "a grammatically complete expression ..." which one would normally take to mean one that includes a verb.
    – BillJ
    Apr 18 '16 at 14:54
  • "In Grammar, the verbal expression ... containing normally a subject and a predicate (though either of these may be omitted by ellipsis)." Both "verbal" and "predicate" relate to verbs. Interestingly, that sentence itself does not contain both a subject and a full predicate, and does not express a complete thought. It could be argued that it is not grammatically correct.
    – CJ Dennis
    Jul 15 '18 at 4:32
  • @CJ Dennis. Good point, though as a dictionary definition I'm not sure it purports to be a sentence. In an elementary dictionary, for example, I can conceive of a definition as simply a single word, and the indefinite article e.g Red - a colour
    – WS2
    Jul 16 '18 at 6:30
  • @CJ Dennis A dictionary is like a telephone directory. It is not published as a piece of prose. It is a tabular list of descriptions.
    – WS2
    Jul 16 '18 at 6:38
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Basically the predicate of a simple sentence in English must be a verb. Any English word that belongs to a non-verb word must be changed into a verb by adding BE in front of the non-verb word before it is used as a predicate; for example, BE + the adjective wise = BE wise. When you say BE wise to someone, you ask him or her to 'do something wise'; therefore, BE wise is a full verb. Furthermore, when BE wise is used as the predicate of a sentence, it must agree with its subject; for example, BE becomes IS in the sentence 'Mr Dibyo (subject) IS wise (predicate).' The changing of BE into IS is called AGREEMENT (of the predicate with the subject).

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My very short answer to the OP's question: No.

In the piece below, no verbs, and one omittable participle (chirping).

My idea of the perfect evening: the sound of chirping crickets in the background, the gentle breeze of sea air, a picture-perfect sunset, and a glass of good red wine at the end of a lazy summer's day.

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  • Here the colon (:) is acting as the copula and could be replaced by "is".
    – CJ Dennis
    Jul 16 '18 at 2:19
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As a general principle it is a good rule to follow. But in common parlance one can take informed detours. It adds lilt to language:

But there's a lot to be said about operational strategy. How one takes a vision and translates it into on-the-ground executional excellence.

The second line there is a fragment. But in the interests of readability it’s optional to add connectors like “For example” or to connect them with a semi-colon.

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  • As you correctly state, the second sentence is a fragment: it cannot be used as a sentence (i.e. following a full stop) and cannot follow a semi-colon (thepunctuationguide.com/semicolon.html). It could be corrected by 1) using ", for example" - note the comma, not a full stop 2) using parentheses (thepunctuationguide.com/parentheses.html) or an an em-dash (thepunctuationguide.com/em-dash.html)
    – JavaLatte
    Mar 9 '19 at 11:09
  • @JavaLatte, could one use a colon too?
    – Khom Nazid
    Mar 9 '19 at 15:16
  • Look at this, thepunctuationguide.com/colon.html and you will see that you cannot use a colon with a fragment.
    – JavaLatte
    Mar 10 '19 at 8:24
  • If a colon is used "introduce a list of items", it would work perfectly in the sentence I included as an example. The "how one takes a vision..." is related in that way to the preceding sentence. Thanks for a lot of good info.
    – Khom Nazid
    Mar 10 '19 at 20:45
  • A list of items requires more than one item. It would work if your colon were followed by " how.... , where...., when...", but does not work with just "how....".
    – JavaLatte
    Mar 11 '19 at 3:03

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