I teach creative writing, and was recently reading over a student’s personal essay. He was a strong writer, with a large vocabulary, wonderful use of language, and rarely, if ever, had a sentence level error in his assignments. However, his essays were the most tedious, frustrating, bewildering essays I have ever had to read in my life. On the day of our one-on-one conference, I struggled to communicate the problem. His word choice was perfect, his verb use all action, his imagery poetic. I reinforced everything he was doing right, though I kept coming back to, “but. . .”.
He was confused as I struggled to communicate the problem. I explained I was lost mid-way through a sentence. Entire paragraphs I had to re-read just to comprehend the message. It was absolutely exhausting to read his essays, though I didn’t tell him that. Finally, I found a sentence, one lone sentence, in the middle of his paper that was communicated his message clearly. I paraphrase, but it was something like, “I felt sad she left.” Subject, verb, object. Simple. I circled the sentence. “Use more sentences like this,” I said. “Just be direct. Say what you mean.” He looked confused. “You mean use declarative sentences?”
YES! That was it! It had been so long since I taught sentence types that I had lost the ability to think in sentence types. For native English speakers, sentence types come intuitively; however beginning writers sometimes confuse their message by failing to use the most simple grammatical structures. He was right. He needed more simple, declarative sentences.
Four Main Sentence Types
English has four main sentence types:
A declarative sentence “declares” a fact. It is used to make a simple statement or convey information. Declarative sentences can either be positive or negative.
My name is John.
I played the banjo.
Sue did not forget the tickets.
David was not late for class.
Imperative sentences request, instruct, or command. When no subject is given, it is implied in an imperative sentence, meaning it is understood to whom the request or command is made.
Turn down the music.
Leave the door closed.
Take out the trash.
Finish your dinner.
An interrogative sentence “interrogates,” or asks a question. These types of sentences are always punctuated by a question mark. In the examples below, the questions can only be answered yes or no, so they are known as yes/no interrogatives:
Did you forget your lunch?
Am I late?
Did you find a job?
Do these jeans make my butt look big?
Another type of interrogative sentence is called “Alternative” Interrogative. These types of interrogative sentences offer “alternative” responses and can’t be answered by simple yes or no responses:
Which dessert should I order?
How old do you think I look?
Where did I put my glasses?
Who is the actress in that movie?
The exclamatory sentence is a sentence that is exclaimed, emphasizing excitability or emotion. It is punctuated by an exclamation point.
Turn down that music!
I hate you!
You scared me!
Quit pulling my hair!
Be careful not to confuse an exclamatory sentence with an interjection; both are punctuated by an exclamation point, but the interjection is a word, not a complete sentence.
Note for ESL Learners: Intonation and Shifting Forms
Note that sometimes a declarative sentence can be, depending on your intonation, transformed into a different type:
Declarative: Jason is here.
Interrogative: Jason is here?
Exclamatory: Jason is here!
Declarative: She left this morning.
Interrogative: She left this morning?
Exclamatory: She left this morning!
More Sentence Types
These four sentence types, declarative, imperative, interrogative, and exclamatory, can be further categorized into
Next week, we’ll look into these sentence structures. (declarative)
Doesn’t that sound like fun? (interrogative)
Shut up. (imperative)
It is fun! You’ll see! (exclamatory)