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Sentence Functions

There are four main sentence functions in the English language: declarative, interrogative, imperative, and exclamative.

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Sentence Functions

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There are four main sentence functions in the English language: declarative, interrogative, imperative, and exclamative.

When we describe a sentence based on its function, we are talking about its purpose. If you want to identify the functions in a sentence, just ask yourself, 'What is the point of this sentence? What is it trying to do?' This article will explore the definition and examples of sentence functions.

What is a Sentence Function?

What is a sentence function? (That's an interrogative sentence)

A sentence function is the purpose of a sentence. (That's a declarative sentence)

How wonderful! (That's an exclamative sentence)

Read on to find out more. (And that's an imperative sentence)

Sentence functions are sometimes referred to as sentence types.

What are the four main sentence functions?

Now that we know what a sentence function is, let's delve a little deeper into the four main sentence functions.

First, take a look at the basic purpose of each sentence function.

  • Declarative sentence (makes a statement) E.g. It's warm in Thailand.

  • Interrogative sentence (asks a question) E.g. Where is Thailand?

  • Exclamative sentence (makes an exclamation) E.g. How beautiful is Thailand!

  • Imperative sentence (gives a command) E.g. Stop talking about Thailand!

Let's look at each sentence function in more detail, with examples of how a certain type function in a sentence appears.

Declarative

Declarative sentences are the most common of all sentence functions. We use declarative sentences to:

  • Make a statement.

  • Give an opinion.

  • Provide an explanation.

  • Give facts.

We use declarative sentences every day - in informal writing, formal writing, poetry, literature, daily speech, advertising - just about everywhere!

Let's take a look at some examples of declarative sentences.

  • I like singing.

  • I don't like singing.

  • It's cold because he forgot to put the heating on.

  • The capital of India is New Delhi.

Sentence functions New Delhi StudySmarterFig 1. Example of declarative sentence

Interrogative

Interrogative sentences are used to ask questions and typically require an answer. There are a few different types of interrogative sentences:

Interrogative sentences usually begin with a WH question word (who, what, where, when, why, and how) or an auxiliary verb (are, do, can, may, etc.), and always end with a question mark (?).

Interrogatives that start with a subject are usually tag questions and are commonly used in colloquial speech. For example, 'Butterflies are insects, aren't they?', Or, more informally: 'Butterflies are insects, right?'

Let's take a look at some examples of interrogative sentences.

  • Where is the bathroom?

  • Have you seen the latest episode of The Crown?

  • You don't eat meat, do you?

  • Do you prefer tea or coffee?

Imperative

Imperative sentences are mainly used to give a command or make a demand and can be presented in several ways.

  • Giving instructions.

  • Offering advice.

  • Making a wish on behalf of someone else.

  • Extending an invitation.

  • Giving a command.

There is often no subject present when forming imperative sentences because the subject is assumed to be you, the reader, or the listener. Imperative sentences can end in either a full stop (.) or an exclamation mark (!), depending on the urgency of the command.

Here are some examples of imperative sentences:

  • Sit down!

  • Set the oven to 180 degrees.

  • Try the other door.

  • Have a nice day.

  • Please, take a seat.

Sentence functions imperative sentence StudySmarterFig 2. Imperative sentence

Exclamative

Exclamative sentences are used to express strong feelings and opinions, such as surprise, excitement, and anger. Exclamative sentences must contain the words What or How and usually end with an exclamation mark (!).

Here are some examples of exclamative sentences:

  • 'Lord, what fools these mortals be!' (William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1605)

  • What a nice surprise!

  • Oh, how lovely!

Not all sentences that end with an exclamation mark are exclamative sentences. Sentences that do not contain the words What or How are simply different sentence functions driven by emotion and given an exclamation mark to highlight that emotion; we call these exclamations. Declarative sentences made with emotion and ending with exclamation marks are called exclamatory sentences.

Sentence functions and sentence structures, what's the difference?

What is the difference between a sentence function and a sentence structure? Sentences can be defined in two ways: by their purpose and by their structure. Be careful not to confuse sentence functions with sentence structures!

Sentence structures are how we form sentences, such as simple sentences, compound sentences, complex sentences, and compound-complex sentences.

Let's break down some sentences based on their function and their structure to highlight the differences.

'Before you come in, take off your shoes.'

Function = imperative sentence

This is an imperative sentence because its purpose is to give a command.

Structure = Complex sentence

This is a complex sentence because it contains one independent clause and one dependent clause.

'I was feeling hungry, so I ate a sandwich.'

Function = Declarative sentence

This is a declarative sentence because it is declaring a fact.

Structure = Compound sentence

This is a compound sentence because it contains two independent clauses.

Sentence Functions - Key takeaways

  • Sentence functions describe the purpose of a sentence.

  • There are four main sentence functions: Declarative, Interrogative, Imperative, and Exclamative.

  • Sentence functions are sometimes referred to as sentence types.

  • Sentence functions are different from sentence structures.

Frequently Asked Questions about Sentence Functions

There are four different types of sentence according to function: 

  • A declarative sentence (makes a statement)
  • An interrogative sentence (asks a question)
  • An imperative sentence (gives a command)
  • An exclamative sentence (makes an exclamation)

The function of a sentence says what the purpose of the sentence is. For example, the purpose of an imperative sentence is to give a command or make a demand.

'I like cheese.'

'Where did you put the cheese?'

'Step away from my cheese!'

'Wow, what a delicious cheese!'

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

What are we describing when we talk about sentence functions?

Select the declarative sentence

Select the declarative sentence

Next

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