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A Simple Four Phrase Types Theory

From:Philippe Caquant <herodote92@...>
Date:Saturday, January 17, 2004, 13:54
A Simple Four Phrase Types Theory

I called it so because I discovered 5 of them (of

The idea is that every sentence that a speaker may
produce, being one way or another destinated to an
addressee, had to belong to one of the 4 (+1) semantic
types below, these types being based on the concept of
intentionality :

1/ enunciative sentences. By such sentences the
speaker just wants some information to get to the
addressee’s conscience, whatever the information may
be (“objective” information, persuasion, blame, joke
or whatever). He doesn’t expect anything particular in
return, except maybe an acknowledgement like “OK, got

2/ imperative sentences. The speaker expects that the
addressee will produce in return some act or action,
excluding sole speech acts.

3/ interrogative sentences. The speaker expects that
the addressee will provide some information (speech
act) in return to his request.

4/ performative sentences. The speech act is itself a
(social) act (it modifies relations in the universe).

A fifth type would be “unintentional” sentences, where
there is no intention at all, as the names suggests
it, and in some cases even no addressee. There are
usually “instinctive” sentences.

Of course the syntax may be in contradiction with the
semantic type (if not, there would be little fun in

Examples of enunciative sentences:
- The sum of the angles of a triangle is 180 degrees.
- When I was young and in my prime, I left my home in
- I think it will rain tomorrow.
- I don’t like the color of your shirt. (meaning: but
if you do like it, it’s your problem after all)
- I want to be rich, that’s what I want.
- What a great e-mail software ! It even manages with
html tags !
- O tempora, o mores !

Examples of imperative sentences:
- Shut that door immediately !
- La porte !
- Will you please shut that door ?
- What about shutting that door ?
- How many times shall I have to tell you to shut that
door ?
- Now I really think that you should shut that door.
- From now on, you will shut that door every night.

Examples of interrogative sentences:
- What time is it ?
- Who’s speaking ?
- What is the capital of Kazakhstan ? (God knows)
- Why did you do that ? (meaning: there must have been
some reason, though I can’t guess it yet)
- Please tell me your name, age, occupation and the
reason of your visit.
- Name ?
- Now what I want is you telling me your name !

Examples of performative sentences:
- I declare that you are husband and wife.
- The meeting is now open.
- Une fois ? Deux fois ? Trois fois ? Adjugé !

Exemple of unintentional sentences:
- Ouch ! (this was my finger, not the nail)
- Shit ! (just missed the once-a-week bus to Pakistan)
- (Sigh) (bug again – will take me the whole day to
fix it)
- Ha ha ha ha ! Oops ! (shouldn’t have read those
Garfield stripes during the annual executive staff
- (Whistling River Kwaï main theme) (feeling great)
- Oh là là là là là là ! (typical French, about 17
possible interpretations, all depending on tone)
- Burp. (herring with strawberry jam at breakfast ;
zero-level of language).

N.B. One could also add the “magic sentences”, which
change the physical (not only social) reality – like
“Abracadabra, thou are no more a toad, thou are a
princess”, but that whould refere to a special

Philippe Caquant

"Le langage est source de malentendus."
(Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

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