Difference Between Sentence and Utterance

Sentence vs Utterance
 

Between the terms sentence and utterance, one can identify some difference when studying linguistics. First let us gain a basic understanding of what each term mean. A sentence is a group of words that convey a meaning. An utterance is also a group of words or a part of speech in between pauses. A sentence can be in both written and spoken language. But an utterance is usually confined to the spoken language. This is one of the differences that can be identified between the two terms. This article attempts to highlight the differences between these two terms while providing a comprehensive understanding of both terms.

What is a Sentence?

A sentence is a group of words that conveys a complete meaning or thought. A sentence at least contains a subject and verb that highlights that a sentence conveys a complete meaning because it is a combination of words. For example, when we say ‘she left,’ even though it has just the subject and verb it conveys a meaning. However, sentences are not always simple in structure. There are a number of categories in sentences such as simple sentences, compound sentences, complex sentences, and also compound-complex sentences. Here are some examples that will highlight the nature of different types of sentences.

• A cat drinks milk. (simple sentence)

• I was late already but I decided to wait a bit longer for my friends. (compound sentence)

• I had to work on Saturday last week because there was a lot of work.  (complex sentence)

• Although she asked me to come, I just could not go because Jim was sick and I was expecting a visitor. (compound-complex sentence)

In these categories, the sentence is made up of a variety of phrases. To understand the difference between a sentence and an utterance one must view the sentence as having at least a main clause while an utterance does not always have a main clause. Sometimes it can be just a few words such as ‘not much’, ‘maybe’, which still conveys a meaning, but not a complete one.

Difference Between Sentence and Utterance

‘A cat drinks milk. – A simple sentence’

What is an Utterance?

The word utterance can simply be understood as a unit of speech. Utterance can be defined as a part of speech between pauses and silence. This usually applies to spoken language and not for written language. This feature can be considered as a difference that exists between a sentence and an utterance. An utterance can be a single word, a group of words, a clause or even a complete sentence. Let us try to understand this a bit further. Unlike in written language, in spoken language, there are more pauses and silence. Imagine a speaker who is giving a speech in front of an audience. He sometimes stops and waits a bit before speaking again. In linguistics, the spoken words between two pauses, is referred to as an utterance.

For example:

A person comes in front of an audience and begins a speech. He says, “Good morning, I wish to speak about the high suicide rate in the region……. Let me begin with some statistics.…As you can see”

There are instances where the speaker pauses. The words spoken between two pauses are an utterance. (“Let me begin with some statistics”)

However, in written language one does not encounter such pauses. This is because the sentences have been carefully formulated with pauses such as commas, full stops, etc. When looking at the spoken language, it is not quite easy to discern whether it is a sentence or not. This is why linguists consider a part of speech in spoken language as an utterance.

 Sentence vs Utterance

‘Good morning, I wish to speak about the high suicide rate in the region……. Let me begin with some statistics.…As you can see’

What is the difference between Sentence and Utterance?

• A sentence is a group of words that convey a meaning.

• An utterance is also a group of words or a part of speech in between pauses.

• Both a sentence and utterance convey a meaning to the reader or listener.

• The difference between a sentence and utterance is that while a sentence conveys a complete meaning through a combination of clauses, an utterance conveys a meaning through a few words that may not even compile a clause.

• A sentence is in both written and spoken language, but an utterance is in spoken language only.

 

Images Courtesy:

  1. Cat drinking milk by  lolawolfcandy (CC BY-SA 3.0)
  2. Suicide rates by Health Service Area (HSA), 1988–1992 by Citynoise (CC BY-SA 3.0)