What is a declarative sentence?
A declarative sentence makes a statement or argument about what is, was, or will be the case. That is, it talks about that which is asserted to be true.
Declarative sentences usually end in a period (also known as a full stop) and are the most ubiquitous type of sentence in English. (If they are expressing a strong emotion or are forceful in nature, they can also end in an exclamation point (“!”), in which case they are sometimes referred to as exclamatory sentences.)
Different sentence structures
- “I’m walking to the library.”
- “She went to the park yesterday.”
- “I hope to see you soon.”
- “She wanted to play basketball, but he wanted to play tennis.”
- “Either I will pick you up tonight, or you can get a ride home with your father.”
- “I’ve always wanted to try riding a jet-ski; however, I’m too worried about my safety.”
- “I’m going to the party later; my friend is the DJ for it.”
- “Even though I’m not a fan of Hitchcock, I’ll go with you to see The Birds.”
- “I’d be willing to lend you the money providing you can offer collateral.”
- “I waited in line for three hours because I’m such a big fan of his.”
- “We went to Venice, even though they knew I wanted to go to Madrid; nevertheless, we had a great time.”
- “I’ve been saving up for a few years, so we should be able to get a mortgage soon, providing my job remains secure.”
- “I’m going to see Shawna at the mall later; you can come with me, though I know you two don’t get along.”
Different Verb Tenses
Declarative sentences can be formed in any tense, so long as the sentence is a statement of what is the case. For example:
Not all declarative sentences are straightforward statements of positive fact—there are a few variations that express slightly different information, while still remaining declarative in nature.
Negative declarative sentences
Negative declarative sentences (or simply negative sentences) are declarative sentences whose information is made negative by the word not or never. All of the different sentence structures and verb tenses that we looked at above can be made negative. For example:
- “I won’t be going to the party because I have an exam tomorrow.” (complex sentence – future continuous tense – made negative by not (contracted with will))
- “I did not eat your sandwich.” (simple sentence – past tense – made negative by not)
- “Jim is a good guy, but you can never rely on him.” (compound sentence – present simple tense – second independent clause made negative by never)
Declarative commands and requests
We generally use imperative sentences to issue commands or instructions, and interrogative sentences to ask questions or make requests. For example:
- “Clean your room.” (imperative sentence)
- “Would you buy me a video game while you’re at the mall?” (interrogative sentence)
However, we can sometimes use declarative sentences to make statements that have the sound of a command or request, and yet are not exactly either one. For instance:
- “You should clean your room.”
- “You could buy me a video game while you’re at the mall.”
Both of these sentences are now in the declarative form, yet both function in a middle ground between a command and a request. Note that the forcefulness of the imperative sentence is lost when it is made declarative, just as the tact and politeness is lost from the interrogative sentence.
Statements of uncertainty
We often use declarative sentences as an indirect way of asking a question about something that we’re not certain about, expressing what we wish to know as a declarative, factual statement. For example:
- “I was thinking we could see the movie together, if you’re free.”
- "They want to know why you did this.”
Because these kinds of statements are so close in nature and meaning to interrogative sentences, many people end up erroneously putting a question mark at the end of them. However, we must take care not to make this mistake and only use a period with such sentences.
Indirect questions are very similar to statements of uncertainty, except that they use what is known as reported speech (sometimes called indirect speech) to relay an interrogative sentence from another person to the listener as a declarative sentence. For example:
- “Dan asked if you are coming to the study session this evening.”
- “She was wondering if you want to get some coffee later.”
- “They told me to ask where you’re going later.”
Declarative questions are a bit of a unique bridge between declarative sentences and interrogative sentences. They are declarative, yet they end with a question mark; they are used primarily in spoken, informal English and generally have “yes” or “no” as possible responses. For example:
- “You’re firing me?”
- “He wants to drive to the city at this hour?
- “She’s moving to Russia?”
These could technically be considered interrogative sentences because they ask a question and end with a question mark, but, because the actual form of the sentence does not change, they are still very like a declarative sentence. In spoken English, the only way they are marked as questions is by the speaker’s intonation.