The Discourse Functions of Sentences
Sentences may be classified according to their use in discourse. We recognise four main sentence types:
Declarative sentences are used to convey information or to make statements:
Declarative sentences are by
far the most common type.
Interrogative sentences are used in asking questions:
The examples above are specifically YES/NO INTERROGATIVES, because they elicit a response which is either yes or no.
ALTERNATIVE INTERROGATIVES offer two or more alternative responses:
Yes/no interrogatives and alternative interrogatives are introduced by an auxiliary verb.
These are known as TAG QUESTIONS. They consist of a main or auxiliary verb followed by a pronoun or existential there
Imperative sentences are used in issuing orders or directives:
Tag questions are sometimes added to the end of imperatives:
In an imperative sentence, the main verb is in the base form. This is an exception to the general rule that matrix clauses are always finite.
Exclamative sentences are used to make exclamations:
The four sentence types exhibit different syntactic forms, which we will be looking at in a later section. For now, it is worth pointing out that there is not necessarily a one-to-one relationship between the form of a sentence and its discourse function. For instance, the following sentence has declarative form:
But when this is spoken with a rising intonation, it becomes a question:
Conversely, rhetorical questions have the form of an interrogative, but they are really statements:
copyright The Survey of English Usage 1996-1998
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