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What Is a Nominal Sentence?

By J.E. Holloway
Updated May 23, 2024
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In English, the term "nominal sentence" can refer to two types of sentences. The first type of nominal sentence is a sentence which the predicate is not a verb but is joined to the subject by a copula containing a verb. The second type of nominal sentence does not contain a verb at all.

The first and most common type of nominal sentence is a sentence in which the subject is followed by a predicate which contains a copula, or connection, and a predicative. The copula is a form of the verb "to be." For example, the sentence "Jane is a doctor" is a nominal sentence of this type. The predicative in this case is called a nominative predicative because it centres on the noun "doctor."

The second, rarer type of nominal sentence is a sentence in which the verb "to be" is absent but implied by the structure of the sentence. Examples of this type of sentence include phrases like "the sooner the better" or "the more, the merrier." Both of these phrases can be used as sentences, despite not containing a verb at all. The missing verb "to be" is implied, with the full meanings of the phrases being "the sooner it is, the better it is" or "the more there are, the merrier it is." This type of sentence is rarely used in formal English and is more common in slang or casual speech.

Nominal sentences are relatively uncommon in English, but are much more frequent in some other languages. For example, in Hebrew, the nominal sentence "Jane is a doctor" would consist only of the name "Jane" and the word for "doctor." Translating the sentence into English requires the translator to insert the correct form of "to be." This is true not only in Hebrew but in other languages such as Arabic, Russian and Latin.

The practice of connecting the subject and predicative without a copula, as in these languages, is known as "zero copula." Zero copula occurs in approximately 175 languages, and does not occur in over 200 other languages. As we have seen, however, even in some languages where zero copula is not strictly grammatical, such as English, it still sometimes occurs in informal speech.

This type of phrasing also often occurs in newspaper headlines. It originates from the habit of eliminating short words such as contractions in order to conserve space. A newspaper headline might therefore read "Jones Winner" rather than "Jones is the Winner."

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