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“Yes” Is A Complete Sentence!

November 14, 2021
(image via wikimedia)

“‘Yes’ is a complete sentence!” some guy said harshly at the gas station. He was talking (probably on his phone) on the opposite side of the pump, and I couldn’t get a good look at the guy without making it obvious that I was eavesdropping while preparing to fill up my gas tank. I kept my blank face and made sure not to look in the guy’s direction. He sounded angry, but he wasn’t angry at me, and I meant to keep it that way.

I’m a pretty good eavesdropper. Eavesdropping was an important skill when I was a teacher. I usually gave students a significant chunk of time each class period to work with a partner or a group of friends on an assignment. The group time gave students a chance to blow off steam while (theoretically) doing something productive, and it gave me a chance to walk around the classroom and have informal interactions with students. A lot of times I’d just stand back and listen (and pretend to grade papers).

I learned more about what was going on around school and with students from my eavesdropping than I did from all the essays that they wrote for my classes. I’m pretty good at hanging around and being unnoticed, even when I’m supposed to be in a leadership position like teaching. I could teach a course on eavesdropping and its uses in the classroom. Or maybe I could write a book about it.

“‘No’ is a complete sentence!” the guy at the gas pump continued.

The guy sounded confident, but the former English teacher in me wasn’t so sure. By itself, the word ‘yes’ can be an interjection, a noun, an adverb, and even a verb, though that’s extremely rare. A part of speech by itself can’t be a complete sentence… unless… unless the ‘yes’ was meant as an implied complete sentence. Maybe you could make the case that ‘yes’ is an implied complete sentence if it’s following a question.

For example, if a wife asks, “Are you listening?” the husband’s automatic response is usually “Yes,” even though there was a 50% chance that the husband wasn’t listening. In that situation the word ‘yes’ by itself implies the sentence “I was listening.” That was an interesting idea, I thought, if that were indeed what that guy meant when he’d said that the word ‘yes,’ was a complete sentence. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but it’s at least interesting.

“I don’t need to say ‘ma’am,” The guy continued. “I don’t need to say ‘sir’!”

This changes things, I thought. Did this guy think that the difference between a complete sentence and an incomplete thought was the word ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’? You have to have a subject and a verb to have a complete sentence, and adding ‘ma’am’ or ‘sir’ adds neither. The guy sounded pissed, so I wasn’t about to insert myself into the conversation to discuss grammar. Nobody wants to talk about grammar.

I might be a former English teacher and someday I might write an educational book about eavesdropping in the classroom, but I’m definitely not going to write a book about grammar.

Or maybe I will.

“It’s a southern thing, and I’m not from here,” the guy continued ranting.

It’s kind of a southern thing, I thought, but not exclusively southern. Before I moved to this southern city, I had lived in a small midwestern city for most of my life. The ‘ma’am’ and ‘sir’ thing was big up there too. People were very polite. I mean, they were polite until they weren’t, and then things could get ugly very quickly, and certain people could go from genial to genocidal in a blink.

“I’m not gonna say ‘sir,’ and I’m not gonna say ‘ma’am.'” I don’t do that.”

So he’s talking to somebody who thinks adding the word ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’ is a big deal. When I was a kid, my parents made a big deal about treating adults with respect, but I’m pretty indiscriminate with my use of ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’ now. It’s based more on my mood than somebody else’s status. I don’t expect to be called ‘sir’ either If an adult told me to my face (or on the phone) that I had to call him/her ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am,’ I might flip out too, though I’m usually not confrontational in public.

I resisted the urge to look when I heard the guy get into his car. I’d made it this far without looking, I wasn’t going to ruin it at the end, but I really wanted to look at the guy. I had so many unanswered questions: Who was he talking to? What had set him off? Was it a boss? A girlfriend? A boyfriend? A combination? What had even caused this conversation in the first place? What were this guy’s issues?

I had my own issues, I realized. I hadn’t even started pumping my own gas yet.

  1. Jorge Jaramillo Villarruel permalink

    I want to punch the person on the other side of the phone on the face.

  2. Anonymous permalink


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