Subject Material

1 Sentence Types

Published: 10.12.2009, Updated: 03.03.2017
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When we use language, we do it for a purpose. The purpose may be

A to tell somebody something (to give information)
B to ask somebody a question (to request information)
C to ask somebody to do something (to request action)
D to promise somebody to do something (to promise something)

These very broad and crude categories can be linked to different sentence types. Here is a simple table:

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Grammartable 01


Since language is so flexible, the rules which link the form of a sentence to its function- as we have done above - have very many exceptions.

Here is one: A request for action is not often expressed in a blunt imperative, but rather in some roundabout way. Could you send the letter?/Do you mind sending the letter?/Is it possible for you to send the letter? The request should at least be softened by a please. Please send the letter.

Despite such exceptions, the basic correlation is that declaratives provide information, interrogatives demand information and imperatives demand action. Here is a short news text for illustration.

The court decided to postpone the proceedings and meet again tomorrow. The evidence is slim and a long trial would have unfortunate consequences in this case. Would it be wiser to drop the charges altogether?

The last interrogative appeals to the reader. He/She is not being told the view of the newspaper, but rather asked to answer a question. In that sense the interrogative is interactive because it brings the reader into the text.

In addition, questions may have a rhetorical effect. That means they are not real information-seeking questions, but questions that lead the reader to agree with the paper’s view. [Yes, it is wiser to drop the charges.] Interrogatives may have this effect, but we cannot tell for sure because we do not have the wider context.


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