Sentences without verbs.

It’s not all sex

by Dirk E. Oldman

I bet you never thought you would see me say “It’s not all sex,” did you? It’s true, everything does come back to or revolve around sex. But not everything is sex. And not all sentences have verbs.

True, true, you want to get to the action. You don’t like sitting around with your legs crossed. But sometimes you can’t just dive right into it. Not even sex for one. But you don’t always have to do it to be satisfied. A sentence can reach completion without a verb, just like you can sometimes be satisfied without technically getting any action. And I mean satisfied.

For instance, I’m sitting in a coffee shop as I write this. All I can do here is think about sex or talk about it – I can’t actually do it. Even if I were with someone attractive, we still could only think about it and talk about it. And maybe sit right next to each other. Right. Next. You know. Frottage.

The same goes for sentences. Here’s a frottage sentence, to show you can still get some action just from putting two parties next to each other with their actually partying, so to speak:

The harder, the better.

This is what is called predication by parataxis, a term I only use because it sounds like complicated sex involving equipment (such as parachutes and taxis). You stick two parties together and they can be happy for the moment just by rubbing against each other.

But they have to be willing and compatible. This is not like what some guys do on the subway. Sex should always be between two people who are horny for each other. Believe me. I tried it the other way for years and it sucked. We finally divorced.

So you can’t do this kind of predication with just anything. You can do it with two the nouns, because each will know the other is the definite article. You can also do it with something like this:

Out with the old and in with the new.

But that’s a different case, because you can use either half on its own:

Out with the old.

In with the new.

Down with prudery.

Up yours.

Some people will say, “In those cases the verbs are implied.” Really? Then why doesn’t it work with This sentence no verb? I’ll tell you why: those sentences don’t need verbs to get action.

No, out, in, down, and up aren’t verbs here, either. You can’t say Out the garbage or I’m going to up his. But they have motion. In fact, they’re commanding it. They’re like people who are so excitable, they don’t even need a touch to send them off.

And there are also complete expressions that are like comments before, during, or after sex. In fact, they very often are comments before, during, or after. They don’t need verbs because they don’t go by themselves. You could say they’re like voyeurs: there’s some real action happening near them, and they simply get off on reacting to it.

Hey!

Yes?

Why not?

OK.

Wahoo!

Ohmigod.

Oops.

Argh!

Bye.

Some lead into the action. Some head off the action (No way). Some comment on the action. Some express a feeling about the action. Many of these are typically called interjections, which sure sounds like sex to me. And the ones you shout out are called ejaculations. Yes, that’s the real linguistic term for them. No, I’m not kidding. I rest my case.

 

Cocktail party food

by Annie Wei-Yu Kan

I was going to call this Crudités, but I didn’t want anyone to think I was talking about crudities. You’ve just gotten enough of those from you-know-who.

You do know what crudités are, don’t you? Raw vegetables. Those vegetable platters you get before or in place of cooked food, often at cocktail parties. There. Now you’ve learned a new word and can make intelligent conversation while at a cocktail party. But not while you’re chewing on crudités. No one likes wearing cauliflower specks.

Crudités are raw and plain, but they’re still food. Don’t say only rabbits eat them. I’ve seen plenty of people at cocktail parties consume ample quantities of them. They’re food even though they’re just cut up and set next to each other.

Likewise, a sentence can be a sentence without a verb in some cases. Why is this? Because you don’t need a verb to have a predicate. Not all of the time. Sometimes you can just take cut-up bits and set them next to each other.

My crude former spouse has already given an example, but he overlooked an important fact: the the in a sentence such as The cruder, the stupider is not the same the as in He is the crudest, stupidest person I know. It’s the same one as in I am the worse off for knowing him. It’s an adverb, it comes from an Old English instrumental form of the article, and it goes with comparatives.

You can make full sentences with this the:

The cruder they are, the stupider they are.

But just as you don’t need to cook those vegetables, you don’t need to use those verbs. This kind of food can just be arranged on the platter without the are sauce.

Another thing Mr. Oldman has neglected to mention in his flurry of prurience is that most cases of complete expressions that don’t require verbs rely on an interpersonal understanding. Naturally he neglected that. He always neglects interpersonal understanding.

The point is that these expressions are like passing around cocktail party food. If you say Here, it’s a complete expression, but only because you’re handing something to someone. A canapé, perhaps. If you say Out with the crude and in with the food, you’re directing action: you’re telling another person or other people to take one out and put the other in, or you’re telling yourself to do it as you do it, or you’re at least stating that it’s a desirable course of action.

If you say Yes, you’re responding positively to something from another person, perhaps the one who just held out a canapé to you and said Here. If you say No, they’re supposed to stop what they’re doing, for instance trying to put something in your mouth that you don’t want put in your mouth. I mean a canapé. You know how some people do that.

There are exceptions, true. They’re not really sentences, but they are complete expressions. They’re like a single piece of vegetable popped into your mouth, preferably by you. We use them to signify an attitude. These may be things you shout – Ouch! – or things you mumble – Uh-oh. They are really in the same league as sighs and shrugs: they’re phatic. That’s phatic with a t.

These are all quick bites, and none of them have verbs. But that doesn’t mean you can’t eat them. By which I mean use them. They still express something happening.

It’s easy to know if a sentence needs a verb: it doesn’t make sense without one. It’s hard to chew and it makes you feel queasy, like raw meat. But if you can use it without trouble and other people can understand it without trouble, can you serve it up? Certainly.

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One thought on “Sentences without verbs.

  1. […] conjugated verb. It’s the meat patty in the hamburger of the clause. I’ve already told you that you can have a coherent sentence without a verb. But in any clause, you will have a subject and one finite inflected […]

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