Notes on A Student’s Introduction to English Grammar

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Chapter 2 – A rapid overview

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1 Two kinds of sentences

The two kinds of sentence are clausal (having the form of a single clause) and non-clausal (having the form of a coordination of clauses). 

2 Clause, word and phrase

The most basic kind of clause consists of a subject followed by a predicate, eg Things change, Kim left, etc. Others are more complex, such as Some people complained about it.

Expressions such as “some people” are called noun phrases — phrases with a noun as their head. The head of a phrase is, roughly, the most important element in the phrase, the one that defines what sort of phrase it is. The other elements are dependents. 

3 Subject and predicate 

The subject is distinguished from other elements by the following properties:

  • it usually has the form of an NP 
  • its default position is before the verb 
  • in interrogative clauses it typically occupies a distinctive position just after the verb

One useful test for finding the subject of a clause, therefore, is to turn the clause into an interrogative and see which expression ends up after the (first or only) verb.

4 Two theoretical distinctions

Function is a relational concept: when we say that an NP is subject we are describing the relation between it and the predicate, or between it and the whole clause. A category is a class of expressions which are gramatically alike.

A lexeme is a unit corresponding to a word seen abstractly enough to include all of its inflectional forms: take, takes, took, taken and taking are the forms of the lexeme take. A word is a particular inflection of a lexeme, useful for a specific sematic and sytactic purpose within a clause. 

5 Word and lexeme categories: the parts of speech

Parts of speech refers to categories of words and lexemes. There are eight major parts of speech: 

  • Nouns refer to all physical objects and inanimate objects or concepts. Most nounds have inflectional forms of singular / plural and plain / genitive. Pronouns also have inflections for nominative (subject) or accusative (object) case. They generally serve as head of NPs and have a range of functions, including that of subject.  
  • Verbs are cheif determinant of the situation of a clause. Verbs have inflectional forms of tense (past and present) as well as other non-finite formations (such as the gerund (present) participle and the past participle). In the present tense verbs also inflect depending on whether they are singular or plural. Verbs characteristically occur as head of a VP and function that themselves function as predicate in a clause. As head of the VP, the verb largely determines what other elements are permitted in the VP. There is also an important distinction between auxiliary and lexical verbs. Auxiliary verbs (such as will, are and has) can precede the subject to form an interrogative (Have you left?) and auxiliaries are usually followed by another verb.
  • Adjectives characteristically express properties of concrete or abstract things. Thus when they combine with the verb be the clause generally desceibes a state (The soup is hot). Used in this sense, adjectives function as predicative, when they modify a noun (big ship) they are attributive. Most adjectives are gradable — such as fairly big, very hot, etc. A special cas of marking degree is by comparison, plain (old), comparative (older) and superlative (oldest). 
  • Determinatives function as a a determiner in an NP. They determine the NP as definte or indefinte.
  • Adverbs mostly function as modifiers of verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. Adverbs do not take on the same attributive or predicative roles as does an adjective. 
  • Prepositions occur as the head of preposition phrases, which in turn function as dependents of a range of elements, especially VPs, nouns and adjectives. 
  • Coordinators mark the coordination of two or more expressions, where coordination is typically reflected in the ability of any one element to stand in place of the whole coordination. 
  • Subordinators (such as that, whether and if (in its use as whether)) occur as head of subordinate clauses that characteristically function as a dependent element within the structure of a larger clause. 

There is another minor category of interjections (covering words like oh, hello, wow, ouch, etc). 

6 The structure of phrases

A phrase normally consists of a head, alone or accompanied by one or more dependents. 

There are different types of dependents:

  • Complements are related closely to the head of the phrase. In the clearest cases, complements are obligatory.
  • Modifiers alter the meaning of the head of the phrase and are not normally obligatory. 
  • Object that characteristically refers to a person or other entity involved in the situation. Objects can not have the form of an object. 
  • Predicative complement typically expresses a property ascribed to the person or other entity referred to by the subject. A predicative complement can have the form of an adjective in its predicative function. 
  • Determiners mark whether an NP is definite or indefinite. The determiner function is usually formed by determinatives but it can also have the form of a genitive NP (Fido’s house). 

7 Canonical and non-canonical clauses

Canonical clauss are syntactically the most basic or elementary. They consist of a subject followed by a predicate. The subject is usually an NP and the predicate — in canonical clause — is always a VP.

There are various ways in which non-canonical clauses vary from cononical clauses:

  • Polarity, a negative clause is non-canonical.
  • Clause type, canonical clauses are declarative. Interrogative (Can I have the keys?) or imperative (Be patient) clauses are non-canonical. 
  • Subordination, all canonical clauses are main clauses. 
  • Coordination, canonical clauses are non-coordinate. 

Grammar makes it possible to say the same thing in different ways. Some of these alternatives include: 

  • Passive clauses, the subject of which is the recipient of the action. 
  • Preposing, where the object of the clause occurs before the subject (The others I gave to him).
  • Extraposition, where the basic subject is a subordinate clause.

Written by drpage

February 15, 2009 at 10:33 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Chapter 1 – Introduction

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p. 3 

Of course, the small number of controversial points that there are — trouble spots like who versus whom — get all the public discussion in language columns and letters to the editor, so it may seem as if there is much turmoil; but the passions evinced over such problematic points should not obscure the fact that for the vast majority of questions about what’s allowed in Standard English the answers are clear. For example, try writing down the four words the, dog, ran, away in all twenty-four possible orders. You will find that just three orders turn out to be grammatical, and there can be no serious disagreement among speakers as to which they are.

p. 4

Perhaps the most important failing of the bad usage books is that they frequently do not make the distinction we just made between standard vs non-standard dialects on the one hand and formal vs informal style on the other. They apply the term ‘incorrect’ not only to non-standard usage but also to informal constructions. But it isn’t sensible to call a construction grammatically incorrect when people whose status as fully competent speakers of the standard language is unassailable use it nearly all the time. 

p. 9 

Subjects are normally obligatory in declaratives but are usually omitted in imperatives.

Written by drpage

February 15, 2009 at 10:28 am

Posted in Uncategorized