Sentence form and communicative function

Word order = constituent order, the order of clause elements.

1        John likes to watch TV  (S-V-dO). Reading he dislikes (dO-S-V).

2        Every day he sits in front of the TV for hours. (A-S-V-A-A)

3        His wife, as you might expect, finds this habit of his irritating.  (S-A-V-dO-oP)


Sentence form

Word order







Mary hates poodles.

Mary doesn't hate poodles.

Interrogative: yes/no










Does Mary hate poodles?

Doesn't Mary hate poodles?







What does Mary hate?

Who hates poodles?

What doesn't Mary hate?



Does she hate cats or dogs?






Kill that poodle.

Don't (you) kill that poodle.




What an awful dog that is!

Read more about sentence types in the  HyperGrammar

Communicative functions

Function type

Communicative task

Typical intonation pattern


conveys information

falling (high/low fall)

Question: yes-no

asks hearer to say whether something is true or false

rising (low rise)


asks hearer to fill in a missing piece of information, represented by the wh-word

falling (high/low fall)

alternative question

asks hearer to choose between alternatives

rising on the first item(s), falling on the last


asks for goods & services

rising (low rise)


demands goods & services

falling (high/low fall)


makes an emphatic comment

falling (high fall)


Examples of other communicative functions

·        apology – I DO apologize!

·        complaint  The service is appalling!

·        echo-question  London, did you say?

·        warning – Careful there!

·        threat  – Stay where you are, or else!


Intonation signals communicative function – in casual speech intonation may be a more important signal of communicative function than the form of the sentence.

  1. Isn't that an \awful dog (\ means falling tone)
  2. And you're very  /fond of dogs (/ means rising tone)


Communicative function of sentence fragments

1.       A: Tea or /coffee

B:   \Coffee, please

A: /Milk

B:   \No thanks

A: /Sure

B:   \Sure

2.       A: Can you come in at  /four

B: At  ¤four?

A:   \Right


3.       A: you've  \/been upstairs yet

B: only just to the   \loo

A text example

Leanne: So you lend money, do you? question/request

Margaret: I do have a soft heart. But to whom am I speaking?

Leanne: Leanne, Leanne Grubbe, two B's and an E. statement

Margaret: Miss or Mrs? question

Leanne: Mrs but he's run off, to Wales.

Margaret: Wales! Dreadful place, rain and socialists. exclamation

Leanne: Thing is, I need twenty-four pound by tomorrow else I get the water cut off.

Margaret: Do you own anything of value?

Leanne: Only me family benefit book.

            I can't have no water, not with Christmas coming. plea

Margaret: I'll give you twenty-four pounds in exchange for your book. offer

(From Sue Townsend, The Queen and I: the play)


·        a device for forming interrogative, negative, and emphatic sentences

·        is used when there is no other auxiliary – i.e. when the verb phrase is simple.


Positive declarative

Emphatic declarative

Negative declarative


He wrote a poem.

He did write a poem.

He did not write a poem.

Did he write a poem?

He writes poetry.

He does write poetry.

He does not write poetry.

Does he write poetry?

He has written a poem.

He has written a poem.

He has not written a poem.

Has he written a poem?

He will write a poem.

He will write a poem.

He will not (won't) write a poem.

Will he write a poem?

He is writing a poem.

He is writing a poem.

He is not writing a poem.

Is he writing a poem?


·        do-periphrasis in declarative sentences with Subject-aux. inversion (ch. 11)

4.      Never again did he write such a great poem.

5.      Never again will he write such a great poem.


·        do-periphrasis in tag questions

6.      He writes poetry, doesn't he?

7.      He has written a great poem, hasn't he?


·        No do-periphrasis in negative sentences with never (unless never is fronted)

8.      She never thought she would be a grammarian. (cf. She didn't think …)


·        No do-periphrasis when the verb is a simple form of be.

9.      Jill isn't too happy about this.


·        Optional do-periphrasis when the verb is a simple form of have.

10.  Have you any money? / Do you have any money?

11.  Have you got any money?

12.  He hadn't any answer. / He didn't have any answer.


·        not-negation: negation within the verb phrase, by means of inserting not after an auxiliary.

·        no-negation: negation within a noun phrase, by means of using the determiner no or any of the negative pronouns (nothing, nobody, no-one, none)


13.  I didn't know any grammar.

14.  I knew no grammar.


15.  George doesn't remember anything.

16.  George remembers nothing.


17.  She is not an artist.

18.  She is no artist.

Pragmatic functions of interrogative sentences

19.  Are you in a hurry? (question)

20.  Do you know what time it is? (request for information)

21.  Why don't you come in? (request for action)

22.  Who do you think you are? (threat)

Tag questions (declarative + finite verb + subject)

Typical pattern:

positive declarative à negative tag      Sula is an interesting book, isn't it?

negative declarative à positive tag      Sula isn't very interesting, is it?


Typical meaning:

rising tone on tag: – speaker asks for hearer's opinion

falling tone on tag: – speaker asks for hearer's agreement


Positive declarative + positive tag:

23.  It's your car, is it

Comment questions

24.  A: I study English

B: Oh, do you

Imperative sentences

With subject:

25.  Don't you dare call me that!

With vocative to single out addressee:

26.  Shut up, children!


With tag:

27.  Shut up, will you?

28.  Get me a drink, will you?


With let's:

29.  Let's go for a walk!

30.  Let's not worry about it! (Don't let's worry about it.)


In instructions

31.  Preheat the oven to 200°F. Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and beat until stiff. Pipe 3- to 4-inch circles of meringue onto a baking sheet topped with a sheet of buttered parchment paper.

32.  Click here for more details.

Basic Principles of Word Order

Grammatical word order – the major word order principle in English

Declarative: S-V-(X)

1                  Monica bought some yellow paint for her living room. (S-V-dO-A)

Yes–No interrogative: aux-S-V-(X)

2                    Did Monica buy any yellow paint for her living room? (v-S-V-dO-A)

Wh-interrogative: Wh-word–aux–(S–)V–(X)

3                    What did Monica buy? (dO-v-S-V)

4                    Why did Monica buy yellow paint? (A-v-S-V-dO)

Imperative: V–(X)

5                    Buy some yellow paint, will you. (V-dO (+v-S))

Other word order principles

The principle of end weight:

Long and heavy clause elements are placed at the end of the sentence

6               The rate at which Americans are using up the world’s supply of irreplaceable fossil fuels and their refusal to admit that the supply is limited is the real problem.

7               The real problem is the rate at which Americans are using up the world’s supply of irreplaceable fossil fuels and their refusal to admit that the supply is limited.

8               Jeff Judd, who runs Aventura from a lovely old farmhouse, greeted us.

9               We were greeted by Jeff Judd, who runs Aventura from a lovely old farmhouse.


The information principle: Given–New

10           We drove into the quiet of the countryside and found dinner at a little place on a side road. It wasn’t much of a restaurant...

11           Once upon a time three bears lived in a house in the woods. There was a big bear, a medium-sized bear, and a little, small, wee bear. All the bears liked porridge, and had their own special porridge bowls. The great big bear had a great big bowl …

12           The drift was thickly overgrown, a dark tunnel out of whose bushy sides the tendrils of brambles and briar roses caught at his clothes. One of these whipped back at him and as he caught at it a thorn drove into the fleshy pad of his finger. That thorn had been there, festering, for months.

13           ...a girl whom he had dreamed about for over four years. This dream had long ceased to have any substance...

14           An ordinary hand drill is not easy to use; this electric type is something any novice can handle.


End Focus

15           and they had an `interview | -- well there can’t be very   \/many | they had an interview with this ´chap | on the Financial World to  \/night | which I always `listen to | for the same reason as those people climb those `mountains | «m - because it’s `there | and the last `question | in the   \/interview | was the one I was itching to `hear | all the way `through |


16                     A: When does the show start?

B: (It/the show starts) at 8.30.     ? At 8.30 the show starts.

17                     A: What happens at 8.30?

B:  (At 8.30) the show starts.      ? The show starts at 8.30.

Word order variation: Fronting

(putting something other than the subject in ‘subject’ position):

18      Every day she goes out at six in the morning.

19      Marijuana they used occasionally, but cocaine they never touched.

20      Attitudes will not change overnight, but change they will.

21      Only now – after separating from her partner – could she be candid. And candid she is.

22      Almost all the 38 families were what would today be regarded as large, but that was fairly normal for working-class families in Edwardian Britain. Of the 38, 11 families had 4 children or less, 21 had between 5 and 7.

Some differences between Norwegian and English word order

Verb-second constraint in Norwegian, S-V-X in English

Hun husket ikke datoen. 
Hun kunne ikke huske datoen.
Dessverre husket hun ikke datoen. 
Dessverre kunne hun ikke huske datoen.
Datoen husket hun ikke. 
Datoen kunne hun ikke huske.
Det husket hun ikke. Det kunne hun ikke huske.
Da hun var liten, trodde hun på julenissen.

She did not remember the date.
She could not remember the date.
Unfortunately she did not remember the date.
Unfortunately she could not remember the date.
The date she didn’t remember.
The date she couldn’t remember.
She didn’t/couldn’t remember.
When she was little, she believed in Santa Claus.


Fronting (more common in Norwegian than in English, and therefore it carries more contrast in English)
In these examples the English version is better without fronting.

23           Lærer ville hun gjerne bli.                     She wanted to become a teacher.

24           Det husker jeg ikke.                            I don’t remember (that).

25           Eplet spiste Petter.                               The apple was eaten by Peter.

26           Den bilen ville han likt å eie.                 That was a car he would have liked to own.

Inverted word order in English declarative main clauses

Subject-Verb inversion

After (mainly place) adverbial in initial position. Conditions: The Subject must be realized by a noun phrase, and should generally be longer than the Verb. Inserting existential there is sometimes possible.


27           Here is a diesel-engine car that will out-gun many of its petrol-engine rivals.

28           Outside stood a young man in oilskins.

29           Across the table sat a group of three boisterous lads and further along was Dominic.

30           June came and went, and then July, and then came the August holidays.


After adverbial particle in initial position.

31           UP comes McKENZIE

32           The door opened, and in marched the minister himself.


After fronted -ing or -ed clause which denotes existence/appearance

33           Standing next to the bay window was a young girl.

34           Attached to the back of the house is an enclosed courtyard.


In reporting clauses after direct speech

35           ‘And what about all the rubbish, then?’ asked the woman / the woman asked.

36           ‘You'll never even get near Greece in this,’ said Mary / Mary said.

37            ‘Will she be back?’ I asked. ( not *...asked I)

38            ‘We should all go our separate ways,’ Rufus had said to them.


Subject-auxiliary inversion

Obligatory after negative sentence opener. Condition: the negation must affect the verb.

39           Not until men first charted the stars and linked their fates with events in the sky, did personal birthdays become important. (Birthdays did not become important until …)

40           At no point in the progression can we insert a cut-off and say: this step is too abrupt. (We cannot insert a cut-off at any point …)

41           Yet nowhere has there been a guide to their identification.

42           Not only does God sow the seed of his word, but he continues to cultivate it.

43           Never in that long and adventurous life was he in steadier hands.


No inversion with ‘negative’ sentence openers which do not affect the verb:

44           Not long after that, I knew I must go to China. (not … that = then)

45           No doubt the man on the stairs is her husband. (no doubt = probably)


Obligatory inversion after restrictive sentence opener

46           Only rarely were women doing similar work to men.

47           Little did I dream that I would be awarded this generous scholarship.

48           Little wonder he looked so nervous.


Obligatory inversion after initial proform ‘so’, or ‘so’ + adjective or adverb

49           (The gate makes a lot of noise when we open it.) So does the back door.

50           So absurd was his manner that everybody stared at him.

51           So far had he walked that his shoes were completely worn out.


No inversion after other kinds of 'so'

52           So far he had never found such a job. (so far = until now)

53           So everybody stared at him. (so = therefore)


Differences in word order Þ Differences in meaning

54           Once he did not offer to help. = On one occasion he did not offer to help.

55           Not once did he offer to help. = He did not offer to help on any occasion.

56           Very rarely is an effort made to develop character in depth. = An effort to develop character in depth is not made very often.

57           Very rarely an effort is made to develop character in depth. = On a few occasions an effort to develop character in depth is made.


©  HH
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