Types of Sentences in the English Language: A Guide to Grammar and Syntax
Did you know that there are four main types of sentences in the English language? Each one is used for a different purpose, and understanding the differences can make your writing much stronger. If you’re learning English and are getting a little confused with sentence structure, understanding different sentence types is important.
Whether you’re learning the English language or you want to sharpen your writing skills to produce A+ assignments for your classes, you’ll want to brush up on your grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure skills. If you don’t know how to form a proper sentence or use the right grammar conventions, you may send the wrong message or end up miscommunicating the meaning of what you’re saying.
Ready to learn all about the different types of sentences to help make your writing amazing and blow your professor’s mind? Let’s get started.
Why Sentence Types Matter
Wondering why should you care about sentence types? The more you learn about grammar and proper syntax, the stronger your writing will be. Sentences and grammar are the foundation for proper communication in English. Anywhere you go, you’ll need to be able to form sentences in order to talk to people, write assignments, look for jobs or write cover letters, and generally hold down conversations.
The more types of sentences you learn and practice, the better your writing will become because you can use varied sentences and keep things more interesting. In turn, this helps you build clear and strong communication, whether you’re writing an email or a term paper.
How to Build a Sentence
There are four main types of sentences in the English language. But before we get to that, let’s talk about the construction of a sentence.
Every complete sentence needs two things: the subject and the verb. The verb is the action being performed, and the subject is the person, place, or object performing the action. Usually, the subject is a noun, pronoun, or proper noun.
Here is a very basic example sentence: Jane loves to read books.
In this sentence, “Jane” is the subject and “read” is the verb. Jane is the person performing the action, which is reading (the verb). Therefore, this is a complete sentence.
Now, here is an example of an incomplete sentence: Because she reads books.
This sentence contains a verb, but it’s missing a subject. Without the subject, we don’t know who reads books and do not have the full context to understand what’s happening.
Incomplete sentences often come up in casual conversations, as most people don’t take the time to speak in full, proper sentences when they are in a deep conversation or telling a story. Therefore, it can be confusing to understand the difference when you’re learning the English language.
Independent and Dependent Clauses
Complete and incomplete sentences are also referred to as independent and dependent clauses.
The independent clause: A complete sentence that can stand on its own and communicates a clear thought. You can spot an independent clause easily by identifying the subject and the verb, or if you aren’t left with any questions.
Here are some examples of independent clauses:
● John was studying for his science test in the coffee shop.
● I forgot it was going to rain today and didn’t pack an umbrella.
● Mike has a meeting this afternoon.
● The grocery store closes at 9 p.m. today.
● Juan has decided to learn English.
● Tom is moving to England next year.
The dependent clause: An incomplete sentence that cannot stand on its own and does not communicate a clear, complete thought. Usually, you can spot a dependent clause because it likely has a transition word or a conjunction at the beginning or end, or leaves you wondering something. Don’t be fooled if your dependent clause contains a subject and a verb – it still has to express a complete thought to count as a full sentence.
Here are some examples of dependent clauses:
● When John was studying for his science test…
● Because I forgot we had an exam today…
● Although she wanted something new…
● As the lights went out…
● Before your dinner gets cold…
● When your father gets home…
Each of these sentences doesn’t express a complete thought and leaves the reader confused. What happened when John was studying for his science test? You forgot you had an exam, so what happened next? Make sure you’re always filling in those gaps through proper, complete sentences – especially in your academic writing.
Independent and dependent clauses are often put together in more cohesive sentences using punctuation such as commas, colons, or semicolons. When they are blended together, they are classified as complex sentences.
Simple, Compound, and Complex Sentences
Before we go into the core types of sentences, it’s important to learn how sentences are classified. The classification of a sentence is formed based on the number of independent and dependent clauses it contains.
In more complex sentences, you should separate dependent and independent clauses within a sentence with a semicolon or colon. If you’re adding a conjunction or transition word, you can use a comma. For more on the right punctuation to use, check out this guide from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Simple Sentences: A simple sentence is a sentence that contains one independent clause and no dependent clauses. Here are some examples:
● Mary takes her dog to the dog park after work.
● Mike loves to watch horror movies.
● My teacher told our class about World War II.
● Macbeth was written by William Shakespeare.
● I want to have pizza for dinner.
Compound Sentences: A compound sentence is a sentence that contains more than one independent clause, but no dependent clauses. Here are some examples:
● Mary likes to take her dog to the dog park after work; she likes to take in some fresh air after a long day at the office.
● She collected all of her sources for her paper; then, she added them to her bibliography.
● I am very sick; I don’t think I’m going to go to work today.
● They ran out of ice cream, but no one had any money to buy more snacks.
● I would have tipped the delivery driver more, but I’m angry it took so long for the food to arrive.
Complex Sentences: A complex sentence is a sentence that contains one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses. Here are some examples:
● I forgot it was going to rain today, so I didn’t bring an umbrella.
● Jenna applied to four different universities, but hopes to attend the University of Toronto.
● Because she forgot to study for the exam, she didn’t get the mark she had been hoping for.
● Although she wanted something new, Hilary decided to buy from the secondhand store to save money.
● Whenever the coffee shop raises their prices, customers don’t spend as much money.
Complex-Compound Sentences: A combination of the two, complex-compound sentences contain more than one independent clause and at least one dependent clause. Here are some examples:
● I forgot it was going to rain today, so I didn’t bring an umbrella; I ended up getting stuck in the rain.
● We got to the movies early, and so we were able to get the best seats; sitting in the middle row makes the whole experience better.
● Though she normally likes to watch horror movies, Mary rented the latest romantic comedy, and was surprised she liked it as much as she did.
● I decided to study abroad next semester, but I need to figure out where to go; there are so many places out there to explore.
● Despite the fact that my father is tall, and his parents are tall, my brother and I are both short.
The Four Types of Sentences
The four types of sentences are declarative sentences, imperative sentences, interrogative sentences, and exclamatory sentences. Each of these sentence types is used for a specific purpose.
We’ll go into more detail below, but here’s a quick summary of what each of the sentence types are used for:
● Declarative Sentences: Used to make statements or relay information.
● Imperative Sentences: Used to make a command or a direct instruction.
● Interrogative Sentences: Used to ask a question.
● Exclamatory Sentences: Used to express a strong emotion.
Remember, while each of these types of sentences have different purposes and meanings, every complete sentence should always have a subject and predicate, or a noun and a verb. Sometimes incomplete sentences are acceptable in casual conversations or everyday communication, but in your academic writing you should always focus on complete sentences.
1. Declarative Sentences
A declarative sentence is used to provide information about something or make statements and almost always ends in a period. It’s the most basic sentence type that you can use, and can be as simple or complex as necessary to get the point across. You will likely rely on declarative sentences for the majority of your academic writing as they are used to communicate facts, statements, and evidence.
Here are some examples of declarative sentences:
● Mary walked home from school today.
● Leonardo DaVinci was born on April 15, 1452.
● I want to have lasagna for dinner, but I don’t know how to make it myself.
● European settlers came to the Americas in search of new land where they could find more wealth and power.
● In order to reduce the number of people living in poverty, the government should introduce stronger social security programs.
● My mom called me home because my dinner was getting cold.
● The coffee shop isn’t open on Sundays.
● John works Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
● Michael picked out three roses to give to his girlfriend.
● Evidence suggests that the majority of people in New York City use the subway.
2. Imperative Sentences
An imperative sentence is used to make a command, and ends in either a period or an exclamation mark. Essentially, instead of conveying information, an imperative sentence tells someone to do something. It doesn’t always have to be a strong command. Sometimes it can be used to give someone advice, instruct someone on how to do something, or simply address someone. Most of the time, these types of sentences are used in casual conversation or dialogue within fictional or creative writing. You generally won’t use them in academic writing unless you’re quoting dialogue.
When using imperative sentences, you don’t always need to include a subject because most of the time the sentence is being said directly to the subject. However, you can certainly include a subject when addressing someone.
Here are some examples of imperative sentences:
● Please go and wash up before dinner.
● Michael, I hate it when you make me watch boring documentaries.
● Take the next exit on your right.
● Don’t leave the door open or the cat might get out.
● Ask your mother for permission to come on the school trip next week.
● Help me take out the trash.
● Bring your notebook to class next week.
● Tell mom that I won’t be home for dinner.
● Please turn down the music.
● When you’re at the beach, make sure you pin down your towel so it doesn’t blow away.
3. Interrogative Sentences
Interrogative sentences ask questions, and are usually directly spoken or written to the subject. They always end in a question mark. Often, interrogative sentences begin with who, what, where, when, why, how, or do. Like imperative sentences, they don’t always need to include a subject because they are directly spoken to someone, and for this reason they are not always presented as complete sentences.
Here are some examples of interrogative sentences:
● Whose shirt is on the bathroom floor?
● What time does the concert start?
● Did Leo show up at the party last night?
● Where were you when the crime was committed?
● Does Laura know that her car has a scratch on the side?
● How did John get to school this morning?
● Which train should I take to get to Toronto?
● What time will you be leaving tomorrow morning?
● Did you put away your clothes like I asked you to?
● How could we solve the problem of homelessness in Los Angeles?
4. Exclamatory Sentences
An exclamatory sentence is used to convey a strong emotion and most often ends with an exclamation mark. Just like a declarative sentence, an exclamatory sentence makes a statement about something, but with a stronger impression.
Exclamatory sentences are used more often in casual conversation, but occasionally they can find their way into formal writing depending on the specific situation. For example, if you’re writing an essay about a certain book and want to quote the dialogue, you may need to use an exclamatory sentence for evidence. However, for most academic writing, such as an analytical essay or a research paper, they should be avoided.
Here are some examples of exclamatory sentences:
● Wow, that hockey player can skate really fast!
● I can’t wait to see you this weekend!
● Stop talking to me!
● This time tomorrow, we’ll be on vacation!
● I am so tired of studying!
● Have a great day at Six Flags!
● I want to go to Disneyland!
● Michael, stop doing that!
● I am so mad at you right now!
● Wait for me!
English Writing and Grammar Resources For Students
Need more help or have some more questions we didn’t cover here? There are plenty of student resources out there that can help you learn English, brush up on your grammar and punctuation, or even just proofread your work for you to ensure you’re on the right track.
Here are some of the resources we have available at Homework Help Global that can help you become a stronger English speaker, communicator, and/or writer:
● 1-on-1 English tutoring lessons: Get private, 1-on-1 help learning or improving your English grammar, speaking, writing, and more with one of our native English speakers.
● The Homework Help Show English Grammar 101 Series: Tune in for our tutorial videos on basic English grammar, or browse through our other video series for some helpful tips and advice on student life.
● The Homework Help Show Podcast: Listen in to the weekly Homework Help Show podcast, where we share tips and tricks for learning English, advice for your academic assignments and student life, and get insights from other students or alumni.
● Editing and proofreading services: Our academic writers will take a look at your writing and provide you with constructive, helpful feedback to show you where you can improve.
● Homework Help Global’s English Learning Community: Join our exclusive Facebook group, where you can find practice partners, get inside tips and tricks from native speakers, and take advantage of our free resources for learning English.
● Making the Grade: A Guide to Essay Writing Like a Pro: If you’re knowledgeable in English but need help improving your academic writing skills, download our FREE ebook. It’s filled with 150+ pages of tips, guides, and step by step instructions for writing an amazing academic essay for any class you take.
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