topic sentence

or topical sentence

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a sentence that expresses the essential idea of a paragraph or larger section, usually appearing at the beginning.
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Origin of topic sentence

First recorded in 1915–20

Words nearby topic sentence

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is a topic sentence?

A topic sentence, or topical sentence, is a sentence that introduces the essential point or idea of a paragraph or larger section. The topic sentence is usually the first sentence of a paragraph.

A good topic sentence introduces the specific idea of the paragraph and gives an overview of the topic. The rest of the sentences will expand on the main idea in the paragraph, giving more details about the topic.

Let’s say you write a topic sentence that reads In my opinion, dogs make the best pets. You’ve given your reader the main point of your paragraph. The rest of the sentences should tell the reader the reasons you think dogs are the best pets. The topic sentence is specific enough that you’ll know what the rest of the sentences should cover.

By contrast, here is an example of a paragraph with a poor topic sentence.

Basketball is fun. Societies have used sports as a form of entertainment for thousands of years, going back to the ancient Greeks. Athletes have been held in high regard by many different cultures and are often admired for their exemplary physical prowess.   

This topic sentence tells us the writer’s opinion on basketball. The rest of the paragraph gives us more details about basketball but not why the writer thinks it’s fun. A better topic sentence would be something like Sports have been popular in many different civilizations throughout history.

Why is topic sentence important?

The first records of the phrase topic sentence come from around 1915. It combines the word topic, which is a subject of conversation or discussion, and the word sentence, a group of words that are used to express an idea or concept. The purpose of a topic sentence is to introduce the reader to the topic of the paragraph.

Topic sentences are used in most forms of writing. They help guide a reader through a long article or other work of writing, making it easier to read.

Usually, a topic sentence is the first sentence in a paragraph but it doesn’t have to be. It can appear at the end of the paragraph when you want to build suspense or you want to make a controversial point and you need to share the details of it first.  You could also put the topic sentence in the middle, where it can transition between one set of details and another, though this is very rare.

Did you know … ?

Narrative, one of the most common pieces of writing, doesn’t always use topic sentences. That’s because a narrative often tells a story in chronological order, so the first sentence of a paragraph may be simply the action that happened first.

What are real-life examples of topic sentence?

This image shows an essay outline and where topic sentences go in the essay:


Students are often unenthusiastic when learning about topic sentences in English class.


What other words are related to topic sentence?

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

A topic sentence gives the reader all the details about the topic they’re reading about.

How to use topic sentence in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for topic sentence

topic sentence

a sentence in a paragraph that expresses the main idea or point of the whole paragraph
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

Cultural definitions for topic sentence

topic sentence

The main sentence in a paragraph, often the first sentence. It briefly conveys the essential idea of the paragraph.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.