What will be the structure of a sentence starting with "unless"?

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clairewait | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Starting a sentence with "unless" is much the same as starting a sentence with "because."  Although our 4th grade teachers told us NEVER TO DO IT (because in 4th grade it often resulted in a fragment) we can write a complete sentence starting with "unless" or "because."

This will most likely create a complex sentence (one independent clause and at least one dependent clause) that begins with a dependent clause.  This means you must use a comma - and add the subject and verb before you finish the sentence.  (It could also create a compound-complex sentence if you wanted to add another independent clause.)


Unless both a subject and verb are used after the comma, this sentence will not be complete.

Subject: this sentence
verb: will not be
dependent clause: Unless both a subject and verb are used,

If you said the first part of the sentence by itself you would be asking, "Unless both a subject and verb are used, what?"

Here's another, more simple example:

Unless John goes, Sue will go to the concert alone.

There is an argument that before the comma contains a subject and a verb: John and goes.  It is the presence of "unless" that makes that part of the sentence dependent on the rest of the sentence.

Now - in fiction, we might actually read these two sentences separately like this: Sue will go to the concert alone.  Unless John goes.  Technically this is sloppy - but in fiction we'd understand it and call it a "style" choice.