Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Clauses and sentences

This part of the grammar concerns sentences as units. The traditional definition is that sentences are units that contain a finite verb. We accept this definition, with the exception that you cannot always hear the verb in sentences in talk-in-interaction.

General information about clauses and sentences

Sentences are units which feature a finite (conjugated) verb. Many grammarians see the clause and the sentence as the most important type of unit in a language. The reason is, among other things, that clauses/sentences can form utterances which express something about the reality and something that people can have an opinion about. Furthermore, there is a certain relationship between the constituents of the clause which will not be found between other units in a language (for more, go to clause constituents).

Clauses/sentences are not fundamentally different in the written and the spoken language, although interactional language has many more independent utterances which are not sentences but still express or state something. Here is an example:

AULing | EMRILigeKommet | ((phone))

01    Mar:    de:t margrethe?
            it  NAME
            'this is Margrethe'
02            (0.6)
03    Ann:    he:j det anni?
            hi   it  NAME
            'hi it's Anni'
04            (0.3)
05    Mar:    hej?
            'hi'
06            (.)
07    Ann:    he:j?
            'hi'
08            (0.3)
09    Mar:    (he[j)
            '(hi)'
10    Ann:    [(hvo -)=
            '(whe-/ho-)'
11    Mar:    =he?e:j?=
            'hi-i:'
12    Ma?:    =e?heh=
13    An?:    =eheh heh
14    Ma?:    ·hhh=
15    Mar:    =velkommen ?hjem?=
            'welcome home'
16    Ann:    =?jo ta:k??
            yes thanks
            'thanks'
17    Mar:    ·mthh
18             (0.5)
19    Mar:    gu:d hvor vildt hvar?
            god  how  wild  what
            'go:d how wild huh'
20    Ann:    ja: ?h
            'yea:h'
21             (0.3)
22    Mar:    i: ?li[ge  k]ommet      hjem?=  
            2PL just   come.PSTPRT home
            'you just gotten home'
23    Ann:          [(hh-)]        
24    Mar:    =er I   ikk [det?
            be  2PL not it
            'didn't you'
25    Ann:            [jo: onsdag?
            'yea:h wednesday'
26             (.)
27    Mar:    o?kay?h

The only visible verb is in line 24. Furthermore, you can argue that the verb ‘is’ is implied in line 1, 3 and 22 (de:t Margrethe ‘it Margrethe’, det Anni ‘it Anni’ and i: lige kommet hjem ‘you just come home’). The rest of the utterances are not sentences in the traditional sense. Nevertheless, the utterances are treated like contributions which are answered and considered. Part of the explanation for this is that some of the utterances are injections and the utterances hvor vildt hvar ‘how wild huh’ (line 19) and onsdag ‘Wednesday’ (line 25) can be seen as elliptical sentences. This means that they are sentences where something could be seen as “left out”: hvor [er det] vildt [‘how wild [is that]’] og [vi kom hjem] onsdag ‘[we came home] Wednesday‘. But this does not change the fact that the sentence as a clear structure is less prominent in spoken language than in written language.


Further reading

Christensen and Christensen (2009) is a textbook for students. It is created from a long tradition of Danish descriptions of grammar.

Hansen and Heltoft (2011) is a long, thorough and scientific description of Danish grammar. It is in many ways different from the traditional grammatical description.