Structural and Functional Classifications of Sentences


The sentence is the largest unit of grammar. It usually contains a subject and a verb, though it may also contain an object and adverbial.

Its obligatory element is however the verb which must be finite. The sentence can be classified according to its structure or its function.

The essence of this topic is to enable students vary their sentences, most especially when they communicate non-verbally.

For instance, a student’s write-up shall be considered puerile if the only sentences he can write are of the following types.

English Sentences according to Structure


This is the categorization of sentences on the basis of their forms (i. e. whether they are simple or non-simple).

We are therefore considering simple sentences, compound sentences, complex sentences, compound-complex sentences and multiple sentences.

A simple sentence

For a group of words to be considered meaningful in English, it must contain a finite verb. Such a group of words which contains only one finite verb is described as a simple sentence.

Notice however that a simple sentence can be a statement, a question or a request. Consider the following illustrations:

  1. The building collapsed.
  2. He has done it.
  3. Bola is here.

We are saying that a simple sentence must express a meaningful idea on its own. For instance, the following utterances do not make complete statements or express any meaningful ideas.

A compound sentence

The compound sentence, unlike its simple sentence counterpart, usually consists of more than one finite verb.

To form a compound sentence and to avoid unnecessary repetition or monotony in our writing, we can use a coma (,), a semicolon (;) or a coordinating conjunction such as ‘and’, ‘but’, or, etc. to join two independent or main clauses together. Consider the following examples:

  1. The teacher told a story.
  2. The pupils enjoyed the story.
  3. Andy is a hardworking boy.
  4. Andy failed the examination.

The main clauses 4 and 5 can be joined together as The teacher told a story and the pupils enjoyed it. But the 6 and 7 can be joined together as Andy is a hardworking boy but he failed the examination. More examples of compound sentences are as follows:

READ ALSO:  20 Vital Areas to Know in English Tenses

Toyin came yesterday and she saw me.

I greeted him, he avoided me.

What we need was a car; they bought a bus instead.

A complex sentence

The difference between a compound sentence and the complex sentence is that while a compound sentence can be made up of two or more independent clauses, the complex sentence is made up of one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses.

Another difference is that subordinating conjunction is used to join the main and subordinating clauses together in a complex sentence, and not coordinating conjunction as in a compound sentence. Consider the following sentence:

  1. Amadi saw a snake and he killed it. (Compound sentence)
  2. I had gone out when you came. (Complex sentence)

‘When you came’ is the subordinating or dependent clause used with the main or independent clause ‘I had gone out’. More examples of complex sentences are as follows:

Before you came, he had slept.

They worked hard though they didn’t pass the examination.

She came to UI where she had hoped to study when she had the opportunity.

A complex sentence is one that can be decomposed into one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses.

 A compound-complex sentence

A compound-complex sentence is a possibility in English. You would recall that a compound sentence must not have any subordinate clause and a complex sentence must not contain more than one independent or main clause.

But a compound-complex sentence has more than one main clause and at least one dependent or subordinate clause. Consider the following examples:

  1. He gave me a book and told me a story when I came home before I left London.
  2. Sandra, who is a very brilliant student, understands the grammar of English but she does not speak English because she cannot pronounce most of the English vowel sounds.

This is a compound–complex structure because it contains two independent or main clauses: ‘Sandra… understands the grammar of English but he does not speak English’.

The sentence also has two subordinate clauses or dependent clauses: ‘Who is a very brilliant student’ and ‘because he cannot pronounce most of the English vowel sounds’.

READ ALSO:  15 Best Rules for Changing Active Sentences into Passive Sentences

A multiple sentence

The form of the English sentence shares some similarities with the compound sentence. A sentence is however termed a multiple sentence when it contains more than two smaller independent clauses.

  1. Tolu came, played, and left.
  2. I rushed in, asked for my wife, and went back to the office.

English Sentences According to Functions

Sentences may be divided into four major syntactic classes with regard to their different communicative functions.

These four classes are statements, questions, commands, and exclamations. The adjectives used for these four types of sentences are declarative, interrogative, imperative, and exclamatory respectively.

Statements/declarative sentences

Statements are sentences in which the subjects are always present and generally precede the verbs. Declarative sentences give information and express facts. For example:

  1. Sola is a handsome boy.
  2. Darasimi is very brilliant.

At its simplest, a pronoun such as they or a proper noun such as Samuel is used as a noun phrase.

However, a noun phrase may be long and complex having a noun head preceded by other words such as an article, an adjective, another noun and followed by a prepositional phrase, or by a relative clause!

The new gas stove in the kitchen which I bought last month/has a very efficient oven. Sometimes, exceptional statements do not contain any subject.  For example:

  1. Safe journey. (Instead of I wish you a safe journey.)
  2. Beg pardon. (Instead of I beg your pardon)
  3. Wishing you success. ( I am wishing you success)

In most cases, it is the initial word or words of a sentence that are elliptic.

Questions/ Interrogative sentences

Questions are interrogative sentences. They can be divided into three classes according to the type of answer they expect.

  1. Yes/No Questions

They are those that expect only affirmation or rejection. They are usually formed by placing the operator before the subject and giving the sentences a rising tone. For example:

  1. Has the Amaka come?
  2. Are you around?
  3. Is the food delicious?

If there is no item in the verb phrase that can function as an operator, then the word do is introduced. For example:

  1. Does it come”
  2. Do you know him?
  1. WH-Questions

These are formed with the aid of one of the following interrogative words or question words such as “Who, whose, which, what, when, where, how, why, etc. Falling intonation is usually used for WH questions. For example:

  1. Which pen did you buy?
  2. Whose books are these?
  3. Why did you go there?
  4. How are you doing?
  5. Tag Questions

Tag questions are shortened words added to the end of the statements. If the statements are positive, then the tags will be positive. But if the statements are negative, then the tags will be positive. For example:

  1. He has finished the assignment, hasn’t he?
  2. She will not come here, will she?
READ ALSO:  How to Teach and Learn Possessive and Demonstrative Pronouns Better

Another question type is an intonation question which is a statement that expresses surprise through rising intonation. For example:

  1. Me?
  2. You said the man has died?

Commands/Imperative sentences

Commands are sentences that ask someone to do something. They are apt to sound abrupt unless toned down by markers of politeness such as, please.

A command without a Subject

This kind of category of command has no subject but has an imperative finite verb, i. e. the base form of the verb. For example:

  1. Come down.
  2. Shut the door.

A command with a Subject

It is implied in the meaning of a command that the omitted subject of the imperative verb is the 2nd person pronoun ‘You’.

These commands are usually admonitory in tone and frequently express strong irritation. Likewise, they cannot be combined with markers of politeness such as please. For example:

  1. You, come here.
  2. You, leave that place.

However, a persuasive imperative is created by the addition of ‘do’ before the main verb. For example:

  1. Do have a nice day
  2. Do be seated.

Exclamations/exclamatory sentences

These are sentences that have no initial phrase introduced by ‘What’ or ‘How’, without inversion of subject and operator. For example:

  1. What an insult!
  2. How corporately she dressed!
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like