2

Wikipedia describes five broad types of sentences, classified by purpose. They are: declarations, questions, commands, instructions, and exclamations. Under this classification scheme, where would a request fall?

For example, where would a sentence like "please tell me your name" fall? I can see a few possibilities, namely:

  • A declaration of one's desire to know the other's name; identical to "I wish to know your name".
  • A very weak command (so much like an exclamation point at the end strengthens a command, like "tell me your name!", the modifier "please" weakens it); identical to "tell me your name.. if it happens to be convenient for you".

Is there any consensus on the topic?

7
  • 2
    I think that Wikipedia classification is a bit confusing: it claims to be "by purpose", but then it says that an "interrogative sentence or question" can sometimes not be used to request information, because it can be a rhetorical question. But then... its purpose is no longer interrogative! It's a question in form, but not in content. So I think Wikipedia is not making a clear distinction between grammatical categories (the form of the sentence), and semantic categories (the content, or the connotation, as in "purpose"). Aside from Wikipedia... which one do you want to know about? – LjL Mar 9 '19 at 23:43
  • Requests use question syntax, usually. It's often phrased as a question: Would you like to/Are you going to/Have you .......? There are stronger and weaker, more and less direct kinds of request. it's a big topic in pragmatics. – jlawler Mar 10 '19 at 0:03
  • I don't think that requests necessarily use question syntax -- in general, appending the word "please" to the beginning of a command turns it into a request. My current position is that a request is closest to a command. @LjL I'm not very convinced by what you are saying. You seem to imply that questions (usually) are requests (usually for information), but in my opinion this is not true. To me, the notion of "question" is something more like a general desire: i.e "what is the time?" is not a request of any particular person, but rather expresses a desire. – extremeaxe5 Mar 10 '19 at 0:11
  • To elaborate further, I think of questions more like questions on an exam: they're generic expressions of a desire (usually to know something). For example, the sentence, "what is 1 + 2?" on its own, is not a request of someone to answer it, but rather an expression of a vague desire to know the answer. Perhaps an utterance of it can be considered a request, but I don't think the sentence itself is. In contrast, the sentence "please tell me what 1 + 2 is" is a request (at least to me). Please let me know if you disagree. – extremeaxe5 Mar 10 '19 at 0:15
  • @extremeaxe5 uhm, I'm not implying that: the Wikipedia article you linked at the start of your question is implying that, when it says, literally, that "an interrogative sentence or question is commonly used to request information—"Do I have to go to work?"—but sometimes not; see rhetorical question." – LjL Mar 10 '19 at 0:17
2

I don't think requests are a sentence type. Requests are polite commands, but any sentence type can be used to make a request. Sentence type concerns the grammatical form of a sentence -- like whether its subject is overt, its verb is inflected for second person, whether it has rising intonation. Things like that.

Try to think of a sentence form which cannot be used to make a request by adding "please". Clearly you can add "please" to virtually any form of sentence, including questions and imperatives. It doesn't even have to be a sentence: "Less noise in here, please!"

So I find the Wikipedia classification based on purpose to be unhelpful. It mixes up grammar and content.

1
  • Impositives are more of a pragmatic type; the syntax can be almost anything, especially when you get into indirect requests, like "It's getting a bit cold in here, I'm afraid." – jlawler Mar 10 '19 at 22:59
1

I suspect you're asking about the five major 'clause types' that are used to perform different kinds of speech acts. I believe there to be a broad consensus that they are:

Declarative: You are very tactful.

Closed Interrogative: Are you very tactful?

Open Interrogative: How tactful are you?

Exclamative: How tactful you are!

Imperative: Be very tactful.

Polite requests like the one you cited belong in the imperative category.

4
  • I'd be tempted to use a different example for your interrogative, as it could easily be an exclamative! Perhaps use a different wh-word? – Araucaria - him Mar 11 '19 at 19:53
  • @Araucaria I don't think so. Exclamatives don't normally have inversion. – BillJ Mar 12 '19 at 7:26
  • Yeas, right. More often than not they don´t. However, they often do nonetheless. CamGEL talk about it, noting that there is therefore some suprficial overlap between the surace forms of interrogatives and exclamatives with SAI. I think their example s something like How hard have I worked ... – Araucaria - him Mar 12 '19 at 12:36
  • 1
    @Araucaria Such examples are rare, though. Btw, CGEL on p.853 uses the same examples as mine, though with "generous" instead of "tactful". If they are good enough for H&P, they are good enough for me! – BillJ Mar 12 '19 at 12:49
1

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Huddleston, Pullum et al, 2002) describe three broad categories of ɪʟʟᴏᴄᴜᴛɪᴏɴᴀʀʏ ғᴏʀᴄᴇ with which a clause or sentence may be used:

  • Statement
  • Question
  • Directive

These are meanings derived from the pragmatics of the utterance of a clause within a given context. These categories of illocutionary force are neither primary, exclusive nor exhaustive. There are utterances which convey other types of illocutionary force, such as promises, for example. And the three broad categories of illocutionary force may also be further subdivided into more finely grained categories. For example, a directive: Chop the parsley may be uttered with the force of an instruction, a command, a request, advice and so forth.

Closely related to the notion of illocutionary force is the syntactic system of ᴄʟᴀᴜsᴇ ᴛʏᴘᴇs. These are syntactic categories of clause, which are broadly associated with different types of illocutionary force. The five major clause types in English are:

  • declarative (associated with statements)
  • closed interrogative (associated with closed questions)
  • open interrogative (associated with open questions)
  • exclamative (associated with exclamative statements)
  • imperative (associated with directives)

As we can see, imperatives are associated with directives. However, directives may also take the form of declarative, exclamative or interrogative clauses.

In terms of illocutionary force, a request is normally analysed as being a type of directive. When the Original Poster asks what type of sentence a request is, the answer is that in terms of illocutionary force, it is a type of directive. In terms of clause type it could be a declarative, closed or open interrogative, exlcamative or imperative clause. Notice that these pragmatic and syntactic categories are best applied to clauses, not sentences, because a single sentence may have different clauses belonging to different pragmatic and syntactic categories:

  • It would be great if you lent a hand, or are you busy right now?

The sentence in the utterance above consists of a declarative directive and a closed interrogative question, for example.


It is probably a good idea to consult a vetted grammar source instead of Wikipedia—especially a Wikipedia entry that takes a definition of sentence from Dictionary.Com as its opening description, organising principle and source of linguistic categorization.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.