In English, there are five different types of finite clauses:

declarative, interrogative, imperative, exclamative, and optative

Here are examples:

(1) You are generous. [declarative]

(2) Are you generous? How generous are you? [interrogative]

(3) How generous you are! [exclamative]

(4) Be generous. [imperative]

(5) May you be generous. [optative]

I know that an imperative clause cannot be used as a subordinate clause, and that a declarative, interrogative, and exclamative can.

What about 'optative'? Can an optative clause ever be used as a subordinate clause?

For example, how can you change this into reported speech?

I said, "May you be generous."

  • 1
    Can you give us an example of the interrogative clause as subordinate clause? Are you regarding the embedded interrogative with its word-order un-inversion as "interrogative"?
    – TimR
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 10:39
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo Yes, I am. Here's an example: I wonder how generous you are.
    – listeneva
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 13:19
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    – J.R.
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 15:19
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    – J.R.
    Commented Jan 5, 2019 at 11:31

2 Answers 2


The syntax of English distinguishes a set of clause types that are characteristically used to perform different kinds of speech acts.

You have correctly identified the five major clause types, and one minor type - the optative. You clearly have a good grasp of the topic.

To answer your question: as far as I'm aware, optatives are always main clauses, at least the various types that I'm aware of, such as "God save the Queen"; "Long live the Emperor" ; "So be it"; "May all your troubles be resolved" certainly are.

  • So there's no way you can change this sentence into reported speech? I said, "May you be generous."
    – listeneva
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 1:18
  • @listeneva I told them that I wished they would be generous? Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 2:27
  • @JasonBassford How about I told them that I wished they might be generous?
    – listeneva
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 3:34
  • @listeneva I think the original may translates into the wished, so adding might seems unnecessary. If the original had been "May you perhaps be generous," then I could see it. Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 5:34
  • @listeneva In your example: I said, "May you be generous", the direct reported speech is not embedded and hence is not subordinate. In your other example, there's no optative: "that I wished they might be generous" is a declarative content clause
    – BillJ
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 8:29

(1) You are generous. [declarative sentence or utterance]

(2) Are you generous? How generous are you? [interrogative sentence or utterance]

(3) How generous you are! [exclamative sentence or utterance]

(4) Be generous. [imperative sentence or utterance]

(5) You are not generous. [negative sentence or utterance]

Those are not clauses per se. Those are sentence (written language) types or utterance types (spoken language).

And, in those sentence types, the negative was missing.

Clauses are used to discuss sentences or utterances with more than one clause. Here are the types of clause: main [or independent], subordinate [or dependent], relative [or adjective], and noun. Every clause has at least a subject and a verb.


Utterances or sentences that are structured with: May [some thing occur]. Let [some thing occur] etc. are optatives. They are not a type of clause per se.

optative sentences

  • 1
    I'm afraid your terminology is incorrect because under your terminology how are you going to determine the mood of this "sentence"? You say you are generous, but how generous are you? Is this a declarative sentence or an interrogative sentence?? Besides, your answer's only disputing the terminology and fails to provide any answer to my question.
    – listeneva
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 1:16
  • @listeneva Your sentences are: declarative, interrogative, imperative, exclamatory and you forgot negative. "You say you are generous but how generous are you?" is an interrogative. Interrogatives have to have a question mark. Using May x, Let x. Were x etc. Long live [etc.] creates an optative that is "sentence". The optative forms are considered to be a mood. As the Wikipedia entry clearly indicates. Clauses only matter when there is more than one...
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 19:16

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