The Four Kinds of Sentences and Why You Should Know Them

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There are four kinds of sentences; each of them accomplishes a different purpose. Every sentence you speak or write either states something, asks a question, gives an order, or expresses some kind of emotion. Go ahead — try to write a sentence that doesn’t do one of these four things. I bet you can’t do it.

Now, you’ve probably heard this stuff before. English teachers like to teach it, mostly because it’s pretty easy to explain and you can give worksheets on it. But I think there’s reason to know the four kinds of sentences. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not really important. Not as important to know as, say, how to parallel park or make a decent omelette. But after I tell you what the four types of sentences are, I’ll explain why I think it matters.

1 Declarative: Declarative sentences state something. I guess you could say they “declare” something, but I try not to use a word to define itself. They are by far the most common. In fact all of the sentences I’ve used so far, except for one, have been declarative. (Can you find the exception?) Declarative sentences end with periods (full stops for my U.K. readers).

Example: “That cardboard box resembles a moose.”

2 Interrogative: Sentences that ask a question are called interrogative. You know how when police ask suspects a bunch of questions they call it an interrogation? Same idea. Interrogative sentences end in question marks. You probably knew that.

Example: “Is that a moose or a cardboard box?”

3 Imperative: An imperative sentence is a command. When you tell someone to do something, that’s different than just telling them something. Imperative sentences sometimes don’t include a subject you can see. Instead of saying, “You take out the trash,” your dad might just say “Take out the trash.” He doesn’t need the you because he’s looking right at you and you know perfectly well that he means you. It’s what we call the understood you because it is understood and therefore doesn’t need to be said. Imperative statements may end in a period or an exclamation point, depending on how the command is given. The first time, for example, your dad might say, “Take out the trash.” When you haven’t done it twenty minutes later, he will likely require an exclamation point: “I said, take out the trash!”

Example: “Move that cardboard moose out of the road.”

4 Exclamatory: When you say something with strong emotion, you make an exclamation, or an exclamatory sentence. If the sentence requires an exclamation point, well, it’s an exclamatory sentence. In fact, it’s the punctuation mark at the end that makes the difference. If you say, “I lost a tooth.” it’s a declarative sentence. If you say, “I lost a tooth!” it’s an exclamatory one.

Example: “That is definitely a moose!”

 

And I Should Care Because…

Here are a few reasons why it matters (a little) that you know the different kinds of sentences.

Reason #1:

So you can stop using unnecessary exclamation points! Yeah, like that one. Young writers just love to use exclamation points, even when they are not necessary. Here’s a hint: They are rarely necessary. Only use them on sentences that are truly exclamatory. Otherwise you sound like you are shouting all the time.

Reason #2:

So you know when to use question marks and when not to. Student writers often forget question marks. And sometimes they use them when they are not actually asking questions. There’s a big difference between saying “You know what I mean?” and “You know what I mean.” A particular type of sentence causes problems here — one I’ll have to write about another time. It’s a sentence that talks about a question, but doesn’t actually ask a question. Like this:

I asked Drew if it was a moose or a cardboard box.

You don’t need a question mark in that sentence because the sentence itself isn’t a question. It’s a statement about what the speaker asked Drew. You only need a question mark if you include a quotation, like in this example:

I asked Drew, “Is that a moose or a cardboard box?”

Reason #3:

So you can do detailed literary analysis. Okay, this doesn’t happen much. But it might. The other day, I was talking with a friend from church about how the Bible says church leaders should be appointed. The problem is, the Bible makes some declarative statements about the appointment of church leaders, but it never makes any imperative statements about it. In other words, it states how some church leaders were appointed in New Testament times, but it never clearly says that all churches are supposed to do it a certain way. It says, “They did it like this.” But it doesn’t say “Do it like this.” That leaves us with figuring out whether we should follow the examples we find or not.

Now, I’m not trying to make any theological point here. I’m just saying that knowing the different kinds of sentences has helped me in my study. In fact, it was this very conversation that gave me the idea for this blog post!

We’ll end with this puzzler: Now that you know the four types of sentences, how would you define the following? Imagine a woman whose husband has fallen unconscious at a dinner party. She cries out: “Can somebody please call a doctor?” Is that sentence declarative, interrogative, imperative, or exclamatory?

Write your answers in the comments if you like. I’d love to discuss it.

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About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian Wasko

Brian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.

View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. Archie Sinugbuhan
    Archie Sinugbuhan04-18-2016

    What kind of sentence according to purpose is “Let’s go”. I am confused if that’s a declarative or imperative sentence.

  2. Jeetendra
    Jeetendra08-30-2015

    Imperative

  3. Judel Zachary P. Eulogio
    Judel Zachary P. Eulogio03-05-2015

    In your example, Can you please call a doctor ? What kind of sentence is this ?

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko03-08-2015

      Scroll down the comments, Judel. I give my answer there.

    • dixie
      dixie05-09-2016

      it’s imperative interrogative (in the English grammar, it’s a type of an allofunctional implicature in which how it’s structured/constructed is different from it’s purpose) .. she’s actually making a request or a command in a more polite way, hence an imperative interrogative

      • dixie
        dixie05-09-2016

        it’s imperative interrogative (in the English grammar, it’s a type of an allofunctional implicature in which how it’s structured/constructed is different from its purpose) .. she’s actually making a request or a command in a more polite way, hence an imperative interrogative

        *its purpose

  4. Judel Zachary P. Eulogio
    Judel Zachary P. Eulogio03-05-2015

    In your example ,Can you please call a doctor? what kind of sentence is this?

  5. Judel Zachary P. Eulogio
    Judel Zachary P. Eulogio03-05-2015

    Can you please call a doctor? is this imperative or interrogative?

    • dixie
      dixie05-09-2016

      it’s imperative interrogative (in the English grammar, it’s a type of an allofunctional implicature in which how it’s structured/constructed is different from its purpose) .. she’s actually making a request or a command in a more polite way, hence an imperative interrogative

  6. Imdad Sindhu
    Imdad Sindhu01-29-2015

    Imagine a woman whose husband has fallen unconscious at a dinner party. She cries out: “Can somebody please call a doctor?” Is that sentence declarative, interrogative, imperative, or exclamatory?

    I think, its an Exclamatory or Imperative sentence because if we call it Interrogative than what would be the answer of the question. Because every question has an answer.

  7. Kareem
    Kareem01-16-2015

    Come eat in my house by 2:30pm. Is dis sentence correct?

  8. Mark
    Mark12-16-2014

    Wouldn’t “I said, take out the trash!” be a declarative statement? I suppose it depends on how you read it, but because it is prefaced with “I said,” the subject is technically just re-declaring what they said earlier. Or possibly an exclamatory statement, because they are re-declaring what they said earlier, but with emotion!

    Thanks for the article.

  9. Mamod Rawand
    Mamod Rawand09-13-2014

    Thank you so much you helped me alot on my test can you teach me more on Facebook or anyother thing

  10. Mamod Rawand
    Mamod Rawand09-13-2014

    Thanx for the informations u helped me alot in my exams can u teach me more on facebook or something like that

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko09-14-2014

      Sure. My Facebook page is facebook.com/writeathome

      • Chelsea
        Chelsea11-18-2014

        How would I correctly punctuate this sentence: Please, go sit down over there the teacher commanded. I know it is an imperative, but I want to make sure my punctuation is correct. If you could email me the correct way I would really appreciate it. chelsea.brittingham@smail.astate.edu

        • Brian Wasko
          Brian Wasko11-18-2014

          “Please go sit down over there,” the teacher commanded.

          No comma after please. You would need one before please if it comes at the end: Sit down over there, please.

          It’s a direct quote, so you need quotation marks around the words spoken by the teacher.

  11. angie
    angie01-27-2014

    Imagine a woman whose husband has fallen unconscious at a dinner party. She cries out: “Can somebody please call a doctor?” Is that sentence declarative, interrogative, imperative, or exclamatory?

    the first one is declarative becouse it has a peroied
    the secord is a exclamatory! becouse is emotionly
    the other one is imperative”becouse she saying somthing”
    and the last one your asking ask a interrogative?
    i am in english class

  12. sonali
    sonali04-24-2013

    “I think she is present.”
    what kind of a sentence is it? Is it assertive or imperative or interrogative or exclamatory?

  13. Mary Brueggemann
    Mary Brueggemann04-30-2012

    I think it’s exclamatory because the lady cries out. True, she’s making a request/asking a question, but the whole sentence is exclamatory.

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko05-01-2012

      Thanks for participating, Mary. See my response to Wendi. 🙂

  14. Wendi
    Wendi04-30-2012

    I agree with Dave. I think it’s interrogative.

    Now you have to tell is what it IS. (That’s a declarative, not an imperative.)

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko05-01-2012

      Sorry, Wendi. This is one of those questions that just doesn’t have an obviously right answer. I think a good argument can be made for any of these three: interrogative, imperative, or exclamatory.

      Obviously, it’s phrased as a question and thus receives a question mark.

      But it’s also obviously an exclamation — there’s just no punctuation mark that indicates an exclamatory question. More and more, however, we are seeing something called an interrobang, which basically a question-exclamation mark (?!). It’s still not close to being considered standard though.

      I tend to lean toward this sentence being imperative, however, because even though it is phrased like a question, the intent is clearly to command someone to help. It’s identical in meaning to “Somebody call a doctor!” Sort of like when a teacher says, “Will you all please sit down and be quiet?” That’s not really a question, it’s a command, right?

      Anyway, questions like this are unavoidably ambiguous. Which makes them interesting for discussion. It’s the kind of question I like to ask students because it tests their ability to think and apply what we’ve learned without having to worry about who gets the “right” answer.

  15. Dave
    Dave04-30-2012

    I believe that statement is interrogative.

    Also, what about the qualifications for church leaders outlined in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus?

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko05-01-2012

      It might be interrogative.

      Our discussion was about how pastor/elders should be appointed, not what their qualifications should be. Fortunately, there’s plenty of instruction about that (both imperatives and declaratives). Just not much about how leaders should be installed (Should congregations vote? Should elder boards decide? Should extra-church bodies set them in place? etc.)

  16. Brian Wasko
    Brian Wasko04-30-2012

    Hint: It’s not declarative.

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