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Sentence moods: key definitions

semantic = relating to meaning, not structure grammatical = relating to how structure creates meaning The terms statement, question, directive are all semantic rather than grammatical. They refer to the meaning of a sentence, rather than its structure. The basic purpose of a statement is to convey information. The basic purpose of a question is to seek information. The basic purpose of a directive is to tell someone to do or not to do something.

Rhetorical question is also a semantic rather than a grammatical term. It refers to a question which is phrased as though it seeks information but, in context, is actually designed to make a point. Sentence moods are grammatical distinctions, not semantic. They refer to the appearance and sequence of the subject and verb in a clause, regardless of the clauses meaning or purpose, or of the punctuation attending it. Do not assume that the meaning of a sentence tells you its mood. Not all orders are given in the imperative mood. Not everything in the interrogative mood is a question. Not all declaratives make a statement. Do not assume that punctuation tells you the mood of a sentence. Not everything ending in a question mark is an interrogative. Not everything ending in an exclamation mark is an exclamative. There are four sentence moods: declarative, interrogative, imperative, exclamative Technically, these terms can refer only to major sentences. It is not grammatically accurate to call a minor sentence an interrogative or an exclamative. The four sentence moods are mutually exclusive. For example, a declarative cannot also be an interrogative; an imperative cannot also be an exclamative.

In a declarative structure, the subject appears before the verb. In an interrogative structure, the subject appears after the verb (or after an auxiliary). In an imperative structure, there is usually no word representing the subject, and the verb phrase usually occurs at or near the beginning of the clause.

In an exclamative structure, the clause begins with the word what or how, and is followed by the subject and then the verb. A statement is often (but not always) made in the form of a declarative. A question is often (but not always) asked in the form of an interrogative. A directive is often (but not always) given in the form of an imperative.

Tag questions combine two sentence moods in one sentence. They seek agreement (or acceptance) by combining a declarative statement (or an imperative directive) with a short verb-subject interrogative tag This is good, isnt it? Be quiet, will you. Issues with accurately identifying imperatives Confusingly, some directives involve slight variations on the imperative form. Among the most common changes are:

adding a subject, to avoid ambiguity Everyone stand up. Nobody move. (the verb form does not change: there is no s ending even if the subject is singular) adding a second person pronoun as a subject, to give extra force to the directive You run along now. You go first. (notice that, grammatically, it is impossible to tell these apart from declaratives) adding let, to allow the speaker to tell themselves to do something (an invocation) Let me see. Lets write everything down twice. Let us pray. adding a tag question (see above)

How to use this terminology NEVER just name a sentence mood because you can. Use the above terms only to make fresh, insightful points specific to the text you are commenting on perhaps because they achieve a certain effect, or reveal something about the writers sense of audience or context. For example:

If imperative or interrogative sentence moods occur in a written text, you could comment on the use of direct address as a rhetorical device. If a declarative sentence is punctuated with a question mark, call it a declarative question and comment on its effect. (E.g. it could suggest the speakers disbelief, or their confidence in a particular answer, or their control over the conversation) Whenever the imperative is used in speech or writing, the speaker/writer assumes a certain footing with the listener/reader. (It is unlikely that a student would use the imperative when talking to a teacher; but very common the other way round.) Conversely, if a declarative or interrogative is used to give a command or tell someone what to do, make an inference as to why the speaker or writer chose this rather than an imperative.

If a text consists entirely of one sentence mood, use this to make a point. (You shouldnt need to quote: just say which sentence mood it is.) If one sentence has a different mood from every other sentence in a text, quote this sentence and comment on its effect.