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Communicative Functions of Sentences

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 2057 words Published: 17th Jul 2017

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(Timothy. Shopen 2007) stated that, there are at least four senses in which one can talk about clause or sentence types in a language. One way is in terms of the distinction between declarative, interrogative, imperative, and exclamatory sentences. A second sense of clause type is represented by the distinction between main clause and subordinate clause, and among different types of subordinate clauses. Issues related to this sense are discussed in the chapters on subordination, A third sense of clause type concerns the way the same event or situation can be spoken about, from different perspectives, with grammatical consequences such as voice and pragmatic consequences such as topic and focus. The fourth sense, the one discussed, involves different types of clauses in terms of their internal structure, primarily surrounding different types of predicates. Here, the most basic distinction is between verbal and nonverbal predicates.

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Literature review:

Sentence in traditional grammar


B.A.Okolo(2008) stated that the traditional grammarian fellow a certain procedure according to what he understand about the nature of the language, he added that if the language is the reflection of our thought, then there must be correlation between what we think and the language that we express our thoughts, and that why traditional grammarian began his description with complete meaning full statement, imposing that each sentence must has subject and predicate, thus these parts contribute each other to the meaning of the whole sentences.

Definition of a sentence in traditional grammar

Sidney. Greenbaum (2002) stated that the traditional definition of the sentence is that

“A sentence is a group of words that express a complete thought” but he argued that this definition is notional, because it could lead to misunderstanding to what it meant by a complete thought, so he approved this assumption by explaining that some sentences have more than a thought.

B. A. Okolo (2008) added that the words “complete thought” in traditional definition of a sentences do not mean logically complete, because logical complete thought does not turned out to be a sentence, but the paragraph, the essay, the chapter or even the whole book.

Sidney (2002) defined the sentence as a group of words that begins with capital letter and ends with full stop, but again he argued this definition stating that there are a large number of sentences begin with two capital letters (in the case of nouns) and still considered as sentences, and others begin with capital letter but not end with capital letter like imperatives, exclamations and questions, so this definition is not adequate.

Another common definition of sentence in traditional grammar is that “a sentence is a group of words that consist of subject and predicate” but A. B (2008) argued that by stating that lots of sentences in English do not consist of subject take like for example imperative “take off your shoes” thus sentence is easy to describe (explain) rather than define.

Bas Arts and April MCmahan (2006) defined the sentence as “A sentence is basically a group of words which are tied together and convey an idea, event or description. The words in an English sentence have a certain order and rules regarding ways to either expand or shorten it. The boundaries of a sentence are easily recognized, as it begins with a capital letter and ends with a terminal punctuation mark (period, question mark or exclamation point). It is important for English writers to know the language of sentence grammar terms in order to be able to analyze and develop their writing”

Sentence types according to meaning and word order:

M. Verspoor and K. Sauter (2000) stated that English sentences can be classified according to communicative functions and patterns into four basic finds: Declarative, Interrogative, Imperative and Exclamatory sentence patterns, they added that when people communicate, they communicate for various reasons, but the four main reasons are:

  • To inform someone of something
  • To get information from someone
  • To get someone to do something
  • To express one’s attitude about something

And each of these communicative functions has the following patterns

John is leaving.

Is John leaving?


How awful John is leaving!

So these patterns have the following syntactic characteristics:

Subject- whole verb

Part of verb- subject- rest of the verb

Verb by itself

How …..Followed by remainder of sentence

Thus the words “john is leaving” express the following functions

Informing (declarative)

Asking for information (interrogative)

Getting someone to do something (imperative)

Expressing feeling/attitude (exclamatory)

B.A.Okol (2008) added that traditional grammarians generally agreed that sentences can express four kinds of meaning

Facts (declarative sentences)

The declarative sentence is used chiefly to make an assertion; usually it states a fact, but sometimes a probability, a possibility, or even an impossibility, the normal word-order of the declarative sentence is subject-verb or subject-verb-complement. This order is usually changed.

Commands (imperative sentences)

An imperative sentence expresses a command or a request, there is usually no formal difference between an imperative sentence with expressed subject and a declarative sentence. Thus you sing out of context may be either a request that you do the singing (imperative) or a remark that you know how to sing (declarative). But sentences using the verb (be) can be distinguished by the form of the verb:

  • You be the singer (imperative)
  • You are the singer (declarative)
  • Questions (interrogative sentences)

The interrogative sentence usually asks a question

Exclamations (exclamatory sentences)

An exclamations sentence expresses feeling or emotion. Exclamatory sentences are often introduced by what or how, as a modifier of the complement

Interrogative Sentences

The interrogative sentence usually asks a question:

  • Have you seen Sam?
  • Do you know that John is sick?
  • Did the doctor say it will be twins?
  • Is the food good?

Sentence according to verbal predicate

Transitive and intransitive clause:

Timothy Shopen (2007) explained that the distinction of the clause with verbal predicates, is that the distinction between transitive and intransitive, transitive clause takes two or more argument, whereas intransitive takes only one argument, so in languages like English the distinction can be, by saying that transitive clause has an object, whereas intransitive does not as in the following examples:

  • My dog ate the hamburger (transitive)
  • My dog is sleeping in the abasement

From the examples above, it is clear that transitive verbs like eat need an object to complete the meaning of the clause, but intransitive verbs like sleep does not need an object, although there a prepositional phrase followed the verb sleep in the above sentence but it is not an object, it is an adjunct because the meaning is still complete if this prepositional phrase removed from the sentence.

Ditransitive clause

Timothy (2007) stated that some English constructions contain more than object, or at least two nonsubject arguments, so these constructions are so called ditransitives as the examples below explain:

  • Nancy gave Jeff some flowers
  • Bob told Sally a story

So in these examples the noun phrases Jeff and Sally are so called indirect object, and the noun phrases some flowers and a story are direct object, in the previous examples indirect objects flowed immediately the verb, whereas direct objects end the sentence, but in the construction with preposition direct object flowed the verb immediately and indirect object flowed the preposition as in the following constructions:

  • Nancy gave some flowers to Jeff
  • Bob told a story to Sally

Data collection and analysis:

Data collection:

For the purpose of this assignment the researcher selected randomly a chapter from the book titled, the memories of babikr bedri, this book is written by Babikr Bedri in Arabic and translated to English by his son yousif bedri, the chapter selected is chapter one which is titled, Babyhood and Youth page 1-14 .

And the motivation beyond this is to investigate clause types in English language according to the following criteria:

  • According to meaning and word order
  • And according to verbal predicates

Data analysis:

The data collected for the purpose of this study were analyzed in the following steps:

  • Step one: to identify clause types according to meaning and word order
  • Step two: to identify clause types according to verbal predicates

Step one

Clause according to meaning and word order

Facts (declarative sentences)

  • Our teacher sat down (Para 1 Page 6)
  • I mastered the memorization of koran in the year 1880 (Para 4 Page 7)
  • We arrived in Madani (Para 5 Page 9)

Commands (imperative sentences)

  • Come here (Para 2 Page 5)
  • Go and wash your slat (the same Para)
  • Come and write what you washed off before (Para 3 Page 5)

Questions (interrogative sentences)

  • When and in what circumstances did you copy this book? (Para 2 Page 12)
  • Do you eat better than that in rufaa? (Para 2 Page 10)
  • What food do you have? (Para 2 Page 10)
  • To who did recite the previous piece? (Para 2 page 5)
  • Who was with you? (Para 2 page 5)

Exclamations (exclamatory sentences)

  • How he put me down (Para 3 Page 1)

Step two

Clause according to verbal predicates

Transitive clause

  • Our teacher Muhammad had studied the Koran and other subjects (Para 2 Page 12)
  • I was explained the word wabar (Para 3 Page 10)

Intransitive clause

  • We all laughed (Para 3 Page 10)
  • We agreed (Para 3 Page 10)

Ditransitive clause

  • My parents told me that I was born on 8 August 1861 (Para 1 Page 1)
  • Let me tell you about this man (Para 1 Page 4)
  • A pupil’s family send a feast to the school (Para 1 page 7)
  • She put my books in a cloth satchel (Para 2 Page 9)


In this study, you saw that sentences may have different communicative functions and that each of these communicative functions is expressed with a typical sentence pattern, called the declarative, interrogative, imperative or exclamatory pattern. The declarative sentence pattern is the most common and will be studied the most in this study.

A typical declarative sentence gives information about a situation or event and may name one or more participants, a process, an attribute of one of the participants, and various aspects of the setting. The sentence constituents naming these are subject, and predicate. The predicate names the process, and possibly other participants, attributes or setting. The predicate consists of a predicator, which names the process, and its complement. The complement in the clause with verbal predicate (transitive, intransitive and ditransitive) can be a direct object and indirect object. If there is a direct object, there may also be either an indirect or benefactive object or an object attribute in the complement.

English language is unlike other languages, it can employ different clause types in its sentences according to different aspects that why anyone could not talk about definit clause types without referring to all these criteria, but I think that clause can explained rather than classified.


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