Is ‘No’ a Complete Sentence?

Is No a sentence in following examples?

Did you see my mobile? No.

Are you coming for the dinner? No.

What does grammar say?

As per English grammar, a group of words must fulfil two conditions to be a sentence:

  1. It should contain a subject and a finite verb.
  2. It should represent a complete idea.

From this perspective, No is clearly not a sentence as it doesn’t fulfil the first condition.

And if there were exceptions to the above two conditions, they too would’ve been prescribed, like they’ve been in case of imperative sentences. An imperative doesn’t contain an explicit subject, yet it is considered a sentence (examples: Go and Leave now). But no such exception has been made for anything even remotely close to No.

‘No’ is a sentence fragment

No is a sentence fragment, implying it’s not a sentence. A sentence fragment is a group of words punctuated as a sentence, even though it’s not a sentence. It is commonly dubbed as an error, especially in formal writing, but when used judiciously, it can be highly effective. Sentence fragment in response to a question – and No falls into this category – is generally an effective use of fragment, but that doesn’t make it a sentence.

Isn’t ‘No’ an elliptical sentence?

In elliptical sentences, few words are omitted to avoid repetition from the preceding sentence or clause. Examples:

I planned to buy silver-color laptop but bought black laptop. [Complete sentence]

I planned to buy silver-color laptop but bought black. [Elliptical form of the sentence, with laptop omitted]

The monkeys are munching on berries. The antelopes are grazing. [Complete sentence]

The monkeys are munching on berries. The antelopes, grazing. [Elliptical form of the sentence, with are omitted]

Elliptical forms are sentences, even though few words are missing. The missing words are implied.

Coming back to No, an argument given in support of No as a sentence is that it is an elliptical form of sentence, and hence is a sentence.

Did you see my mobile? No, I didn’t see your mobile.

But there is a problem with this argument. The above is not an elliptical sentence. Elliptical sentences result from removing repetitive parts of sentences such as noun, verb, or verb along with its complement – and not the entire sentence. Here are few examples to draw the distinction between a complete sentence, its elliptical form, and a fragment. The first two are sentences; the third isn’t.

Can I borrow your pen for a moment? Sure, you can borrow. [Complete sentence]

Can I borrow your pen for a moment? Sure, you can. [Elliptical sentence]

Can I borrow your pen for a moment? Sure. [Fragment]

Are you attending today’s event? Of course, I’m attending. [Complete sentence]

Are you attending today’s event? Of course, I am. [Elliptical sentence]

Are you attending today’s event? Of course. [Fragment]

So, No can’t be passed off as an elliptical sentence and, therefore, can’t be treated as a sentence. It’s a fragment. Fragments too are often elliptical but not in the sense of elliptical sentences.

To sum, Yes, No, and many such phrases have been used as sentences so often that they’re commonly thought to be a sentence. But they’re not. They’re sentence fragments.

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