The Four Kinds of Sentences and Why You Should Know Them
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.
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.
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?”
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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