Notes on A Student’s Introduction to English Grammar

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Chapter 4 – Clause structure, complements and adjuncts

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1 Clause structure, complements and adjuncts

In Cats like water, the NP cats is subject and like water is the predicate.

The predicate is what is ‘predicated of’. The predicator is the head of the VP, in this case like. What can occur in a clause is often determined by the predicator. For example, many verbs allow or require an object (elapse, fall, lie, mew, vanish).

The dependents of the predicator in the VP are of two main kinds:

  • Complements, which must be licensed by the head. She used / ate the cheese. The object is a type of complement. Subjects also can be thought of as a type of complement, but as they lie outside the VP they are known as external complements.
  • Adjuncts, which can occur almost without regard to what the predicator is. The box was useless because it had a hole in it.

2 The subject

The basic position of the subject is before the VP.

For some NPs there is a case variation that distinguishes subjects from non-subjects. In these cases a subject is always in nominative form (I, he, she, we, they), whereas an object is accusative form (me, him, her, us, them). While NPs that don’t themselves have a contrast between nominative and accusative forms, we can generally use the case property indirectly by asking which form is required when we substitute one of these pronouns.

Verbs, other than modal auxiliaries, must agree with the subject, so one way of determining the subject is to check to see that what the verb agrees with.

In most kinds of interrogatives, the subject appears after rather than before the verb. Again, this provides a way to check the subject. Does Sue loves the children? Yes, Sue loves the children. Proves that Sue is the subject.

3 The object

The object has a number of distinctive features:

  • an object is a special case of a complement, so it must be licensed by the verb;
  • with some verbs, the object is obligatory;
  • the object typically corresponds to the subject of an associated passive clause
  • the object can normally take the form of a pronoun (which must be in the accusative form); and
  • the basic object position is immediately after the verb.

Three are two sub-types of objects:

  • direct object, is the object most directly acted upon, She gave me the photo (photo is the direct object); and
  • indirect object, is characteristically associated with the recipient (or beneficiary) of the action (me in the above example).

The main syntactic property distinguishing the two kinds of object is position: when both occur within the VP – as in canonical clauses – the indirect object precedes the direct object.

4 Predicative complements

A predicative complement commonly has the form of an NP and refers to participants in the situation, Stacy was a good speaker.

There are a number of features that distinguish a predicative complement from an object:

  • a PC can take the form of an AdjP, compare He seemed very nice with *He met very nice;
  • a PC can take the form of a bare role NP (an NP without a determiner), compare She became treasurer with *She knew treasurer;
  • a PC does not correspond to the subject of the clause and one way to check this is to see whether canonical clause can be converted to a passive form, Ed became a friend of mine cannot become *A friend of mine was become by Ed; and
  • a PC can take the form of a nominative pronoun, whereas an object cannot.

Most PCs relate to the subject, but there are some that relate to the object, I consider Jim highly temperamental. The element to which a PC relates is the predicand. Where the predicand is the subject the PC is said to be subjective and where the predicand is the object the PC is said to be objective.

The verb be can be used in two ways as a PC:

  • in the ascriptive construction the PC denotes a property that is ascribed to the referent of the predicand, Mike was a loyal party member; and
  • in the specifying construction there is an identity relation between the two elements, That last person to arrive was Jane.

The distinction can also be seen by noting that the specifying constructuon can be reordered but when done the PC becomes the subject, Jane was the last person to arrive. The ascriptive construction cannot always be reordered, but when it can be it does not change the PC’s role, A loyal party member was Mike.

5 Five canonical clause structures

There are five basic canonical clause structures:

iii ORDINARY MONOTRANSITIVE S-P-Od We sold our house.
iv COMPLEX-INTRANSITIVE S-P-Od-PC We made them happy.
i DITRANSITIVE S-P-Oi-Od We gave them some food.

Transitivity refers to the number of objects in a clause. An intransitive clause has no objects, a monotransitive clause has one object and a distransitive clause has two objects, indirect and direct.

Those clauses with PCs are referred to as complex, whereas those which don’t are referred to as ordinary.

6 Adjuncts

The crucial distinction between complements and adjuncts is that the former have to be licensed by the particular head verb whereas adjuncts do not. Adjuncts are thus less closely dependent on the verb, and their occurrences is in general less constrained by grammatical rules.

We use the term adjunct to cover both modifiers of the verb and supplements. Modifiers are tightly integrated into the structure of the clause, whereas supplements are only loosely attached. Supplments are set apart intonationally from the rest of the clause, typically marked off by perceived as a slight pause, Happily, they were playing outside. Modifiers, by contrast, are intonationally unified with the verb, They were playing happily outside.


Written by drpage

July 18, 2009 at 11:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized