Understanding a word's purpose gives insight into reading and hearing

November 12, 2004|by Lisa Tedrick Prejean

Is it Friday yet?

Point to Friday on your calendar.

Today is Friday.

Friday is here!

With that introduction, you'd assume this week was hard and that I'm wishing it would end.

Well, that's not the case. I'm not complaining about my week. I just needed a topic to illustrate the four types of sentences, so I selected one to which most readers can relate.

You may think of the first sentence - Is it Friday yet? - as a question. In English class, you probably were taught that it is an interrogative sentence. The purpose of an interrogative sentence is to ask something.


Interrogative = asking a question.

Why do you need to know this? I'm glad you asked.

Sentences are classified according to the speaker's or writer's purpose. Understanding the purpose for words gives you greater insight into what you hear and read.

You'll be able to identify a sentence's subject and predicate, and will no longer wonder if what you've just written is a sentence fragment.

You will be able to write and speak in complete sentences.

You will feel smart.

Now that you're somewhat convinced about the importance of this lesson, let's proceed.

The second example - Point to Friday on your calendar - is perhaps the most challenging type of sentence. You may think of it as a request or command. Your English teacher probably called it an imperative sentence.

Imperative = request or command.

The challenge comes when students are asked to find the subjects of these sentences.

Since a subject can't be part of a prepositional phrase, such as "to Friday" and "on your calendar," that leaves us with one word in our example: Point.

Point is an action word, a verb, a predicate. It is not a subject.

Who is pointing? You are. The subject is you.

The sentence really means, "You point to Friday on your calendar."

You is the understood subject in an imperative sentence.

The two main words of this sentence are "(You) point."

The third example - Today is Friday - is probably the easiest (and most boring) sentence to understand. This type of sentence makes a statement. It is followed by a period. English teachers call it declarative.

Declarative = statement.

Thank goodness for the other three types of sentences. Can you imagine if we only had the option of writing in declarative sentences?

There would be no questions. There would be no commands. Requests would not be made. No emotions or excitement would be shared ...

Which brings us to the last type of sentence - exclamatory.

An exclamatory sentence shows excitement or expresses strong feeling. It is followed by an exclamation point.

Exclamatory = showing excitement or expressing strong feeling.

Sound simple enough? Let's see how you do on a little quiz.

Classify these five sentences by labeling them as interrogative, imperative, declarative or exclamatory. (Punctuation has been omitted on purpose.):

1. Stir the soup a little longer _________________

2. What time does the bus arrive _______________

3. The duck skimmed the surface of the pond _________________

4. Look at the beautiful sunrise _________________

5. Take the packages from the cart _________________


1. Imperative 2. Interrogative 3. Declarative 4. Exclamatory 5. Imperative

(If you answered exclamatory for No. 1, you need to lighten up in the kitchen. Likewise, if you answered imperative for No. 4, you need more time to appreciate sunrises.)

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. (Declarative sentence) Send e-mail to her at (Imperative sentence)

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