Grammar. a grammatical unit of one or more words that expresses an independent statement, question, request, command, exclamation, etc., and that typically has a subject as well as a predicate, as in John is here. or Is John here? In print or writing, a sentence typically begins with a capital letter and ends with appropriate punctuation; in speech it displays recognizable, communicative intonation patterns and is often marked by preceding and following pauses.
  1. an authoritative decision; a judicial judgment or decree, especially the judicial determination of the punishment to be inflicted on a convicted criminal: Knowledgeable sources say that the judge will announce the sentence early next week.
  2. the punishment itself; term: a three-year sentence.
Music. a complete idea, usually consisting of eight to sixteen measures; period(def 18).See also phrase(def 4).
Archaic. a saying, apothegm, or maxim.
Obsolete. an opinion given on a particular question.

verb (used with object), sen·tenced, sen·tenc·ing.

to pronounce sentence upon; condemn to punishment: The judge sentenced her to six months in jail.

Origin of sentence

1175–1225; (noun) Middle English < Old French < Latin sententia ‘opinion, decision’, equivalent to sent- (base of sentīre ‘to feel’) + -entia -ence; (v.) Middle English: ‘to pass judgment, decide judicially’ < Old French sentencier, derivative of sentence
Related formssen·tenc·er, nounpre·sen·tence, verb (used with object), pre·sen·tenced, pre·sen·tenc··sen·tence, noun, verb (used with object), re·sen·tenced, re·sen·tenc·ing.un·sen·tenced, adjective

Grammar note

A sentence is the largest grammatical unit in language. It communicates a complete thought—an assertion, question, command, or exclamation. In general, assertions and questions—the overwhelming majority of sentences—require a subject and a verb, put together in a way that can stand alone, resulting in what is called an independent clause ( see main clause ): He kicked the ball is a sentence. After he kicked the ball is not a sentence; instead it is a dependent clause ( see subordinate clause ). Even though it has a subject and a verb, it needs to be connected to something in order to complete the assertion: After he kicked the ball, he fell down; or He fell down after he kicked the ball. In the case of commands, the subject need not be written because “you” is understood: Go home! means You go home! And exclamations clearly express excitement, alarm, anger, or the like with no need for either a subject or a verb: Wow! Gadzooks! Ouch!
In everyday speech we routinely use phrases or clauses that would not make a complete sentence—so-called sentence fragments —because the conversation or the circumstances make the meaning clear. For example, we might answer a question like “Where did you go?” with “To the store,” or “Why can’t I stay out till midnight?” with “Because I say so,” or “What are you doing?” with “Trying to fix this toaster,” instead of “I went to the store,” “You can't stay out that late because I say so,” or “I am trying to fix this toaster.” In written dialogue sentence fragments are perfectly acceptable. They would generally be regarded as sentences simply because they begin with a capital letter and end with a suitable punctuation mark. But they are not sentences in a strict grammatical sense. And as a rule, sentence fragments are frowned upon in formal or expository writing. They can be useful—indeed, powerful—but in such writing they are effective only if used sparingly, in order to achieve a deliberate special effect: We will not give up fighting for this cause. Not now. Not ever. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for sentence

Contemporary Examples of sentence

Historical Examples of sentence

  • Something in her heart or her throat prevented Hester from finishing the sentence.

    Weighed and Wanting

    George MacDonald

  • Let me tell you that Dirk Colson would not have repeated that sentence for the world!

  • She told him her mother had read but the first sentence or two.

    Weighed and Wanting

    George MacDonald

  • And he finished his sentence with a practical illustration of his frame of mind.

  • This sentence was as humiliating and mortifying as anything that could be put upon him.

British Dictionary definitions for sentence



a sequence of words capable of standing alone to make an assertion, ask a question, or give a command, usually consisting of a subject and a predicate containing a finite verb
the judgment formally pronounced upon a person convicted in criminal proceedings, esp the decision as to what punishment is to be imposed
an opinion, judgment, or decision
music another word for period (def. 11)
any short passage of scripture employed in liturgical usethe funeral sentences
logic a well-formed expression, without variables
archaic a proverb, maxim, or aphorism


(tr) to pronounce sentence on (a convicted person) in a court of lawthe judge sentenced the murderer to life imprisonment
Derived Formssentential (sɛnˈtɛnʃəl), adjectivesententially, adverb

Word Origin for sentence

C13: via Old French from Latin sententia a way of thinking, from sentīre to feel
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for sentence

c.1200, "doctrine, authoritative teaching; an authoritative pronouncement," from Old French sentence "judgment, decision; meaning; aphorism, maxim; statement of authority" (12c.) and directly from Latin sententia "thought, way of thinking, opinion; judgment, decision," also "a thought expressed; aphorism, saying," from sentientem, present participle of sentire "be of opinion, feel, perceive" (see sense (n.)). Loss of first -i- in Latin by dissimilation.

From early 14c. as "judgment rendered by God, or by one in authority; a verdict, decision in court;" from late 14c. as "understanding, wisdom; edifying subject matter." From late 14c. as "subject matter or content of a letter, book, speech, etc.," also in reference to a passage in a written work. Sense of "grammatically complete statement" is attested from mid-15c. "Meaning," then "meaning expressed in words." Related: Sentential.


"to pass judgment," c.1400, from sentence (n.). Related: Sentenced; sentencing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper