Pragmatics


Identifying direct and indirect speech acts

If you consider a particular sentence and you are still not quite sure how you know or how you can find out whether the speech act is a direct or indirect one, read through and remember the following steps.

a) Sentences with performative verbs.

Step 1Check if the performative verb
is used preformatively.
 
  yes: go to step 2
  no: go to b)
Step 2Check if the performative verb
matches the speech act expressed by the sentence.
  yes: direct
  no: indirect

b) Sentences without performative verbs or with performative verbs
not used performatively.

Step 1Check the sentence form of the given sentence
(declarative, interrogative, imperative).
 
Step 2Refer to the table below (typical association) and find out the speech act
associated with the sentence form identified in step 1.
 
Step 3Determine the actual speech act
expressed by the sentence.
 
Step 4Check if the speech acts identified
in steps 2 and 3 match.
 
  yes: direct
  no: indirect

Typical association between sentence form and speech acts.

Sentence formSpeech actExample
declarativeassertionJohn has only five dollars.
interrogativequestionWho ate my cheesecake?
imperativeorder
request
Give me that book.
Please pass me the salt.