One of the basic grammatical rules in English is that every sentence should contain a verb. Some of Daily Writing Tips’s readers may have had sentences underlined in red at school if they weren’t a “proper sentence” – and I’m sure many of you (especially fiction writers) have had Microsoft Word squiggle a green line under a sentence saying “Fragment (consider revising).”
But there are times when you may want to use verbless sentences for effect, and I would argue that in all except very formal types of writing (such as reports at work and student essays), this is entirely appropriate.
Verbless sentences in fiction
Fiction writers, in particular, should not be afraid of experimenting with verbless sentences – many famous authors use them to great effect. Grammatical rules tend to be relaxed in fiction (especially, though not exclusively, in dialogue) so if your style lends itself towards writing choppy or stark verbless sentences, give it a try.
These are the opening sentences to several paragraphs in Chapter Two of Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale.)
A chair, a table, a lamp. …
A window, two white curtains …
A bed. …
Verbless sentences in blogging
Another medium where verbless sentences are often entirely appropriate is in blogging. Most blogs are informal and conversational, written like a friendly letter to the reader. Just as novelists do, bloggers can use verbless sentences for effect – often grabbing the readers’ attention. The online form also means that short, snappy sentences are most likely to engage a reader – and leaving out verbs can accomplish this.
Here’s an example from the Men with Pens (the last sentence is verbless):
He thought I was joking. “Dude. They’re seriously not sold in pairs. Who just uses one?”
“Jeez. They obviously employ geniuses in their marketing department.”
Verbless sentences in opinion articles
Even if you’re writing for a traditional publication – perhaps a newspaper or a magazine – you might be able to get away with using the occasional verbless sentence. Opinion pieces, in particular, tend to be popular due to the writer’s unique style – and this may involve a blog-like chatty tone.
Here’s an example from Robert Crampton, who writes the popular Beta Male column in the UK national newspaper The Times.
The cash haemorrhage continues. A raffle. Another raffle. A fiver on the final score. A fiver on the first scorer. A fiver on the last scorer.
If you take care to make sure each of your sentences is a “proper” one, then give yourself permission to experiment today. In the next piece of fiction you write, or the next article for a blog or magazine, try using a few verbless sentences. If you’re not sure how to do this, here’s a few examples:
- She asked, “Have you done the laundry yet?” Fat chance, I thought.
- She asked, “Have you done the laundry yet?” Fat chance.
- I went through the mental check list again: lunch boxes, water bottles, swimming towels, keys, change…
- Lunch boxes. Water bottles. Swimming towels. Keys. Change…
- Danny rides his bike up to the shore, and stares out at the waves. They’re crashing close. The tide’s coming in.
- Danny rides his bike up to the shore, and stares out at the waves. Crashing. Close. The tide’s coming in.
Let us know how you get on! And if you’re a stickler for putting a verb in every sentence, and think this rule shouldn’t be broken, please do add your thoughts in the comments.