Complete sentence without a verb?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by cheetrowe, Aug 28, 2009.

  1. cheetrowe

    cheetrowe Senior Member

    New Jersey
    I have had this question for a while now. The context is for technical writing in the social sciences (such as scholarly sociology journals).

    I edit for many professors and the following is a common sentence structure that comes up:

    "The richer the community, the tighter the security."

    Perhaps this is acceptable in fictional writing, but in academic writing it seems incomplete to not include a verb.

    I have suggested a few different structures to my authors. Here are two:

    "Security varies by wealth: the richer the community, the tighter the security."
    "The richer the community is, the tighter the security."

    My question is whether I should be suggesting a change to the original structure at all. Is the original structure a complete sentence? If not, what are your opinions of my suggested structures? Any other ideas? I'm open to everyone's feedback, and thanks in advance for any advice you can provide! :)

  2. I read the sentence as:

    The richer the community [is], the tighter the security [will be].

    I agree that it seems odd to have no verbs, and yet the phrasing you describe is very common. Until you asked, I wouldn't have thought it too informal for a scholarly journal, but now you've got me wondering.
  3. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Australia English
    What are the sentences which surround such a structure?

    Context is everything.
  4. cheetrowe

    cheetrowe Senior Member

    New Jersey
    Thanks to you both for your responses.

    a_little_edgy: I am in the same situation...I never paid much attention but when I was doing some technical editing I began to think about it myself. I've gone back and forth with different structures for a while now...

    Brioche: The sentence comes from a relatively abstract copy manuscript on Chinese enclosed superblock urbanism (essentially, the author argues, a form of gated communities developing in modern China). You would probably need more context than I could offer here, but I will try to create a similar working example for us.

    "Residents in gated communities are separated from their outside neighbors both by physical walls and by perceptions of space. Gated communities demarcate space with security systems, including alarms and guards. The level of security in gated communities tends to vary by the socioeconomic status of the residents. Usually, the richer the community, the tighter the security."

    Again, I recognize that the structure of the final sentence is common, but my question is whether it is a bit informal for (or perhaps even incorrect in) scholarly writing. Any thoughts? I appreciate your ideas! :)
  5. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    I think a colon would work well here.
    "The level of security in gated communities tends to vary by the socioeconomic status of the residents: usually, the richer the community, the tighter the security."
    What follows, even though not a complete sentence, is part of one and explains further what went before the colon.
  6. cheetrowe

    cheetrowe Senior Member

    New Jersey
    Hi Julian. Thank you for your reply. I definitely agree that the colon would work in this situation (and in many similar situations, so I often suggest it to my authors).

    However, the question still stands. Should we always look for alternatives, such as adding a colon, rewording the sentence, and so forth, or can the sentence stand on its own in scholarly writing? Moreover, is it a complete sentence at all? I am no longer sure!
  7. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    As edgy says, the verbs are implied in this construction. So we could call it an "implied" complete sentence. In any case, I don't think it's a large breach of style rules. I can see an occasion where alternatives would be more problematic but I'sd be inclined to keep suggesting colons, because the construction will usually follow a context setting description, as here.
  8. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    For what it's worth, I find that sort of sentence (The richer the community, the tighter the security) entirely clear and an infinitely better way of showing that Y is a factor of X than your proposed alternatives, Cheetrowe - the way that X and Y are thrown into contradistinction by the sentence structure makes for clarity. I come across it quite a lot and have no objections at all; and I'm quite old-fashioned about sentences needing verbs. The verbs are clearly implied here, as people have explained.
  9. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    I totally agree with Thomas. The sentence is fine as is.
    It's a fixed structure. I don't think it's informal.
    A common illustration of this would be "the sooner, the better"
    If you like, you can call it an exception to the rule.

    It's true that using it with excessively long or complicated clauses could sound weird. But here, with 4 words in each, it's still OK.
  10. pickarooney

    pickarooney Senior Member

    Provence, France
    English (Ireland)
    I also agree that the sentence is fine as is. I don't think adding a colon makes any positive difference - the clause following it still has no explicit verb. similarly, I would have no problem using 'like father like son', were it appropriate, in a scholarly text.
  11. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    Sentence fragments are conventionally avoided in formal prose as far as practicable; but as others have said, it's hard to see how to expand this or 'the sooner, the better' to a so-called complete sentence. So keep it as it is.

    I have no idea what's meant by a complete sentence. One with a subject? Look at imperatives. One with a finite verb? We better not be so sure of that. The very worst possible thing to suggest is: one that expresses a complete thought. I'm gonna want some kind of proof including electroencephalograms that whoever said that thinks in complete thoughts corresponding one to one with the bits between full stops. Cos I don't think anyone else does.
  12. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Following the good lead of the previous contributors, I have no complaints against the sentence. The more the merrier.
  13. iconoclast Senior Member

    english - anglo-irish
    Expressions like 'the sooner, the better' and 'the more, the merrier' are set phrases that can't really be brokern down or beefed back up, like 'long time, no see', 'me Tarzan, you Jane', 'white man speak with forked tongue' (this last is a bit non-pc today - albeit still true).

    The style rule in the "the more, the merrier" structure is that 'be' is commonly deleted, so the original sentence is eminently suited to technical/academic writing.
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2009
  14. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I also agree - wholeheartedly - with TT.

    I don't think you need to edit such sentences, cheetrowe.
  15. cheetrowe

    cheetrowe Senior Member

    New Jersey
    Thanks to everyone for your responses. This was definitely helpful. I'll feel better leaving the structure alone in the future now that I've read your thoughts. :)
  16. cheetrowe

    cheetrowe Senior Member

    New Jersey
    One last note for anyone reading this post in the future. I had posted a few days before this to another forum, and just received a response. It was very helpful, and so I´m including the link to the other forum here in others want to see it. The opinion was generally consistent with everyone´s here (that leaving the verbs out would be fine so long as they are clearly implied).

    Take care!

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