The Structure of English Language — Sentence Types

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Tag questions | exclamatory questions | rhetorical questions | directives | echoes | special or minor sentence types

Tag questions

Here a statement is turned into a question, with an interrogative tag at the end. Tags are typical of speech where the speaker changes the function of the sentence in mid-utterance:

  • Jolly nice day today, isn't it?

Exclamatory questions

Here the structure is that of a question, but the meaning (indicated in speech by intonation) equates to an exclamation:

  • Didn't she do well? Have I got news for you?

Rhetorical questions

Again the structure is that of a question, but the speaker (or writer) expects no answer. They are used as emphatic statements:

  • How on earth should I know? Is the Pope a Catholic? Do bears poo in the woods?

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These are akin to imperatives, but include related functions of instruction, direction and so on. They include: commanding, inviting, warning, pleading, suggesting, advising, permitting, requesting, meditating, expressing wish or imprecation. Many of these sentence types use the verbs let and do in non-standard ways:

  • Let me see. Let's go. Let us pray.
  • Do come in. Do be quiet. Don't do that again.


These are sentences of a special kind, which reflect the structure of a preceding sentence from a different speaker in a language interaction (usually conversation):

  • Echo of statement: A: It took me five hours to get here. B: Five hours to get here?
  • Echo of question: A: Have you seen my wife? B: Have I seen your lice?
  • Echo of directive: A: Sit down there. B: Down there?
  • Echo of exclamation: A: What a fool! B: What a complete fool!

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Special or minor sentence types

Some unusual types of sentence cannot be analysed in a regular way. They are found in particular kinds of text and discourse - some are common in real speech or fictional dialogue, while others are found in such things as headlines or slogans, where a message is presented as a block of text. They do not follow all the rules of normal grammar, such as verb agreement. Among the types are:

  • Formulae for set social situations: Cheers, Hello, Ciao, See you, How do you do? Ta!
  • Emotional or functional noises (traditionally interjections): Hey! Ugh! Agh! Ow! Tut! Shh! (Note how such forms are subject to change over time. Consider Tush, eh, hein?)
  • Proverbs or aphorisms: Easy come, easy go. Least said, soonest mended.
  • Short forms as used in messages, instructions or commentaries: Wish you were here. Shearer to Beckham. Simmer gently. Hope you are well.
  • Elliptical words or phrases with a structural meaning equivalent to a complete exclamation, question or command: Brilliant! Lovely day! Coming? Drink? All aboard! Drink up!

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