Sometimes, brevity is key. Whether you’re writing fiction, sending a text, or drafting a letter, there are a lot of ways to get your point across in as few words as possible: Namely, one.
Grammar purists might be raising their hands and saying, “You can’t have a sentence without a subject, object, and verb.”
But the reality is, very few of us write in purely grammatical terms, much less speak in them. The rise of short-form media, dating all the way back to the telegram and Morse code, has propelled short-form sentences into the mainstream.
For one-word sentences to work, however, you need to set them up with either a pre-frame, or some sort of qualifier after the fact.
Here are some words that work perfectly fine on their own as a complete sentence – with a bit of conversational or situational context, of course.
A declarative sentence simply means you’re stating a fact. Pretty much any factual response to a question in the affirmative or negative — yes, no, maybe, sure, okay – work as single-word sentences. Of course, pre-framing is required, in the form of asking a question that someone can respond to, as in, “Who wants to come to the store?” and responding, “Me!” On a similar note, a nominative sentence — where you offer up someone else — also functions in a similar way. With the question we just asked, you might respond, “Joan.”
Seth Meyer’s infamous SNL Weekend Update Bit, “Really?” invoked this word — doubling as a question and response — on repeat. All of the five W’s (who/what/why/when/where) and many other basic questions function as single-word sentences.
Most verbs feel a bit awkward on their own. Asking someone to run, skip, or write as a single sentence feels a little commandeering … until you add an exclamation point to the word. “Run!” and “Run.” feel like two very different concepts, ditto “Go!” and “Go.” or “Look!” and “Look.” They’re both correct, but somehow it’s less awkward when exclamation points are involved.
This is an example of language evolution. Traditionally, you’d use here, there, this, or that in conversation while making some sort of physical gesture, like pointing. However, “This.” has become common in web speak to signify wholehearted agreement or the desire to reiterate a point that’s already been made. If someone posts an empowering status update or comment for example, you might respond with a simple “This.” (Just don’t forget the period. It matters.)
“That is right,” is a pretty short — and complete — sentence. But you can make it even shorter by dropping the “that is” and still get the same effect.
Using one-word sentences is often an efficient way to get your point across, whether writing prose, crafting an email, or firing off a text. A word of caution, however. Too many single-word sentences can give off the impression of disinterest, so use sparingly.