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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

Chapter 3, Verbs, tense, aspect and mood

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1 Verb inflection

The set of inflectional forms of a variable lexeme (together with their grammatical labels) is called its paradigm. The great majority of verbs in English have paradigms consisting of six inflectional forms. For example, for the verb walk:

  • Preterite (walked) is used for an inflectionally marked past tense. The preterite does not always signal past time but always at least makes a reference to the past.
  • 3rd singular present (walks) is used for the present tense with 3rd person singular NPs.
  • plain present (walk) is used for the present use for all other non-3rd person singular NPs.
  • plain form (walk) is used in three clause constructions (the infinitive has two forms): imperatives are usually commands for people to do something (walk here), subjunctive is typically used in subordinate clauses, though some will prefer a finite verb in this case (It’s essential that you walk here), to-infinitival where the subject is optional (It’s essential for him to walk) and bare-infinitival almost always have no subject and mostly occur after auxiliary verbs (He should walk).
  • gerund-participle (walking) in Latin a gerund is a verb form functionally similar to a noun (He is walking), whereas a participle is one functionally similar to an adjective (Walking slowly, he missed the bus). In English, one word is used for both purposes, hence the term gerund-participle.
  • past participle (walked) occurs in two major constructions: the perfect generally marked by the auxiliary have followed by a past-participle (She has walked home), and the passive.

The latter three are secondary forms of the verb. Secondary forms have no tense inflection and cannot occur as the head of a canonical clause.

Regular verbs have identical shapes for the preterite and the past-participle (adding the suffix -ed). Irregular verbs can have different forms.

Almost all verbs have a present tense form that is identical in shape with the plain form. The only verb with a plain form distinct from all its present tense forms is be: it has three present tense forms (am, is and are), all different from its plain form be.

2 Finite and non-finite clauses

Clauses may be finite or non-finite. Finite clauses may be either main or subordinate; non-finite clauses are always subordinate.

The relation between finiteness and verb inflection can be stated as follows:

  • if the verb is a primary form, the clause is finite
  • if the verb is a gerund-participle or a past-particple, the clause is non-finite
  • if the verb is a plain form, the clause may be finite or non-finite (imperative and subjunctive clauses are finite and infinitival clauses are non-finite).

Imperatives belong in the finite category because they occur as main clauses. Subjunctive clauses are considered finite becuase of the use of a finite verb in the clause.

3 Auxiliary verbs

Auxiliary verbs form a small subclass of verbs whose members are characteristically used to mark tense, aspect, mood or voice.

1 have perfect tense Sue has written the preface.
2 be progressive aspect Sue is writing the preface.
3 may, can, must mood Sue may write the preface.
4 be passive voice The preface was written by Sue.

Auxiliary verbs behave differently from lexical verbs, the most important differences include:

  • Subject-auxiliary inversion, in interrogatives the subject follows a primary verb-form, instead of preceding the verb as it always does in canonical clauses. This inversion of positions between subject and verb is permitted only with auxiliary verbs.
  • Negation, the simplest type of negation is associated with a primary verb-form is permitted with auxiliary verbs but not with the lexical verbs (She has not taken the money). In addition, auxiliaries have negative inflectional forms (they all end in n’t and are found in preterite and present tense).

Within the class of auxiliary verbs, modal auxiliaries have a number of identifying characteristics:

  • No secondary forms, modals have only primary forms and cannot occur in constructions that require a plain form (*I am musting to work late compared to I am having to work late).
  • No distinct 3rd singular agreement form in the present tense, note the impossibility of *cans, *musts, etc.
  • Bare infinitival complement, modal auxiliaries do not take the ‘to’ in the to-infinitival construction.

4 Perfective and imperfective interpretations

A situation describes the kinds of things that are described in a clause — actions like publishing a novel, processes like growing tall, states like being a student, etc. There are two basic kinds of situation:

  • When a clause describes a situation in a way that considers it as a whole without reference to any internal temporal structure or subdivision it might have, we say the clause has a perfective interpretation (eg, She wrote a novel).
  • When a clause describes a situation in a way that makes reference to its internal temporal structure or subdivisions, we say that the clause has an imperfective interpreation (eg, She was writing a novel). Note that it does not follow from this example that she ever completed the novel.

The perfective interpretation is different from the perfect tense (a type of past tense formed by the verb be). The potentially confusing similarity between the terms reflects that both are derived from a Latin word meaning “complete”.

5 Primary tense

The primary tense comprises the preterite tense and the past tense.

The preterite has three central uses.

  • The central use of the preterite is to locate the situation, or part of it, in past time (eg, Shemowed the lawn).
  • The modal preterite presents the situation as modally remote (eg, “I wish they lived nearby”or “If he loved her, he’d change his job” not “If he loves her, he’ll change his job”).
  • The preterite can backshift indirect reported speech. For example, I utter to someone that “Kim has blue eyes”. I might later report this statement to a third party as “I told Stacy that Kim had blue eyes”. I have not reproduced the exact words I told Stacy but instead have backshifted the verbhave. The backshift is generally optional. The backshift also occurs where a clause is embedded in another, such as Stacy didn’t know that Kim had blue eyes.

The most basic use of the present tense is to indicate present time. But the time of utterance is very short. So naturally there are severe restrictions on the use of the present tense in clauses with perfective interpretations.

The present tense is also used in cases where we have some knowledge of the future, such as the sun rises tomorrow at 6.10. This construction is called the futurate.

The present tense is used with future time reference, without the above restrictions, in certain types of subordinate clause, eg Please bring the washing in if it rains.

Finally, in certain types of narrative the present tense is used instead of the preterite.

6 The Perfect

The perfect is a past tense makred by means of an auxiliary verb rather than by inflection. The auxiliary is have which is followed by a past participle (eg, She has been ill). Perfect constructions have a present perfect (has), a preterite perfect (had) and a plain form (have).

The present perfect differs from the preterite in that it combines past and present tense. Compare ‘She has read your letter’ with ‘She read your letter’. For this reason the present perfect allows time adjuncts that refer to the present ‘We have by now finished most of it’. In addition the present perfect bestows a sense of current relevance; compare ‘She has met the President’ with ‘She met the President’.

The preterite perfect also combines two tenses, but generally two past tenses, such as ‘She had alreday gone to bed when we arrived’. Also note its use in the backshift ‘You said she had gone to bed’ and modal remoteness ‘It would have been better if she had gone to bed’.

The perfect can also appear in cases where there is no primary (inflectional) tense: ‘We believe her to have been in Bonn at the time. Note that it is generally more common to use the preterite in these cases: ‘We believe that she was in Bonn at the time’.

Finally, one difference between the perfect and the preterite is that we can use the perfect to indicate that the situation lasted over a period starting before a certain time and continued up to that time (the continuative use of the perfect). Compare ‘She has already gone to bed’ with ‘She has been in bed for two hours’.

7 Progressive Aspect

The progressive is formed by means of the auxiliary be followed by a gerund-participle. Compare ‘She was writing a novel’ (progressive) with ‘She wrote a novel’. In the latter the event is considered in its totality and is complete, whereas the progressive aspect is presented as being in progress at a certain time. As a result, the progressive asepect generally contains some form of imperfectivity.

However, there are certain cases where clauses with progressive form do not have the usual “in progress” meaning. For example, the futurate construction (‘I’m seeing my broker today”).

8 Mood

Mood is a grammatical category associated with the semantic dimensions of modality. Modality deals with two related contrasts: factual vs non-factual (She saw him vs She must have seen him) and asserted vs non-asserted (She saw him vs She may have seen him).

Modality can be expressed by a great variety of formal means, for example adverb (Perhaps she saw him), adjective (It is possible she saw him) or noun (There’s a possibility that she saw him).

There are three main meanings that modal auxiliaries express:

  • epistemic expresses meaning relating to what we know or believe (He must have overslept)
  • deontic expresses meaning relating to what’s required or permitted (He must apologise)
  • dynamic expresses properties or dispositions of other entities (She can speak five languages)

These attributes are not in general associated with different expressions, some can relate to the same expression.

  • You must be very tactful [epistemic or deonitc]
  • She can drive [deontic or dynamic]

Some people insist that can should not be used in a deontic since — may should be used instead.

Another modal auxiliary ‘will’, specifies time as well as mood. There is an intrinsic connection between future time and modality: we don’t have the same kind of knowledge about the future as we do about the past and the present, so it isn’t possible to be fully factual about future events or situations (eg, She left Paris yesterday vs. She will have left Paris yesterday).

Note that the latter example is actually describing a sense in the past. Indeed, the version without the modal is more assured than the use of will. The meanings contributed by will belong in the epistemic family.

Four of the modal auxiliaries (can, may, will and shall) have preterite forms (could, might, would and should). Further, normal preterite can be used in a modal sense at times (If he loved her he’d change his job vs. If he loves her he’ll change her job).

This use can also occur with the verb to be. However, in this case we can also use the verb were in a singular form (If he were in love with her he’d go). This use is known as the irrealis were as it conveys verying degrees of remoteness from factuality.

The use of were is highly exceptional: there is no other verb in the language where the modal remoteness meaning is expressed by a different inflection.

Written by drpage

March 7, 2009 at 1:29 am

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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