Kernel Sentence

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In transformational grammar, a theory of the study of language based upon structure, a kernel sentence is the basis upon which other sentences are constructed.  That is, it is the simplest of sentences--the kernel of the language--, composed of a subject and a single verb and sometimes a direct object in the active voice and declarative mood. A kernel sentence is always affirmative.  Here are examples:

Mary cried. [subject + verb]

Mark played baseball. [subject + verb + direct object]

These kernel sentences are in the active voice because the subjects are performing the actions expressed by the verbs (They are the doers of the actions rather than having the action performed upon them).  These sentences are in the declarative mood because they express a statement; they are affirmative because they express something that was happening as opposed to something that was not happening (a negative sentence, such as Mary did not cry.)

Kernel clauses are essentially the building blocks of a language's sentences. Other phrases or clauses, modifying words such as adjectives and adverbs can be added to kernel sentences. The mood can be changed and the negation of the sentence can also be effected.  Here are examples of sentences that are not kernel sentences:

  • Yesterday, Louise ate lunch and visited with friends at her favorite restaurant. [ Added to kernel sentence are an adverb of time--yesterday, another verb--visited, prepositional phrases--with friends, at her favorite restaurant.]
  • The new shoes were chewed by the dog. [The voice is changed to passive since the subject is not the doer of the action.]
  • Jane does not like blue. [The sentence has been made negative]