What are the four sentence functions in English?

This is the first of five lessons about Sentence Functions. To complete this course, read each lesson carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.   

– Introduce the concept of sentence functions

– Divide sentence functions into four types

– Provide examples of each type to guide the learner

Lesson 1

To have an advanced control over your sentences in English, you’ll need to be able to understand, recognise and use a variety of sentence clauses, structures and functions. The following five lessons deal with the four different types of sentence function in English, but before naming these four types let’s first take a look at some example sentences. What do you notice about how these four sentences function?

Sentence Functions 1.1 Declarative
Sentence Functions 1.3 Exclamatory
Sentence Functions 1.2 Interrogative
Sentence Functions 1.4 Imperative

Hopefully upon careful inspection you noticed that each sentence in these examples performs a different function. For example, some sentences act as statements and some as questions, while the purpose of others may be to command or exclaim something. These four different purposes are the essence of sentence functions.

What you should have also noticed in these examples is that to create these different functions, each sentence must undergo changes to its word order, its verb form, which auxiliaries or particles it requires, its punctuation, and even how it’s intonated when being delivered by a speaker. Before looking more closely at each of these four types of sentence functions, it’s important to categorise these  functions in two ways, which are informative and communicative sentences.

 

1. Informative Sentence Functions

There are two different sentence functions which can be considered as being informative, and these are declarative and interrogative sentences. These sentences function for the benefit of both the speaker and the listener, and unlike communicative sentence functions, both declarative and interrogative sentences are cooperative, considered, and are able to discuss actions or ideas in the past and future as well as the now. The flexibility of informative sentence functions is therefore what mostly separates human language from animal communication.

Sentence Functions 1.5 Declarative Sentence
Sentence Functions 1.6 Interrogative Sentence

2. Communicative Sentence Functions

Much like informative sentence functions, communicative sentences may also be split into two types, and these are exclamatory and imperative functions. Unlike informative sentences however, communicative sentences are not particularly intended to open a dialogue between speaker and listener; these sentences function primarily for the speaker’s purposes, needs and wants.

Communicative sentences tend to be less considered and more emotional in nature than the informative type, being spoken out of frustration or confusion for example. Such expressions are therefore more primitive in nature, and are generally only able to describe situations happening in the now.

Sentence Functions 1.7 Exclamatory Sentence
Sentence Functions 1.8 Imperative Sentence

Now that you’ve been introduced to the four basic sentence functions and their two major categorisations, the next step is to look at each of these functions in careful detail to see how to use and recognise them in an academic context.

1 of 5 Lessons Completed

Materials

Once you’ve completed all five lessons about sentence functions, you might also wish to download our beginner, intermediate and advanced worksheets to test your progress or print for your students. These professional PDF worksheets can be easily accessed for only a few Academic Marks.

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