In the English Rankscale, the Sentence is the largest grammatical unit and, by definition, it refers to a group of words that begins with a capital letter and ends with any of these three punctuation marks: the period or full stop, the exclamation mark and the question mark. This post, Types of Sentences According to Function with Examples, examines closely the different types of English sentences based on functions using copious illustrative examples.
Types of Sentences According to Function with Examples
The classification of the English sentences is in two forms. We classify sentences based on their syntactic classes or their structural appearance. Another classification has to do with the functions English sentences perform. So we have structural and functional classifications. I have put together a post on the Structural Classification of English Sentences. But here, I will focus on the functional classification of sentences. Let us see the various types of sentences using the function parameter.
Functional Classification of the English Sentences
There are five (5) types sentences based on structural classification. These are:
- Declarative Sentence
- Interrogative Sentence
- Exclamatory Sentence
- Imperative Sentence
- Minor Sentence
Let us look at each of these types…
E. E. Cummings, a US Poet and Painter once said, “The only man woman or child who wrote a simple declarative sentence with seven grammatical errors ‘is dead.'” He might be implying the simplicity of the declarative sentence. As the name goes, a ‘declares’. In other words, it is a sentence that makes a statement; it states. Sentences expressing hope or wish are somehow declarative. We also use Declarative Sentences to express an idea or give information. Some examples of the declarative sentence include:
- The man has just gone out.
- The class over there is making a noise.
- She is an accomplished writer.
- The food got burnt.
- We ate samosa for lunch.
- Let us move over to the field.
- The sun is the centre of the Solar System.
- I hope we can get home before nightfall.
- May you live long.
- How I wish she was here.
- The American astronauts are in space.
- The governor has paid the salaries of workers.
Syntactic formation of a declarative sentence
There is a pattern for the formation of a declarative sentence. In its formation, the subject comes first and the predicator follows it immediately. In other words, the declarative sentence is the basic form. The basic form of a sentence is when the subject comes foist and the predicator follows the subject immediately. E. g.
- The president has disbursed the money.
Let us see the next type of sentences…
An interrogative sentence is a sentence that seeks to elicit information. When you need to ask a question, the interrogative sentence comes handy. Before we give examples of an interrogative sentence, it is essential, at this point, to let you know that there are various types of questions in English. We have the following questions which are all forms of interrogation and, therefore, fall under the category of interrogative questions:
Polar or Yes/No Question
This type of question requires yes or no for an answer e.g.
- Are those girls reading their books?
- Is the programme ending today?
- Was the course difficult?
- Were they around this morning?
- Will you come with me?
Syntactic formation of Polar Question
In the syntactic of the polar question, there is subject-operator inversion; that is, we inverse the primary auxiliary such that it takes the place of the subject. We also call this ‘S-op’ inversion. For instance:
- ‘Those girls are reading their books.’ becomes ‘Are those girls reading their books?’
- ‘The programme is ending today.’ becomes ‘Is the programme ending today?’
- ‘She was protesting her arrest.’ becomes ‘Was she protesting her arrest?’
- ‘I am reading the second novel.’ becomes ‘Am I reading the second novel?’
- The youth were demonstrating.’ Becomes ‘Were the youth demonstrating?’
Take note that at the end of the question, the voice pitch rises.
This type of question usually starts with the ‘wh’ element which we refer to as the ‘Q-word’ that is, the ‘question word’. An answer to this type of question cannot be ‘yes’ or ‘no’ like the Polar Question. Examples include:
- What are you doing over there?
- How has life been with you?
- Where did you meet your wife?
- Why have you been away from work?
- When are we planning to leave the party?
- Who are you looking for?
- Whom did you give the letter?
- Who can we get to help us?
- How long have you been waiting here?
- Under what conditions have the prisoners been released?
Unlike the polar question, which has the possibility of only two answers, that is ‘yes’ or ‘no’, ‘wh’–question permits broad or open-ended number of answers.
Note that the voice pitch drops at the end of the question. This distinguishes it from the Polar Question among other things.
Syntactic formation of ‘Wh’ Question
In forming this type of question, the Q-word (what) comes first, the operator (the auxiliary verb) follows, the subject comes next, then the lexical verb and the adjunct.
This type of question is one that shows emotional feelings – a kind of yes-no question with the force of an exclamation. In other words, it is a question that exclaims! It is said in a falling tune or intonation. Consider the following sentences:
- Aren’t these ladies beautiful! (An expression of how beautiful the ladies are)
- Isn’t this a wonderful event! (An exclamatory question under interrogative sentence)
- Isn’t her dress gorgeous!
- Wasn’t that a scintillating performance!
- Aren’t they fortunate breed!
Syntactic formation of Exclamatory Questions
The syntactic formation is S-op inversion (subject-operator inversion) like the Polar Question.
A tag question is a short question which we add to a statement, to elicit a confirming response from the hearer. We use a tag question to turn a statement into a question. Consider these examples:
- The man has arrived, hasn’t he?
- They are not here, aren’t they?
- The candidates passed the examination, didn’t they?
The question is formed from the statement using the subject and the operator; the syntactic formation is a subject-operator (S-op) inversion.
In English, which has a broad range of tag questions, the choice of tag question depends on the grammatical form of the statement.
Rules for Tag Question Formation
Moreover, there are rules for forming the most common types of tag questions and they are:
- Using the non-contracted form, copy the operator of the given statement, and change it to negative if it is positive or to positive if it is negative. For example:
- You have arrived, haven’t you?
- She is not back. Is she?
- They are swimming, aren’t they?
- We were asked to pay, weren’t we?
- He should not say that, should he?
- In the absence of an operator, we use the positive or negative form of the primary auxiliary ‘do’. See the following examples:
- The dog likes to bark always, doesn’t it?
- The designs came out well, didn’t they?
- We live in an age of information, don’t we?
- If the subject of the statement is a personal pronoun, copy and place it after the operator in the tag question. For instance:
- We have not met before, have we?
- He is a jolly good fellow, isn’t he?
- If the subject of the statement is not a personal pronoun, use a personal pronoun which matches its referent (in number, person, case and gender) to replace it in the tag question. For example:
- The meeting won’t take long, will it?
- The children should eat now, shouldn’t they?
This type of sentence expresses an emotional feeling and it is usually ended with an exclamatory mark. For example:
- What a wonderful event this is!
- How lovely she looks!
- What kind of a person he has turned to!
- What a strange sight they saw!
- How skillfully he dribbles the ball!
- What a mess they are in!
Syntactic formation of Exclamatory Sentence
In the formation of this type of sentence, the EX-element, which brings out the exclamation, always comes first; then a complement intensive usually follows and the subject and predicator follow respectively. Each sentence formation depends on the structure of the exclamatory sentence. Look at this example:
- How I used to enjoy myself in those days!
(the EX-element ‘how’, an adjunct, comes first, then comes the subject, predicator, the complement intensive and the adjunct respectively.
An imperative sentence is one that makes or expresses a command, gives an order or gives an instruction. Depending on the tone of the voice, a command sentence can also be a request sentence. Note that we use ‘may’ and ‘could’ to make polite requests in English. See Modal Auxiliary Verbs. Examples of the interrogative sentence include:
- Stop the work immediately!
- Work on these exercises!
- Come at once!
- Do these exercises
- Answer four questions!
- Get out of here now!
- State your mission clearly!
Syntactic formation of Imperative Sentence
In the syntactic formation of an imperative sentence, the subject is deleted and an imperative verb is used.
Minor sentences which do not belong to any of the types of sentences we have discussed earlier but which exist nonetheless in English. Generally, a minor sentence omits one of the structural elements like the subject, predicator, or complement. Some simple sentences are not usually represented fully in some contexts. In such contexts, the simple sentence may be represented by any of the elements or a combination of the elements in the SPCA framework. The process of ellipsis or deletion has been used. A minor sentence is similar in nature to a verbless sentence. Let us see what a verbless sentence is…
This is a unit of grammar that is independent; that is, it is not part of some other grammatical units, and yet does not contain any verb. Although a verb is essential to a sentence, a verbless sentence is very common in spoken language and are far from rare in written texts. Examples are:
- Happy birthday!
- Good, God!
- How cool!
- No problem.
- A thousand Naira, please.
- More coffee?
- Yes, Lord!
Types of Minor Sentence
Broadly speaking, we can divide the minor sentence into two types. They include the following:
Productive Minor Simple Sentence
The realisation of this type is limitless since we can still model or produce new ones after them where necessary. We commonly use this type in newspaper headlines, greetings, adverts, conversations, commentaries, etc. Let us see few examples:
- EU’s Brexit stance about to splinter?
- Super Eagles in a 2-0 victory!
- Trump off to London.
- Arsenal in, Chelsea out!
- No plans to sack workers.
- Milo: Food drink for future champions!
- CocaCola: Enjoy!
- Union Bank: Big, Strong, Reliable
- FCMB: My bank and I
Responses to Conversations and Questions
- Who owns this book? John
- Where are you going? Home
- When are you coming back? Soon
- Where are you travelling to? Lagos.
- Bring something for me.
Most responses to questions are somehow minor sentences.
- A square pass to Ronaldo.
- Dribbles two in a row.
- A good pass there.
- A volley shot!
- Into the net!
- The Chief-of-Army Staff.
- Bad road network in Nigeria
- The Faith of the Son
- Introduction to ICT
- The English Tense System
Non-Productive Minor Sentences
Non-productive minor sentences are those with fixed forms as we cannot model new ones after them. We can find examples in greetings:
- How are you? Fine!
- Thank you!
- Long time!
- Happy New Year!
- Good morning.
- Merry Christmas!
These subdivide into two:
Primary interjections which have only one lexical element such as Hurray! Wow! Ah! Oh! Etc. and Secondary interjections which have more than one element such as: Bless you! Thank God! Thank goodness! Good heavens! Oh dear! Etc.
Aphoristic Minor Sentences
These are usually traditional expressions which we cannot add to. Often, they formed a closed class. Examples include:
- Easier said than done.
- The earlier the better.
- More haste, less speed.
- Midas touch.
- Slow and steady.
It has been a quite interesting discussion on the functional classifications of English sentences. I am sure you will be able to classify any sentence you come across based on its function. Right? Great!