Clause types: statements, questions, commands and exclamations

The National Curriculum recognises four clause types (also called ‘sentence types’ ). They are usually used to ‘do different things’:

Each clause type has its own typical pattern (i.e. word order).

In statements, the Subject comes in its typical position before the verb. Here are some examples:

  • We had a very good turnout. [S1A-005 #212]
  • The Labour Party doesn’t want a war. [S1B-035 #33]
  • Officially I was doing a unit of English. [S1A-006 #11]

Questions also have a special word order, where the Subject comes after a verb. In other cases words such as whatwho, whenwherewhy or how are used. Here are some examples:

  • Are you planning parties? [S1A-019 #350]
  • Does she play tennis? [S1A-020 #221]
  • Are you cold? [S1A-080 #265]
  • When did you get married? [S1A-056 #230]
  • Who told you that? [S1A-059 #15]
  • How much is she getting paid? [S1A-041 #162]

Commands are typically used to tell someone to do something. These clauses have no Subject. Here are some examples. 

  • Leave that battery alone. [S1A-007 #184]
  • Try again. [S1A-044 #162]
  • Be alert when out and about. [W2D-009 #53]

To tell someone not to do something, we can put don’t before the main verb: Don’t tell Kate; Don’t be mean. These are negative commands.

Exclamations are used to express surprise, delight, etc. They generally start with a phrase containing what or how. This phrase comes first even when it is not the Subject, which often gives a special word order.

  • What a labyrinth of lies and half-truths was closing around her! [W2F-003 #108]
  • How true that is! [S1A-079 #116]

The National Curriculum stipulates that questions must have an question mark after them, and exclamations must have an exclamation mark.

Note: The fact that exclamations must have an exclamation mark does not mean that other kinds of clauses can't have an exclamation mark. For example, if I write It's a lovely day! then the pattern is that of a statement, not an exclamation. The pattern for the latter would be What a nice day it is!

See also: Clause types: advanced.

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