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Sentence Types

A single sentence can express many different things. Here is one way to divide different types of sentences into four main categories.

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:

ExampleSentence typeFormWhat it does
I have sent the letterdeclarativenormal word ordergives information

Have you sent the letter?

or

When did you send the letter?

interrogativeinverted word order

asks for information,

either

1) a yes/no answer

or

2) specific information

Send the letterimperativeno subjectdemands action
I'll send the letterdeclarative

no typical form,

will is often used

commits speaker to act

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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