Sentence function

Sentence function

In linguistics, sentence function refers to a speaker's purpose in uttering a specific sentence; whether a listener is present or not. It answers the question: "Why has this been said?" The most basic sentence functions in the world's languages include the "declarative", "interrogative", "exclamatory", and the "imperative". These correspond to a "statement", "question", "exclamation", and "command" respectively. The four main categories can be further specified as being either "communicative" or "informative".

Communicative vs. Informative

The line between communicative and informative can at times become a little blurred. However they do differ in a few very important ways.

Communicative Sentences

These types of sentences are more intended for the speaker's sake than for any potential listener. They are meant more for the speaker's immediate wants and needs. These sentences tend to be less intentional (out of frustration for example), in general more rhetorical, more primitive, and are usually about the here and now. Because of these features, it is speculated that this is pretty much the basis or limitation of any form of animal communication. (Speculated because scientists will never truly be able to understand non-human forms of communication like we do our own.)


An exclamatory sentence is released because of, and expresses strong emotion. Exclamations are comparable to interjections. In punctuation, an exclamatory is ended with an exclamation mark. For instance:

* "I'll never finish this paper in time!"


An imperative sentence gives an order or directions or instructions. Imperative sentences are a little more intentional than exclamatory sentences, and their aim is to get the person(s) being spoken to either do or not do to something (usually in direct relation to the speaker). An imperative can end in either a period or an exclamation point.

* "After separating them from the yolks, beat the whites until they are light and fluffy."
* "Help me!"

The vocative case of nouns can be said to be in the imperative as well since it does not seek information, but rather a reaction from the person (or animal) being addressed.

Informative Sentences

Informative sentences are more for the benefit of the listener than the speaker. They are more intentional, less rhetorical, and they intend to either provide or retrieve information. But perhaps the most differentiating quality that distinguishes informative sentences from the communicative is that the former show displacement. Displacement is information lost in time and space which allows us to communicate ideas in the past or future (not just the now), and that took or can take place at a separate location (from here). This is one of the biggest differences between human communication and that of other animals.


The declarative sentence is the most common kind of sentence in any language, in most situations, and in a way can be considered the default function of a sentence. It states an idea or gives information to the receiver. A statement usually ends with a period.

* "Roses are red and violets are blue."


An interrogative sentence naturally asks a question and therefore ends with a question mark. Its effort is to try and gather information; unless the question happens to be rhetorical.

* "What do you want?"
* "Is David gay?"

Declarative vs. Affirmative (vs. Positive)

A declarative statement should not be deemed synonymous with an affirmative one. This is because although a declarative statement can state facts (given that the speaker is not consciously lying), it can also express something which is not true. The information he or she is providing, (regardless of whether it be true or not in "reality"), is in fact true or false to that speaker.

Therefore, a declarative can be either in the affirmative or in the negative, and we can say that, "Joanna is late" and "Joanna is not late", both technically qualify as declarative sentences. Declarative refers to a sentence's function or purpose, while the terms affirmative or negative deal with the sentence's validity, which is why they can overlap.

Another mistake is to confuse the affirmative for the positive. Although it can semantically seem natural that positive should be the opposite of negative and therefore synonymous with affirmative, grammatically speaking, they are separate entities. "Positive" in linguistic terms refers to the degree of the quality of an adjective or adverb (along with the comparative and superlative), while "affirmative" refers to the perceived validity of the "entire" sentence.

Thus, again being separate entities, an adjective or adverb can be in the positive degree but expressed in the negative, so that the sentence: "This hummer does not seem to be very eco-friendly", has all negative, positive, and declarative properties.

In fact, an exclamatory, imperative, and even a question can be in the negative form.

ee also

* Sentence (linguistics)
* Grammatical polarity


* Laurie E. Rozakis, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style". 2003. ISBN 978-1592571154
* George Yule, "The Study of Language". 2005. ISBN 978-0521543200

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