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Complete Thought

Combine a topic with a controlling idea


Spoken vs Written Thought


There is a difference between a spoken and a written complete thought. When you listen to spoken English, you may not always hear a complete sentence, but you will likely understand what a person is saying because you know or see the situation.


What're you up to?

Uh… heading off to volley ball

Can I borrow it?

Sure…let me do this…first…


In writing, complete thoughts include contextual details so that they can be understood by the reader. A complete thought along with grammar and punctuation becomes a sentence. A "sentence" exists mostly in writing and formal speeches.


"What are you doing right now?" 

"I am going to volley ball practice."

"Can I borrow your phone?"

"Sure. Let me unlock it first."


complete (Adj) — having all the parts, not lacking anything; in grammar, something that makes sense and is logical, can be understood

context (N) — the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation

contextual (Adj) — relating to or belonging to a particular context (situation)

likely (Adv) — probably








Complete Thought


Unfocused vs Focused


The following is an example of a question asked to a young woman competing in a beauty pageant. Her response was a stream of consciousness, meaning whatever came to her mind, she said!  Much of her response was off the topic.


Q: Recent polls have shown that a fifth of American youths can't locate the United States on a world map. Why is this?


Topic: Twenty per cent of American youths are unable to locate the United States on a map.

(Note that it doesn't specify age or background of youths.)


Controlling Idea: Give reasons (or guesses).


Topic: U.S. Americans, education?

Controlling Idea: Reasons: (1) no maps; (2) education...South Africa...Iraq...?? (3) children…future…

A: "I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some people out there in our nation don't have maps and, uh, I believe that our, uh, education like such as in, uh, South Africa and, uh, the Iraq and everywhere like such as, and I believe that they should, uh, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., uh, should help South Africa and should help Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future for our children."


Each example below takes a position on the question, gives supporting facts on the position. The topic comes from the question. The response includes or restates the topic and includes and follows a controlling idea.


Topic: Twenty per cent of American youths are unable to locate the United States on a map.

Controlling Idea: Under-funding of the educational system has caused basic courses to be dropped.

A: There is only one reason why a fifth of American youths would not be able to locate the U. S. on maps, and that is an underfunded educational system. The curricula of some schools can no longer afford to include geography. Students are expected to learn the subject by way of another subject such as history or social studies. Without direct instruction in world geography, a student may not be familiar with a map larger than his or her own community. Restoring financial support for schools is essential to putting basics back into education, and that includes geography instruction that will enable students to locate the US and other countries on a world map.


Topic: Twenty per cent of American youths are unable to locate the United States on a map.

Controlling Idea: The poll is faulty due to its sampling of  youths.

A: The reason that a recent poll found that one fifth of American youths cannot locate the U.S. on a world map is because the sampling was faulty.  The poll does not state the age of the students polled.  If a child has not completed the sixth grade, the child has not had much instruction in geography. Also, the poll does not state whether the youths are non-native speakers who may not have completed their educational goals when they were polled on this question. This poll implies that American youth are somehow stupid, which is simply not the case. The U.S. has a diverse population of youths who will be able to identify the U.S on a world map by the time they graduate from high-school.


faulty (N) — having errors

sample (V) — take a random selection of individuals within a subset and use the sample to represent the whole set.

YouTube video Uhhh...what did she just say? Miss Teen South Carolina 2007







Controlling Idea

Focused Topic

concept map


Topic—controlling idea

A complete thought consists of a general subject (a topic) and some kind of "spin" or controlling idea on the topic.  For example, the controlling idea could be the speaker's intent, understanding, perspective, or opinion about the topic.



mobile phones / cellular phones   


Over five billion mobile phones are in use worldwide. (* Restates truth, no intent or opinion is expressed.) 



Mobile phones not only serve as telephones but as mini-computers, cameras, e-readers and flashlights.



Mobile phones, which are frequently held to the ear, are being studied for possibly dangerous effects.



The mobile phone will be the universal device.  (Modals express opinioncan, may, might, could, etc.)

Maybe mobile phone use will take the place of laptop and desktop computer use.

The mobile phone is the "universal device" (Quotes, here, express so-called, not in truth. "They say it is the universal device, but I think that is questionable.")



Surprisingly, more people access the Internet with their mobile phones than their computers.



More people have mobile phones than any other electronic device.



Some people have multiple mobile phones.



Mobile phones and computers both require operating systems.



Parents give mobile phones to children to track their whereabouts.



Almost everyone in the world can be reached by mobile phone or a landline.



People used to wait for installations of telephone lines; however, now mobile phones are set up in minutes.



There are so many features on mobile phones that travelers no longer need to carry laptops.



People carry mobile phones because they are expected to do so!



Mobile phone location tracking is causing the divorce rate to increase.  (Cheaters are being caught!)



Distracted use of mobile phones has resulted in traffic and pedestrian accidents.



If drivers want to use mobile phones, they must use hands-free technology.



I suggest you turn off your mobile phone during the job interview.



Don't talk and hold your mobile phone while driving!



Have you hugged your mobile phone today?



My girlfriend told me to choose between her and my mobile phone.  I called her and told her to have a nice life.


"List of countries by number of mobile phones in use." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 3 August 2011. UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.







A Sentence

Written vs. Spoken



What is the difference between a written and a spoken sentence?



All those taxes for our country to rebuild itself
This topic is missing a controlling idea / This subject is missing a predicate. 

Rebuilding this country! 
This topic is missing a controlling idea / This subject is missing a predicate.

Taxes, which you pay annually.
This topic is missing a controlling idea / This subject is missing a predicate.

"Where does the money go?"  (spoken)
"into public services"      In speech, a short answer has no subject or verb. The missing elements are  understood in the context of the conversation.  


All those taxes are needed for our country  to rebuild itself.

We are rebuilding this country!

Taxes, which you pay annually, are used for state and federal services.

"Where does the money go?"

"It goes into public services"


Exceptions to the written sentence rule







Practice 1

Topic and Controlling Idea


Identify the Topic or the Controlling idea

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check" button.


pie chartEducation needs more government money.  Each year, less money goes to supporting our schools. Our schools need help to stay open.
The topic is?


cattleThirty per cent of our children do not know where beef comes from. They think it comes from the supermarket.  They do not understand the connection between beef and cattle.
The controlling idea is?


potholeBecause there are so many potholes in our roads, tires are getting damaged. I've had to replace all four tires! My tires are constantly getting destroyed by these roads in need of repair.
The topic is?


pets calmPets are good for calming their owners.  They feel more relaxed when they are with their pets. Pets help owners forget other things, so they feel less anxious.
The controlling idea is?









Practice 2

Responses from a Politician

Political responses


Complete the controlling idea

  1. Select the option that best complete the thought of the sentence.
  2. Compare your response with the feedback.


Q: Some people have no healthcare.  What do you think about that?
A: That is why  I ______.

no healthcare

Q: Will the President complete his promise to improve healthcare?
A: The President ______.

Q: How will your party winning the election help the country?
A: We, the people ______.


Q: Why do you think taxpayers are upset?
A: Taxpayers ______.


Q: What do you think voters want most?
A: More than anything, we all ______ .




a better life

Q: Whose responsibility is it to move this country forward?
A: The future of the country ______.