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A sentence, whether short or long, must express a complete idea; and a complete sentence must consist of at least one independent clause—that is, a subject and predicate that make a complete thought. Independent clauses are so called because they make sense when they stand on their own. They are also sometimes referred to as “main clauses.”
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in criminal law, punishment that a court orders, imposed on a person convicted of criminal activity. Sentences typically consist of fines, corporal punishmentcorporal punishment,
physical chastisement of an offender. At one extreme it includes the death penalty (see capital punishment), but the term usually refers to punishments like flogging, caning, mutilation, and branding. Until c.
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, imprisonment for varying periods including life, or capital punishmentcapital punishment,
imposition of a penalty of death by the state. History

Capital punishment was widely applied in ancient times; it can be found (c.1750 B.C.) in the Code of Hammurabi.
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, and sometimes combine two or more elements. In the United States, the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution bans "cruel and unusual punishments" (effectively excluding corporal punishment), and exile and forfeiture of property by heirs are not imposed. Especially in punishing misdemeanorsmisdemeanor,
in law, a minor crime, in contrast to a felony. At common law a misdemeanor was a crime other than treason or a felony. Although it might be a grave offense, it did not affect the feudal bond or take away the offender's property. By the 19th cent.
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, payment of a fine may be the alternative to a prison sentence.

The sentence to be imposed is generally fixed by statute. In some cases (mandatory sentencing) the duration is exactly prescribed; in others the judge (and in some instances, the jury) has limited discretion. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that courts in sentencing may, and sometimes must, consider not only the crimes for which a defendant was convicted, but also other charges, even if they led to acquittal. The Court has also ruled that only a jury may make the factual findings that can increase a sentence beyond the usual range specified in law for a crime. If a person is convicted of more than one crime at a single trial, the sentences may run concurrently (i.e., all beginning at the same time) or consecutively. In indeterminate sentencing, a minimum and maximum term is set, and good behavior may allow a convict to be released on paroleparole
, in criminal law, release from prison of a convict before the expiration of his term on condition that his activities be restricted and that he report regularly to an officer.
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 any time after the minimum term has been served. In many states successive convictions on felonyfelony
, any grave crime, in contrast to a misdemeanor, that is so declared in statute or was so considered in common law. In early English law a felony was a heinous act that canceled the perpetrator's feudal rights and forfeited his lands and goods to the king, thus depriving
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 charges bring longer sentences, and in the 1980s some U.S. states and the federal government began to impose "three strikes" and similar laws, ordering mandatory long-term or life imprisonment for repeated felony offenses. Such laws have been criticized for sometimes requiring long sentences for nonviolent offenders whose crimes may include petty theft or drug possession. Persons found incapable of understanding the nature of their crimes or of helping in their defense are often committed to mental institutions for periods that are to end if they recover sanity; these are effectively, if not technically, sentences. See also verdictverdict,
in law, official decision of a jury respecting questions of fact that the judge has laid before it. In the United States, verdicts must be unanimous in federal courts, but majority verdicts are constitutionally permissible in state courts.
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, juryjury,
body convened to make decisions of fact in legal proceedings. Development of the Modern Jury

Historians do not agree on the origin of the English jury.
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, and pardonpardon,
in law, exemption from punishment for a criminal conviction granted by the grace of the executive of a government. A general pardon to a class of persons guilty of the same offense (e.g., insurrection) is an amnesty.
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one of the principal categories of syntax, contrasted to the word and word group in form, meaning, and function. In a broad sense the sentence is any utterance in a written text from period to period, from an expanded syntactic construction to an individual word or word form, that communicates information about something and is intended for auditory (when uttered) or visual (when written) perception. In a narrow, strictly grammatical sense, the sentence is a special syntactic construction based on a specific abstract model, organized according to the laws of a given language and specifically intended for communication. Depending on the purpose of the communication, sentences may be narrative, interrogative, or hortative; more specific classifications are also possible.

Sentences may be simple or compound. The simple sentence, as an elementary syntactic construction, consists of two, occasionally more, word forms (constituent components) linked by a specific predicative syntactic relation existing only in the sentence; a sentence can also consist of a single word form. Examples are Uchenik pishet (“The student is writing”); Vody pribyvaet (“The water is rising”); Prostit’ znachit zabyt’ (“To forgive means to forget”); Noch’ (“It is night”); Svetaet (“Day is breaking”).

Sentences may be expanded according to word-modifying bonds of agreement, government, and parataxis. Expansion may take place by means of word forms that expand the sentence as a whole: Dlia nee prostit’ znachit zabyt’ (“For her, to forgive means to forget”); Na Kamchatke seichas uzhe noch’ (“It is already night time now in Kamchatka”). It may also take place by means of participial and adverbal participial constructions or special expanding forms of words or conjunctive word combinations.

The elementary abstract model according to which an unexpended sentence is constructed may be represented symbolically. The formula N1Vf represents the construction of an unex-panded sentence of the type Uchenik pishet: N1 = Latin nomen (“name,” or noun); 1 = nominative case; Vf = Latin verbum finitum (“finite verb,” or the conjugated form of the verb). Such an abstracted construction is known as the abstract model of a sentence, or its pattern, formula, or structural schema. These schemata may be mononuclear, binomial, free or restricted with respect to lexicological and semantic structure, and with or without paradigmatic features.

Each language has its own system of structural schemata. Individual schemata may coincide in different languages, but the systems as a whole are always distinguished from one another. The Indo-European languages possess binomial structural schemata. These contain a predicate, or a verb in the personal form; they may also contain a form of another word in the same position. The schemata also contain a subject, or a form of the nominative case of the noun; they may also contain an infinitive in the same position. As a component of the schema, the predicate always denotes a marker that is realized in time—action, state, property, or quality. The subject denotes the agent of this marker. When a sentence is expanded, the meaning of the subject may be shifted and focused in the expanding word form. Many other models are also found in the Indo-European languages, including mononuclear models, which consist either of a single component or of two components not divided into subject and predicate.

Structural schemata form the basis of concrete sentences constructed according to the model of these schemata. For example, the sentences Uchenik pishet, Nastupila noch ‘ (“Night fell”), and Teplitsia nadezhda (“There is still a glimmer of hope”) are constructed according to the schema N1Vf. The sentences Syn—rabochii (“The son [is] a worker”), Moskva—stolitsa (“Moscow [is] the capital “), and El’—derevo (“The spruce [is] a tree”) are constructed according to the schema N1N1. The structural schema is without intonation, but each sentence constructed according to one or another schema, as well as all the sentence’s forms and syntactic changes, must have a specific intonation.

The sentence combines several meanings of varying degrees of abstraction in a single grammatical form. In the first place, the sentence’s structural schema itself has an abstract meaning, called predicativity, common to all structural schemata. The predicativity meaning inherent in the schema is transferred to a concrete sentence and modified in the sentence’s paradigm, that is, in the different forms of the sentence that express the meanings of reality and unreality. However, in concrete sentences, added to the meaning of predicativity there is a new meaning of a different nature that originates from position, that is, from the components of the schema and from their relations, as well as from the lexical semantics of the words occupying these positions. Examples are Uchenik pishet: the subject and its action; Grom gremit (“It is thundering”; literally, “The thunder is thundering”): the subject and its presence, or existence; Svetaet: the presence of a subjectless state. Such meanings are relevant to the semantic structure of the sentence.

Sentences with different grammatical organization but identical semantic structure are regarded in some studies as transformations of one into another. Examples are Nastupaet vecher (literally, “It-is-falling evening”) and Vechereet (literally, “Night is falling”), both meaning “Evening is falling”; Gremit grom (“It-is-thundering’) and Grom (“There is thunder”); Syn uchitsia (“The son is studying”) and Syn—uchashchiisia (“The son [is] a student”; literally, “one who studies”). A third type of sentence meaning—the distribution of the functional load of its members —is expressed by the actual division of a sentence.

A compound sentence is composed of two or more simple sentences joined by conjunctions or by conjunctive words or particles. These are combined with a certain intonation and are often also supported by vocabulary to create a new syntactic formation, parts of which enter into certain syntactic relations with one another. In addition, one of the parts may undergo substantial structural changes or in general may have a formal organization not characteristic of the simple sentence. Depending on the means used to connect the parts of a compound sentence, such sentences are divided into complex sentences, with mutually independent parts, and compound sentences, with a main and subordinate part. However, in both cases the internal relations of the parts often do not correspond to the formal organization of the compound sentence, and the semantic types of complex and compound sentences intersect.

In both Russian and Western European linguistics, the sentence and its components were long studied as categories concurrent with logical judgment and its parts (the German scholar K. Becker and the Russian scholars N. I. Grech and F. I. Bus-laev) or with the psychological act of communication (the Russian scholars F. F. Fortunatov and A. A. Shakhmatov). In the study of the sentence as a purely linguistic syntactic category with its own formal and semantic characteristics, several trends have developed. The first treats the sentence as a complex structure that has more than one level and that simultaneously represents several degrees of linguistic abstraction (the Czech scholars V. Mathesius, M. Dokulil, and F. Daneš). A second trend deals with generative grammar and transformational syntax (the American scholars N. Chomsky, Z. Harris, and D. Worth and the East German scholar R. Růžička).

A third trend treats the sentence as a syntagmatic chain of bonds and relationships, an arrangement of words (the German scholar J. Ries, the American scholar L. Bloomfield, the Dutch scholar A. de Groot, the French scholar L. Tesnière and the Soviet scholar A. M. Mukhin). A fourth trend analyzes the sentence primarily as a unit of meaning (the Danish scholar O. Jespersen and the Soviet scholar L. V. Shcherba). In the 1960’s and 1970’s the sentence was studied as part of the theory of deep and surface structures and of propositional naming by the English scholar A. Gardiner, the German scholar U. Weinreich, and the Soviet scholars V. G. Gak and N. D. Arutiunova. The paradigmatic bonds and relationships that organize sentences into specific systems are currently under study by the American scholar D. Worth, the Czech scholars P. Adamec and V. Grabe, and the Soviet scholars N. Iu. Shvedova and T. P. Lomtev.


Vinogradov, V. V. “Osnovnye voprosy sintaksisa predlozheniia.” In the collection Voprosy grammaticheskogo stroia. Moscow, 1955.
Peshkovskii, A. M. “Intonatsiia i grammatika.” In his book Izbrannye trudy. Moscow, 1959.
Kurilovich, E. “Osnovnye struktury iazyka: slovosochetanie i predlozhenie.” In his is book Ocherki po lingvistike. Moscow, 1962.
Mel’nichuk, A. S. “Aspekty obshchei teorii predlozheniia kak edinitsy rechi.” In Problemy iazykoznaniia. Moscow, 1967.
Mukhin, A. M. Struktura predlozhenii i ikh modeli. Moscow, 1968.
Grammatika sovremennogo russkogo literaturnogo iazyka. Moscow, 1970.
Obshchee iazykoznanie, part 2: Vnutrenniaia struktura iazyka. Moscow, 1972.
Shvedova, N. Iu. “O sootnoshenii grammaticheskoi i semanticheskoi struktury predlozheniia.” In Slavianskoe iazykoznanie. Moscow, 1973.
Ries, J. “Was ist ein Satz?” In the collection Beiträge zur Grundlegung der Syntax, no. 3. Prague, 1931.
Daneš, F. “A Three-level Approach to Syntax.” Travaux linguistiques de Prague, 1966, vol. 1.




in music, a component of a period that ends with a cadence. The sentence, which takes on independent meaning in the opening main part of the sonata form, sometimes functions as a period.


(computer science)
An entire instruction in the COBOL programming language.


1. the judgment formally pronounced upon a person convicted in criminal proceedings, esp the decision as to what punishment is to be imposed
2. Music another word for period
3. any short passage of scripture employed in liturgical use
4. Logic a well-formed expression, without variables


A collection of clauses.

See also definite sentence.