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Describing language
Describing language

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1.3 Giving commands and making exclamations

A burglar in a black and white striped jumper is running away from a dog while carrying a bag of loot. The dog is biting the burglar’s shirt in order to stop him from getting away.
Figure 2 Stop thief!

Sometimes, when we want to get something done, we give orders or commands. This is the one time in English when we use the verb without a subject:

Put that book down

Go to your room

Stop thief!

Commands don’t need a subject because there is no need to express who the command is referring to. It’s always directed at you. If we want to make commands sound a little bit less abrupt, we can add something like will you?, or could you? at the end: Make me a sandwich, will you? This approach might get you a sandwich, but it’s unlikely to slow down the thief!

When we’ve finished asking questions and shouting orders, we might also want to express surprise, delight, annoyance, outrage, or any other strong emotion. In this instance, we can exclaim something:

What a great idea that was!

How kind you are!

What an idiot I’ve been!

As you can see, such exclamatives often begin with what or how, but other sentence forms can also express emotions. For example, a declarative sentence could be written with an exclamation mark at the end to show it is functioning as an exclamation, rather than a plain statement of fact:

That’s the fourth time this month he’s been late!

In writing, the best indicator you’ll have that something is an exclamative is the use of an exclamation mark at the end. When trying to spot exclamatives in speech, you can listen for the tone in which a sentence is delivered or whether particular words are emphasised.

I showed him not to do it that way!

She knew that was my milk in the fridge!