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What Is a Sentence Function?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 23, 2024
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Sentence function basically indicates the purpose of a sentence, rather than sentence form that indicates how it is put together. There are four major types of functions. Declarative sentences are the most common and basic function and express an idea or statement of fact, while interrogative sentences are those that ask a question. An exclamatory sentence has the sentence function of making an exclamatory statement that is not necessarily aimed at anyone else, and an imperative sentence is one in which the statement is a command or instruction.

In many ways, sentence function is the “why?” of a sentence, which deals with why someone is using a particular type of sentence to express something. A declarative sentence is the most common and simple function for sentences to have, and is often considered the base form of a sentence. It can be as simple as “This piece of paper is red,” which serves to simply make a declarative statement about the condition of something. Sentences with a declarative function typically end in a period and when spoken aloud are usually said in a level manner with intonation for emphasis.

Interrogative sentences are statements used to ask questions. Using the base form from before, an interrogative sentence can be made quite simply by shifting the verb within the sentence to become “Is this piece of paper red?” An interrogative sentence function is usually indicated through the use of a question or interrogation mark at the end, and when spoken aloud the speaker often uses rising intonation toward the end of the sentence.

Exclamatory sentences are also a common type of function, in which the statement is meant as an exclamation. It is not necessarily intended for a particular listener, but as a way in which the speaker releases excitement or a particular sentiment. Exclamatory sentences can be as simply as “Yippee!” or “There it is!” and typically end in an exclamation mark. When spoken aloud, sentences with an exclamatory sentence function may be yelled or otherwise are often spoken with higher or faster intonation.

Imperative sentences provide instruction or issue commands. This type of sentence function can be quite short and simple, and can include anything from “Look out!” to “Take one step to the left, now a step back.” Imperative sentences can end in either a period or an exclamation point, based on the nature of the sentence, and may use a steady or loud intonation.

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Discussion Comments
By cloudel — On Jul 26, 2012

I have noticed that publications requiring formal content usually discourage the use of exclamatory sentences. I think that this strips an article of emotion and passion, which is not a good thing.

I prefer to write for publications that desire a more natural tone. I can express myself so much better when I am free to exclaim things now and then. I use exclamation marks now and then to get the strength of a certain point across, and if I don't go overboard, this makes the article more effective.

I do believe that excessive use of exclamatory sentences detracts from a work's credibility. However, I also think that banning them altogether takes a powerful tool away from the author. In the right hands, exclamatory sentences can make the reader feel the desired emotion.

By OeKc05 — On Jul 25, 2012

@healthy4life – That is funny. I guess if it works, though, it might be a unique method to try in parenting!

I had a friend who used imperative sentences all the time, and it got really annoying. She was so bossy, but she didn't even see that about herself.

One day, I pointed out that almost everything she said was in the form of a command. She got a little upset and denied it, but I told her to pay attention to everything she said over the next day and see if I was correct or not.

She had to admit to me that she did use imperative sentences way too much. I think just having this brought to her attention did her a world of good, because today, she isn't nearly as bossy, and she uses a healthy mix of sentence forms.

By healthy4life — On Jul 25, 2012

I had a friend growing up whose parents tended to use mostly interrogative sentences. Sure, all parents want to know what their kids are up to, but these parents were extremely inquisitive.

They asked her about every area of her life. I don't even remember them talking much to each other. They seemed to always be interrogating her about everything from what she ate that day to how much homework she had.

They also used interrogative sentences to get her to do things. While most parents would use imperative sentences to say things like, “Mow the lawn,” or, “Wash the dishes,” her parents would say, “Are you going to mow the lawn today?” That was their way of letting her know what they expected her to do and getting her to agree to it.

By feasting — On Jul 24, 2012

Wow, this article brings back memories of elementary school! I had honestly forgotten the four basic types of sentence function, even though I had heard them over and over throughout several years of English classes.

I think I used more declarative sentences than any other kind when writing my essays in school. They generally weren't intended to be emotional or geared toward a certain person, so there was no need for exclamation marks or ordering someone to do something.

I guess the one exception would be when I had to write an article that told how to do something. I chose to write about how to wash a car, and just about every sentence was an instruction, so that essay was full of imperative sentences.

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