Incomplete Sentences In German Syntax


The study of so-called "non-standard" formations in any language is a complex and multidimensional problem. One of the vulnerabilities of the German syntax is the problem of incomplete sentences. In the practice of grammar parsing with students, we often encounter this problem. German textbooks reduce the diversity of expressions to two main sentences types - two-member and one-member. Different types of so-called "incomplete" sentences are mixed with two-member or one-member sentences and are considered as a violation of these structures. We do not intend to solve the problem of incompleteness of the German language offer. We would like to present some ideas on the nature of the phenomenon of "incomplete" sentences and thus clarify the very content of the term "incomplete" sentences. It is necessary to separate the subject matter from the entire grammatical phenomena, i.e. to determine whether it is necessary to base the classification of a sentence on whether it is complete or incomplete. It is important for us to try to establish in this article at least conditionally what types of "incomplete" sentences may exist, which of them are the most common, what are the conditions of their use, how fully they reveal the idea under certain conditions of their use. In order to achieve our goals, we need to proceed from the consideration of the social purpose of the language. From the point of view of performance of this grammatical construction of its social and communicative function it is estimated its value, perfection, completeness.

Keywords: Incomplete sentencelanguage communicative functionsyntactic


A sentence, as a form of expression of thought, always expresses this idea fully in the specific conditions of its use by means of language, since everything that has not found expression in the language is not a thought. Incomplete sentences literally can only be considered incomplete sentences that express an incomplete thought, an interrupted thought.

A sentence, as the basic unit of language communication, should be considered both on the part of the content and its grammatical organization.

If, on the part of a meaningful sentence (if any), in the particular circumstances of its use, it does express the totality of the content required, then on the part of the grammatical sentence, depending on those circumstances, the sentence may take different forms.

As a rule, the structure of the sentence, which is as independent as possible from the context and from the situation and speech situation, is called complete.

Indeed, as the language material shows, it is sometimes difficult to assert with certainty which type of sentence is closer to type of "broken structure". In order to avoid hesitation in determining the nature of the sentence structure, it is necessary to have a clear understanding of the boundaries of the sentence in general. The available literature on this topic provides a schematic description of the various forms of disturbed structures.

Problem Statement

In other words, the problem of the incompleteness of a sentence lies in the question of sentence boundaries, i.e. what part of the speech we will consider to be the "standard" of the sentence and, moreover, the "full" one. Here, we face a significant obstacle: there is no precise idea of a particular minimum of language data that would allow us to consider a message as a sentence.

What, then, should be the criterion for determining whether a sentence is incomplete?

Research Questions

In language practice, the specific situation, with other supportive means of expression, gives rise to structural types of proposals that lack the verbal expression of any individual members that are clear from the context and situation. Emotional intonation plays an important role in such proposals. "Emotional intonation is a necessary element of the structure of many unambiguous sentences and allows the recipient of the message to extract additional information from the statement that does not receive explicit (verbal) expression" (Kulaeva, 2016, p. 89). In general, "intonation of speech provides a difference in the communicative purpose of speech" (Abubakarova & Almurzaeva, 2018, p. 132). Vinogradova (2012) in her article "Incomplete sentences in the syntactic system of modern Russian language says:

Incomplete sentences are a manifestation of the law of economy of speech efforts, which requires the exclusion of elements from speech that do not affect the establishment of the semantics of speech, because they are already contained in the operative memory of the speakers (named in the previous fragments of the monologue or dialogue, can be restored on the basis of logical and

grammatical operation in relation to the elements of the given statement, on the basis of knowledge of the situation in which communication takes place or is referred to). (p. 56)

Thus, the concept of incompleteness of a sentence can only be applied to its formal and grammatical composition. Therefore, in contrast to the traditional name of such sentences as incomplete sentences, broken structures, they can be called sentences of relatively incomplete formally - grammatical composition or relatively incomplete.

Thus, conditionally, under relatively incomplete sentences we understand such sentences, in which the semantic dependence on a wide context is reflected in the relative incompleteness of their formal and grammatical composition.

Depending on whether the absence of a member - context or situation - is due to the absence of a proposal, these will be referred to as relatively incomplete or situation-specific contextual factors.

In terms of their grammar, relatively incomplete sentences in German can be sentences with an unnamed subject, predicate, object; sometimes these members are represented in part.

Sentences with unnamed subjects. For example: Lena ist mächtig abgespannt. Sie lehnt den Kopf an meine Schulter. Sie lehnt den Kopf an meine Schulter.

If so, why not present two features as homogeneous in one sentence? Could it be unreasonable to divide the predicted ones into two separate sentences, which belong to the same subject, exact and dividing pause? Maybe this kind of separating means should be considered an author's arbitrariness; moreover, the second sentence (after a point and a pause) may begin with connectives, adverbs, as in the example:

Im Aufglühen (des Ofens) siehst du die große Holzwanne. Da liegt sie (die Tochter) drin, kratzt ab und zu an den Dauben, wenn sie im Schlaf die Ärmchen reckt. Und truämt (Langer, 1986).

Maybe this kind of separating means should be considered an author's arbitrariness; moreover, the second sentence (after a point and a pause) may begin with connectives, adverbs, as in the example: The relative semantics of the subject matter to be discussed, supported by the means of punctuation, has led to the creation of an additional feature in the special joining sentence.

On the other hand, the structure of these examples is in contact with the sentences of the loose part of the sentence, i.e. another kind of relationship is formed. It is extremely difficult to draw the line between, for example, a predicate and its separation into a separate sentence. It is likely that the degree and nature of separation of a member of the sentence is overlapped here with its inclusion in the additional sentence. Thus, to distinguish between a sentence with homogeneous members, on the one hand, and examples with relatively incomplete sentences, on the other hand: "Schließt die Augen", "Und träumt" and, on the other hand, between these examples and a sentence with separate members is very difficult, and in the absence of a clear understanding of the boundaries of the sentence is impossible at all. Therefore, we conditionally consider the above examples with relatively incomplete sentences as standing between a sentence with homogeneous members and a loose sentence.

The lack of a clear understanding of the boundaries of the sentence leads to divergent views on this issue. On the grammatical side, these sentences are not stable types, unified grammatical models. In a number of German grammarians, sentences with unnamed subjects are regarded as a random phenomenon. Their use characterizes a certain manner of expression. They are characterized mainly by their stationery style, commercial correspondence language, and their use has penetrated into other areas, but they are not mandatory anywhere. Except for special clauses, proposals with unnamed subjects are not of a stable type. Their use contradicts the grammatical system of the modern German language, the system of changing the German verb.

Sentences with unnamed predicate. Here it is important to distinguish two cases:

1) Sentences in which the absence of a narrative is due to its link to the context or situation. For example: «Mutter Wulle” und «der alte Merz» sind als breite gesunde Volkstypen gedacht. Beide kommen langsam, nach Überwindung vieler innerer Widersprüche zum aktiven antifaschistischen Kampf… Mutter Wulle aus ihrer kleinbrügerlichen, spie ß erlichen Ruhe heraus,Vater Merz aus der Vereinsammung des alten Sozialdemokraten und pazifistischen Fanatikers .

Willi : Du, Anni, ich finde den Ritter (die Ritterbüste) verdammt imposant, paßte gut in meine Bude; tauschen wir?

Anni: (erfreut) Du den Ritter ich die Hartwurst. (Kellermann, 1980).

The relationship between these sentences and the context can be very different. The specificity of the structure of a relatively incomplete sentence is determined by the peculiarity of its connection with the context. The difference in the nature of the relationship between the sentence and the context explains the different structures of the sentences with the unnamed predicate, their variability. The unnamed predicate may be different in nature; it is entirely determined by the content. There are also a number of members who form an incomplete sentence. It can be an object and adverbal modifier, and sometimes both together.

2) The sentences, the structural-grammatical incompleteness of which is caused not by their link with a context or a situation, but by sufficiency of available lexical-grammatical means in the sentence itself. These sentences are context-independent and therefore structurally more stable. They can be identified as contextual or situational in relation to incomplete sentences. The content of such sentences is determined by the words in the sentence itself and the nature of their grammatical relations. For instance:

Hier am Tor ein Plakat.

Überall Licht und Farben.

In ganz Berlin keine lebende Seele mehr (Kellermann, 1980).

Structurally, all sentences consist of subject and adverbal modifiers. Their content is composed of a combination of meanings presented in the sentence. This combination is sufficient to complete the meaning and understanding of the sentence, regardless of the context. It is worth noting the cases when it is very difficult to determine the nature of the structure. For example:

«Begeisterte springen von ihren Plätzen auf.

Die Älteren nicken bedächtig mit den Köpfen.

Gespannte Aufmerksamkeit bei den Frauen. (Langer, 1986)

Ein hochnäsiges, blondes Mädchen hinter der Schreibmashine.

«Und immer neue Scharen Helfer strömen heran. Jugend-kolonnen mit wehenden Fahnen . Es wimmelt am eisengleih imTal (Bredel, 1963).

The underlined sentences are treated as sentences with an unnamed predicate and as a special type of one-member sentences.

A number of German grammars explain single sentences as one of the types of elliptical sentences. By ellipsis in a broad sense, we mean "an omission in speech or in the text of an implied language unit, a structural "incompleteness" of the syntactic structure" (Belchikov, 2000, p. 408). Admon (1973) writes: "Elliptical sentences are sentences in which at least one of the principal members of the sentence is missing, or one of the constituent elements of the principal members that are necessary in terms of the structure of the corresponding logical and grammatical type of sentence" (p. 187). Shendels (1982) has a different point of view: “By elliptical sentences or incomplete sentences we mean constructions in which one or both of the main terms are omitted, but they can be easily restored based on the context, situation or analogy with complete two-part sentences” (p. 302). Of course, the sign of formal-grammatical insufficiency can be conditionally applied to elliptical sentences. But this conventionality will border on the infinite possibility of comparisons. It will be possible to arbitrarily determine the number and nature of the unnamed members here, and this will lead to the fact that we are slipping away from any boundaries of the proposal at all. Analysis of the material shows that it is not always possible to draw a clear line between two-part, relatively incomplete and single-part sentences. There is no reason to believe that relatively incomplete sentences, having detached themselves from two-part sentences, can become single-part sentences or that all single-part sentences necessarily go back to two-part sentences through the ellipsis of its parts. It is possible that some of the monolithic ones are historically dating back to the two-tier ones, which requires special research to establish this.

Linguistics is firmly rooted in the interpretation of single-component sentences as independent structural sentences. One-member sentences do not have the usual composition; you cannot tell which members are missing or which members are represented.

The classification of single-component proposals chosen by us is based on the morphological nature of the main term.

A special place will be given to the consideration of the sentences of the dialogue speech. In general, it should be said that relatively incomplete sentences are characteristic primarily for colloquial speech. "One of the main features of colloquial speech are structures with omitted syntactic components, namely incomplete structures. Based on the traditional approach to the study of such constructions, they can be attributed to the ellipsis" (Ezan & Neborskaya, 2016, p. 52). All kinds of relatively incomplete sentences can be found in the dialogue speech. But it is also characterized by special constructions, sentences of special dialogical speech.

The dialogue usually takes the form of questions and answers or replicas.

The peculiarity of the question-and-answer form of the dialogue determines the sufficiency of one question word for the question (Was? Wie? Woher? Wieviel? Wohin? and etc.) or one word of answer to make an act of communication happen. For example:

-Wie heißen sie? - Ackermann.

-Was sind sie? - Hilfsschreiber.

-Zivilberuf? - Student.

-Wo vervundet? - An der Somme (Langer, 1986).

As sentences and questions like this: Was? Wie? Woher? Wieviel? Wohin, etc., as well as the answers and sentences just given are a normal, regular form of question and answer dialogue.

The composition of the response sentence is determined by the nature of the question posed:

(1) If the question concerns the disclosure of a proposal member, the response may consist of one question from the member requested. The response may take the form of a syntactic member of the sentence.

(2) The nature of the question is such that the function of the answer is to confirm or deny it. The questioning sentence itself contains all the content to be expressed in the answer. This explains why the response may be in the form of "ja" or "nein" (also in the form of other affirmative or negative words).

Replica objects, not being an answer to the question, are related to the context that from one side object its content, complement the content of the speech of the interlocutor, continue it.

Depending on the nature of the object, whether it concerns a further communication on the subject, the predicate, the object, the adverbal modifier or attributes - the replica object - and takes the appropriate syntactic form.

Thus, the sentences of the dialogical speech represent:

1) Special independent constructions of dialogical speech, which are the norm for it. You can talk about them depending on the sentence member they are. Replenishment of them to any scheme of "full" sentence - artificially, randomly; but most importantly - it is not necessary. It is not justified because these structures respond to the full form of the statement - the question and answer sentences of the dialogue. These "member sentences" differ from the ordinary members of the sentence in that they are predictive statements.

2) Replica sentences, which are a type of individual sentences - loose members, main or secondary.

Purpose of the Study

Describe some considerations about the nature of the phenomenon of "incompleteness" of the proposal and thus clarify the very meaning of the term "incomplete" proposal. First of all, it is necessary to separate the subject matter from the entire grammatical phenomena, i.e. to determine whether it is necessary to base the classification of a sentence on whether it is complete or incomplete. It is important for us to try to establish in this article at least conditionally what types of "incomplete" sentences may exist, which of them are the most common, what are the conditions of their use, how fully they reveal the idea under certain conditions of their use.

Research Methods

In order to solve the set tasks when considering the grammatical and functional features of such sentences, which are usually called incomplete (elliptical), it is necessary to start from the consideration of the social purpose of the language - its communicative function as a tool of communication.

From the point of view of the grammatical structure of its social and communicative function, its importance, perfection and completeness are assessed.


The material we studied showed us that:

1. meaningful incompleteness of an individual sentence is relative and is neither obligatory nor exclusive to grammatical incompleteness.

2. the formal-grammar composition in itself is insufficient to judge the semantic completeness of the sentence.

3. neither semantic nor formal-grammar incompleteness can serve as a separate criterion for incompleteness of supply. Consistent application of only one of these criteria leads to a one-sided assessment of the nature of the sentence as not only a unit of meaning, but also a unit of grammatical organization.

4. the issue of the incompleteness of the sentence cannot be resolved without taking into account the conditions of its use.


To sum up, we can conclude that

1) the main group of sentences under consideration are those which we have described as incomplete. These are sentences in which there is no member who is clear from the context or situation of the speech. This includes sentences with an unnamed predicate, and those in which the absence of a predicate sentence is due to the connection of the sentence to the broader context. On the grammatical side, these sentences are not stable types, unified grammatical models.

2) Sentences are sufficiently comprehensive in meaning and outside the context, and therefore their structure is more stable. These sentences have members that seem to indicate the absence of a verb form of the predicate. For example: Hier am Tor ein Plakat.

3) the sentences that do not refer to the formal subject of "es" are of special importance. Due to the observed known normalization of the unsuitable construction of sentences in the reverse order of words, they can also be referred to as one-member sentences.

4) one-memebr structures are structurally complete and represent a special independent type of sentence. These are descriptive, narrative, causal or evaluative sentences.

5) sentences that have become common language formulas.

6) question-and-answer sentences of dialogue speech, which can consist of one word or groups of words, i.e. one member of a sentence, are sentences specially made up of dialogue speech, which constitute the norm for it and are quite complete in terms of their use.

7) Replica sentences, which are a type of individual sentences - loose members, main or secondary.


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28 December 2019

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Kulaeva*, F. (2019). Incomplete Sentences In German Syntax. In D. Karim-Sultanovich Bataev, S. Aidievich Gapurov, A. Dogievich Osmaev, V. Khumaidovich Akaev, L. Musaevna Idigova, M. Rukmanovich Ovhadov, A. Ruslanovich Salgiriev, & M. Muslamovna Betilmerzaeva (Eds.), Social and Cultural Transformations in the Context of Modern Globalism, vol 76. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 1865-1872). Future Academy.