Balogné Bérces Katalin Az angol nyelv szerkezete (The

Balogné Bérces Katalin Az angol nyelv szerkezete (The
Bölcsészet- és Társadalomtudományi Kar
Bölcsészet- és Társadalomtudományi Kar
Balogné Bérces Katalin
Az angol nyelv
Bölcsészet- és
Társadalomtudományi Kar
(The Structure
of English)
egyetemi jegyzet
ISBN 978-963-308-269-0
Budapest, 2016.
Balogné Bérces Katalin: Az angol nyelv szerkezete
(The Structure of English)
Egyetemi jegyzet
Készült a PPKE BTK jegyzetíró pályázatának keretében
Lektorálta: Szécsényi Krisztina
To my father
About the book ........................................................................................................................................ 6
1.1 The basics of word structure. Inflection and word-formation processes ........................................... 8
1.2 Further reading ............................................................................................................................ 12
1.3 Practice exercises ........................................................................................................................ 12
1.4 Extension: An outline of Hungarian vs. English morphosyntax ................................................. 13
1.5 Practice exercises ........................................................................................................................ 16
2.1 The basics of sentence structure. Category vs. function.................................................................. 19
2.2 Further reading ............................................................................................................................ 24
2.3 Practice exercises ........................................................................................................................ 25
2.4 Extension: More on grammar and grammatical functions .......................................................... 26
2.5 Practice exercises ........................................................................................................................ 30
3.1 Word-level categories and their subcategories ................................................................................ 32
3.2 Further reading ............................................................................................................................ 40
3.3 Practice exercises ........................................................................................................................ 40
3.4 Extension: Complementisers ....................................................................................................... 42
3.5 Practice exercises ........................................................................................................................ 43
4.1 The structure of the Verb Phrase and the complementation of verbs .............................................. 45
4.2 Further reading ............................................................................................................................ 52
4.3 Practice exercises ........................................................................................................................ 52
4.4 Extension: Two highlights: “phrasal verbs” and the “subjunctive” ............................................ 54
4.5 Practice exercises ........................................................................................................................ 56
5.1 Nouns and Noun Phrases ................................................................................................................. 58
5.2 Further reading ............................................................................................................................ 62
5.3 Practice exercises ........................................................................................................................ 62
5.4 Extension: Determiners in complex NPs..................................................................................... 63
5.5 Practice exercises ........................................................................................................................ 66
6.1 Other phrases ................................................................................................................................... 68
6.2 Further reading ............................................................................................................................ 72
6.3 Practice exercises ........................................................................................................................ 72
6.4 Extension: The Inflectional Phrase.............................................................................................. 73
6.5 Practice exercises ........................................................................................................................ 77
7.1 The simple sentence. Sentence types............................................................................................... 79
7.2 Further reading ............................................................................................................................ 83
7.3 Practice exercises ........................................................................................................................ 83
7.4 Extension: Canonical and non-canonical clauses ........................................................................ 84
7.5 Practice exercises ........................................................................................................................ 88
8.1 The complex sentence. Formal and functional divisions of subclauses .......................................... 90
8.2 Further reading ............................................................................................................................ 95
8.3 Practice exercises ........................................................................................................................ 96
8.4 Extension: More on non-finite clauses in English and Hungarian .............................................. 97
8.5 Practice exercises ...................................................................................................................... 100
9.1 Information gap in wh-questions and relative clauses ................................................................... 102
9.2 Further reading .......................................................................................................................... 107
9.3 Practice exercises ...................................................................................................................... 107
9.4 Extension: More on wh-fronting and relative clauses ............................................................... 108
9.5 Practice exercises ...................................................................................................................... 111
10.1 Information packaging ................................................................................................................ 113
10.2 Further reading ........................................................................................................................ 118
10.3 Practice exercises .................................................................................................................... 118
10.4 Extension: Raising and the causative ...................................................................................... 120
10.5 Practice exercises .................................................................................................................... 122
11.1 Word order and types of inversion .............................................................................................. 124
11.2 Further reading ........................................................................................................................ 129
11.3 Practice exercises .................................................................................................................... 129
11.4 Extension: Two highlights: Subject-Verb Inversion and the Principle of End Weight ........... 131
11.5 Practice exercises .................................................................................................................... 133
12.1 Pro-forms and ellipsis.................................................................................................................. 135
12.2 Further reading ........................................................................................................................ 141
12.3 Practice exercises .................................................................................................................... 141
13. Bibliography .................................................................................................................................. 143
About the book
“Never make fun of someone who speaks broken English. It means they know another language.”
H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
This book gives an overview of the morphological and syntactic structure of English. Its intended
audience is the students of PPCU at the English Studies BA programme on the one hand, and at the
MA programme in TEFL on the other, both full-time and part-time. The two courses involved are
called English Grammar (for BA students and 5-year MAs) and English Syntax for Teachers (for both
2-year and 5-year MAs).
English Grammar introduces the basics of English phrase and sentence structure, and
compares the major structural properties of Hungarian and English, thus improving students’ active
grammatical knowledge and conscious language use. It surveys the terminology necessary for English
sentence analysis, and looks into the structure of the fundamental elements of the sentence, the main
sentence types, as well as some of the more complex grammatical constructions.
English Syntax for Teachers aims to revise and systematise students’ previous knowledge of
English grammar; provide deeper insight into English morphology and syntax, occasionally
contrasting them with Hungarian; thereby raise students’ grammar-consciousness, and develop their
ability to recognise and explain morphological and syntactic phenomena both in English and
Hungarian, with the needs of the EFL teacher in mind.
The book is structured in such a way that the first 11 topics (Chapters 1-11) it discusses are
divided into two parts: in each case, the first part (the x.1 chapter) is meant for English Grammar,
while the second part (the x.4 chapter entitled Extension) is primarily for English Syntax for Teachers.
Of course, the first part can also serve as revision material for students aiming at the Extension, which
is in turn also available to interested English Grammar students. The first two topics (Chapters 1-2)
are suitable for Introduction to English Linguistics courses, too (and in fact, Chapter 1.1 is so basic
that it may be skipped altogether in English Grammar if the schedule is tight). The final chapter
(Chapter 12) does not contain an Extension section for two reasons. First, its topic does not lend itself
to a logical upgrade the way the rest of the topics do. Second, this is how the book is able to offer a
“comfortable” set of 11 topics to cover in a single semester in each course: Chapters 2.1-12.1 in
English Grammar, and Chapters 1.4-11.4 in English Syntax for Teachers.
Both parts in each chapter of the book are followed by the list of recommended Further
reading (also fulfilling the function of (selected) references) and a set of Practice exercises. Later, a
separate document will supplement the book with the key to the exercises, primarily in order to meet
the needs of part-time, correspondence students. At the end, Chapter 13 (Bibliography) provides the
data of the literature referred to in the text, including the abbreviations used for the sources.
The discussions in the chapters are, for the most part, based on “classical” descriptive
grammars, SGE in particular, but also on others like CGEL and T&M; besides, the careful reader will
notice traces of syntactic theory (namely, Government and Binding Theory) “looming” in the
background. I felt it important to build some of the elements of teaching grammars, especially ALP,
into the first parts, too, as our linguistics courses in the BA programme run parallel to language
courses preparing students for their basic language exam at the end of the first year. Nevertheless, the
book is in no way a self-contained, exhaustive pedagogical grammar: the courses it backs up are not
language classes primarily but linguistics courses aiming to introduce terminology and pave the way
for more advanced studies in linguistics. Neither are the Practice exercises exhaustive with respect to
the topics in the text, therefore in class or for further practice they need to be amended from
collections like Sylvia Chalker’s A Student’s English Grammar Workbook (Longman, 1992) or R.A.
Close’s A University Grammar of English: Workbook (Longman, 1989). In addition, it is advisable to
consider the exercises in other grammar books, e.g., ALP, and the suggested activities in Cowan
(2008) are particularly useful for teachers of English. All these provide ideal solutions to the exercises,
therefore they are suitable for home practice as well.
The book, then, presents no novel discoveries about the morphological and syntactic structure
of English. Rather, it embodies the synthesis of different ideas and viewpoints that I have forged and
shaped over the course of learning and teaching English. Besides the literature indicated in the
chapters and the Bibliography, I have benefited considerably throughout the years I have spent
teaching English grammar and syntax from handouts and other materials produced by, and discussions
had with, Zsuzsanna Baky, Tekla Mecsnóber, and Ildikó Tóth. I am grateful to my colleagues also
teaching English Grammar, too, for their insights and advice, and to all my students, whose number I
do not even dare to guess during my more than 20 years spent in teaching, for giving me the
inspiration and urge to think over and try to fully understand. Special thanks to Ágnes Piukovics for
her never faltering enthusiasm and devotion while she spent her summer holiday in 2015 carefully
reading and mercilessly criticising draught versions (and weeding out the two or three typos she
managed to find :-P); and to my reviewer Krisztina Szécsényi for sparing no effort and time to
thoroughly scrutinise the manuscript, give valuable and detailed feedback, have follow-up discussions
and patiently clarify my misconceptions (and locate two further typos ). Of course, all the remaining
errors are mine.
Finally, referring to the motto at the start of this preface: being non-native speakers of English,
we need to accept the fact that we remain its humble learners for a lifetime. That is why we do not
make fun of people speaking broken English, since our own English, too, however advanced or refined
or eloquent it may be, will necessarily stay “broken” to some extent. Nevertheless, keep in mind we
know another language in return – Hungarian, indeed an intriguing basis for contrastive linguistic
studies. And of course, our aim at university is to improve our English into one that is as little broken
as possible. I hope this book will be of some help to that end.1
Budapest/Piliscsaba, 20th February 2016
All the illustrations in the book are either my own copyright or material which is offered by the author free of
charge fully or for educational use.
1.1 The basics of word structure. Inflection
and word-formation processes
“A writer is someone who writes, and a stinger is something that stings.
But fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce, hammers don’t ham, humdingers don’t humding, ushers
don’t ush, and haberdashers do not haberdash.”
(Richard Lederer)
Native speakers as well as proficient learners of English know how words are composed of smaller,
recurrent, usually meaningful units. That is, they know that writer can be analysed into write, which
recurs elsewhere as a verb, and -er, which forms a whole lot of nouns from verbs and assigns them the
constant meaning of ‘something or someone that performs the action denoted by the verb’.1 They also
know that finger and some others, although superficially resembling writer, cannot be so analysed.
That is:
This kind of (knowledge about the) analysis of the structure of words is also called morphology, and
the units of meaning words are composed of are called morphemes. As we have seen, writer is made
up of two morphemes while finger is a monomorphemic word. Consider now a slightly more
complex example, the word unbelievable, which can be divided into three morphemes: un-, believe,
and -able.2
This example shows how the centre of a word (called the root or stem3), believe in this example (and
write above), can be preceded and/or followed by non-central elements called affixes (un-, -able, -er,
etc.). Affixes are morphemes which – as their name suggests – attach to other morphemes: those that
attach to the left are called prefixes (e.g., un-), whereas those that attach to the right are called suffixes
(e.g., -able, -er).4 Since affixes are smaller than words, they cannot be used as words in isolation, and
they are always bound to a base. That is, all affixes are bound morphemes, while words are free
However, it is not only affixes that are bound. Consider now the word incredible, meaning
basically the same as unbelievable. In fact, its component morphemes correspond to those of
unbelievable in the following way:
‘think that sg is true’
‘can be believed’
A major difference between the two words in their structure is whether the centre, the root, is a word
or not: believe can be used freely, even without any affixes, and it is consistently used as a verb; but
Note that henceforth italics (that is, characters like these) highlight example words or sentences, while inverted
commas (‘…’) enclose the meaning or paraphrase of an example.
Please ignore the tiny “tricks” of English spelling: as the letter e at the end of both write and believe is not itself
pronounced, it is not “needed” in writer or believable, but it is still part of the verb when written separately. At
the same time, pronunciation remains the same in all these examples, which indicates that the forms essentially
remain the same.
In fact, the root and the stem are not exactly the same, but we will not need to make the distinction here.
In languages other than English or Hungarian, there are further affix types called infixes and circumfixes.
cred cannot be clearly identified as a verb, or as any word class for that matter, as it is never used in
isolation or in any cases other than a few words (of Latin origin, of course): it has no past tense or -ing
form, etc., as verbs do, it has no plural as nouns do, no comparative form as adjectives do, etc. In sum,
cred is a bound morpheme, and as such, it is a bound root.
A few words of warning are in order here. First, please note that un-believ-able contains a free
root although the way it is spelt suggests an incomplete form of the root. This, however, only affects
spelling but not pronunciation; it is simply a spelling convention in English not to repeat silent letters
(e.g., the final e in believe) in derivatives where that letter is “unnecessary” (cf. the footnote above).
As opposed to this, cred is a non-word in both spelling and pronunciation.
Second, be careful not to equate the suffix -able with the adjective able (as in I am able to…):
they are only spelt identically but are pronounced differently (similarly to, e.g., the -ed in played vs.
the name Ed) and have different grammatical properties. In fact, upon closer inspection, we notice that
-able and -ible are now pronounced the same by most speakers of English, so they may be simply
taken to be spelling variants only (similarly to, e.g., realise and realize – some English (typically,
British) speakers spell it with an s, others with a z).
In sum, the morphemes composing unbelievable are the following:
free or bound?
root or affix?
In comparison, the root in incredible is bound:
free or bound?
root or affix?
What is common to these two words is the types of affixes they contain: a prefix and a suffix in both.
In addition, all these suffixes have the same function: when they are attached to a base, the result is a
whole new word. Such affixes are called derivational affixes, and the formation of new words with
affixes is called derivation(al morphology). Derivational affixes are of two types: they are either
class-changing, i.e., they change the word class of the base (e.g., -er, which makes the verb into a
noun, or -able, which makes it into an adjective), or class-maintaining, i.e., they produce a new word
which has the same word class as the base (e.g., un-, which simply forms a new adjective meaning the
opposite of the base adjective).
Derivation is not the only form of word-formation. New words can also be produced by
methods not involving affixes, the most important of which is compounding, the combination of two
or more roots (rather than a root plus an affix/affixes). The most frequent compounds are compound
nouns where both terms are nouns (N+N), e.g., doghouse, laptop or Facebook, but there are A+N
(e.g., sick bag), V+N (e.g., pickpocket), A+A (e.g., bittersweet), Preposition+V (e.g., download),
N+Preposition (e.g., make-up) and other compounds as well.5 Sometimes bound roots are involved in
compounding: words like lukewarm (where the first term obviously has nothing to do with the name
Luke), or the names of some of the berries like raspberry or cranberry are “famous” such words. The
“berries” are particularly interesting examples since in one of their possible pronunciations, when the
second term is pronounced the same as the noun berry separately, only the first term is bound (rasp-,
pronounced /rɑːz/, and cran-, respectively). However, in the other pronunciation alternative the e in
the berry part is very weak or may even be absent (/bri/), in which case that second term is bound – in
fact, it is so short and weak it is more like a suffix.
Note that English has no strict spelling rules for most types of compounds: the terms may be written as separate
words, they may be hyphenated, or the compound may be spelt as a single word.
Besides the two major word-formation methods, derivation and compounding, there are a
handful of minor processes people use to create new words. These are summarised below, together
with a couple of examples:
Name of process:
Name of coinage:6 Explanation:
random parts of two words
combined: e.g., smog from the
underlined parts of smoke and fog
derivation or compounding applied
“backwards”: strings resembling
roots or affixes removed: e.g., edit
from editor (as if -or was a suffix)7
a random part of a word removed to
make the word shorter: e.g., pram
from perambulator
the initials of words in a long
expression combined: e.g., scuba
from self-contained underwater
breathing appliance
a word belonging to a certain class
used as belonging to a different class
without adding a derivational affix8:
e.g., the noun text (‘a text message’)
used as a verb (‘to send a text
using the name of a person/place or
a brandname (a proper noun) as a
common noun (a subtype of
conversion): e.g., sandwich referring
to the (4th) Earl of Sandwich
Other examples:
motel, brunch,
chunnel, cremains,
modem, outro...
peddle, swindle,
televise, (mono)kini,
burger, baby-sit...
coke, prof, lab, doc,
vet, ad, advert, phone,
gym, bus...
URL, led, laser,
RSVP, a.m., p.m.…
(to) email, (the) green,
(to) co-author, (a) like
(on Facebook)…
bobby, jumbo, denim,
cardigan, hertz, biro,
There are two interesting aspects of word-formation to mention.
One is called productivity: this is the ability of a word-formation
process to produce new words. In general, derivation is highly
productive and creative, and affixes can be used to even invent
words that have not existed before (and may not stay), such as
jargonify or vocabulous. Obviously, the minor processes in the
chart above are much less productive, that is, much less frequently
applied by speakers to create a word (and as a result, may even be
used deliberately to produce a special effect, e.g., in branding or
advertising). Also, certain affixes are more productive than others,
e.g., both -ness and -ity form abstract nouns from adjectives but ness is far more frequent. The other property of word-formation is
transparency or compositionality, which is about whether the
In most cases, the name of the coinage is the same as the name of the process. This column gives the name of
the coinage only if a different or separate word exists to denote it.
The difference between derivation/compounding and back-formation is in the etymology, i.e., the history of the
words: the two are impossible to differentiate unless we are familiar with which words were used earlier and
which words were created later. That is, we know that edit is an instance of back-formation only because we
know that the word editor existed before edit appeared. Similarly, we know that analysing hamburger as a
compound (ham+burger), using burger as a separate word or as a root in new compounds like cheeseburger, is
back-formation because we know that originally hamburger was a derivative (Hamburg (the German city) + er).
That is why conversion is also called zero derivation.
meaning of the new word is clearly seen, easily
calculable, on the basis of the individual meanings
of the component morphemes. E.g., the word
personalness is rather transparent as it means ‘the
quality of being personal’; uneatable simply
means ‘cannot be eaten (e.g., because of the bad
taste it has)’; doghouse means ‘a house for dogs’.
In contrast, personality does not simply mean ‘the
quality of being personal’; if something is inedible
you can eat it, and people often do eat it, but it is
poisonous; a superfood is not simply a food that is
very good, or an earworm is not a worm in your
ear: such examples are not (fully) transparent, they
are non-compositional or idiomatic.
As we have seen, morphology or the morphological knowledge of speakers is responsible for
coining new words as well as for analysing (transparent) structures in processing what they hear.
Besides derivation, the other function of morphology is to produce the various forms of the same
word, e.g., the past tense of verbs (e.g., played), the plural of nouns (e.g., dogs), or the comparative
form of adjectives (e.g., shorter). This type of morphology is called inflection, and the affixes it uses
are inflectional affixes, or inflections for short. The inflectional morphemes of English are as follows:
third person singular present
past tense9
past participle
plural possessive
As you can see, inflectional morphology uses affixes, similarly to derivation. Therefore, affixes may
not only be classified according to position (prefixes vs. suffixes) but also according to function
(derivational vs. inflectional). In the languages of the world these types can combine freely with each
other, but in English there is one restriction: all inflections are suffixes, that is, there are no
inflectional prefixes, all prefixes are derivational. The full classification of the major types of
morphemes is the following:
AFFIXES (all bound)
acc. to position:
acc. to function:
The morphological operations that we have introduced and discussed are summarised below:
Later in this book, this form will be called preterite (see Ch. 4.1).
minor processes
1.2 Further reading10
On English morphology in general: Fromkin et al. 2011: 3; Varga 2010: 5; OEG 9  On wordformation: McCarthy & O’Dell 1994: 8–19  On compound nouns: AGU 54–55  On acronyms
and clipping: McCarthy & O’Dell 1994: 98.
1.3 Practice exercises
1. Indicate the morpheme boundaries in the following words, then fill the charts with examples. The
first one has been done for you.
boy|ish, disregarding, gradual, hardship, incredible, rainbows, shortest, submitted, systematicality
AFFIXES (all bound):
2. Identify the component morphemes in the following words, and classify them along the following
dimensions, wherever applicable: root/affix, free/bound, prefix/suffix, derivational/inflectional,
subconscious, responsibilities, holiday, anti-depressant, increasingly, uneatable, inedible,
Japanese, shamelessness
Throughout the book, the numbers in the Further reading lists refer to chapter/section/unit numbers (rather
than page numbers). For the abbreviations, see the Bibliography (Ch. 13).
3. Compare the morphological structures of the following words:
a. linger, singer, stronger
b. bedroom, mushroom
c. hardship, battleship
d. What are the two meanings of the word longer? What is the morphological difference between
the two? Do you know what the pronunciation difference is?
4. Complete each of the numbered blanks in the following passage by forming from the base words in
brackets ONE word that fits in the text. The first one has been done for you.
Besides its intricate pattern of (0)..…connections……. (CONNECT) to other languages and its
(1)………………..…… (DOMINATE) status on the (2)……..……………. (LANGUAGE)
map of the world, English is very special in at least one more respect. Due to a series of
(3)…………..………. (HISTORY) events, a (4)…..………………. (DISCUSS) of which is
beyond the present purposes, English has developed two standard (5)…………..……….
(VARY), that is, two forms, both of which are (6)…..………………. (EQUAL) accepted by the
societies of their (7)…………..………. (RESPECT) countries. One is Standard British English
in England, the other is Standard American English in the USA.
5. Identify the word-formation processes used to produce the following words. Sometimes multiple
processes are involved:
app, autocorrect, (to) e-mail, emoticon, (to) google, Instagram, internet, iPhone, microblogging,
motherboard, pdf, Pinterest, re-tweet, spam, unfriend, USB, winchester, yolo
1.4 Extension: An outline of Hungarian vs. English morphosyntax
Throughout this book we will constantly compare and contrast English and Hungarian, to be able to
understand, express, and resolve the problems and difficulties Hungarian learners of English might
experience. The two languages historically come from two unrelated language families (Hungarian
being a Finno-Ugric (Uralic) language, English being Germanic (Indo-European)), which partly
explains the amount of differences in form and structure – that is, the fact that in almost any of the
relevant aspects they belong to two different language types. When we compare and contrast
languages exclusively from the point of view of linguistic structure, and aim to categorise them
accordingly, we evaluate them with respect to what is called language typology.
In terms of morphology, the classical typological divisions are based on how morphemes are
concatenated to form words, namely, on which of three major types of operations is the most
characteristic of the language. These three, illustrated by possible combinations of two morphemes, are
the following:
more common
The two morphemes
denote ...
read + PROGR
man + PLU
They are ...
separate words
in a single word but easily
in a single word but
The names of the
agglutinating/agglutinative fusional
+ common
Isolating is sometimes also called analytic, while the others are collectively called synthetic. Fusional is also
referred to as inflectional.
The names of the types of morphological operations also serve as the names of the language types.
Most languages are, however, mixed types, as you can see in the chart: we can find examples of all
three in English (and the same is true for Hungarian, too). Therefore, what decides the type a given
language belongs to is which of the three dominates the morphological system. Since the vast majority
of present-day English morphology is isolating, it is usually classified as an isolating language,
whereas Hungarian is dominated by agglutinative morphology, and is thus called an agglutinative
language (cf. Hungarian be-kék-ít-ett-elek PERF-blue-MAKE-PAST-I+YOU12 vs. English I have made
you blue).13
This means that English uses much fewer affixes than Hungarian, especially in inflection: the
same word has much fewer different forms, at least in the case of nouns and verbs. To put it more
technically, lexical items (called lexemes) in Hungarian have much
more word forms (syntactic words different in form), which makes
the lists of word forms (called paradigms) longer. Hungarian
morphology is very rich: e.g., the system of nominal inflection (often
called declension) distinguishes as many as 18 forms (or cases), that
is, singular nouns have 18 forms in the paradigm. In contrast,
English singular nouns have two forms only: one for nominative (or
subjective) and accusative (or objective) case (e.g., dog, cf.
Hungarian kutya and kutyát)14, and one for genitive (or possessive)
(e.g., dog’s).
Hungarian verbal inflection (conjugation) diverges from English even more. Hungarian verbs
are inflected for three features: mood, tense and agreement. Mood refers to the distinction between
indicative (i.e., plain statements, e.g., látsz ‘you (can) see’), conditional (e.g., látnál ‘you would see’)
and imperative/subjunctive (e.g., láss ‘see!’, also cf. Fontos, hogy láss ‘It is important for you to
see/that you (should) see’ with the subjunctive). Tense means the distinction between present and past
(e.g., látsz ‘you see’ vs. láttál ‘you saw’ – cf. Ch. 4), while agreement refers to the phenomenon that
within the clause the verb agrees (i.e., “harmonises”) with the subject in person (first, second, third)
and number (singular, plural) (this is also called (subject-verb) concord). These distinctions produce
as many as four paradigms for verbs: present indicative (látok etc.), past indicative (láttam etc.),
present conditional (látnék etc.), and imperative/subjunctive (lássak etc.).15 In addition, each of these
paradigms has two versions: one for definite objects (e.g., látom ‘I (can) see it’), and one for
indefinite objects (e.g., látok ‘I (can) see (something)’)16, so altogether there are eight patterns.
Compare this to English, in which all the forms that regular verbs17 have are:
This is a rough analysis; a number of details are ignored. Also, note the fusional morphology present in the
final inflection.
Besides isolating, agglutinative and fusional morphology, a fourth type is also distinguished in traditional
typologies, and accordingly, there is a fourth type of language, which is predominantly characterised by that kind
of operation. This is when long strings of roots and affixes constitute words functioning as sentences; it is called
polysynthetic, and an example of a polysynthetic language is Inuktitut (one of the Eskimo languages of North
America). E.g., in Inuktitut, the long word Qasu-iir-sar-vig-ssar-si-ngit-luinar-nar-puq consists of the
morphemes tired-not-cause-place-suitable-find-not-completely-someone-3/sg and means ‘Someone did not find
a completely suitable resting place’, i.e., it corresponds to what is expressed in other types of languages by an
entire sentence.
For English, nominative and accusative are traditionally distinguished because, although the two are not
formally distinct in the case of nouns, they are relevant to certain pronouns like I vs. me or who vs. whom (see
Ch. 3.1).
Past conditional and future indicative are expressed periphrastically, i.e., in the form of phrases: cf. láttam
volna ‘I would have seen’ and látni fogok ‘I will see’, respectively.
To be precise, the definite conjugation is used in transitive sentences where the direct object is definite and 3rd
person (singular or plural), whereas the indefinite forms are for all other cases, i.e., intransitively, with indefinite
direct objects, and with 1st or 2nd person direct objects. In addition, there is a special form used when the subject
is 1st person singular and the object is 2nd person.
Irregular verbs are different: they typically have separate forms for the preterite (the “second form”) and the
past participle (the “third form”), e.g., write; or some of their forms may coincide, e.g., cut. The verb be has the
most, formally distinct word forms: be, am, is, are, was, were, been, being.
(i) an uninflected, plain form (e.g., play – for plain present and the base form),
(ii) present tense 3rd person singular (e.g., plays),
(iii) past tense (or more precisely, preterite form, see Ch. 4.1) and past participle (e.g., played),
(iv) an -ing form18 (e.g., playing – for present participle/gerund).
That is, they only have four physically different forms for altogether six functions. Traditional
grammar regards the two subtypes of the -ing form, the present participle (as in I am playing with my
cat) and the gerund (e.g., I like playing with my cat), as two separate functions, and indeed, their
syntactic properties are different. Here, however, we consider them as a single category as no English
verb differentiates them formally. In comparison, the base form and the plain present on the one hand,
and the preterite and the past participle on the other hand, fulfil separate functions and, at the same
time, certain irregular verbs do have differing forms for them (and their fundamental grammatical
properties differ, too, cf. finiteness in Ch. 4). E.g., be is a base form but am/are are (plain) present;
wrote is preterite but written is past participle.
Notice that some of the above forms are clearly marked for tense (the plain present, the -s
form, and the past tense form) and agreement (the -s form), and all of these are indicative; others (the
so-called infinitive, the past participle, and the -ing form) are not (and will therefore be later called
non-finite forms). As a result, the plain present and the infinitive, identical though they may seem,
follow two different grammatical patterns: since the former is marked for tense it will undergo
backshift (e.g., The mice play in the cupboard – Garfield knew that the mice played in the cupboard),
while the infinitive always remains unchanged (e.g., Garfield saw the mice play in the cupboard) (for
backshift, see Ch. 8.1).
The base form is not only used as the infinitive, but in as many as four constructions:
(i) bare infinitive constructions, e.g., Garfield saw the mice play in the cupboard
(ii) to-infinitive constructions, e.g., It was raining outside, so the kids decided to play computer
(iii) the imperative19, e.g., Play it again, Sam!
(iv) the subjunctive20, e.g., It is important that all participants play fair
The imperative and the subjunctive are curious structures because although the verb form used is not
visibly marked for tense and agreement, the entire construction itself expresses mood (see above) and
contains agreement features (the subjunctive has its own subject determining them, while the
imperative is normally second person). (That is, the base form in these two structures is finite – see the
discussion of finiteness in Ch. 4.1.)
Recall that we need to distinguish the past tense form from the past participle although for
regular verbs they are formally identical (“-ed form”). The past participle (or -en participle) has the
same form in all tenses21, and is used in two main constructions, the perfect (present or past – this
distinction is encoded by the form of the auxiliary have: He has played this tune several times vs. He
had played this tune several times) and the passive (e.g., The music usually played at military funerals
is called Taps or Butterfield’s Lullaby) (for the passive, see Ch. 10.1).
Some of these verbal forms correspond to Hungarian equivalents (e.g., the infinitive to -ni
forms like játszani ‘to play’), others, especially the gerund (e.g., Playing in the cupboard is their
favourite pastime activity), do not have a direct counterpart and their translations into Hungarian vary
with the context.
If we go on comparing morphological/morphosyntactic categories in English and Hungarian,
we notice further differences. For instance, inflectional suffixes in Hungarian are traditionally
subdivided into jel ‘sign’ and rag (a back-formation from ragaszt ‘stick on’), due to their different
Sometimes also called gerund-participle.
See Ch. 7.1.
See Ch. 4.4.
Therefore, the word past in its name is somewhat misleading.
grammatical properties. While the same word form can contain more than
one jel, it contains at most one rag; besides, the ordering restriction is that if
suffixes of both types are present, the jel is (or the jels are) closer to the root,
whereas the rag is the final morpheme of the string. For example, macská-im-mal ‘with my cats’ is composed of a root, two jels, and a rag at the end.
In addition, in Hungarian prefixes are much less common: although
one of them is inflectional, a morpheme class non-existent in English (the
adjectival superlative leg-), most of the others are loan prefixes, mainly of
Latin origin (e.g., ex-főnök ‘ex-boss’). A category rather unique to Hungarian
is that of the verbal prefix or preverb as in elmegy ‘go away’. Since all of
them are able to detach from the verb and they rather behave as separate words syntactically (cf. el
szeretnék menni ‘I would like to go away’ or nem/később megyek el ‘I won’t go away/I will go away
later’), nowadays they are usually regarded either as separate words or as first terms in compound
verbs, rather than as genuine prefixes.
A final major difference between English and Hungarian is the absence of prepositions in the
latter. The meanings and functions prepositions express in English are carried in Hungarian by the
many case forms on the one hand (18 altogether, see above), and the numerous postpositions, i.e.,
short grammar words following their nominal phrases (NPs) rather than preceding them: compare
under the bridge (Preposition + NP) with Hungarian a híd alatt (NP + Postposition).22
As we have seen, English and Hungarian do not only display differences in morphology or
morphosyntax due to the fundamental typological difference (isolating vs. agglutinating), but there are
also a few categories that are more common or only found in either one or the other.
Further reading
On Hungarian morphosyntax: Törkenczy–Siptár 2000: 1; É. Kiss 2002: 1  On lexemes, paradigms,
etc.: Varga 2010: 5  On English verbs, verb forms: CGEL 2.
1.5 Practice exercises
1. Any two languages can be related in three ways: (i) genetically (whether they have a common
ancestor somewhere in the family line); (ii) culturally (whether they have been in contact for
some time during their histories and borrowed language items or features from each other); and
(iii) typologically (whether they show any resemblances regardless of where they come from). For
example, English is related genetically to Dutch (West-Germanic) and Russian (Indo-European),
in the US culturally to North American Indian languages (place names and terms borrowed, e.g.,
Wisconsin, moose, squash, sequoia), and typologically to Chinese (isolating). Consider the
following languages and decide in which sense(s) Hungarian is related to them:
Cheremis (Mari), English, Estonian, Finnish, German, Japanese, Latin, Romani, Sami (Lappish),
Slavic languages (e.g., Slovak), Sumerian, Turkic languages (e.g., Turkish)
2. We know that languages are typically mixed morphological types. Prove this in the case of
Hungarian by analysing examples like házaiban ‘in his houses’, Szeretlek ‘I love you’, and A ház
felett három madár repül el ‘There are three birds flying over the house’.
In English, the only postposition is ago in time expressions like two days ago.
3. Fill in the crossword. What is the term in 9 down?
1. A word composed of more than one root.
2. Word-formation by affixation.
3. The central morpheme in the word, to which affixes are attached.
4. With respect to its morphology, Present-Day English belongs to this language type.
5. The type of morpheme that cannot stand on its own, in isolation.
6. An affix that is attached to the left of the base.
7. With respect to its morphology, Hungarian belongs to this language type.
8. The abstract word, the common underlier of word forms/syntactic words.
9. ??
4. Match the Hungarian derivational suffix types with the examples.
deverbal verb-forming
denominal verb-forming
deverbal noun-forming
deverbal adjective-forming
deverbal participle-forming
denominal noun-forming
denominal adjective-forming
deadjectival noun-forming
deadjectival verb-forming
5. What type of suffixes do the following English examples contain? Use the category labels in Ex. 4
spoonful, useful, Londoner, participant, sanity, monkeyish, manageable, personally, friendly, simplify
6. List all the word forms of the lexemes WRITE, WILL and MUST, and compare their paradigms.
What explains the differences?
7. Identify the word-formation process(es) involved in producing the following Hungarian words:
rovar ‘insect’ (from rovátkolt + barom), szakdolgoz(ik) ‘write a university thesis’ (from
szakdolgozat), madárijesztő ‘scarecrow’, tévéz(ik) ‘watch television’, garbó ‘poloneck’, sebváltó
‘gear lever’.
8. Identify the morphosyntactic change in each of the following examples of conversion, and decide
whether they exemplify full (category change) or partial (subcategory change) conversion. What
is the difference between (3) and (4)? (B = before conversion; A = after conversion)
B: Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?
A: He wolfed down his lunch.
B: Hamlet was written by William Shakespeare.
A: You are a new Shakespeare.
B: Jimmie, don’t even worry about that.
A: Don’t Jimmie me!
B: This photocopier was produced by Xerox.
A: He xeroxed 3 pages.
9. Produce all the forms of the Hungarian verbs vár ‘wait’, kér ‘ask’, tűr ‘tolerate’, and organise them
into the eight paradigms introduced above (present indicative, past indicative, present conditional,
imperative/subjunctive + definite/indefinite). Why do we need three example verbs like these to
illustrate verbal paradigms in Hungarian? Which aspect of the language is responsible for the
differences? Comment on the first person singular conditional forms, also considering differences
between standard and non-standard Hungarian.
10. Provide the English equivalents of the following phrases and sentences. In each case, there is some
form of agreement between grammatical elements, but in one of the languages only. Underline the
suffix indicating the agreement, then specify the elements agreeing and the feature in which they
agree. The first one has been done for you.
Elements in agreement
Agreement feature
I love you
verb + subject + object
person and number
Jon macskája
három kutya
látnod kell
Garfield szereti
2.1 The basics of sentence structure.
Category vs. function
“Marriage is not a word – it is a sentence – a life sentence.”
(Rewa Mirpuri: Book of Humour, Rotary Club of Singapore, 1992, p.6)
This chapter is about words and sentences, and the linguistic units between the two, called phrases.
Phrases come into being because words in languages are not simply put one after the other in a linear
string to form sentences to convey the communicative message. Rather, words cluster together in
groups organised into a strict hierarchy, following rules that cannot be broken, with one member
dominating and governing the dependent rest – very much like a street gang. In sentence structure, the
“gang leader” is called the head, while the “members” are called modifiers (see below for more
explanation). When such a “gang” (recall, it is called phrase in linguistics) is formed, it seeks an even
higher “gang leader” or “ruler”, acting like a voluntary dependent, to become member in an even
bigger “gang”. That is, phrases become members in larger phrases, and this goes on and on until the
sentence is formed. In fact, the sentence itself is nothing but the ultimate
“gang”, i.e., the largest phrase possible. The study of how this happens, as
well as native speakers’ subconscious knowledge of this enabling them to
produce and understand sentences, is called syntax.
A related notion is grammar, and actually, very often what people
mean by that word primarily covers syntax, plus some of what we discussed in
the previous chapter (morphology) (as well as issues in spelling). We can call
this the traditional, more narrow sense of the word grammar. Linguists, however, sometimes take
grammar to mean the linguistic knowledge of the native speaker – everything the native speaker
knows, which actually defines him/her as a native speaker. This is a wider sense, in which grammar
also includes sound structure (phonology) and meaning relations (semantics). Together with
morphology and syntax, these constitute the so-called rule components of grammar because these
four are made up of rules, i.e., regularities producing systematic patterns, thus guaranteeing the nonrandom, rule-governed nature of all human languages. Thanks to the knowledge of these regularities,
native speakers have intuitions about which forms/structures are acceptable (or well-formed, or
grammatical) in their language and which are unacceptable (ill-formed, ungrammatical) even if
they have not ever seen them – they may not be able to properly explain the reasons, but they are able
to make grammaticality judgements. That is, native speakers can tell you that a word like *ptitsa is
phonologically ill-formed (at least in English), a word like *beautifulity is morphologically
unacceptable, sentences like *Is nice weather the or *I put the book in a couple of minutes illustrate
ungrammatical syntactic structures, while others like My uncle is pregnant are, though acceptable in
all other respects, semantically ill-formed, due to their odd, anomalous meaning.1
In addition to the rule components, native speakers also “store” in their memory the building
blocks with which the rules in these components operate: the morphemes (cf. Ch. 1.1) and the words,
even certain phrases. This mental “storehouse” is called the vocabulary or the lexicon, and that leaves
us with five grammar components altogether: morphology, syntax, phonology, semantics, plus the
lexicon. The rest of this book is primarily concerned with aspects of the syntactic component of the
grammar of English.
As it was explained above, the units (called constituents) of sentence structure are organised
into a strict hierarchy: words combining into phrases, phrases combining into larger phrases, larger
phrases combining into even larger ones and so on, and the largest constituent exhibiting a phrase-like
head–modifier structure is the sentence. However, not all sentences are simple sentences like The
mice play in the cupboard – in fact, more often than not, speakers combine sentences to produce
As the usual convention in linguistics, the asterisk (or star) before a form indicates its unacceptability.
complex sentences like Garfield knows that the mice play in the cupboard or compound sentences
like Garfield knows this but does not really care
about it or compound-complex sentences like
Garfield knows that the mice play in the
cupboard but does not really care about it.
Therefore, it is common practice in grammar
descriptions to introduce the term clause for
simple, sentence-like constituents: then, the socalled simple sentence is one containing a single
clause, whereas the other types are composed of
several clauses (see Ch. 7.1 and 8.1 for sentence types). In sum, the hierarchy of syntactic constituents
is made up of words (at the bottom of the hierarchy), phrases, clauses, and the sentence (at the top);
but keep in mind that clauses and sentences have the same dependency structure of head plus
modifiers as phrases do, so the two basic constituent types are words and phrases.
There are two aspects of these constituents to study: one is the category of a constituent, the
other is its function. As we will see below, the category is an inherent, idiosyncratic property of
constituents: in the case of words, the word-level category (traditionally called word class or part of
speech, i.e., whether the word is a noun or verb, etc.) is unpredictable from other aspects of the word
itself, therefore linguists claim it has to be memorised by children learning a language for each single
item, that is, speakers store the information in the lexicon. (Hence the practice in lexicography to
include the word class in the entries of words in dictionaries.) In the case of phrases, the phrase-level
(or phrasal) category is determined by the head, of course: if the head is a noun, the phrase will be a
Noun Phrase (NP for short) no matter what the modifiers are; similarly, there are Verb Phrases,
Adjective Phrases, etc. (see below). In fact, whenever we mentioned words, phrases, clauses, and
sentences above, we used category labels to refer to these constituents.
The other aspect of syntactic constituents is their grammatical function, which, as its name
suggests, is relevant within a context only. A function is a role something plays in a given situation;
accordingly, the grammatical function is the role a constituent plays in a syntactic context.
Traditionally, these roles are called sentence elements, since the idea is that these notions are
irrelevant and uninterpretable outside of the context a sentence provides: the constituents acquire these
roles by becoming elements within sentences. For example, a phrase like the mice has no function in
itself; but the moment it is used in a sentence like The mice ignore the cat it becomes the subject of
the sentence; the moment it is used in The cat ignores the mice it becomes the object of the verb. Note
how the function changes with the change of the context!
Words alone, however, are unable to play such roles – in fact, most probably this is the
motivation for words to form phrases: that is the way for them to contract relations with other
constituents and thus get integrated into the hierarchy. Therefore, while the category is relevant to both
words and phrases (moreover, it originates in words, and phrases only “inherit” it from their heads),
the grammatical function is only relevant to phrases. Recall that words crucially need to form phrases:
so much so that some are able to do so even on their own, under certain circumstances – these are oneword phrases (e.g., mice in Mice are furry rodents with long tails); others typically always do so
(e.g., Garfield ignores the mice); but some need modifiers in all cases (e.g., mouse or ignore in The
mouse ignored Garfield, cf. *Mouse ignored Garfield or *The mouse ignored). (We will learn more
about these options in Ch. 3–6.)
In the rest of this chapter, we discuss categories and functions in a bit more detail. First, let us
summarise the most important word classes, that is, word-level categories:2
A detailed discussion of word-level categories and their subcategories follows in Ch. 3.1.
Major subcategories/Examples
proper noun
Jon, Budapest, Trafalgar Square, the
Alps, the Danube…
gradable adjective
happy, steady, large, beautiful…
common noun
room, answer, apple, equipment,
scissors, police…
non-gradable adjective
alive, main, certain, proper3…
steadily, completely, yesterday, there…
(main) verb
search, grow, play, ignore, contemplate, need, dare, have, do…
definite article
indefinite article
proximal demonstrative
this, these
distal demonstrative
that, those
cardinal numeral
two, eleven…
ordinal numeral
first, twentieth…
he, they, them, myself, anybody, one, mine, who, each other…
of, at, into, without, since, up…
auxiliary (verb)
modal auxiliary
can, must, might, need, dare…
non-modal auxiliary4
have, bePROGR, bePASS, do
coordinating conjunction
and, but, or…
subordinating conjunction
that, although, if, whether…
oh, ah, ugh, phew, wow…
The first four are the major categories called lexical content words (or open-class words), the others
are grammatical function words (or closed-class words) – the basis for the distinction will be
discussed in the next chapter (Ch. 3.1).
Recall that phrases receive their fundamental properties from their head words; to express this,
they are named after their heads. Accordingly, the phrase-level categories are the following: 5
Certain is only non-gradable in its use in examples like There’s certain things that I adore. Similarly, proper is
only non-gradable when it means ‘exactly’, as in the town proper, i.e., excluding the suburbs.
Auxiliaries have and be are sometimes also called aspectual auxiliaries. As you can see, auxiliary do is also
traditionally listed among the non-modals, however, it also shares many syntactic properties with modals.
Therefore it seems to be a special element in English grammar, and will be discussed in more detail later (Ch.
Detailed discussions of VPs, NPs, and other phrases follow in Ch. 4.1, 5.1, and 6.1, respectively.
Phrasal category
Noun Phrase (NP)
the answer, my book on grammar, mice, Garfield…
(main) verb
Verb Phrase (VP)
play in the cupboard, put the cat out, sleep…
Adjective Phrase (AP)
tired, more common, so angry with Odie…
Adverb Phrase (AdvP)
there, more slowly, quite independently of me…
Prepositional Phrase (PP) with Jon, from under the bed, right in front of you…
(Garfield knows) that the mice play in the cupboard
Recall that syntactic categories are inherent, idiosyncratic properties of words. How are they
identified, then? In addition, if phrases are determined by their heads, how do we identify their
category when we are uncertain about which element the head is? An easy answer to the first question
would be to follow the meaning of the words. After all, the name of a person, place or thing will be a
noun, while a word denoting action will be a verb. Notice, however, that there is a catch here. If a
word that denotes action is a verb, then how about the word action itself? Clearly, it is a noun. So
relying solely on the meaning of words may be misleading. Moreover, meaning is not even necessary
for the identification of word class. Consider the first two lines of a so-called nonsense poem:
’Twas brillig and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.
(Lewis Carroll, Jabberwocky in Through the Looking-Glass)
Nonsense texts are special because some of the words in them are not existing words of the language
but have been invented by the author in such a way that they are phonologically well-formed – that is,
they look/sound like English words and are therefore judged as acceptable, potential words (called
accidental gaps). However, not all the words are nonsense: a careful look at the poem above reveals
that quite a few words are existing English words: pronouns (it), auxiliaries (was, did), conjunctions
(and), articles (the), prepositions (in) and the like typically appear in nonsense texts in their “original”
form. Notice that these are the categories given in the above chart below the line separating the major
categories from the so-called grammatical function words: these are the words which are classified as
“function words” because they have a function – they provide context for the other words. Try to
identify the category of the nonsense words, and surprisingly, even having no clue as to their meaning,
you will be able to do so, relying solely on the context. Most probably, toves and wabe are nouns,
brillig and slithy are adjectives, while gyre and gimble are verbs – since they appear in positions where
nouns, adjectives, and verbs typically appear, respectively. For example:
the slithy
The toves are slithy
The nonsense phrases exhibit structural parallelism with phrases composed of existing English words:
as long as the nonsense words appear in phrases and sentences, i.e., within a context, the category is
identifiable. That is, slithy, for example, is an adjective because it is found in the same
contexts/positions (it has the same distribution, to put it more technically) as, and therefore it is
replaceable by, other adjectives like small and white. This means that replacement is a very important
test: if a constituent, such as a word or phrase, can substitute for another, then the two are (most
probably) of the same category. Let us see how this test works for phrases. A fragment of the nonsense
poem is given below, together with parallel structures with existing English words. Since these can
replace each other, they are of the same category:
The slithy toves
The small dogs
Noun Phrases
in the wabe6
in the garden
in the dark
after a cat and a dog
at the age of three
Verb Phrases
The first column shows that we know that the slithy toves is an NP because the small dogs is also an
NP; and we know that the small dogs is an NP because the nominal element (a noun or a pronoun) is
the only obligatory element in that slot. If the noun is the central, dominant constituent, then it is the
head, and then its phrase is called an NP. This also proves the claim we made above, viz. that there are
one-word phrases: if the slithy toves and cats or Jon have the same distribution, then all of them are
NPs.8 Moreover, pronouns (at least the subtype called personal pronouns – see Ch. 3.1) seem really
odd as they, too, appear to produce NPs.9
A look at the internal structure of NPs leads to another surprising discovery: articles,
demonstratives, numerals, possessive adjectives, and perhaps a few more categories, occupy the same
slot, i.e., they have the same distribution:
very small
surprisingly young
Adjective Phrases
This observation has become the basis in syntax for grouping these short function words that appear at
the left edge of NPs into a “supercategory” called determiners (see more in Ch. 3.1).
As we have seen, the identification of the category of a word-level constituent may be based
on distribution, i.e., syntactic arguments, but of course there are other clues, too. The meaning of the
words may give us a hint but recall that is much less reliable; instead, their morphological properties
(cf. the previous chapter) are to be taken into account. E.g., certain affixes can only be attached to
certain classes (e.g., a word that has a past tense form is a verb – that is how we know action is not a
verb despite its meaning; a word that has a comparative form is an adjective, etc.). Consequently,
syntax and morphology are the proper indicators, and meaning is secondary: a word-level category is a
set of words which share a common set of linguistic (esp. morphological and syntactic) properties.
Note that this is a special, poetic/emphatic use of do/did – see the functions of the operator in Ch. 4.1.
This position is in fact not simply for any auxiliary but the element we will later call the operator (Ch. 4.1).
The same argument goes for the VPs, including the one-word VP survive, in the last column.
Consequently, pronouns are not what their name means: they do not stand for nouns but for NPs; they are “proNPs”.
Besides their category, the other aspect of constituents is their function. Recall that it is a
phrasal property, so the following discussion focusses on the structure and behaviour of phrases. The
first point to note is that the name sentence elements, traditionally used for grammatical functions,
may be rather misleading as phrases do not only gain functions within (clauses or) sentences, but
larger phrases embedding them are sufficient. E.g., a VP like found the cat in Jon found the cat,
containing a V and a NP, already involves the relationship between the head V and its object NP. That
is, functions are for phrases, and phrases obtain their functions as soon as they become modifiers in
larger phrases (including clauses and sentences).
In addition, the functions are assigned to the modifiers by the head. Accordingly, the cat can
become an object when combined with find because find is able to assign that function to it (or: find
licenses an object), whereas a verb like sleep cannot do so, cf. *sleep the cat. The head also
determines whether the modifier licensed is a premodifier (e.g., a syntax student) or a postmodifier
(e.g., a student of syntax; cf. *a student syntax); notice that the object of the verb in English is always
a postmodifier. However, not all modifiers are licensed by the head; certain types of modifier
optionally and loosely connect to heads irrespective of what licensing capacities those heads have.
Modifiers expressing time and place are, for example, typically like that: they receive their function
(traditionally called adverbial) from the verb no matter if it is find (cf. Jon found the cat in the kitchen
yesterday) or sleep (cf. The cat slept in the kitchen yesterday). Modifiers which need licensing are
called complements or arguments, while modifiers which do not are called adjuncts.10 Objects are
typical examples of complements; adverbials, especially time adverbials, are typical adjuncts. The
licensing condition on complements as well as the complement/adjunct distinction is perhaps most
clearly seen with PPs: in the case of complement PPs, the P is licensed by the head, and thus different
prepositions may be selected by different heads, e.g., by head adjectives. Compare Garfield is fond of
pizza and Garfield is keen on pizza: the meanings are nearly identical, yet, the prepositions chosen by
the adjectives fond and keen are different (another idiosyncratic,
lexical property of the words).
In sum:
Each phrase must have one (and only one) head.
Modifiers are phrases and receive their functions like object
or adverbial from the head.
Modifiers are either premodifiers or postmodifiers.
Modifiers are either complements or adjuncts.
Only one head.
Later, in Ch. 4.1 and 7.1, we will introduce the elements of the
simple sentence in more detail, so a full list and discussion of the “sentence elements” will be given.
The major argument of this chapter was that the category and the function of syntactic constituents are
two independent properties, and combine rather freely. The same NP, e.g., the cat, may function in
two different ways in two different contexts (e.g., Jon found the cat – object vs. The cat found Jon –
subject), and the same function, e.g., time adverbial, may be fulfilled by different categories (e.g., Jon
found the cat today – AdvP vs. Jon found the cat last week – NP). We also saw that the category of the
constituents is more closely related to their syntactic and morphological properties (primarily, their
distribution) than their meaning.
2.2 Further reading
On grammar in general: OEG 2  On grammar, syntax, and constituents: Fromkin et al. 2011: 4;
Varga 2010: 6  On constituents: OEG 3; Wekker & Haegeman 1985: 2  On word classes: OEG
4; BESE 1.2–3  On the elements of a simple sentence: SGE 2.2–2.3; OEG 3; BESE 2.2; Wekker &
Haegeman 1985: 3  On the distinction between function and form: SGE 2.4  On complements,
In syntactic discourse, the term modifier is sometimes used in a more restrictive sense, referring to adjuncts
only, while in this coursebook it denotes all non-head constituents within a phrase.
adjuncts, and licensing: CGEL 2  On the syntactic analysis of modifiers, complements vs. adjuncts:
BESE 3.1; Wekker & Haegeman 1985: 3  On prepositions licensed by verbs and other heads: ALP
2.3 Practice exercises
1. Consider the categorial status of the italicised nonsense words in the following sentences.
1. I used to shloock a lot when I was a child.
2. Come on, don’t be that purphy!
3. There are two brungies in the whirg.
4. Tegnap elmentem a bröttybe, és láttam ott egy klunkot.
5. Ez volt életem legflenyább kalandja!
2. Consider the following sentences. How many meanings do they have?
She can’t bear children
He waited by the bank
He watched the man with a telescope
Is he really that kind?
He is an American history teacher
Flying planes can be dangerous
The parents of the bride and the groom were waiting
Why are these sentences ambiguous? Is the ambiguity caused by a single word in the sentence
having several meanings (lexical ambiguity), or by the words forming phrases in different ways
(structural ambiguity)? Or is it a combination of the two?
3. The following sentences are structurally ambiguous. Explain the ambiguity with reference to the
complement/adjunct distinction.
1. They decided on the boat
2. Mary laughed at the ball
3. Mary seems very keen on the boat
4. They may meet with scepticism
4. Compare She laughed at the clown and She laughed at 10 o’clock. How is the status of the
underlined PP different in the two cases?
5. Identify the category and the function of the underlined constituents in the following sentences.
(Hint: all of these are phrase-level constituents.)
1. I want to ride my bicycle
2. I want to ride my bicycle
3. I want to ride my bicycle
4. We found love in a hopeless place
5. We found love in a hopeless place
6. Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away ………………..
7. Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away ………………..
8. I can see clearly now the rain is gone
9. I can see clearly now the rain is gone
10. I can see clearly now the rain is gone
2.4 Extension: More on grammar and grammatical functions
When teaching grammar, language teachers are expected to explain to their students what is and what
is not correct in the target language. That may sound trivial and evident, but it has at least two
important and complex aspects. One is what we mean by explain, and the other is what we mean by
It is beyond the scope of this book to discuss methodological issues concerning how we teach
grammar in the EFL classroom: explaining does not necessarily mean giving formal and frontal
explanations in the literal sense of the word, using all the morphological and syntactic terminology
introduced here. However, whatever the methods chosen are, to be able to act as a reliable, authentic,
and self-confident model for the students, the teacher of English needs a kind of conscious knowledge
of English grammar, i.e., of the way native speakers use English in both speaking and writing. In this
respect, the teacher is more than the native speaker: native speakers unqualified in teaching have
subconscious, tacit knowledge only, which is not sufficient for them to be able to teach their mother
tongue. Just try to present something in Hungarian grammar to a foreigner, and you will see! Also, as
is the usual case with teachers in general, teachers of English should know more about the language
than what they actually need to explicitly display in the classroom: the hidden, implicit knowledge
endows them with the attitude of an authority on the one hand, and the ability to react to unexpected
challenges on the other. Therefore, questions like “Why do I need to have advanced proficiency in
English if I only teach in a kindergarten?” or “Why do I need to know what the properties of the nonovert subject of non-finite complement clauses are in English?” (just to give you an example which
will make your hair stand on end) are all out of place in our context. At any moment of the time spent
in the EFL classroom, teachers should be able to explain, for example by giving examples and
counterexamples, with the help of the deep insight they have into their subject, relying on the hidden
patterns stored in their minds, which also help them make decisions like where to simplify or which
cases to leave out of the explanation in a specific situation.
Of course, no matter how firm the conscious knowledge of non-native language teachers is, in
another respect they will always be less than the native speaker: their intuitions will remain limited
and their grammaticality judgements very often unreliable, which may even fail them when an
unknown structure or example is encountered. All in all, they may not be able to solely rely on
intuitions, but in fact they should not even do so: explanations like “this is not the right way of saying
this in English because it does not sound good” or “I can feel that this is correct” are acceptable from
the native speaker but not from the language teacher.
The other aspect of teaching grammar is what exactly the word correct means. Of course we
have many resources like grammar books (or teaching grammars) and
so-called “writer’s guides” – in fact, this very book is in several
respects like one of those. However, it is important to see that such
resources typically only present one form of English: the variety widely
approved of by the native society and therefore advisable to teach to
learners called standard English. This variety may be so highly valued
by certain speakers that they may even think and say that it is in fact the
only proper way to use the language, everybody should adopt it, and
any forms diverging from it are erroneous and harmful corruptions
stemming from lack of education or from disrespect to the mother
tongue. This is the so-called prescriptive attitude, such people are
called prescriptivists or language purists (or more recently, grammar
nazis, grammar police or grammar cops), and grammars based on this view are called prescriptive
grammars. Teaching grammars are, by definition, for the most part prescriptive, since their function is
to teach learners how to imitate native competence. Adult natives, however, do not need such
guidance: after all, it is them who possess the competence the learners are aspiring to mirror!
Therefore, trying to correct forms of utterances used systematically (and not accidentally) by native
speakers is totally nonsensical. What grammar nazis fail to realise is that standard English is not the
only native variety and there are quite a lot out there who do not happen to be speakers of standard
English but use some non-standard variety instead. First, there are regional dialects; second, there
are certain styles and registers which are not adequate to use in any situation: certain forms belong to
informal language or even slang, or belong to speech rather than written language (or vice versa).
What this means for the English teacher is that the expression correct grammar has at least
two senses. On the one hand, it refers to standard forms, the ones considered by the English-speaking
society as the speech norm, and as such, it is the one codified in grammar books and usually taught to
learners. In fact, all these are the very reasons why we need to stick to teaching this variety in the EFL
classroom: this is the one which is the most useful for the learner, and it can also serve as a good
starting point for later discoveries in the alternatives.
Correct grammar, on the other hand, also means the set of forms that are acceptable to native
speakers in general: any structure systematically used and judged well-formed by (at least a group of)
native speakers is correct in this, descriptivist sense of the expression, although some may be limited
in use to certain styles or media (i.e., either spoken or written language).
Teachers of English are supposed to be familiar with these two concepts and prepared to
answer questions about the “correctness” or “incorrectness” of grammatical structures objectively,
especially because in fact, most native speakers of English are non-standard speakers so their English
will diverge from what we learn and teach from grammar books to varying degrees. In addition, most
of the native English our students are exposed to through popular culture is non-standard, so they may
easily encounter forms which conflict with what happens in the classroom. Therefore, when a student
asks why somebody from England or the USA says We need less chairs although they should use
fewer chairs according to the coursebook, the teacher is expected not to simply judge the example
“incorrect” and the speaker “uneducated”, one who does not know “proper grammar”, but explain the
difference between standard and written English, where the fewer/less distinction is maintained, and
(certain forms of) spoken English, where less has
become generalised to be used with all nouns.11
A further important aspect of “correctness”
is that what counts as acceptable for the society,
that is, what is and is not standard, may change
with time. For example, a slightly outdated
grammar book may still counsel learners or writers
not to use the so-called split infinitive (when an
adverb separates the particle to from the bare
infinitive, e.g., to slowly realise) or not to end a sentence with a preposition (e.g., This is the world we
live in), although such forms have been part of the “canon” for
decades and are now acceptable even in the EFL classroom and at
language exams.
The English teacher, then, needs to constantly tackle12 issues
of acceptability or grammaticality. Very often learners produce
ungrammatical examples as a result of the influence of the native
language, i.e., the interference of Hungarian in our case.
Consequently, teaching English to Hungarians also includes a
contrastive study of the two languages, so our knowledge of Hungarian should also be somewhat more
conscious than that of the average native speaker, in order to understand this influence and anticipate
A series of such examples will be discussed in an exercise in Ch. 10.5 later.
Mind my split infinitive! 
potential difficulties. That is why we discussed linguistic typology in the previous chapter (Ch. 1.4),
and concluded that English is predominantly isolating while Hungarian is agglutinating.
Looking at phrase and sentence structure as the primary element of “grammar” in the sense of
teaching grammars, it is also possible to set up language types. One of the aspects of syntax that serve
as dimensions along which to classify languages is word order, more precisely the sequence of
subject, verb, and object in simple declarative sentences. Accordingly, using the initials of these
sentence elements as shorthand notations, we find that English can be characterised as an SVO
language (cf. sentences like Odie likes Garfield). The question, then, is whether Hungarian can also
be classified this way, and the answer is: not really. To explain why that is the case, let us take a brief
look at some of the connections between morphology and syntax. Compare the following examples
from English in (i) and Hungarian in (ii).
(i) a. Odie likes Garfield
b. Garfield likes Odie
c. *Likes Odie Garfield
d. *Likes Garfield Odie
e. *Odie Garfield likes
f. *Garfield Odie likes
(ii) a. Ubul kedveli Garfieldot
b. Garfieldot kedveli Ubul
c. Kedveli Ubul Garfieldot
d. Kedveli Garfieldot Ubul
e. Ubul Garfieldot kedveli
f. Garfieldot Ubul kedveli
Notice that among the English sentences, only (ia) and (ib) are well-formed; the others are
ungrammatical. Moreover, the two sentences do not mean the same: who likes whom depends on what
precedes and what follows the verb. That is, a noun or noun phrase that comes before the verb is
automatically interpreted as the subject of the clause, while a noun or noun phrase that comes after the
verb is automatically interpreted as the object of the verb – no matter if the noun is Odie or Garfield.
As a result, the grammatical function of a constituent depends solely on its structural position, its place
within the grammatical configuration. This is a general property of English, and in fact, of a number of
other languages as well; such languages are called configurational languages.
The Hungarian sentences in (ii), however, are all well-formed. In addition, they all mean the
same in terms of who likes whom: the subject is always Ubul, the object is always Garfieldot. That has
a simple and evident explanation: the grammatical functions are morphologically encoded; Ubul is
uninflected, that is, in nominative case, which apparently automatically marks it as the subject of the
clause, whereas Garfieldot is an accusative case form, which automatically marks it as a potential
object for the verb. The structural position of the nouns is unable to influence their grammatical
interpretation: Hungarian belongs to the language type called non-configurational. This is another
typological difference between English and Hungarian, and it also explains why Hungarian cannot
easily be classified in terms of SVO – it simply does not have a single fixed, typical word order to
serve as the basis for the classification.
However, this does not mean that word order in Hungarian is completely free, although it is
often characterised as a free word-order language. First, notice that the sentences in (ii) above do not
mean exactly the same. You would not use them in the same situations since there are differences of
emphasis, focalising, in their interpretation. In fact, the order of sentence elements in Hungarian is just
as constrained as in English, and interpretation is just as fixed, rule-governed and automatic as we
have seen for English above, but it is not the dimension of grammatical functions like subject and
object that is relevant for Hungarian, but the dimension of logical relations like topic (what the theme
of the statement in the sentence is) and focus (which constituent is emphasised, also indicated by
heavy stress falling on it in pronunciation). To give a quick example, we repeat (iie) and (iif) below, in
one possible interpretation for each: the topic is now highlighted with underlining, the focus with
small capitals. Try reading them out for yourself, and stress the focus!
(iie’) Ubul GARFIELDOT kedveli
(iif’) Garfieldot UBUL kedveli
‘As for Odie, it is Garfield whom he likes’
‘As for Garfield, it is Odie who likes him’
Second, if word order in Hungarian was completely free, then all possible orders of constituents would
be acceptable and interpretable. This is not true: a trivial case is the order of certain heads and
modifiers within phrases, e.g., that of adjectival attributes and head nouns (kövér macska and not
*macska kövér ‘fat cat’); a less trivial example is permutations of sentence elements, similarly to the
ones in (ii) above, which do not always produce grammatical sentences; e.g., while the equivalents of
‘Odie’, ‘found’ and ‘Garfield’ can be arranged into a number of well-formed structures including Ubul
Garfieldot találta meg, Garfieldot találta meg Ubul and Megtalálta Ubul Garfieldot, others, e.g.,
*Találta meg Ubul Garfieldot, are out. Again, this must have something to do with the fixed and rulegoverned ordering of the topic, the focus, and the rest of the clause, already discussed above. Although
non-configurational, Hungarian cannot be regarded as a free word-order language. In fact, it has also
been suggested that the name non-configurational should be replaced by discourse configurational
for languages like Hungarian, exactly because it does not hold that structural configurations in these
languages are unrestricted; on the contrary, they are governed by strict regularities, not purely
structural in nature, but closely related to the discourse functions of the sentence (i.e., pragmatics).
Besides the relative order of the subject, verb, and object and configurationality, languages
also differ as to whether the subject of a clause is marked on the verb and as a consequence its
pronominal form is optional. That is, in certain languages when the subject is expressed by a personal
pronoun it is very often (if not always) omitted or dropped. Such languages are called pro-drop
languages, and Hungarian exemplifies this type. English, in contrast, is not a pro-drop language, and
will always contain overt, i.e., pronounced (and not hidden, unpronounced but understood, so-called
covert, subjects) (at least in full, finite clauses; cf. ellipsis in Ch. 12.1, and non-finite clauses in Ch.
4.1 and 8.4). Compare Hungarian Nem tudom and Jon azt hiszi, hogy tud főzni with their English
equivalents, I don’t know and Jon thinks (that) he can cook, and notice the underlined pronouns, which
are obligatory in them. English is characterised by a subject requirement (in finite clauses) that
Hungarian does not have.
The subject requirement in English is so powerful that it forces a clause to include an overt
subject even when the verb used expresses all the meaning and needs no subject-like element. In such
cases the clause will have a meaningless, semantically empty pronoun inserted into the subject
position: these are called nonreferential or dummy subjects, or sometimes they are referred to as
expletive or pleonastic pronouns. The most “famous” examples are with the so-called “weather
verbs” like rain and snow. Their meaning is so self-contained it does not need to be amended with who
or what performs the action of raining or snowing (i.e., these verbs do not license a subject). Notice
that consequently such verbs do not take subjects in Hungarian, e.g., Esik ‘It is raining’, Havazik ‘It is
snowing’. The corresponding English sentences, however, are forced by the subject requirement to
contain it, which is now nonreferential, i.e., it does not refer to any object in the physical world. As a
further example, consider It is getting late, with a nonreferential it, and compare it with It is getting
old, which can only be interpreted with it actually referring to an object which has been previously
mentioned. Nonreferential it is not only used to talk about weather and time and similar themes, but it
is used in certain complex constructions (e.g., It was Garfield who ate all the pizza – cleft sentences; I
find it strange to see Garfield awake so early in the morning – extraposition; for both, see Ch. 10.1).
The other nonreferential subject pronoun of English is there, as it is used in sentences like There is a
fire starting in my heart – note the absence of contradiction in examples like There are too many
bosses here, since this there is not a place adverb, it does not refer to either a place or in fact any
semantic content.
Hungarian, on the other hand, has no such dummy subjects: as its system does not include a
subject requirement similar to that of English, sentences like Esik and Későre jár, with no overt
subject, are grammatical.
Both the pro-drop/non-pro-drop typology and the presence/absence of expletive pronouns as a
typological difference between languages indicate that the subject is perhaps the most special
grammatical function. In configurational languages like English it has a fixed position in the clause:
before the verb, as we have seen above. Even if for purposes of emphasis the referential subject is
postponed to the end of the sentence, a nonreferential pronoun needs to fill this initial slot, as we have
seen in examples like There are too many bosses here. Having a fixed default position also grants the
subject its function in the SVO linguistic typology. We have also seen that the verb needs to agree
with it in person and number (subject-verb concord – Ch. 1.4), and we will see in Ch. 11.1 and 11.4
that major types of inversion in English involve the subject: sometimes it inverts with an auxiliary (the
operator, as we will call it – e.g., Is this the real life?), sometimes it inverts with the main verb (e.g.,
Here comes the rain again). In fact, these features may even be used as diagnostic tests to help
identify the subject in a clause: the phrase that precedes the verb and agrees with it is the subject; the
phrase that inverts with the first auxiliary (the operator) in direct interrogatives is the subject; etc.
The other grammatical functions like object and adverbial are not assigned to direct
constituents of the clause, as is the case with the subject, so their presence/absence and form are
determined by word-level phrasal heads. E.g., it is the clause (and not, say, a verb) that needs to have a
subject, while it is a verb or preposition (and not the clause) that may license an object or receive an
adverbial adjunct. Therefore, the other grammatical functions are best discussed in later chapters,
dealing with the internal structure of VPs, PPs, etc. (Ch. 4-6).
Further reading
On grammar: Cowan 2008: 1–2  On approaches to teaching grammar: Cowan 2008: 3  On
Hungarian syntax: É. Kiss 2002: 1  On the identification of the subject: CGEL 2  On
nonreferential subject pronouns: Cowan 2008: 7.
2.5 Practice exercises
1. The following sentences are ill-formed or at least do not carry the intended meaning. Decide
whether they are truly ungrammatical in English (meaning that no native speaker uses such forms
systematically) or are only judged incorrect by “grammar nazis” (meaning that native speakers
very often use such forms although they are banned by prescriptive grammars). In the latter case,
separate spelling errors (typically labelled “grammar mistakes” by grammar nazis) from genuine
grammatical issues.
1. If your a grammar nazi and your reading this, your gonna have a bad time
2. Today I don’t feel like doing anything, I just want to lay in my bed
3. A lot of researches have been done on this topic
4. Let’s eat grandma!
5. It don’t matter if you’re black or white
6. I care about this alot
7. This happened in the last year
8. We don’t need no education
9. His sister is older then him with 5 years
2. Syntactic structural ambiguity (as discussed in Ex. 2-3 in 2.3 above) may stem from two major
aspects of phrases: the location of constituent boundaries (e.g., He watched the girl with a
telescope), and the assignment of grammatical functions (e.g., Flying planes can be dangerous).
Identify the source of ambiguity in the following sentences.
1. We need more intelligent students
2. I sent a postcard to my friends from London
3. I have written a poem on a memorial park bench
4. Szőke fiúk és lányok szaladgálnak
5. Fogadták a parlamentben pingpongozó szakosztályunk tagjait
6. Az oroszlán simogatása veszélyes
7. Az üzletbe égő cigarettával és kutyával belépni tilos
3. Ch. 1.1 discusses idiomatic meaning in word-formation. But what is an idiom? Consider the
discussion of grammar components in Ch. 2.1, and decide which of them idioms belong to: are
they generated by a rule component, or stored in the lexicon? How about regular and irregular
word forms: what is the difference between them with respect to the grammar component they
belong to?
4. Which phrase is the subject in the sentence There are seven girls in her class? What are the two
options? Which properties of the subject discussed in the text above characterise which of the
5. Consider the Hungarian sentence Garfield tegnap megette Ubul vacsoráját ‘Yesterday Garfield ate
Odie’s dinner’. Insert the negative adverb nem ‘not’ into different positions of the sentence to
produce at least 3-4 different word orders in the negative (you may need to somewhat reorganise
the other words as well). How do the versions differ from each other in meaning/emphasis?
Translate them into English, trying to reflect the meanings as closely to those of the Hungarian
originals as possible.
3.1 Word-level categories and their
This chapter is about word-level categories, that is, word
classes (or parts of speech) like adjectives, focussing on
their subtypes, forms, and their major properties (like why
*importanter is ungrammatical and can only be used to
produce a special effect). Recall how much we learnt
about word classes in the previous chapter from the first
two lines of this nonsense poem:
’Twas brillig and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.
(Lewis Carroll, Jabberwocky in
Through the Looking-Glass)
On the one hand, phonologically well-formed words (that is, words sounding like existing English
words) can be used in syntactic contexts as belonging to one or another word class even if they do not
have any meaning. On the other hand, it is only the major categories: nouns, verbs, adjectives, and
adverbs, that are nonsense in such texts. That is because the other word classes have much less
semantic content; instead, they play prominent and crucial grammatical roles in phrases and sentences:
they are consequently called grammatical function words, or function words for short, whereas the
others are so-called lexical content words.
Lexical content words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs), as the name indicates, are
dominated by their meaning, i.e., their semantic content: as a result, it is relatively easy to come up
with definitions (like the ones in dictionaries) to such words. At the same time, it is these categories
that can be nonsense, that is, meaningless: it is possible to be devoid of meaning only if meaning is
normally present in the first place. Besides, the grammatical role such words play is insignificant and
negligible; therefore, when we see nonsense words, we lack semantic content but no grammatical
information that would hinder the interpretation of the text as a text.
As opposed to that, the defining property of function words (determiners, pronouns,
prepositions and the like) is the role they play in grammar, rather than some clear, easily identifiable
semantic content. Take the conjunction and as an example: how would you define what it means?
Does it actually mean anything, or is it rather a word whose function is to connect two elements? Or
take a pronoun like you: its crucial feature is its ability to refer to whoever we are talking to
irrespective of who that person is.1 What is more, certain function words are totally empty
semantically: the auxiliary do in sentences like Where do you live?, for example, carries no meaning
but is needed for the question to contain an auxiliary in the right position. If meaning is secondary in
function words and they are rather needed for grammar, to help constituents establish relations, then
they cannot be nonsense; in fact, they cannot even be omitted from a text since grammar as such
collapses without them. Remember, grammar is important: if grammar collapses, the text cannot be
interpreted as a text.
Lexical content words are also called open-class words and grammatical function words are
also called closed-class words because there are further differences between them. The members of
the open classes come and go much more easily: it is these categories which languages borrow from
each other (to acquire loanwords); which productive word-formation generates; and it is them which
may disappear from the language with time (i.e., open-class words may go out of use and “get
That is, its interpretation depends on the context in which it is used. This property, also characterising a few
other words like here and today, is called deixis.
forgotten” from one generation of speakers to the next). Furthermore, open-class words are more
numerous: notice how much easier it is to list, e.g., all the articles or all the auxiliaries of English than
all the nouns or lexical verbs!2
In what follows we will overview the properties and major subtypes of the word classes
introduced in Ch. 2.1: the content words first, and then the function words. For ease of reference, we
repeat the chart here:
Major subcategories/Examples
proper noun
Jon, Budapest, Trafalgar Square, the
Alps, the Danube…
gradable adjective
happy, steady, large, beautiful…
common noun
room, answer, apple, equipment,
scissors, police…
non-gradable adjective
alive, main, certain, proper…
steadily, completely, yesterday, there…
(main) verb
search, grow, play, ignore, contemplate, need, dare, have, do…
definite article
indefinite article
proximal demonstrative
this, these
distal demonstrative
that, those
cardinal numeral
two, eleven…
ordinal numeral
first, twentieth…
he, they, them, myself, anybody, one, mine, who, each other…
of, at, into, without, since, up…
auxiliary (verb)
modal auxiliary
can, must, might, need, dare…
non-modal auxiliary
have, bePROGR, bePASS, do
coordinating conjunction
and, but, or…
subordinating conjunction
that, although, if, whether…
oh, ah, ugh, phew, wow…
We start the discussion with verbs, whose two types, main (or lexical) verbs and auxiliary verbs are
already differentiated in the chart above. Both of them are verbs as they have the morphosyntactic
properties of verbs: they follow the subject and may agree with it in person and number; they may be
morphologically marked for tense, esp. past tense; etc. However, they also differ since main verbs are
content words, while auxiliaries are function words (see the differences above). In the chart, certain
verbs are repeated (need, dare, and have, but do may as well have been given twice, too): this shows
that the same verb may belong to both classes, at least in certain senses. For example, in Present-day
English negative sentences need to contain at least one auxiliary (the operator, as we will call it later),
Interestingly, content words and function words also differ in pronunciation: content words are always strong
and stressed; function words are usually unstressed and weak, especially the ones that are short, consisting of a
single syllable.
which is followed by the adverb not. Crucially, main verbs cannot take that position: a sentence like *I
know not is ill-formed; do has to be inserted to produce I do not know. Consider the following
You need not have said that
He dare not tell her the truth
He has not got a brother
You did not need to say that
He does not dare to tell her the truth
He does not have a brother
In these examples need, dare and have act like auxiliaries on the left hand side but like main verbs on
the right, carrying the same meaning. Have presents a special case as in its other senses it only
functions as a lexical verb (e.g., I did not have breakfast today). However, in the so-called perfect
tenses have is always present as an auxiliary (e.g., I have not done the homework), but in that function
it has no main verb counterpart. The verb do is similarly “split” between the two uses: as an auxiliary
it appears in the so-called simple tenses (cf. the sentences on the right hand side) and, as mentioned
above, carries no meaning at all, while as a lexical verb it is an ordinary content word (compare the
two occurrences of it in I did not do the homework).
Both lexical verbs and auxiliaries have subtypes – since auxiliaries are function words (recall
that, e.g., they are needed to form questions), they will be discussed later. Main verbs, on the other
hand, are lexical content words because they have lexical, semantic content and are therefore also
called lexical verbs. Most clauses in English contain a lexical verb, in which case it is the dominant
element of the clause, determining the number and type of other phrases in it, especially the ones it
licenses (cf. Ch. 2.1). One such modifier is the object: recall that the object is a verbal complement, an
NP that needs to be licensed by a verb. But it can only be licensed if the clause contains a verb that has
the capacity to license objects at all. This is an idiosyncratic property of verbs, stemming from their
meaning: a verb like sleep, for instance, is not able to license an object (underlined), whereas a verb
like find is:
*Jon slept Garfield in the kitchen
Jon found Garfield in the kitchen
At the same time, sleep produces well-formed sentences without an object, while find does not:
Jon slept in the kitchen
*Jon found in the kitchen
The two verb types represented by sleep and find are exact opposites to each other: the first type is
called intransitive, the latter is called transitive. Intransitive verbs do not license objects while
transitive verbs do – that is the way lexical verbs determine whether a complement may be present in
their VPs.
There are two points to note here. First, notice how the adjunct place adverbial (in the
kitchen) is possible with both words – recall that adjuncts are not licensed by the head but loosely
connect to it, therefore the type of verb does not influence them. Second, the subject NP at the
beginning of the sentence (Jon in the examples above), although not part of the VP, also receives its
meaning role from the verb: according to the meaning of the sentence, Jon does the action of sleeping
in the first case, and that of finding something in the second. Sometimes an (intransitive or transitive)
verb does not assign meaning to a subject NP; then the subject NP will be present but semantically
empty, not referring to anything or anybody in the world. E.g., the subject NP in both It is raining
(with intransitive rain) and It seems that Garfield is hungry (with transitive seem) is the pronoun it, in
its use when it is devoid of meaning or reference.
In fact, the subcategorisation of lexical verbs on the basis of what complements they license is
a rather complex issue, and intransitive and transitive are not the only verb types – we will devote Ch.
4.1 to the particulars of this topic.
The other basic word class of content words is that of nouns. As you can see in the chart, their
two major subcategories are proper nouns and common nouns.
proper noun
common noun
Jon, Budapest, Trafalgar Square, the room, answer, apple, equipment,
Alps, the Danube…
scissors, police…
Proper nouns are names of persons and places: their meaning is an interesting issue as it lies in who or
what they refer to rather than a literal meaning composed of clearly identifiable semantic properties.
Just try to define what Jon or Budapest means and you will see the easiest way is by naming the
person or place they point out. Notice that at the same time they produce one-word NPs. In contrast,
common nouns like room, answer, or apple have no direct reference; in addition, most of them are
unable to form an NP on their own, at least as long as they are in their singular form: the NP *apple is
ill-formed and as such it cannot receive the object function from find in *Jon found apple in the
kitchen. Put the noun into the plural (Jon found apples in the kitchen) or add a determiner to the
singular or plural (Jon found the apple(s) in the kitchen) and the sentence is grammatical. This is a
feature of so-called countable (or count) nouns. Not all common nouns are like that, however. The
so-called uncountable (or noncount) nouns do not have a plural form and do not necessarily combine
with determiners in an NP: Jon found mountaineering equipment in the kitchen. Singular and plural
interpretation as well as how this appears in the form of the noun are further discussed in Ch. 5.
The remaining classes of content words are adjectives and adverbs. In some respects they are
very similar to each other, but they differ in certain basic characteristics. Let us see what these are.
gradable adjective
happy, steady, large, beautiful…
non-gradable adjective
alive, main, certain, proper…
steadily, completely, yesterday, there…
Adjectives fall into two major subclasses. “Prototypical” adjectives have three forms: a base form (or
positive form, e.g., old or beautiful); and comparative and superlative forms either formed by
suffixation (-er, -est, e.g., older and oldest) or syntactically, by forming phrases (with more and most –
so-called periphrastic forms, e.g., more beautiful and most beautiful – the forms needed for
important, too)3. Such adjectives are gradable. Other adjectives, however, only have a positive form
because the meaning of their hypothetical comparative and superlative forms would be difficult to
process (cf. *Jon is more alive than his neighbour) – such adjectives are non-gradable. In fact, this is
one of the similarities between adjectives and adverbs: certain adverbs are also gradable (e.g., more
steadily). This is characteristic of the manner adverbs which are derived from adjectives by suffixing
-ly (cf. steady and steadily), an extremely productive derivational process creating another link
between adjectives and adverbs.
As far as syntactic distribution goes, however, adjectives and adverbs are almost the opposites
to each other: one of the typical positions of adjectives is the premodifying adjunct position of a noun
(e.g., steady rain), which is never an option for adverbs because they favour the (postmodifying)
adjunct position of verbs (e.g., It rained steadily yesterday). Some of the adjectives are also found in
the post-verbal position but only with certain verbs (see Ch. 4.1), which are in turn incompatible with
adverbs. Cf.:
It rained steadily
*The rain was steadily
*steadily rain
*It rained steady
The rain was steady
steady rain
The choice between inflectional and periphrastic comparison is, roughly speaking, dependent on the length of
the base, with monosyllables (like old) preferring the inflection, adjectives with three or more syllables (like
beautiful) allowing for periphrasis only, and two-syllable words vacillating between the two options (cf.
commoner/commonest or more/most common).
The group of adverbs is perhaps the most heterogeneous of all word classes. Any word will fit into it
whose phrase typically takes one of the adverbial functions in VPs, the most frequent of which are
time (e.g., yesterday, soon, immediately, when; a special subtype is that of frequency, e.g., always,
never), place (e.g., there, upstairs, where), and manner (e.g., steadily, slowly, well, how). Degree
adverbs (e.g., very, so, too, quite, extremely) are different because they modify adjectives and other
adverbs. But the strangest subtype is constituted by particles: as the name suggests, these are very
small words, most of which are adverbs of place (e.g., up, down, away), but the negative particle not
also belongs here. In fact, particles and some of the degree adverbs are so small and carry so little
semantic content that some even consider them as function words: most adverb particles can be
analysed as prepositions (cf. PPs like down the road), certain degree adverbs resemble determiners
(e.g., so, very), others resemble pronouns (e.g., here, there, when, why, wherever), and the negative
particle is also more like a head with an extremely dominant grammatical function (making the whole
clause negative) than a simple VP-modifier. Therefore, adverbs are indicative that the dividing line
between content words and function words is not clear.
Further aspects of the behaviour of adjectives and adverbs will be dealt with in Ch. 6. In the
present discussion, we move over to classes belonging to the functional categories, i.e., function
words, starting with the types of auxiliaries. The two basic subclasses, modal auxiliaries (or modals
for short) and non-modal auxiliaries were already differentiated in the chart above:
auxiliary (verb)
modal auxiliary
can, must, might, need, dare…
non-modal auxiliary
have, bePROGR, bePASS, do
To help the description of auxiliaries and their relation to lexical verbs in English, we will introduce
the notion of the verb group: the string of verbs containing at least one auxiliary and at most one
lexical verb. Therefore, the following examples all illustrate verb groups:
have been
has been
has been being
have been being
lexical verbs
As you can see, while modals are somewhat more numerous, the list of non-modals is rather short.
Besides do, which is discussed later, it contains the three aspectuals:
perfect have (followed by a past participle (ppt), e.g., have done)
progressive be (followed by an -ing participle, e.g., be singing)
passive be (followed by a past participle, e.g., be written)4
The chart above also shows the strict order in which verbs follow each other in verb groups, and the
possible combinations. The points to note are following:
If there is a modal, it is the very first verb in the verb group.
Non-modals can be combined with each other; modals cannot.
Note that be is used in two totally different functions here, that is why it is listed in the word class chart twice,
differentiated by the indices.
Within the verb group, the first verb shows tense (present or past5) and may agree with the
subject of the clause in person and number; the form of the others is determined by the
immediately preceding verb.
Modals are followed by a base/plain form6; non-modals are followed by either a past participle
or an -ing participle, as listed above.
The maximal verb group contains a modal, the perfect, the progressive, the passive, and a lexical
verb, in this order, as shown in the last example, will have been being built, as in This time next year
the railway will have been being built for 5 years. As you can see in the following diagram, the forms
of the second and later verbs in the group are selected by the preceding verb in each pair in such a way
that a kind of chain reaction happens:
base form
Of course, steps may be skipped so that shorter verb groups are created; in such cases the effect of the
verb on the left “hits” a verb coming later in the maximal verb group. E.g., in shall swim the modal
puts the main verb into its base form, skipping all the non-modals; in has been singing the passive
“link” is skipped and progressive be produces the form of the lexical verb sing.
As we mentioned above, auxiliaries are verbs because they have the grammatical properties of
verbs: the non-modals agree with the subject in person and number (cf. I have arrived vs. he has
arrived), and all auxiliaries (except must7) differentiate present tense and past tense (cf. I shall swim in
the ocean vs. he said he should swim in the ocean). What also unites them is that they cannot be used
without a main verb following them. In other respects, however, they are as diverse as can be. The
aspectuals are called so because two out of the three are used to express perfect and
progressive/continuous (the so-called aspects – see Ch. 4.1) whereas the third one forms the passive
construction (or passive voice). Modals express a third type of notion, modality (or modal meaning),
itself a non-uniform category: it subsumes all sorts of aspects of the speaker’s attitude towards or
opinion about the action or state expressed by the main verb, including possibility, probability, ability,
permission, etc. (cf. can, may, must…) or even future certainty (will). Therefore, what reliably justifies
the modal – non-modal – lexical verb classification is their morphosyntactic properties (rather than
their meanings, for instance), especially the ordering restriction with the “chain reaction” illustrated
above in the diagram. The most difficult to classify is auxiliary do, as in Do you like syntax? This is
because it does not express modal meaning and is therefore
traditionally grouped with non-modals in English grammar. At the
same time, however, unlike the aspectuals, it has a defective list of
forms (do, does, did only), and there are arguments that it occupies
the modal slot in the “chain reaction” diagram (e.g., it is always the
leftmost verb in the verb group, followed by a base-form verb). See
Ch. 4.1 for a discussion.
The next group of function words to discuss is that of
pronouns. Like auxiliaries, this class also includes a set of
dissimilar subtypes, of which so far we have only given a sample
See Ch. 4.1.
The verb ought exhibits unique and unusual behaviour: in its distribution and morphology, it is like a modal,
but it is followed by a to-infinitive, rather like some of the lexical verbs, e.g., want.
If ought is considered to be a modal auxiliary, it parallels must in this respect.
he, they, them, myself, anybody, one, mine, who, each other…
We have seen that pronouns are phrases themselves – since most pronouns are single words, this
means they are one-word phrases. The major types of pronouns are the following:
central/primary pronouns:
- personal (e.g., he, they, them)
- reflexive (e.g., the -self and -selves pronouns)8
- possessive (e.g., mine, ours, theirs)9
reciprocals (each other, one another)
wh-pronouns (e.g., who, which, what + the -ever pronouns)10:
- relative (as in, e.g., the dog which bit me)11
- interrogative (as in, e.g., Whoever bit you?)
demonstrative pronouns (e.g., this, those)
quantifying pronouns (e.g., some, all, both)12
indefinite pronouns (the -one, -body, and -thing pronouns):
- positive:
i. universal (the every- pronouns)
ii. assertive (the some- pronouns)
iii. non-assertive (the any- pronouns)13
- negative (the no- pronouns)
In addition, there are a few minor types. The pronominal form one is
used to replace part of an NP rather than a whole NP (in fact, it
replaces any fraction of an NP but never the determiner), e.g., Which one would you like? or My cat is
cute but this one with the bushy tail is really adorable, too! (See Ch. 12 for a detailed discussion of
pronominal forms and substitution.)
Another special example is existential there: in other uses there is a place adverb, but in one
type of construction, the so-called existential structure (since the verb used expresses existence), it is a
semantically empty element and functions as a subject NP, e.g., There are some mice playing in the
Certain personal pronouns and wh-pronouns for persons are unique in the grammar of Presentday English as the only elements formally distinguished for case, namely, for nominative (subjective)
vs. accusative (objective), in the following way:
The two sets differ in number, and they constitute the only case when second person is formally differentiated
in Present-day (standard) English between singular (yourself) and plural (yourselves).
For the difference between the mine set and the my set (the possessive pronouns vs. the possessive
determiners), see below.
Not all wh-words/phrases are pronouns as there are a number of non-nominal items like why or wherever.
They show the same behaviour, though: they are also used in relative clauses and interrogatives alike. Some of
them also function as determiners, e.g., in which cat or what type, in which case they also introduce exclamatives
(e.g., What a beautiful woman!). Also, note that how is a wh-word/phrase, too, even though it does not actually
start with wh.
For relative clauses, see Ch. 9.
Demonstratives and quantifying pronouns are also used as determiners – see below.
For the assertive/non-assertive distinction, see Ch. 7.1.
The third case relevant to English is possessive (or genitive). For nouns, it is marked with the -’s
suffix; for pronouns, there is a separate set, which, however, needs to be distinguished from the set of
possessive determiners. Recall that pronouns are NPs in themselves – therefore they stand alone in
phrase structure and receive their functions (either that of the subject or some other function from a
verb or a preposition) on their own: they are one-word phrases. Determiners, on the other hand, are by
definition short function words occupying the initial position of NPs – recall from Ch. 2.1 how we
established their “supercategory”. As a consequence, determiners never stand alone but combine with
at least a nominal head. Compare the following sentences:
a. This land is my land
b. This land is mine
c. This is my land
Sentence (a) sounds pretty unnatural as the usual strategy in language is to avoid the repetition of
known information so that the focus is kept on the new message (cf. Ch. 12.1). Two options are
available for not repeating land twice: sentence (b) is when it is in the subject NP and the verb is
followed by a possessive pronoun; sentence (c) illustrates the case when it is given after the verb in an
NP containing a possessive determiner. The two sets are as follows:
Possessive pronouns
Possessive determiners
While most possessive pronouns and possessive determiners are formally distinct, demonstrative and
quantifying pronouns are unusual because they can also be used as determiners with no change in their
form.14 The quantifiers include some, any, each, all, both; the demonstratives are either proximal or
distal, singular or plural:
proximal demonstrative
this, these
distal demonstrative
that, those
In the example sentences above, this is used as a determiner in This land is mine, and as a pronoun in
This is my land. In a parallel fashion, sentences like We haven’t got any eggs or Both students are
bright, the quantifiers are determiners, whereas in We haven’t got any or Both are bright, they are
Again, what we see is that the division between categories, this time between pronouns and
determiners, is not always clear-cut.
An exception is the negative quantifier, which has the form no as a determiner (as in We don’t need no
education) and none as a pronoun.
Determiners, then, include possessives, demonstratives, quantifiers (the ones mentioned
above plus a few others like every), wh-words (e.g., in which cat or what type) as well as articles and
definite article
indefinite article
cardinal numeral
two, eleven…
ordinal numeral
first, twentieth…
Numerals may function as pronouns or determiners. As you can see, there are two types: cardinals
and ordinals. The third type of numbers is fractions, which are expressed with the help of words like
half and quarter, and ordinals used as countable nouns (a half, two-thirds).
Finally, a few words about conjunctions. The two main types according to their function are
coordinating (when the two constituents linked are equal in status) and subordinating conjunctions
(when the conjunction straighforwardly belongs to one of the constituents, and it establishes that
constituent’s role with respect to the other constituent). A special subtype of subordinating
conjunctions are complementisers, which, as their name indicates, introduce a constituent (usually a
clause) that functions as a complement to a head (typically the object). For example, the most frequent
use of the conjunctions that or whether is to produce an object clause for a transitive verb: in I know
that I should feed the cat or I don’t know whether I should feed the cat, the transitive verb is know and
the clause that follows it functions as its object.
coordinating conjunction
and, but, or…
subordinating conjunction
that, although, if, whether…
As to the form of conjunctions, there are three types traditionally distinguished: single-word (and, but,
that, although, etc.), compound (as long as, provided that, etc.) and correlative (either… or, as… as)
This concludes this chapter on word classes; their respective phrases will be dealt with in the
following chapters: Ch. 4 on VPs, Ch. 5 on NPs, and Ch. 6 on other phrases.
3.2 Further reading
On content words and function words: Fromkin et al. 2011: 3  On word classes: SGE 2.6–2.7 
On types of verbs: T&M 10–11  On auxiliaries: T&M 12–16, 22, 27; ALP 11–12; AGU 17–28 
On numerals: T&M 36  On conjunctions: T&M 32.
3.3 Practice exercises
1. Choose the odd word out in each set – the one that does not belong to that particular category.
Example: slept, book, smartphone, carpet, wisdom
Answer: slept [The other words are nouns.]
1. could, may, should, will, want
2. are, can, has, be, was
3. me, every, ours, someone, they
4. after, at, during, into, upwards
5. and, because, or, too, when
6. college, class, grammar, learn, teacher
7. angry, hungry, lonely, obviously, silly
2. Compare the syntactic behaviour of have ‘possess’ in typically British English and typically
American English structures like the following.
(i) Typically BrE
ia. I have (got) a car
ib. I haven’t (got) a car
ic. Have you (got) a car?
(ii) Typically AmE
iia. I have a car
iib. I don’t have a car
iic. Do you have a car?
3. Compare the syntactic category and behaviour of be in the following examples. What are the
differences? What is constant?
He’s hungry
He isn’t hungry
Is he hungry?
He’s always hungry
He’s sleeping
He isn’t sleeping
Is he sleeping?
He’s always sleeping
He’s criticized
He isn’t criticized
Is he criticized?
He’s always criticized
4. a. Put the following pronouns into the right cells of the chart. There is one example of each
subtype. How can we fill ten table cells with nine examples?
anyone, everybody, himself, me, no one, ours, something, this, which
assertive nonassertive
b. Collect all the central pronouns and put them into the chart.
number and gender
* sometimes called nonpersonal in English
5. Underline the possessives, demonstratives, quantifiers, wh-words and numerals in the following
sentences, and decide whether they are used as pronouns or determiners.
1. This used to be my playground
2. I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
3. It takes two, baby
4. You could be mine
5. All I want for Christmas is you
6. Some say that we are players, some say that we are pawns
7. What a feeling!
8. Every time we kiss I swear I could fly
3.4 Extension: Complementisers
Ch. 3.1 above discussed the subcategories of conjunctions, and said that within the traditional
dichotomy of coordinating vs. subordinating conjunctions, it is worth highlighting a subtype of
subordinating conjunctions called complementisers, which introduce clauses that function as
complements to heads (typically as objects of transitive verbs). That justifies the name:
complementisers produce complements. Besides object clauses to verbs (e.g., I know that I should feed
the cat), complementisers also introduce clauses that are complements to adjectives (e.g., I’m not sure
whether I should feed the cat), nouns (e.g., The fact that I should feed the cat frightens me) and
prepositions (e.g., I’m thinking about whether I should feed the cat). In fact, sometimes they introduce
clauses with other, non-complement functions: subject clauses (e.g., Whether I should feed the cat is a
thorny issue) or relative clauses (i.e., nominal adjunct clauses, e.g., the cat that I should feed). In all
these cases, however, the complementiser is crucially needed to establish the role of the clause; even
when that is omissible (e.g., I know I should feed the cat or the cat I should feed), it is understood, it is
part of the interpretation of the clause, so we can suppose that it is covertly present.
With this is mind, recall we said in Ch. 2.1 that (i) clauses have phrase-like dependency
structures; and (ii) all phrases have a head. Considering the examples above, we easily conclude that
the head of the clause has to be the complementiser – after all, it is the complementiser that defines
the (complement) clause by granting it the ability to become a complement to a verb, noun, etc.
Without the complementiser, the clause does not receive a function (cf. e.g., *I’m thinking about I
should feed the cat). In addition, if the head of the clause is the complementiser, and phrases are
named after their heads, then the proper name of clauses is Complementiser Phrase (CP).
Besides establishing the complement function of the clause, the complementiser determines a
number of other properties of its clause as well, just like other heads do. Notice, for instance, that the
example sentences above use two complementisers: that and whether. In most cases the choice
between the two is not free: the type of main verb determines the type of clause needed, which in turn
determines the type complementiser. Compare the following sentences:
I know that I should feed the cat
*I know whether I should feed the cat
The second sentence is ungrammatical because whether introduces questions (that is, it is an
interrogative complementiser), but know (due to its meaning) selects non-interrogative complement
clauses. Now consider these examples:
*He asked me that I should feed the cat
He asked me whether I should feed the cat
Since ask is a verb that requires interrogative complement clauses, that (being a non-interrogative
complementiser) does not produce the right type of clause, and as a result the grammaticality
judgements are just the opposite this time. We conclude, then, that the head of the CP determines the
interrogativity (or interrogative force) of the clause: certain complementisers (like whether) are
interrogative, others (like that) are non-interrogative, and this feature of theirs “percolates” onto the
There is one more feature of clauses that crucially depends on the complementiser, i.e., one
more dimension along which types of complementisers differ: whether the clause after the
complementiser is tensed (or finite, cf. Ch. 4.1). Notice how the following examples prove that while
whether can head either a tensed/finite CP or a non-finite one, that always selects a finite clause.
I’m not sure whether I should feed the cat
I’m not sure whether to feed the cat
I’m not sure that I should feed the cat
*I’m not sure that to feed the cat
There are two more complementisers in English: one of them (if) always selects finite clauses, the
other (for) always selects non-finite ones (so, in fact, the flexibility of whether in this respect seems
exceptional rather than typical):
I’m not sure if I should feed the cat
*I’m not sure if to feed the cat
I’m waiting for Jon to feed the cat
*I’m waiting for Jon will/should feed the cat
At the same time, if is interrogative15 while for is non-interrogative. Therefore, the full typology of
complementisers is as follows:
Types of Complementisers:
A very important feature of interrogative complementisers is that they are incompatible with the
interrogative word order of direct questions (cf. Ch. 11.1), i.e., indirect interrogative (yes/no) clauses
either contain a complementiser or the inversion of the subject with the auxiliary we will call the
operator (SAI or SOI, cf. Ch. 4.1), but never both:
Direct int.: Should I feed the cat?
Indirect int.: He asked me whether he should feed the cat
He asked me should he feed the cat
*He asked me whether should he feed the cat
interrogative C
semi-indirect speech with inversion
What this may indicate is that both the complementiser and the inversion aim to mark the clause as
interrogative, which need not, or rather, can not be done by both at the same time. If that argument
holds, it indicates that interrogative force may originate from the complementiser, which in turn
supports the claim that the complementiser dominates the clause.
Further reading
On various word classes: Cowan 2008: 8–14, 24–25  On the analysis of the clause as CP: BESE 7
 On word classes in Hungarian: Kenesei 2000.
3.5 Practice exercises
1. Choose the odd word/phrase out in each set.
1. cause, insist, must, persuade, suggest
2. an, how, my, no, whose
3. afterwards, badly, friendly, now, soon
4. aweful, useful, handful, skilful, wonderful
5. that, if, when, whether, and
6. the Red Cross, last week, both stars visible, a lot of people, in London
7. off the map, just like me, one of us, out of the window, upon arrival
Note that this if is the complementiser in indirect questions synonymous to whether, and not the subordinating
conjunction of conditional clauses.
2. a. Compare English modals and non-modals by filling in the following chart.
b. When you have finished, decide where auxiliary do fits more.
How many of them can appear
within a single verb group?
What is their position in the
verb group?
Can they be combined in a
single verb group?
How many forms do their
paradigms consist of?
3. Compare open-class words and closed-class words with respect to the size of their paradigms.
4. The sentence Write to me if you need my help is ambiguous. Identify the two meanings and account
for the ambiguity.
5. Consider the complementiser used in each of the following sentences, and explain why they are
1. *I didn’t know if to laugh or cry
2. *We are anxious for our swimmers win the championship
3. *There was a debate at the meeting over if we should recalculate the annual budget
4. *I was longing for that she finished her talk
5. *She asked me that whether Brad Pitt would also turn up at Jane’s hen party
6. *The question is if or not this year’s crop failure will lead to famine in the affected areas
4.1 The structure of the Verb Phrase and
the complementation of verbs
“A verb is known by the complements it keeps.”
(Speculative Grammarian, Facebook, 2015)
Whatever the term Verb Phrase refers to may be interpreted in different ways. In its narrow sense it is
the phrase the lexical verb projects by grouping together its complement(s) and adjunct(s); in a wider
sense, pretty widespread in traditional grammar, it includes the auxiliaries in the clause containing the
lexical verb; in certain descriptions it is synonymous or at least very similar to our verb group
(introduced in the previous chapter). Here, we will use the term in the narrow sense, focussing on main
verbs (auxiliaries are discussed in detail in Ch. 3.1 above), but at times reference will be made to
auxiliaries, too, especially in the first part. That is because the distinctions verbs are responsible for
fall into two types: auxiliaries also participate in some of them (see the first part of this chapter), but
others are exclusively characteristic of lexical verbs (see the second part).
Therefore, first we deal with grammatical categories that apply to all verbs (main verbs and
auxiliaries alike). In fact, these do not strictly belong to the verb(s) but affect the whole clause the
verb(s) are in, so eventually they become clausal properties. They are “the famous seven”:
- indicative: declarative (e.g., Jon has (not) fed the cat) or interrogative (e.g., Has Jon fed
the cat?)
- imperative (e.g., Feed the cat!)
- subjunctive (e.g., It is of utmost importance that Jon feed the cat)
modality (primarily expressed by the modal auxiliaries – cf. Ch. 3.1)
tense (see below)
aspect (see below)
voice: the way the form of the verb varies to indicate the meaning role
that the subject plays in relation to the verbal action (see more in Ch.
- active (e.g., Jon fed the cat: the subject NP Jon is the active “doer” of the action)
- passive (e.g., The cat was fed: the subject NP the cat is a passive “undergoer” of the action)
person (first, second, third)
number (singular, plural)
In what follows, we concentrate on two of these properties: tense and aspect.
All learners of English are familiar with the term tense from their grammar books – but what
is it? It is a grammatical term that refers to the ways in which different forms of verbs are used to
express reference to time. Time, then, is not the same as tense – it is a semantic concept, understood
by us as divisible into past, present, and future. Tense, however, is a grammatical, formal property of
verbs, and does not necessarily coincide with time. E.g., usually present tense forms express actions,
events in present time (cf. I feed the cat each day or I can’t talk to you now because I’m feeding the
cat) but present tense can be used for the past (for telling stories; just think of how jokes are usually
worded) or for future time (e.g., The match starts at 4 or I’m getting married in the morning) as well.
The past tense form also appears in a whole lot of constructions which carry present or future meaning
(e.g., I wish you were here or I’d rather you didn’t pull the cat’s tail) – that is one of the reasons why
very often it is referred to with a neutral name and called the preterite. However, the most important
example is future time, for which no separate tense exists in English (or Hungarian, for that matter):
there is no verb form specifically used to express the future; instead, various present tense forms can
be chosen, e.g., will/shall or be going to (plus the infinitive), the present progressive, the present
simple, or other constructions like be (about) to. Therefore, in the strict sense of the word, there are
only two tenses in English, past and present. It is possible to relate to the future, but there is no
separate verb form for it, and in this respect, Hungarian is the same (cf. Meg fogom etetni a macskát ‘I
will feed the cat’).
The term aspect refers to two distinctions that can accompany time relations in English: (i)
progressive/non-progressive (or continuous/non-continuous); and (ii) perfect/non-perfect. The
progressive/non-progressive distinction is only relevant to so-called dynamic verbs (verbs
expressing dynamic actions) and not to stative verbs (verbs like be, exist; know, believe, think; see,
hear, smell, feel; sound, seem, look; love, hate, want; resemble, contain, own, have, cost; etc.)1 – these
are always non-progressive (i.e., sentences like *This bottle is containing liquid soap are
ungrammatical). However, some stative verbs also have dynamic senses. The verb have, for example,
only means ‘possess’ (a stative sense) in certain cases but not in others, cf.:
Jon has a cat
Garfield often has lasagne for breakfast
*Jon is having a cat
Garfield is having lasagne for breakfast
Due to the difference between the two senses, the progressive form is ungrammatical in the first case
The perfect/non-perfect distinction has two major functions, consequently, the perfect can be
resultative (e.g., I’ve read the book) or continuative (e.g., I’ve lived / I’ve been living here for 2
years). The progressive and (continuative) perfect aspects can combine with each other (e.g., has been
waiting), and when neither is present (i.e., when non-continuous combines with non-perfect) the form
is called a simple form (i.e., present simple and past simple).
Notice now that the traditional twelve tenses you are familiar with from your coursebooks are
mixtures of aspectual, modal and tense categories. Some grammar books add voice distinctions, which
produces as many as 24 “tenses”. However, remember that in the strict sense defined above, i.e.,
according to how many separate forms inflectional morphology actually distinguishes, English has
two tenses only (preterite and present).
With this sense of the term tense in mind, we turn to a fundamental distinction between two
types of forms verbs have, finite and non-finite. Finite means tensed because these verb forms are
marked for tense (sometimes also for agreement, i.e., person and number features coming from the
subject, also called concord). The sentence Garfield likes playing practical jokes on Odie, for
example, contains two verb forms, likes and playing. While likes is marked for tense (present), even
agreement (third person singular), and is therefore finite, playing carries no information whatever of
these features, and is therefore non-finite. Very often in Present-day English, the finiteness of a verb
form is not explicit, not visible: the first verbs in I like playing practical jokes on Odie or in Jon cut
himself while shaving do not seem to be any different from their infinitives to like and to cut.
However, slightly altering the context reveals that these forms are actually sensitive to
tense/agreement features, cf. Garfield thought that I liked playing practical jokes on Odie and Jon said
that he had cut himself while shaving – in a past tense context they undergo what is called backshift
(Ch. 8.1), unlike the forms playing and shaving, which remain constant whatever the context be. Finite
forms, therefore, are limited in what contexts they are suitable for: like or likes are only for present
tense contexts; likes is only for third person singular. This is what the name finite refers to; non-finite
forms, on the other hand, are much less limited (although they are not infinite in their distribution,
Certain sources refer to stative verbs/senses as state verbs/senses, and dynamic verbs/senses as event or action
or active verbs/senses.
English verb forms are always either finite or non-finite; Hungarian, however, exhibits an intermediate
category called semi-finite: inflected infinitives like tudnom kell ‘I have/need to know’ are marked for
agreement but are tenseless, cf. tudnom kellett ‘I had/needed to know’.
Finite verb forms (but not non-finite ones) can:
appear in an independent clause;
express tense contrast;
participate in person and number concord;
express mood.
The non-finite verb forms are:
the infinitive forms: the bare infinitive (write) and the to-infinitive or full infinitive (to write);
the -ing participle (or gerund-participle): writing;
the past participle (or -en form, -ed participle, the “third form”): written.
Finiteness is a fundamental feature of verb forms because it is able to determine the properties of the
whole clause: recall, for instance, that only clauses containing a finite form can be independent
sentences. While Garfield likes playing practical jokes on Odie is well-formed and so is Garfield plays
practical jokes on Odie, a sentence like *Garfield playing practical jokes on Odie, with no tensed
form, is ungrammatical. At the same time, clauses with more than one tensed elements are also
ungrammatical: *Garfield likes plays practical jokes on Odie; within a single clause, even if there are
several verbs, only one will be finite. Complex verb groups are made up of a finite verb (if any)
followed by non-finite forms (you are invited to check this in the examples in Ch. 3.1!). If there is no
finite verb in a clause, it will be a non-finite clause (see Ch. 8), but it will necessarily be a dependent
clause, contained within a larger sentence (cf. the underlined -ing clause functioning as object to the
main verb in Garfield likes playing practical jokes on Odie).
The two non-indicative moods (imperative and subjunctive) are somewhat special in terms
of finiteness: the clauses realising them may form independent sentences, display person and number
features (the imperative typically has an implicit second-person subject (but see Ch. 7.1), while the
subject of the subjunctive is always explicitly present), and express mood; therefore, they are finite.
This is because, although the verb form they contain is the base form, it is not the infinitive but a finite
form: the base form is ambiguous between the non-finite infinitive and its finite version in the
imperative and the subjunctive. This ambiguity, however, is not unique: notice that the uninflected
form of verbs (e.g., play) is similarly ambiguous between a plain present form (as in I play) and the
base form; or the -ed form of (regular) verbs (e.g., played) is ambiguous between the preterite (finite)
and the past participle (non-finite).
We have seen above that there can be one tensed element in each clause at most. It is either
the lexical verb, as in most of the examples above, or an auxiliary, cf. (Jon said that) he had cut
himself while shaving (past tense), or I have been waiting here for ages (present tense), or I don’t know
(present tense), or This time next year the railway will have been being built for 4 years (present
tense!). As you can see, in verb groups the tense-carrying element is always the leftmost auxiliary: the
name in English grammar of this very special category is operator. It is:
the leftmost (or only) auxiliary of the verb group;
provided by do-insertion in simple tenses (present and past
simple – see below).
Its major functions:
carrying tense and agreement features (sometimes referred to in
syntax as the inflection of the clause);
participating in subject-operator inversion (SOI)3 in questions and other inversion structures
(e.g., Do you know this? or Never have I seen such a beautiful sight; see Ch. 11.1);
expressing negation (cf. I don’t know);
receiving emphasis (e.g., The slithy toves DID gyre and gimble in the wabe or She HAS done the
homework! or I DO know this!).
The chart below illustrates these functions for the three basic subcases: when the leftmost auxiliary is a
modal; when it is a non-modal; and the simple tenses (present and past simple). In the latter, no
auxiliary is needed for forming the tense/aspect itself; however, when the operator is necessary for
fulfilling a grammatical task, its slot in the clause is filled with a semantically empty auxiliary, do (see
the shaded areas in the chart). This is called do-insertion.
The operator is…
a modal auxiliary
I will survive
Finite inflection
(backshift test):
She said that she
would survive
Will you survive?
I won’t survive
I WILL survive
a non-modal auxiliary
not originally present
I have been working on
the railroad
He said that he had been
working on the railroad
Have you been working
on the railroad?
I haven’t been working on
the railroad
I HAVE been working on
the railroad
We live in a yellow
They said that they lived in a
yellow submarine
Do you live in a yellow
We don’t live in a yellow
We DO live in a yellow
You may remember from Ch. 3.1 that auxiliary do is a very special auxiliary. It is traditionally
classified as a non-modal, since it does not carry modal meaning. In fact, however, it does not carry
any meaning at all! At the same time, it functions as the operator, i.e., the leftmost auxiliary – the
primary function of modals. In addition, it is restricted to present (do, does) and past tense (did): it has
no non-finite forms, and does not combine with modals, i.e., morphologically and syntactically it is
more like a modal auxiliary. Therefore, although it is traditionally considered a non-modal, it is more
like a modal in behaviour in a number of respects, and its most significant property is that it is the
semantically empty operator, the “dummy” auxiliary of English.4
The fact that the inflection-carrying element in a clause is either a lexical verb or an auxiliary
(the operator) demonstrates that tense and agreement are clausal properties which are realised on some
kind of verb – all subcategories are potentially involved. Recall from the beginning of this chapter,
though, that the distinctions verbs are responsible for have yet another type: the one that is exclusively
characteristic of lexical verbs. It is called complementation. Only lexical verbs are able to determine
the number and type of complements (cf. Ch. 2.1) in the clause; auxiliaries are function words, they
fulfil grammatical roles rather than express a verbal action and specify its participants – the task of the
main verb and its complements. Thus, in what follows we narrow our scope down to lexical verbs.
The complementation of verbs depends on the subcategory of the verb, i.e., whether it is
intransitive or transitive, etc. (as briefly introduced in Ch. 3.1). At the same time, verbs can be
classified according to the complements they require (or license (cf. Ch. 2.1) or subcategorise for):
this is called subcategorisation. Therefore, there are two aspects of this topic: (i) the sentence
elements verbs license as complements5, and (ii) the subcategories of verbs that can be set up
accordingly. We start with (i), and deal with (ii) at the end of the chapter.
Inversion in questions is traditionally referred to as Subject-Auxiliary Inversion (SAI), but, as you can see, it
is more precise to refer to it as SOI.
Since their function is primarily grammatical in nature, the aspectuals (be and have) can also be treated as
dummy elements realising certain syntactic features – such a treatment is found in BESE 5.3, 6.2.
Later, in Ch. 7.1, we will introduce the elements of the simple sentence in more detail.
One of the sentence elements (or grammatical functions) we are already familiar with (from
Ch. 2.1 and 3.1) is the object: the most frequent verbal post-modifying complement, which is typically
an NP (and, if it is a pronominal NP, it will be in the accusative case) but also frequently a clause. Cf.:
Everybody knows Garfield
Everybody knows him
Everybody knows that Garfield likes lasagne more than anything else in the world
Object NPs typically undergo the process called passivisation or passive movement: the NP which
functions as object in the active sentence becomes the subject of the passive sentence when the verb is
Garfield is known for his greed
In fact, passivisation can be used as a test to detect objects6. Together with the use of accusative
pronouns, it shows that there are two more cases when we find objects. The first is when certain verbs
appear to take two objects; one is called direct object, the other is indirect object:
a. Jon gave Garfield all the pizzas
b. Garfield was given all the pizzas
c. ? All the pizzas were given Garfield
d. All the pizzas were given to Garfield
e. Jon gave all the pizzas to Garfield
indirect object, cf. Jon gave him all the pizzas
passivisation test
the other NP passivised: debatable acceptability
passivisation and preposition insertion
direct object, cf. Jon gave them to Garfield
In (a), there are two object NPs: the indirect object first and the direct object second. This is called the
double object construction. As you can see in (e), another possibility is the reverse order of the two
objects, but in that case the indirect object is realised as a PP, that is, the verb is followed by an NP
and a PP (typically headed by to). This is the prepositional indirect-object construction, while the
transformation that produces one version from the other is called dative movement or dative shift.
The debatable acceptability of (c) shows that the direct object in the double object construction does
not lend itself easily to passivisation. In fact, if we compare (b), (c) and (d), we conclude that it is
always the object which closely follows the verb that can normally be passivised. Also, note that the
name of the prepositional indirect-object construction is somewhat misleading, since the PP in it is not
an object (the object is an NP by definition) but an adverbial.
The other special object construction is the one containing a prepositional object. That is
when a verb takes a PP complement, in which the preposition is licensed/selected by the verb (cf. (a)
below), and the NP within the PP can be “passivised out of” the PP (cf. (b)). Since the NP
complements of prepositions are always in the accusative case (cf. (c)), we conclude that prepositions
also have objects, like transitive verbs.
a. Garfield often laughs at/*on/*by Odie
b. Odie is often laughed at
c. Garfield often laughs at him
The passivisation test also shows that not all verbal postmodifiers are objects, though. Certain verbs
take NP complements that systematically resist being passivised (cf. (b) below); moreover, in terms of
the meaning of the clause, the verbal complement is closely related to the subject (cf. (c)).
Here we are simplifying matters somewhat because there is an intermediate category between transitive and
intransitive verbs called middle verbs: these seem transitive in other respects as they are obligatorily followed
by an object NP, but they only occur in the active, e.g., have ‘possess’, fit, equal, lack, resemble, and a few
others. Cf. Jon resembles his aunt but *Jon’s aunt is resembled (by Jon). The objects of middle verbs are often
referred to as quasi objects.
a. Jon became a Philosophy teacher
b.*A Philosophy teacher was become by him
c. = ‘He is/was a Philosophy teacher’
In such cases the NP after the verb is not an object; it is called subject complement (or subject
predicative complement) since it is a verbal complement structurally but semantically it belongs to
the subject. It is also possible for a verbal complement to establish another unusual relationship in the
clause, viz., by relating to the object of the verb (rather than directly to the verb). This is called object
complement (or object predicative complement), and it is basically the same as the subject
complement, but it semantically belongs to an object:
a. Garfield called Odie a stupid dog
b. = ‘(Garfield said that) Odie is/was a stupid dog’
c. *Garfield called a stupid dog to Odie
As sentence (c) shows, these are different from double object constructions and dative movement is
not possible. In fact, sometimes sentences are ambiguous between the double object construction and
the object complement construction: try to identify the two meanings of Garfield called Odie a vet,
and match them to the underlying structure!
The final grammatical function to consider is again one that has been mentioned: the
adverbial. Although adverbials are typically adjuncts, there are a few cases when they complement
verbs, i.e., when they cannot be omitted from a sentence without losing its grammaticality (or losing
the original meaning of the verb). Obligatory adverbials may be subject-related (e.g., (a) below) and
object-related ((c), (e) and (g)). Cf.:
a. Garfield stayed in bed
b. *Garfield stayed
c. Jon kept Garfield in bed
d. *Jon kept Garfield
e. Garfield put the pizza on the table
f. *Garfield put the pizza
g. Jon gave all the pizzas to Garfield
h. *Jon gave all the pizzas
In sum, the functions of verbal complements, together with their conventional abbreviations, are the
Od: direct object
Oi: indirect object
Cs: subject complement
Co: object complement8
Al: adverbial
Verbs fall into classes according to which of them they select. As we have mentioned above, this is
called subcategorisation. To conclude the discussion, let us summarise and name the subcategories of
English lexical verbs, most of which we have in fact already seen above:
There are two more grammatical functions, the subject (S) and the attribute (At), but these are not discussed
here since they are never directly associated with the verb (the subject is a clausal function, and only holds a
“long-distance relationship” with the verb; the attribute is a function within NPs only) – as a result, they do not
serve to distinguish subcategories of lexical verbs.
Although unfortunately this is rather confusing, there are two meanings to the word complement: one is the
general sense, in which it is the opposite of adjunct; the other is as in subject complement and object
complement, referring to complements in VPs that are not objects, in the absence of a separate name.
1. (Ordinary) intransitive verbs: followed by no obligatory element
Garfield laughed
2. Copular verbs (also called complex-intransitive, intensive, linking, or copulative verbs):
complemented by Cs or Al9
Garfield looks hungry
The show is at 5
Jon became a Philosophy teacher
3. Transitive verbs can be further classified:
- (Ordinary) monotransitive verbs10: complemented by Od
Everybody knows Garfield
- Ditransitive verbs: complemented by Oi Od
Jon gave Garfield all the pizzas
- Complex-transitive verbs: complemented by Od Co or Od Al
Garfield called Odie a stupid dog
Garfield put the pizza on the table
Jon gave all the pizzas to Garfield
You may have noticed that one of the most significant grammatical functions, the subject, is not
mentioned throughout the discussion of complementation and verb subcategorisation. That is partly
because the subject is not part of the VP: it is not a complement. In addition, the subject is obligatorily
explicitly present in all main clauses in English, as opposed to Hungarian: while a Hungarian sentence
like Fáradtnak tűnsz is well-formed, its English equivalent You look tired is unacceptable without the
subject: *Look tired. Interestingly, even when the subject is not explicit, it is understood and
interpretable with the help of other clues: Hungarian Fáradtnak tűnsz has a “hidden” second person
singular subject, and the (underlined) subclause in Garfield seems to be hungry is understood as
having the same subject as the main clause, i.e., Garfield. (Cf. the sentence It seems that Garfield is
hungry, which shows that there really are two clauses and two subjects!) This is relevant here because
this subject requirement is independent of the choice of the verb: it applies with intransitive, copular,
and transitive verbs alike. That is, verb subcategorisation is unrelated to the constraints on the subject.
That does not mean, however, that the subject is unrelated to the verb. On the contrary: most
verbs license the subject in a way similar to how they license their complements. This is especially
apparent in the meaning roles subjects play in clauses, which do depend on the choice of the verb.
Compare Odie watched Garfield and Odie saw Garfield. Although seemingly the only difference is in
the verb, the subjects are also different: with watch, Odie is an active participant, someone who
deliberately performs an action, while with see, he is more of a passive observer. Therefore, the verb is
able to determine the role the subject plays in the overall meaning expressed by the sentence.
Sometimes the same verb assigns different roles to its subjects in different contexts: e.g., in Jon
opened the door, the subject is the active “doer” of the action; in The key opened the door, the subject
is rather an instrument (used by someone who is not mentioned); while in The door opened, it is a
passive “undergoer”, to which something happens. Consequently, the subject is also considered to be
an argument of the verb, but since it is outside the VP, it is called the external argument.11
Just like certain verbs do not license an object and are therefore intransitive, certain verbs do
not license a subject. There even are verbs that do not license any arguments at all: the most “famous”
examples are the so-called “weather-verbs” like rain: simply because of what it means, there are no
participants that would be required to complete its meaning, neither active “doers”, nor passive
“undergoers”. When it is used in a sentence, the subject requirement simply enforces the insertion of a
Copular verbs can be current (be, appear, seem, feel, look, sound, remain happy; taste, smell delicious; lie
scattered, stand perplexed, etc.) and resulting (become older; come true; get ready; go, turn sour; grow tired;
fall sick; run wild, etc.).
Recall that middle verbs constitute an intermediate category between intransitive and monotransitive.
Note that previously (in Ch. 2.1) the term argument was introduced as a mere synonym of complement. Now it
should be clear that arguments (the subject plus the complement(s)) are all licensed by their heads, but only
complements (a subtype of arguments) are contained within the phrases projected by the heads.
semantically empty, dummy (grammatical) subject: e.g., It is raining. That, then, illustrates a case with
a special type of intransitive verb which does not take an external argument, either.
In fact, the subcategorisation of verbs (based on the number of complements, i.e., VP-internal
arguments) and the licensing of the subject (the external argument) add up to another possible
typology of verbs, in terms of the number of arguments they license. Accordingly, there are zeroargument verbs (such as rain), one-argument verbs (e.g., intransitives like laugh), two-argument
verbs (e.g., monotransitives like know), and even three-argument verbs (e.g., ditransitives like give).
As expected, the number of arguments equals the number of complements plus one (the subject); e.g.,
an intransitive verb takes zero objects but it licenses its subject, which makes it a one-argument verb.
At this point intriguing questions arise, e.g., whether one-argument verbs with a complement and no
external argument exist – such issues go well beyond the scope of an introductory discussion like ours.
4.2 Further reading
On the structure of the VP in general: SGE 3.19–3.26; OEG 5; CGEL 2  On the semantics of the
VP: SGE 4.1  On non-finite VPs: SGE 4.35  On the complementation of verbs: SGE 16.2–16.16;
CGEL 2; BESE 5.2  On the tenses: SGE 4.7; OEG 5; T&M 17–20; ALP 1–4; AGU 1–16  On
the subjunctive: ALP 9; OEG 5; T&M 28.
4.3 Practice exercises
1. Identify the verbal constructions in the following
examples. Encircle finite verb forms, underline nonfinite verb forms.
1. Run like you are being chased
2. These wings are made to fly
3. I have seen that face before
4. I have been thinking about you
5. Old McDonald had a farm
6. I wish it had been a dream
7. What to expect when you are expecting
2. Compare the underlined verb forms in the sentence
pairs. Are they grammatically different or the same?
1. This made me happy – That gadget was made in China
2. The kids play in the garden – Let the kids play in the garden
3. Several members accompanied the leader on his trip – I received this strange e-mail,
accompanied by two attachments
4. My friends like swimming in the sea – My friends are swimming in the sea
3. Compare the perfect and passive constructions. What do they have in common?
4. Compare the imperative, infinitival and subjunctive constructions. What do they have in common?
5. In If I were you, I would buy a new car is the verb be in past tense? Why (not)?
6. The following verbs have both stative and dynamic senses. Complete the chart with example
sentences that clearly illustrate the difference in meaning and usage. The first one has been done
for you.
stative sense
dynamic sense
Jon has a cat
Garfield is having lasagne for
7. Sometimes an adverb is inserted between the particle to and the verb in a to-infinitive. This is called
“split infinitive”. Produce split infinitive constructions in the following sentences by adding the
adverbs in brackets.
1. It will take years to master this subject (really)
2. We are about to go where no one has gone before (boldly)
3. She used to admire him (secretly)
4. You have to understand this to be able to answer the questions (really, properly)
8. We repeat the chart from the text, illustrating the use and functions of the operator. Fill it again with
your own examples.
The operator is…
a modal auxiliary
a non-modal auxiliary
not originally present
Finite inflection
(backshift test):
9. Identify the different subcategories of lexical verbs and the grammatical functions of the phrases in
the following examples. Use abbreviations like Od, Co, Al, etc.
1. It was 9 am
2. The postman came
3. He rang the doorbell
4. The sound of the bell woke up Garfield
5. This made him awfully angry
6. He didn’t let the postman in
7. So the postman couldn’t hand Garfield his birthday cards
10. The following sentences all illustrate some form of the subjunctive (1–4) and the so-called Modal
Past (5). Discuss how the form of the verb reveals in each case that they are not simple indicative
1. I suggest that the committee now retire to discuss the case
2. God save the Queen!
3. If I were a rich man, I wouldn’t have to work hard
4. Whatever be the situation, you must not falter
5. If only I could turn back time, I would stay for the night
4.4 Extension: Two highlights: “phrasal verbs” and the
This chapter discusses two topics related to Ch. 4.1: one is a special subtype of verbs not yet
mentioned, the other is a construction briefly touched upon but not dealt with in detail above.
First, we investigate so-called multi-word verbs and their subtypes: phrasal verbs,
prepositional verbs, and phrasal-prepositional verbs. The first two structures resemble each other in
being composed of elements which appear to be the same: a lexical verb plus an adverb-like function
word. We will see that the difference is that this adverb-like function word is an adverb particle in
phrasal verbs (e.g., switch off the lights), while it is a preposition in prepositional verbs (e.g., live off
one’s parents). The difficulty these pose for learners of English stems from the fact that, in spite of the
apparent formal similarity (note in the examples that the adverb particle and the preposition may even
be identical!), they exhibit crucial differences in syntactic behaviour (e.g., compare the word order in
switch them off vs. live off them). Although a number of coursebooks use the same name “phrasal
verb” to refer to both types, we will consistently distinguish them even in terminology and use it as
explained above. For learners of English, multi-word verbs are problematic because (i) it is a lexical,
idiosyncratic property of V + P sequences whether they belong to one category or the other, that is,
this has to be memorised for each single example; and (ii) very often, their meaning is not fully
compositional or even totally idiomatic so they need to be learnt as set expressions. Learners often
think that all “phrasal verbs” are like that but this is not true: notice that both our examples above
(switch off and live off) are more or less predictable as to the meaning; some phrasal verbs are less
idiomatic (e.g., wake (Garfield) up) than others (e.g., put (the meeting) off); in the same way, some
prepositional verbs are less idiomatic (e.g., climb up (the ladder)) than others (e.g., look after (the
kids)). It is not in terms of meaning that the two types primarily diverge, but rather, in terms of the
syntactic behaviour they display – and this is what we turn to now.
Consider the following examples:
Odie ran up the stairs
Odie woke up Garfield
Apparently, the two sentences contain the same type of sequence: a verb followed by up followed by
an NP. However, in the case of run, the substring up the stairs can be moved around in the sentence as
a single constituent, and it may even receive the phrase-initial premodifying adverb right; whereas
with wake none of these constructions works. The substring up Garfield does not seem to act like a
single constituent:
Up the stairs, Odie ran
It was up the stairs that Odie ran
Odie ran right up the stairs
*Up Garfield, Odie woke
*It was up Garfield that Odie woke
*Odie woke right up Garfield
In addition, look at possible word orders in the two cases:
Odie ran up the stairs
*Odie ran the stairs up
Odie ran up them
*Odie ran them up
Odie woke up Garfield
Odie woke Garfield up
*Odie woke up him
Odie woke him up
Up the stairs, which proved to be a single constituent above, still behaves as one and strongly resists
any changes in the order of its components: whether the nominal element after up is a full NP or a
pronoun, up comes first and the nominal phrase follows. That is, up the stairs is very much like an
ordinary PP with a P head and an NP complement: run up is a prepositional verb. In contrast, up
Garfield does not seem to be a unit; rather, up and Garfield change positions freely, as sometimes
happens in the case of two separate constituents. Moreover, when the NP is a pronoun, the principle of
end weight (Ch. 11.4), that long or stressed (i.e., “heavy”) constituents move to the end of
phrases/clauses whenever possible, sends stressed up to the end, to lag behind the unstressed pronoun.
We only have this option when up is an adverb (particle), independent of the following NP: wake up is
a phrasal verb. Both types have a number of subcategories according to the complements they
phrasal verbs
e.g., get up, throw up, come round/
to ‘become conscious again after
prepositional verbs
e.g., wake sy up, switch sg off, put
sg off, knock sy out
with a prepositional object: e.g, live off
sy, climb up sg, look after sy, deal with sg
e.g., turn out, end up
with a direct object and a prepositional
object: e.g., remind sy of sg, spend
(money) on sg, stop sy from (doing) sg
e.g., turn into, serve as
The third type of multi-word verbs is, as mentioned above, the phrasal-prepositional verb, which
combines a phrasal verb (i.e., a V plus an adverb) and a PP. Phrasal-prepositional verbs may be
monotransitive (with a prepositional object, e.g., put up with sg) or doubly transitive (with a direct
object and a prepositional object, e.g., look sg up in the dictionary/on the internet, put sg down to sg
‘explain sg with sg’).
The second topic in this chapter is the subjunctive, mentioned in Ch. 4.1 above as one of the
three moods in English (in addition to indicative and imperative). Since the imperative is pretty
marginal in English (main clause imperatives are simply formed with the base form of the verb,
indirect imperatives are produced with a variety of structures such as to-infinitive constructions and
the like), we may consider the subjunctive as an umbrella term that covers all verbal constructions
which are not clearly indicative. This means that there is a rather broad set of different structures
falling under this category: most of them are only found in subclauses with conjunctions, therefore the
subjunctive is also often called conjunctive (and hence the Hungarian name, kötőmód). The subtypes
traditionally classified here in the grammar of English are as follows:
(i) Base-form subjunctive or present subjunctive
 formulaic subjunctive: set phrases expressing a wish or hope, e.g., God bless you! Heaven help
us! God save the Queen! Long live the Queen! Suffice it to say… Come what may…
 mandative subjunctive: in that-clauses when the main clause expresses recommendation,
resolution, demand; e.g., They ordered that the prisoner be released; It is vital that he remain in
 conditional “be” subjunctive: in real conditional clauses, e.g., If that be the case..., Whether she
be willing or not..., Whatever be the reason...
(ii) were-subjunctive or past subjunctive: were used instead of was in 1st and 3rd person singular in
formal style12, in unreal conditional clauses, in clauses of comparison (as if/as though...) and in
subclauses after optative expressions (I wish, if only...)13; e.g., If I were a rich man..., If I were
you..., As if that were all he wanted..., as it were (‘so to speak’)
It is worthy of note at this point that the “simple” use of past tense (or, more precisely, preterite) forms
for non-past tense functions is traditionally separated from the subjunctive and referred to as the
Modal Past: it appears in unreal conditional clauses (second and third conditional, see Ch. 11.1), in
clauses of comparison (as if/as though...) and in subclauses after optative expressions (I wish, if only,
it’s time): If I lived near my office..., It’s high time he left; I’d rather you paid cash.
Further reading
On tense and aspect: Cowan 2008: 16  On the double object construction: Cowan 2008: 15  On
the subjunctive: ALP 9  On multi-word verbs: ALP 21, 23–25; SGE 16.1–16.10; OEG 5; T&M 38;
Cowan 2008: 9; AGU 114; McCarthy & O’Dell 1994: 85–91  A list of common multi-word verbs:
Cowan 2008: Appendix A  On the syntactic analysis of phrasal verbs: BESE 5.2.7; Wekker &
Haegeman 1985: 6.
4.5 Practice exercises
1. Identify the different subcategories of lexical verbs and the grammatical functions of the phrases in
the following examples.
1. The pot calls the kettle black
2. The early bird catches the worm
3. Don’t count your chicks before they hatch
4. No man is an island
5. Birds of a feather flock together
6. The squeaky wheel gets the grease
7. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer
8. A watched pot never boils
9. Actions speak louder than words
10. Too many cooks spoil the broth
11. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
12. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
2. Identify the phrasal, prepositional, and phrasal-prepositional verbs in the following examples. Are
they transitive or intransitive?
1. I am beautiful no matter what they say, words can’t bring me down
2. Now and then I think of when we were together
3. But you didn’t have to cut me off and make out like it never happened
4. You treat me like a stranger
5. Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over
6. I don’t want to read into every word you say
7. We can work it out
8. If I keep holding out, will the light shine through
9. I have been planning out all that I’d say to you since you slipped away
In informal style, was is more common (i.e., the Modal Past – see below), except for a few set phrases.
Not all optative expressions take the were-subjunctive, though; e.g., it is time takes the Modal Past: It’s time I
was/*were going.
10. Don’t let me down
11. You never gave up on me
12. I know that I’m a lot of work but you put up with me
13. I call you up in the middle of the night
14. I want to take her out again
15. I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
3. Use the correct forms of these phrasal-prepositional verbs to paraphrase the sentences below.
catch up with, come in for, cut down on, fix up with, get along with, look forward to
1. How can we reduce the risk of STDs?
2. I can hardly wait to see Jane’s baby boy
3. I have a good relationship with most of my colleagues at work
4. I hope the police will find the robber soon
5. Mary wants to arrange for Jim to meet her sister
6. The IMF has received much criticism recently
4. Complete the sentences with the following verbs in the mandative subjunctive.
be found, be lowered, be made, be raised, pay (2x), postpone, see, solve, study, take, wear
1. The Congress advised that the minimum salary ……………….
2. The committee decided that everyone ………………… their fees
3. The King determined that all his subjects ……………….. hats
4. John insisted that his wife ………………….. a doctor
5. We proposed that the income tax …………………..
6. I will recommend that the decision ……………….. today
7. The Government requested that all citizens ………………. their taxes
8. I suggested that Margaret ………………… the course again
9. It is crucial that we ………………….. our political problems soon
10. It is desirable that the teacher …………………… the exam
11. It is imperative that a solution to the current crisis ………… quickly
12. It is necessary that you ………………….. hard every day
5. Complete the second sentence so that it has a similar meaning to the first sentence, using the word
given. Do not change the word given.
1. Flavia regretted not going to the concert. WISHED
Flavia …………………………………………………………………………….. the concert.
2. ‘Why didn’t I ask Linda for her phone number?’ thought Vince. ASKED
‘If …………………………………………….. Linda for her phone number!’ thought Vince.
3. ‘One thing you can do is give up smoking,’ said the doctor. WERE
‘If ………………………………………………………… give up smoking,’ said the doctor.
4. We’d prefer you to pay in cash for the goods. RATHER
We ……………………………………………………………………………… for the goods.
5. You really should apply yourself to some serious studying. TIME
It’s high …………...……………………………………………...…. to some serious studying.
6. Isn’t that announcer ever going to stop talking? ONLY
If …………………………………………………………………………..…………… talking!
5.1 Nouns and Noun Phrases
“Why are proper nouns useful when you are broke?”
“Because they can be capitalised.”1
Noun Phrases are either composed of a single word (e.g., a proper noun or a pronoun) or of several
words (with the noun head and some modifier(s)). Pronouns were discussed in Ch. 3.1 – recall that
personal pronouns are the most important central pronouns, which differ along the dimensions of
number (singular, plural), person (first, second, third), case (nominative, accusative), and gender
(masculine, feminine, neuter/non-personal). Out of these, number and case also apply to nouns,
although there is a difference: while number is normally morphologically marked (by the presence of a
suffix for the plural, and its absence for the singular), case is abstract in Present-day English. What
that means is that it is not visibly indicated in the form of the noun or noun phrase (as in several
languages including Hungarian – called morphological case), but the case forms of the personal
pronouns that replace the NPs indirectly show what case the NPs are in. In a sentence like Garfield
ignores the mice, we know Garfield is nominative and the mice is accusative from the pronouns that
can substitute for them: he and them, respectively.
In English, nominative and accusative are structural cases: mostly, they are assigned to NPs
occupying specific structural positions. As you may have already noticed, nominative (also called
common case) is for the NP in the subject position of the sentence (at least in finite clauses) while
accusative (also called oblique case) is what the objects of transitive verbs take (cf. Garfield and the
mice). Besides transitive verbs, prepositions also assign accusative case (e.g., with me, after them), and
it is also the accusative that NPs in certain special positions assume, cf. e.g., (Who is it?) It’s me or
Him eating all the pizza surprised us or You and me are the best of friends.
The third case relevant in English is genitive (or possessive) case. This has two forms:
inflected (e.g., Garfield’s tail) and periphrastic (i.e., phrasal, e.g., the centre of the city). Notice that
in both of these examples the genitive is part of a larger NP, which is its usual occurrence, but it is also
used for the subject of certain clauses with non-finite verb forms (e.g, Garfield’s eating all the pizza
surprised us) (for non-finite clauses, see Ch. 8.1). Perhaps the most interesting point about the genitive
inflection -’s is that it is a so-called phrasal affix: it attaches to whole NPs rather than nominal stems.
When the NP ends in the head noun, the difference is not evident (e.g., the cat’s tail) but in cases like
The Wife of Bath’s Tale or the cat we saw today’s tail we see that the suffix does not appear on the
head noun itself but at the very end of the string wherever that is.2
The genitive has four formal subtypes:
simple genitive: the cat’s tail, Garfield’s photo
elliptical genitive: - independent: (Whose pizza is it?) Garfield’s
- local: the grocer’s, St Paul’s, Harrods, Uncle Ben’s
group genitive: The Wife of Bath’s Tale
double genitive: a friend of Jon’s
Semantically, i.e., meaning-wise, the genitive is intriguing as it is able to express a number of relations
between two nominal elements: it is not only for simple possession (e.g., Garfield’s pizza), but can
also denote a subject (e.g., Jon’s retirement) or object (e.g., Jon’s promotion), and a lot of others (cf.
ten days’ absence, a man of great courage, a doctor’s degree, etc.).
Recall that the two categories applicable to nouns are case and number. In English, there are
two numbers, singular and plural. Nouns, however, differ in the extent number is relevant to them: this
Note that for regular nouns, the plural (e.g., cats), the singular genitive (cat’s) and the plural genitive (cats’)
only differ in spelling – in pronunciation, they are identical.
property is called countability. Out of the two major nominal classes, proper nouns and common
nouns, the former constitute a separate and rather heterogeneous category with a variety of structures
(some typically singular like Jon, some plural like the United States or the Netherlands, and in certain
cases plural has a specific interpretation as in the Browns), but in general, proper nouns are much less
flexible syntactically. Due to the fact that they carry more reference (they name somebody or
something) than some definable semantic content, it is more important for them to be constant than be
able to vary and produce all sorts of phrases. Common nouns, however, can be classified into
subtypes, in the following way:
variable nouns: have an inflectional contrast between singular and plural; they are traditionally
called countable (count, +Count) nouns: cat, apple, knife, man, reindeer...
non-variable nouns: with fixed number:
- singular-only nouns, called uncountable (noncount, mass, -Count) nouns: hair,
coffee, furniture, advice, weather; news, linguistics, mumps, billiards…
- plural-only (xCount, midcount) nouns (the “twilight zone”): neither count nor
noncount: trousers, clothes, scissors; cattle, police…
Countability is a fundamental property of nouns because it determines the type of NP a noun is able to
only count nouns can take cardinal numerals (one, two, three, etc.) as determiner, in which
case they assume the plural form, e.g., two cats, eight men
only count nouns can combine with the indefinite article, e.g., a
cat, an apple
count nouns cannot build one-word NPs on their own in the
singular, cf. *Jon found apple in the kitchen (Ch. 3.1)
determiners and count nouns agree in number within the NP, cf. a
cat, two cats, *a cats, *two cat, this cat, these cats, *this cats,
*these cat
certain determiners are marked for countability and combine with
nouns accordingly, e.g., many is count-only (many cats, *many
furniture) and much is noncount-only (much furniture, *much
cat(s)); few and less pair up in the same way; the indefinite article
(a(n)) and a few others like each and every are count-only and
require singular3; etc.
Agreement in number does not only affect the determiner
and the noun in the NP, but also the subject NP and the
operator in the clause (cf. finiteness in Ch. 4.1). Therefore,
since cat is singular, a cat is grammatical, and the verb in
the clause will be singular: A cat is sitting on the
windowsill. In fact, that is how we know that nouns like
reindeer are countable and have singular and plural forms:
A reindeer is sitting on the windowsill and Two reindeer are
sitting on the windowsill. Such nouns are special because
the plural marker is not visible: this is called zero plural
(see below).
In a parallel fashion, we find that nouns like news,
although ending in what seems like a plural suffix, are in fact singular (cf. What is the news?), whereas
nouns like police are plural (cf. The police are after me). Notice, then, that number is detectable in
agreement more straightforwardly than in either the form or the meaning of the noun.
Cf. every cat, *every furniture, *every cats vs. all (the) cats, all (the) furniture (plus *all (the) cat).
Of course, there still is a connection between the meaning of the noun and its countability:
nouns meaning objects and discrete entities (e.g., cat, apple, knife) are countable while abstract
nouns (e.g., weather, linguistics) are uncountable, and collective nouns (e.g., police) can be plural.
Measure expressions can function as singular even if in plural form since they denote single units of
time or distance (e.g., Three hours is not enough for that job or Fifty miles is a long way to ride).
Quantificational nouns (like lot) may contribute the meaning but be unable to determine the number
feature of the clause, cf. A lot of cats are fond of boxes vs. A lot of furniture is unsuitable for its
intended purpose. In addition, different senses of the same noun may differ in this respect: hair and
coffee, for example, are noncount when referring to the mass (e.g., He has ginger hair or How much
coffee do you drink a day?) but count when referring to a single piece or some kind of unit of
measurement of that mass (cf. She found a few white hairs on her head or Two coffees, please!).4 In
such cases very often the countable sense coincides with that of a phrase specifying the most frequent
amount or quantity of the mass, e.g., two coffees means two cups of coffee (and not two bottles, for
instance). Such phrasal quantifiers (e.g., a piece of luggage, a spot of rain; especially food
quantifiers like a glass of water, a loaf/slice of bread, a bar of chocolate, a spoonful of sugar, a
pound/kilo of meat)5 are frequently used to “make noncount nouns count”, i.e., to specify the quantity
or amount in a N+PP phrase (rather than with a simple determiner/numeral, which, recall, is an option
only for count nouns, e.g., two cats, eight men).
Turning back to (ordinary) countable nouns, we now take a look at their plural forms. In this
respect, i.e., according to how they form their plurals, nouns fall into two major categories: regular
nouns, which produce the plural morphologically, by suffixing the
-s inflection (e.g., cat – cats); and irregular nouns, whose plurals
are unpredictable, i.e., lexical (e.g., mouse – mice). It often happens
that the same noun is regular in certain or most senses (e.g., brother
‘male sibling’ – brothers) but irregular in others (e.g., brother
‘monk’ – brethren). The fact that -s is the regular, productive suffix
guarantees that all new count nouns in English will choose it as the
plural inflection (e.g., yolo – yolos) and new senses to old words
may also get regularised (e.g., mouse, the animal, is always mice in
the plural, but in computing the form mouses is also used). A final
note on the regular plural is that in spelling it has two forms (-s and
-es, as in cats and boxes), whereas in pronunciation it has three (/s/,
/z/ and /ɪz/, as in cats, dogs and boxes).
As the final topic of the chapter, let is consider the irregular forms of the plural, which can
be grouped into the following five subtypes:
-en plural: e.g., brother, child, ox
mutation(al) plural: internal vowels change (“mutate”) in the plural form, e.g., man,
snowman6, tooth, woman, mouse
voicing plural: stem-final voiceless fricatives /  / become voiced /v ð z/ before taking the
plural suffix (which is then pronounced /z/)7
Using noncount nouns like coffee as count may be taken to be a subcase of conversion (Ch. 1.1).
Such phrasal quantifiers (called pseudo-partitives in syntax) contain a countable noun followed by an ofphrase. The count noun may specify a conventionalised measure (e.g., a kilo, a litre), an abstract quantity (e.g., a
(large) amount), a container (e.g., a cup), a fraction or part (e.g., a slice) or other units (e.g., a lump (of sugar), a
drop (of milk)).
Compound nouns ending in -man, like snowman, simply copy the plural of man. A number of words, however,
resemble such compounds but in fact contain -man at the end as an unstressed, weak suffix. Typically, these are
names of professions and jobs, e.g., postman, policeman, chairman: these words are strange because in writing,
there is a difference between the singular (-man) and the plural (-men), but in pronunciation the two forms are
exactly the same. That is, in terms of pronunciation, they have the zero plural.
Spelling only indicates the change for f–v, e.g., wife – wives; cf. house – houses, path – paths.
voicing plural only: house; calf, half, loaf, wolf, knife, life, wife, leaf, sheaf, thief, elf,
self, shelf; path, mouth, bath, youth
- both voicing and regular plural possible: truth, sheath, wreath, oath; hoof, scarf,
wharf, dwarf, handkerchief
- regular plural only: when there is a consonant letter before -th (birth, month, length,
etc.); belief, safe, chief, roof, proof; faith
zero plural:
- nationality names ending in /s/ or /z/: Swiss, Chinese, Portuguese...
- some nouns ending in -s: series, species, means, crossroads, gallows, innings,
headquarters, gas works, barracks...
- some animal names: always: reindeer, sheep, grouse, fish; usually: pike, trout, carp,
quail; only in huntsmen’s usage: antelope, buffalo, lion, elephant
- some quantitative nouns when preceded by numerals: hundred, thousand, million,
dozen, score, gross; foot, pound, stone
- some other nouns: counsel, aircraft, spacecraft, cannon
foreign plurals:
from Latin:
-i: alumnus, bacillus, locus, stimulus
-i/-uses: cactus, focus, fungus, nucleus, radius, terminus,
-uses: campus, chorus, circus, virus
-ora: corpus
-era: genus
-a: curriculum, addendum, bacterium, corrigendum,
erratum, ovum, desideratum, stratum
-a/-ums: aquarium, medium, memorandum, symposium,
-ums: album, museum, chrysanthemum
-ae: alga, larva, alumna
-ae/-as: antenna, formula, vertebra
-as: area, arena, dilemma, diploma, drama
-ices: codex
-ices/-exes: apex, index, vortex
-ices/-ixes: matrix, appendix
from Greek:
-es: analysis, axis, basis, crisis, diagnosis, oasis, ellipsis, hypothesis, parenthesis, synopsis,
-ises: metropolis
-a: criterion, phenomenon
-a/-ons: automaton, ganglion
-ons: demon, electron, neuron, proton
from French:
-eaux/-eaus: plateau, tableau, bureau
-ieux/-ieus: adieu
-s: chamois, chassis, corps, patois, faux pas
from Italian:
-i/-os: tempo, solo, libretto, virtuoso
-os: soprano, concerto
from Hebrew:
-im/-s: kibbutz, cherub, seraph
5.2 Further reading
On nouns and the Noun Phrase: SGE 17.1–17.42; OEG 5; T&M 2; AGU 50–55  On countability:
CGEL 2; McCarthy & O’Dell 1994: 26–30.
5.3 Practice exercises
1. Locate (definite) NPs in the following sentences by replacing them with personal pronouns. What
case are the NPs in? How do they receive their case?
1. Mrs. Smith is jealous of Jack and Jill
2. For this overweight guy wearing jeans to win all the races would be surprising
3. Susan expected her husband to be angry with her because of the shoes
4. Our new boss suggested that you and I be somewhat more attentive to the customers
5. Fred watched the girl with the binoculars
2. Put the following nouns into the diagram. Do they have a non-variable form (in which case they are
either singular-only or plural-only), or is it possible to come up with a plural form for them (in
which case they are “ordinary” countable nouns, and go into the intersection of the diagram)?
Three have been done for you.
belongings, cattle, clothes, fish, harm, kettle, mouse, news, nonsense, physics, police, scissors, student
3. Tick the cells in the following chart which denote possible combinations of determiners and nouns.
The first one has been done for you.
4. Discuss the grammatical status and behaviour of jury in The jury haven’t yet reached a decision.
5. Use these words to complete the sentences. Do not leave any of the gaps empty. You will need to
use one of the words twice.
a(n), are, at, for, is, item, on, piece, some
1. I’m afraid I’ve got …….. bad news.
2. I wrote ……. e-mail to John telling him all the latest news.
3. Friends expressed shock …… the news of his death.
4. There ……. brighter news on the romantic front for my sisters.
5. She was delighted by this …… of news.
6. The first …….. of news was the fire at the palace.
7. Did you see Tony Blair …… the news last night?
8. The election results ……. terrible news for social welfare programs.
9. You think she likes you? Well, I’ve got news …… you. She doesn’t!
10. Jack says he’s borrowing your car tomorrow.” “That …… news to me!”
5.4 Extension: Determiners in complex NPs
Determiners were introduced and discussed in Ch. 2.1 and 3.1, where we saw that this
“supercategory” subsumes articles (definite and indefinite), demonstratives (proximal and distal; cf.
demonstrative pronouns – Ch. 3.1), possessives (sometimes called possessive adjectives; cf.
possessive pronouns – Ch. 3.1), all sorts of quantifiers (e.g., all, both, every, each, some/any, etc.), whwords (what, which) and numerals (cardinals, ordinals, fractions). Here we add a minor subgroup, that
of multipliers (e.g., double, twice) as they also appear at the left edge of NPs like double the amount
or twice the rate of inflation; however, they always combine with other determiners in the NP (which
is, in fact, also true of ordinals and fractions, cf. the first time, half an hour) – an option we have not
Nevertheless, it is rather frequent for determiners to cluster together so that the NP starts with
multiple determiners. The NP all the five boys, for instance, contains as many as three determiners: a
quantifier, the definite article, and a numeral. What is of some interest here is that the order of these
determiners is fixed; none of the other possible orders is well-formed:
*all five the boys
*the all five boys
*the five all boys
*five all the boys
*five the all boys
We also notice that not all determiners can participate in such combinations; in fact, the
“prototypical”, most frequent determiners (articles, demonstratives, possessives) mutually exclude
each other: *the this book (or *this the book), *the my cat, etc. They have exactly the same
distribution, cf.:
a book
For this reason they are regarded as a subgroup of determiners called central determiners; they are
central both in terms of significance/frequency and in terms of position in determiner sequences. This
latter point is illustrated below; notice that (certain) quantifiers, multipliers, fractions and wh-words
precede them, whereas cardinals and ordinals follow them in the NP:
Henceforth, determiners which precede central determiners are
referred to as predeterminers, and those that follow them are
called postdeterminers. Further observations regarding the
subclasses of determiners:
sequences do not necessarily contain a central determiner,
but even in such cases the predeterminer precedes the other
constituents, e.g., all three elephants
certain quantifiers exclude articles, demonstratives and
possessives, i.e., occupy the same slot in the structure, and
are therefore also considered central determiners, e.g., some/any, every
certain quantifiers (many/much, more, most, few/little, less, least, etc.) are postdeterminers
postdeterminers may combine with each other, i.e., they are very much like ordinary
premodifying adjuncts (typically, Adjective Phrases) in NPs, cf. the first two examples, my
last few words
In light of these, the system of word order in NPs we arrive at is the following:
a predeterminer
a central det.
some/any, every
postdeterminer(s) (rest of NP)
many/much, more,
most, few/little,
less, least
Unfortunately, there are a few problematic cases as certain determiners display ambiguous behaviour.
E.g., the intensifier such is a predeterminer in some examples (like the wh-word what, which also has
an intensifying function in exclamatives; e.g., such a shame – cf. what a shame) but a postdeterminer
in others (e.g., few such things); many is normally a postdeterminer (e.g., the many passengers) but a
predeterminer in a few phrases like many a happy day; in examples like your every wish will be done
central determiners are combined against the usual tendency, etc. In addition, another is written as a
single word and behaves as a single central determiner, but in fact it is
composed of a central determiner (an) and a postdeterminer (other).
The most puzzling case, however, is that of the -’s genitive,
which has the same distribution as a central determiner, i.e., it occupies
the same slot in the NP, cf.:
a book
the girl living next door’s
At the same time, the genitive and the articles mutually exclude each other, just as central determiners
generally do (see above), e.g., *the Joan’s book or *Joan’s this book. Therefore, we conclude that
although the genitive is not a word-level category but a phrase (and, recall, the -’s is a phrasal affix),
thus it cannot be classified as a (central) determiner, it nevertheless behaves as one.8
The quantifiers all, both, each have a number of special characteristics. First, as discussed in
Ch. 3.1 above, they can function as pronouns, too. Second, they undergo what is called QuantifierPronoun Flip: they are predeterminers, i.e, they stand at the very beginning of the NP when it is
headed by a noun (e.g., I want all the money), but when the head of the NP is a pronoun, the two
switch positions (e.g., I want it all)9. Finally, all, both and each can become so-called floating
quantifiers: they may not be part of their NP in the clause but start “floating” and land at the
beginning of any of the VPs of the clause, which now means before any of the non-modals or the
lexical verb. E.g., All the members have read the circular has the alternative paraphrase The members
all have read the circular and The members have all read the circular. Although not all alternatives
are equally frequent in actual use, their number really only depends on the number of verbs in the
clause, cf.:
a. This time next year both the railway and the stations will have been being built for 4 years
b. This time next year the railway and the stations will both have been being built for 4 years
c. This time next year the railway and the stations will have both been being built for 4 years
d. This time next year the railway and the stations will have been both being built for 4 years
e. This time next year the railway and the stations will have been being both built for 4 years
f. This time next year they both will have been being built for 4 years
In (a), both is a predeterminer in an NP; sentences (b)-(e) illustrate the options for quantifier floating;
and (f) is a “bonus”, exemplifying Quantifier-Pronoun Flip in this sentence.
Our final topic in this chapter is the reference of determiners, especially articles, whose two
major subclasses show that the definite vs. indefinite distinction is fundamental in NPs. The reference
of an NP is definite when the person, object or notion the NP refers to can be uniquely identified from
either the situation or the grammatical context (cf. recoverability in Ch. 12.1). That is, it is either
something both the speaker and the listener know (e.g., The President has announced his resignation
or The cow jumped over the moon or Please put the cat out) or something that has been mentioned in
the sentence or in the broader context (e.g., Jon has a cat and a dog; the cat is called Garfield, the dog
This only applies to the so-called Specifying Genitive, i.e., the one that specifies or narrows down the meaning
of the head noun (i.e., Joan’s in Joan’s book points out which of all books in the universe we mean). The
genitive can also function as a premodifying adjunct to the noun, in which case it classifies, i.e., expresses the
type of, the item denoted by the noun (“Classifying Genitive”); e.g., a [doctor’s degree], this [women’s
magazine], a [women’s university]. Note the constituent boundaries indicated by the brackets in these examples,
and the ensuing number agreement in the NPs.
Here we ignore the alternative solution I want all of it since it is not a simple determiner plus noun sequence
but involves a PP.
is called Odie). Some of the other determiners also have definite reference, cf. this book, both
examples, the cat’s tail.
In the case of indefinite reference no such unique identification is possible, cf. Jon has a cat
and a dog. Again, besides the indefinite article, other determiners also belong here, cf. some ideas, any
questions, enough time, three people.
The definite vs. indefinite distinction intersects with another dimension, that of specific vs.
generic reference, as shown in the chart below. An NP with specific reference names a particular item
of a kind (e.g., a mouse) which may still remain unidentified, i.e., indefinite, as in I’ve seen a mouse in
the kitchen; compare this to the same indefinite NP with generic reference, i.e., referring to any mouse,
or mice in general, in A mouse is a small furry animal with a long tail. You will also see in the chart
that the so-called zero article (indicated with ) is an option with plural or noncount nouns for
indefinite reference.
The cow jumped over the moon
Jon has a cat and a dog; the cat is called
Garfield, the dog is called Odie
This book is about the cat Jon has
I’ve seen a mouse in the kitchen
I’ve seen some mice in the kitchen
I’ve seen  mice in the kitchen
I’ve bought  wine for the party
The mouse is a small furry animal
What kind of rice do the Chinese use?
The blind call for more attention
We can make the impossible come true
A mouse is a small furry animal with a long tail
 Mice are small furry animals with long tails
 Marriage is not a word; it’s a sentence
What is highly relevant to us in this regard is that in English, generic definite reference does not work
with plural or noncount nouns, cf.:
*The mice are small furry animals with long tails
*The marriage is not a word; it is a sentence
All this is in contrast to Hungarian, where neither the indefinite article nor the zero article has generic
reference, and the definite article is obligatory in these examples:
*Egy egér egy kicsi, szőrös, hosszúfarkú állat
* Egér egy kicsi, szőrös, hosszúfarkú állat
* Egerek kicsi, szőrös, hosszúfarkú állatok
Az egerek kicsi, szőrös, hosszúfarkú állatok
Az egér egy kicsi, szőrös, hosszúfarkú állat
Further reading
On articles and other determiners: T&M 1, 5, 7; ALP 17; AGU 56–69; Cowan 2008: 10–11; CGEL 2
 On the syntactic analysis of determiners and NPs: BESE 4.
5.5 Practice exercises
1. Decide whether the underlined words are determiners or pronouns.
ia. That is my bicycle
ib. That bicycle is mine
iia. Is this his car?
iib. Is this car his?
iiia. Many members hesitated but although each was pressed to act, none was in the end willing
iiib. Each candidate will be individually interviewed
iva. All the students speak French and some speak Italian as well
ivb. Some students speak French and all speak Italian as well
2. Find examples of NPs to specify which subclasses of determiner the following items belong to:
a. general ordinals like last, next;
b. the word no when used as a determiner.
3. Put the words in these NPs into the right columns of the chart. The first one has been done for you.
all the five boys, all three elephants, every few miles, all those crazy motorists, any two books, his last
two American trips, every other day, the most money, her other many accomplishments, all the nine
green bottles, a few minutes, the first two examples, my last few words
a predeterminer
a central det.
(rest of NP)
4. The following NPs all contain the genitive. Compare (a) and (b) with respect to their structure, and
explain the semantic difference; then compare (b) and (c) in terms of why they are ambiguous.
1. both the man’s eyes
2. both the men’s noses
3. She lives in an old shepherd’s cottage
5. Discuss the following Hungarian examples. What is the choice of the question word determined by?
Why is the first sentence ungrammatical?
1. *Hány pénzed van?
2. Hány forintod van?
3. Mennyi pénzed van?
4. Mennyi forintod van?
6.1 Other phrases
“‘This is the kind of tedious nonsense that I shall not put up with.’ Mr. Churchill said. Such
prepositional inelegance is perhaps forgivable in wartime, though from a prime minister of his
scholarly background one would normally expect ‘. . . up with which I shall not put.’”
(Ottawa Citizen, 4 March 1944)
Whether Winston Churchill really said those famous words or they have simply got attributed to him
anecdotally, the story still illustrates one of the most often cited “grammar rules” of English: you
should not end sentences with prepositions. Of course, what that actually refers to is that sentences do
frequently end in prepositions in spoken English, but somehow such cases have become the signs of
uneducatedness, so they are better avoided in writing or public utterances. So much so that, as the
Churchill story shows, people trying to “correct themselves” may end up with phrases that are
otherwise ungrammatical: put up with is a verbal expression that is not composed of put and up with
but put up and with; the expected form is …with which I shall not put up. Fortunately, people’s
attitudes towards language use is getting more and more tolerant, and nowadays such “grammar rules”
are not taken so seriously: it is equally accepted (perhaps except only by very strict “grammar cops”
on the internet) to say/write This is the university which I graduated from (or … that I graduated from,
or … I graduated from) and to write This is the university from which I graduated, although this latter
alternative (and in fact all containing which) still sounds more formal and is thus more likely to appear
in writing (rather than speech).
This example has helped us introduce the first topic of this chapter: Prepositional Phrases
(PPs), and we will come back to the positioning of prepositions in certain constructions like the ones
above later. Prepositions were briefly mentioned in Ch. 2.1
and 3.1: they are grammatical function words expressing time,
instrument, direction, location, and a number of other spatial
relationships, e.g., in, on, to, behind, after, with. Often they are
licensed/selected by a head to produce complement PPs, in
which case their meaning and interpretation may be idiomatic
and totally dependent on that head (cf. Jon is angry with
Garfield, Garfield is keen on pizza, All professors of syntax
congratulated us on our success, etc.). They are typically at the
very beginning of their phrases (but not always; degree adverbs
(cf. Ch. 3.1) or other degree phrases may premodify them, as in
right behind the fence or two years after their wedding). A
preposition may be complemented by:
an NP headed by a noun, e.g., with Garfield, on our
success, behind the fence, after their wedding, between
Jon and the girl living next door;
an NP with a pronoun (in the accusative form), e.g., with him, on it, between them;
another PP, e.g., because of you, out of the window, (The dispute dates) from before the war;
an -ing participle (or gerund-participle: one of the non-finite verb forms – Ch. 4.1) with its
modifiers, e.g., Everybody is looking forward to reading the latest Garfield comic strip (in
fact, a type of non-finite clause, cf. Ch. 8.1).
There are two points to note concerning Ps and PPs. First, since prepositions are function words, they
tend to be weak in pronunciation, and as a result, they may sound less prominent in their phrases than,
e.g., the nominal heads of their complement NPs. Pronounce the following sentence, and notice how
the syllables highlighted in small caps stand out, while the underlined prepositions (syntactically,
heads to their phrases) fade!
All proFESSors of SYNtax conGRAtulated us on our suCCESS
Nevertheless, we know that syntactically, prepositions still head their phrases since the grammatical
function the phrase plays in the sentence is attributable to the preposition. PPs typically fulfil
adverbial functions, e.g., in This happened two years after the war, the PP (underlined) is a time
adverbial, whose meaning is determined by after.
In fact, exactly because PPs fulfil adverbial functions, prepositions closely resemble certain
subtypes of adverbs, particularly the ones called adverb particles. As discussed in Ch. 3.1, most
adverb particles can actually be analysed as prepositions in certain cases: down, for example, is more
like an adverb in Garfield looks down on everybody around him, whereas in Odie ran down the road,
it is a preposition. The distinction between preposition and adverb may totally disappear when the P
head forms a one-word phrase: Jon put his hat on his head parallels Jon put his hat on, with a P
(underlined) in both cases with or without a complement NP (his head).1 It is not clear at all whether
on in the second case is an adverb (particle) or a one-word PP, and in fact, the distinction may not
even be important to make.
Another set of puzzling examples illustrate the absence of a clear dividing line between
prepositions and conjunctions. Consider the following sentences:
(1) a. Garfield has been awfully grumpy since morning
b. Garfield has been awfully grumpy since he woke up in the morning
c. Garfield has been awfully grumpy since
(2) a. They’d been dating two or three years before their marriage
b. They’d been dating two or three years before they got married
c. They’d been dating two or three years before
In these examples, since and before function as prepositions in the (a) sentences, are more like
conjunctions in (b), and form one-word phrases in (c). For the sake of simplicity, and to capture the
meaning identity in the three cases, it is possible to analyse all of them as prepositions; the PPs in (a),
then, contain NP complements, while the complements in (b) are clauses. This takes us to the second
point to note concerning Ps and PPs.
This second issue is the following. “Prototypical examples” of prepositions are rarely
complemented by clauses containing finite verb forms (i.e., finite clauses – Ch. 8.1). Note that
sentences like (a) below are ill-formed. Sometimes it is possible to simply leave out the preposition
(b), but as long as the preposition is present it is either followed by an NP (c-d) or a non-finite clause
a. *Everybody is surprised by that Garfield is so greedy
b. Everybody is surprised that Garfield is so greedy
c. Everybody is surprised by Garfield’s greed
d. Everybody is surprised by the fact that Garfield is so greedy
e. Everybody is surprised by Garfield(’s) being so greedy
The sentences in (1b) and (2b) above with since and before, respectively, are
exceptions then, and we will remark that certain time adverbial PPs (headed
by since, before, after, till, until, (as soon) as) can contain finite clauses.2
Cf. the VP with a verb and a complement in Garfield is eating lasagne but with a single verb in Garfield is
eating. (In fact, these examples show that eat is a transitive verb in all its uses, but its object is sometimes left
This is a restricted set; other, apparently similar items may only function as conjunctions (e.g., while) or as
prepositions (e.g., during). Also note the phrase in that (+ clause), which is composed of a preposition followed
by a finite that-clause, and is used to introduce the reason for something, as in You are right in that Garfield’s
greed is larger than what one should tolerate. Similarly, because is used to introduce explanations, and it can
also be taken to be a preposition, cf. our example of P+PP, because of you, above. In its most recent sense it even
Finally, the Churchill story again. Recall that there are two possible constructions with
prepositions: one is when the preposition is at the beginning of a clause, together with a wh-phrase (cf.
…with which I shall not put up) – this is called pied piping3; the other is the stylistically restricted
one, with the preposition at the end of the sentence4; cf. …which I shall not put up with) – called
preposition stranding. The basic idea is that in the first case the preposition leaves its original
position in a structure and moves to the front of the clause together with (in fact, as part of) the whphrase; in the second case only the wh-phrase moves and the preposition is left behind on its own. The
two main situations in which these options are available (or, which these options are available in )
are relative clauses (see Ch. 9.1) and wh-interrogatives (see Ch. 7.1):
pied piping
the kind of tedious nonsense with which I
shall not put up
the university from which I graduated
a cat by whose greed everybody is
With whom do you share this flat?
whTo which city are you travelling?
questions By whose greed are you surprised?
preposition stranding
the kind of tedious nonsense which I shall
not put up with
the university which I graduated from
a cat whose greed everybody is surprised by
Who(m) do you share this flat with?
Which city are you travelling to?
Whose greed are you surprised by?
Besides PPs, the phrases we are discussing in this chapter are the Adjective Phrase (AP) and the
Adverb Phrase (AdvP). In Ch. 3.1, we saw that adjectives and adverbs (especially manner adverbs)
are very similar: in terms of gradability, both have two subtypes, gradable and non-gradable, and
accordingly, gradable adjectives/adverbs have three forms (positive, comparative, superlative). The
aspect in which the two classes differ is distribution: what syntactic positions these phrases take in
clauses, and what functions they assume in those positions.
Adverb Phrases are typically one-word phrases taking adverbial functions (especially of
time, frequency, place, manner, degree – cf. Ch. 3.1). Mostly, these adverbials are optional elements in
the clause, i.e., they are adjuncts, except for certain copular and complex-transitive verbs, which
require them as complements (Ch. 4.1):
The cat slept in the kitchen yesterday
Odie always forgets where he’s buried the bones
The show is tonight
Garfield put the pizza there
(time) adjunct
(frequency) adjunct
(time) complement for copular verb
(place) complement for complex-trans. verb
takes NP complements; this is called the prepositional because or the because+noun structure, meaning ‘on
account of’ or ‘because of’, as in “Putting root beer in a square cup makes it regular beer because math. I knew
this stuff would come in handy one day” (a post on Twitter); however, this use is still uncommon outside internet
slang. Its structural simplification from taking of-PPs (because of math) to taking NPs (because math) parallels
that of out (of) (cf. She looked out of the window or She looked out the window).
The name refers to the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, a piper whose magic pipe has a sound that lures
anybody into following him.
In fact, it is not necessarily at the end, it can also be clause-internal, but it definitely does not come at the
beginning; cf. e.g., the man we talked to yesterday.
Manner adverbs are usually formed from adjectives by suffixing -ly, and they have two major
grammatical functions: they either modify the meaning of the verb in a VP, or they modify the whole
sentence/clause and express the speaker’s opinion about, e.g., the probability of the statement of the
sentence. In the first case, the AdvP is part of the VP, therefore it is called a VP-adverb; in the second
case, the AdvP has scope over the whole clause, therefore it is called a sentence adverb or S-adverb
(or comment adverb or viewpoint adverb).5 Compare these sentences:
(1) a. Garfield quickly ate all the pizza
b. Garfield obviously ate all the pizza
(2) a. You could have solved the problem easily
b. You could easily have been killed
(3) a. We all know Garfield only too well
b. We might well take a break and have a coffee
As you can see, some adverbs are either VP-adverbs (like quickly) or S-adverbs (like obviously), but
many can be used in both ways.6
The final major function of AdvPs is that of degree adverbs: they do not take the typical
adverbial function in VPs or clauses but are found within APs and AdvPs (less frequently, in PPs) and
modify their heads there. Adverbs like very, so, quite belong here, together with a number of -ly
adverbs (totally, extremely, completely, etc.). Cf.:
Garfield is extremely greedy (in AP)
That is actually a pretty good idea (in AP)
Thank you very much (in AdvP)
Garfield devoured the pizza so quickly that it vanished before we could blink (in AdvP)
What you’re saying now is completely at odds with your earlier announcement (in PP)
The answer is right in front of you (in PP)
In addition, more and most are used to form the periphrastic comparative and superlative forms of
adjectives and adverbs (e.g., more important, most probably).
Therefore, AdvPs are very often modifiers within Adjective Phrases. Other modifiers in APs
include NPs (e.g., a bit difficult, two years older), clauses (e.g., glad that you’ve come, delighted to
hear that), and PPs (in which, recall, the preposition is very often selected/licensed by the adjective,
e.g., good at football, fond of pizza, surprised by his greed, etc.). The two major grammatical functions
of APs are the following:
subject or object complement in a VP, e.g., Garfield is greedy or We find Garfield extremely
greedy – this is called predicative use
premodifying adjunct in NPs (called attribute), e.g., Garfield is a greedy cat – this is called
attributive use
Most adjectives head phrases that can be used in either way – cf. greedy above. Others, however, can
be attributive-only (see (a) below) or never-attributive (or predicative-only – see (b)) adjectives:
Recall that adverbs typically stand alone in their phrases, so terminology is frequently simplified: a VP-adverb
is in fact a VP-AdvP, an S-adverb is in fact an S-AdvP, etc.
In such cases sentences may even be ambiguous with both interpretations available. For example, sadly at the
beginning of Sadly, he roamed the streets all night either refers to him feeling sad while roaming or the story
itself being sad.
a. This is our main problem
b. I’m afraid of spiders
cf. *This problem is main
cf. *I’m an afraid type of person
A marginal subtype of attributive APs is postmodifying adjunct, i.e., an adjunct that comes after the
head noun. In Present-day English this is extremely rare with one-word APs: most of such cases are
set expressions with some idiomatic meaning (e.g., attorney general, heir apparent, knight errant,
etc.). However, this is the usual word order when the head is an indefinite pronoun (e.g., something
beautiful, nothing special), and when the AP itself has a postmodifier (compare the usual word order
in You’re going to need a bigger boat with the reversed order in You’re going to need a boat bigger
than this). Sometimes the same one-word AP can be used both before and after the noun but with a
meaning difference (e.g., visible, proper, present; compare the present day ‘now’ and the students
present ‘the students attending the class’).
This concludes our discussion of phrases in English: we dealt with VPs in Ch. 4.1, with NPs in
Ch. 5.1, and PPs, APs and AdvPs above. In what follows we investigate clausal structures and more
complex constructions.
6.2 Further reading
On prepositions: ALP 21–22; T&M 9; AGU 104–113  On adjectives and adverbs: T&M 3–4; AGU
82–95; CGEL 2  On adverbs and their syntactic functions: SGE 8.12–8.15, 8.40–8.42  On
comment adverbs and viewpoint adverbs: AGU 93  On APs, AdvPs, PPs: OEG 5  A list of
adjective + preposition collocations: Cowan 2008: Appendix B.
6.3 Practice exercises
1. Underline the prepositions in the following sentences, then put their complements in brackets. The
first two have been done for you.
1. All professors of [syntax] congratulated on [our success]
2. The dispute dates from [before [the war]]
3. The meeting was cancelled because of Jack’s illness
4. One of our neighbours threw their television out of the window
5. Everybody is looking forward to reading the latest Garfield comic strip
6. There are a lot of theatre tickets available from the man standing in front of the hotel
7. The bookshop is past the post office, between the bank and the chemist’s, opposite the cinema
2. Find examples to decide whether the following words can be used as prepositions:
while, during, as, beside, besides, despite, than, then
3. Put the following adjectives into the right cell of the chart.
alive, asleep, content, elder, intelligent, liable, little ‘small in
amount’, little ‘small in size’, married, mere, own, separate
4. Consider the example sentences to decide whether the underlined words are adjectives or adverbs.
a. fast:
Simon loves fast cars
We drove as fast as we could to the hospital
b. likely: They’ll quite likely ask you to pay a small deposit
The study shows some people are more likely to suffer back problems
c. well: You don’t look too well
A trip to the new museum is well worth the effort
All’s well that ends well
d. ill:
She was unlucky enough to fall ill on holiday
I’m afraid you have been ill informed
5. Account for the grammaticality difference between the following pairs of sentences.
(1) a. Garfield will devour all the food quickly, obviously
b. *Garfield will devour all the food obviously, quickly
(2) a. These are the costumes which the members of our club are expected to put on
b. *These are the costumes on which the members of our club are expected to put
(3) a. On Tuesday all professors of syntax congratulated us on our success
b. *On our success all professors of syntax congratulated us on Tuesday
6.4 Extension: The Inflectional Phrase
In Ch. 3.4, we saw that complementisers are so prominent in syntactic structure that they head the
largest constituent having a phrase-like configuration, the clause. That is, the clause is a “projection”
of the complementiser, and therefore we analyse it as Complementiser Phrase, or CP. As the head of
its phrase, the complementiser determines a number of its fundamental properties, of which we
highlighted two: the interrogative force of the clause on the one hand, and its finiteness on the other.
Accordingly, we arrived at a possible classification of complementisers, which we repeat below:
Types of Complementisers:
However, not all clauses contain complementisers. Simple sentences like Garfield will bite the
postman as well as main clauses like the underlined part of Jon knows that Garfield will bite the
postman are constituents which lack a complementiser, at least in an overt, visible form7. What is
more, even within CPs introduced by a pronounced complementiser, there is an independent sentence
“hidden”, cf.:
Garfield will bite the postman
Jon knows that Garfield will bite the postman
That is, the string that Garfield will bite the postman is a CP, which functions as the object of know,
but inside, it contains a subconstituent, Garfield will bite the postman, which is an independent
sentence. The string, then, has an embedded structure: Jon knows [that [Garfield will bite the
postman]], a that-clause containing a sentence. But what kind of construction is that sentence? On the
basis of what we know about syntactic structure, we expect it to exhibit the usual phrase structure with
a head and modifiers. Since phrases are determined by their heads, and are thus also named after them,
the ultimate question is which element the sentence is headed by. Typically, sentences contain a
(subject) NP (Garfield) and a VP (bite the postman): these are the “gang members”; but who is the
“leader”, which defines the sentence as a sentence? To answer this question, let us take a look at a few
versions of this sentence:
a. Garfield will bite the postman
b. Garfield bit the postman
c. Garfield bites the postman
d. *Garfield to bite the postman
e. *Garfield biting the postman
Sentences (a)-(c), containing finite verb forms (will and bites are present, bit is past), are well-formed,
whereas sentences (d)-(e)8, containing non-finite verb forms, are not. Apparently, independent
sentences need a finite verb form: finiteness determines whether the clause can stand alone as a
sentence or not. This feature of clauses, referred to as the inflection of the clause in Ch. 4.1, carries
information about tense and agreement, and is realised on either the operator (will in sentence (a)) or
the lexical verb (bit or bites). What we conclude, then, is that the finite inflection defines the
independent sentence: it seems to be its head, and consequently, the independent sentence is an
Inflectional Phrase, or IP.9
The next question to address is whether the inflection of the clause is really a single, uniform
category, as we expect it to be if it is able to head a phrase with a constant identity. After all, now it is
an auxiliary, now it appears on a main verb – in what sense is it the same entity, then? The answer lies,
as is frequent in syntax, in the distribution of the elements realising the inflection. Consider the
following examples, in which we separate the inflection from the VP (underlined) in various ways,
and notice that the VP is exactly the same in all the cases:
Recall that the opposite of overt is covert.
Here we ignore marked, special structures like the ones in newspaper headlines, called block language (see
Ch. 7.1).
Keep in mind that the independent sentence (the IP) is smaller than, and is contained within, the clause, the CP.
(1) What Garfield will do is bite the postman
(2) Bite the postman is what Garfield will do
(3) Bite the postman, Garfield will indeed
(1) What Garfield did was bite the postman
(2) Bite the postman is what Garfield did
(3) Bite the postman, Garfield did indeed
(1) What Garfield does is bite the postman
(2) Bite the postman is what Garfield does
(3) Bite the postman, Garfield does indeed
Will in the sentences in (a) shows where the inflection-carrying element appears in these constructions.
Compare them to the sentences in (b) and (c): the relevant forms of auxiliary do systematically
correspond to will. Recall from Ch. 4.1 that one of the major functions of the operator in English
clauses is carrying tense and agreement features – that is why we call it the inflection of the clause.
Recall, too, that do-insertion applies in simple tenses when an operator is necessary for fulfilling a
grammatical task in English; in such cases, its slot in the clause is filled with a semantically empty
auxiliary. Auxiliary do, then, is the dummy auxiliary of English, with similar grammatical functions
to those of nonreferential, dummy subject pronouns (Ch. 2.4), and it follows that its forms did and
does in (b) and (c), respectively, stand for past tense -ed and present tense -s (plus do-support). In the
example sentences above, will, -ed and -s always occupy the same positions.
In sum, modals and the verbal inflections -s and -ed are the realisations of the finite inflection
in English, which facilitates the potential occurrence of the clause as an independent sentence. Notice
that there is one more subcase of the finite inflection, and this is the morphologically unmarked, zero
inflection () in the other present tense persons and numbers. Cf.:
f. Other cats rarely bite the postman
(1) What other cats rarely do is bite the postman
(2) Bite the postman is what other cats rarely do
(3) Bite the postman, other cats rarely do indeed
In these examples the finite form of do is do-, which adds zero to our list of finite inflections
heading finite IPs.
The following diagram shows the clausal structure we have identified so far:
Jon knows that
bite the postman
Clauses with other complementisers and non-finite verb forms can also be integrated into this
Jon knows (that)
Jon expects
Jon wonders
Garfield wonders whether
Garfield wonders whether
bite the postman
bite the postman
bite the postman
bite the postman
bite the postman
Note that infinitival to also occupies the Inflection position, and that an empty subject appears in the
last example. Furthermore, in the other types of non-finite IPs the I position is empty, too:
Jon saw
Garfield likes
James Bond wants
his Martini
bite the postman
biting postmen
shaken, not stirred
Therefore, the inflection of the clause can be considered as a single entity because its forms, however
disparate they look, are uniform in distribution: they occupy the position between the subject (NP) and
the VP in the unmarked word order, but they also take the same slot in other constructions, too, as
illustrated above. These forms are the following:
- verbal inflections: -s, -ed, 
- modals: will, would, shall, should, can, could, may, might, must
non-finite: - pre-infinitival to
With so many different realisations, the Inflection seems a structural position housing various
categories rather than a single category; in fact, it resembles the supercategory of (central) determiners
in this respect, which has also been set up on distributional grounds (cf. Ch. 2.1).
The final question we address is what happens to verbal inflections when there is no dosupport, and how non-modal auxiliaries become operators. Word order will help us out here. Let us
assume that adverbs of frequency (like always, ever, never) in English have a fixed position, at the
beginning of VPs (shaded in the diagram). Notice, then, that in the simple tenses, when there is no
aspectual auxiliary, the verbal inflection, normally in the I position (supported by do in, e.g.,
negation), leaves its position (indicated by the arrow) and “hops” onto the verbal head of the VP; this
is called Affix Hopping:
bite postmen
bites postmen
bite postmen
bit postmen
bite postmen
bite postmen
In contrast, when there is an aspectual auxiliary, which normally heads its VP (cf. its position when
the clause contains a modal), the solution is just the opposite: the non-modal auxiliary “moves” from
its V position to the I position (i.e., V-to-I):
have bitten postmen
← bitten postmen
be sulking
← sulking
That is, the I slot in the clause can also be occupied by aspectual auxiliaries, by movement from their
original V position: the auxiliary then acts as the operator. In fact, the verb be always behaves as a
non-modal auxiliary in this respect, whether it is a true aspectual or a copula, cf.:
be sulking
← sulking
be hungry
← hungry
In conclusion, in this chapter we have introduced another syntactic head, the Inflection, and its phrase,
the IP, which corresponds to the independent sentence when finite, and some obligatorily subordinated
clausal string when non-finite. Unlike the other heads discussed in the previous chapters, V (Ch. 4.1),
N (Ch. 5.1), P, A, and Adv (Ch. 6.1 above), I is a non-lexical or functional head, because its presence
in the clause is due to its grammatical function (to define the finiteness of the sentence) rather than the
choice of the speaker in his/her decision as to what meaning/message to communicate. In fact, the
same is true for the C, discussed in Ch. 3.4, whose function is to produce complement clauses.
Analysing the sentence as the phrase of the inflection and modals as finite inflections also
explains the observation we made in Ch. 4.1 that there is at most one modal in the verb group: the
modal is the inflection, and one clause can only house a single inflection (involving a single tense
feature and a single person/number feature). An additional benefit from the discussion is the
identification of auxiliary do as the dummy auxiliary of English.
Further reading
On PPs: Cowan 2008: 8  On adjectives and adverbs: Cowan 2008: 12  On comparatives and
superlatives: Cowan 2008: 24  On the Inflectional Phrase: BESE 6.
6.5 Practice exercises
1. Identify the CPs in the following sentences by underlining the complementisers. Then put the IPs
they contain between brackets. The first one has been for you.
1. Jon knows that [Garfield will bite the postman]
2. I believe that Garfield must be very intelligent
3. I don’t know whether I should phone Jon
4. I’m anxious for Liz to get to work on time
5. I know that he knows that I know this
2. Find examples of the following:
1. a finite clause with Affix Hopping, whose verb is complemented by a CP
2. V-to-I in a clause that functions as complement to an adjective
3. a sentence whose subject is a non-finite clause
4. a sentence that contains prepositional complementiser for having an IP complement
5. a sentence that contains complementiser for having an IP complement
6. phrases containing modifiers of the same category as the phrase (i.e., a VP containing another
VP, an NP containing another NP, etc.)
3. Could whether be considered as a wh-phrase? What are the arguments for and against that analysis?
4. Specify the subcategory of the underlined words on the basis of the following sentences.
1. *I’ve got two news for you: a good one and a bad one
2. The police are blocking off the street where the accident occurred
3. *He told that he was hungry
4. *Doctors treat ill people with medication
5. *He asked that could we meet on Friday
5. a. Place the (elements of the) phrases in the diagram. You may leave certain cells empty.
(he asked) whether to take the bus, (we) all like Garfield, as soon as possible, every breath you take,
Garfield has eaten all the pizza, six years younger than my brother, two minutes after the explosion,
b. How could we place sentences like Has Garfield eaten all the pizza? and What has Garfield
eaten? in the diagram? Where do we need to add arrows (←, as used above) in these examples?
7.1 The simple sentence. Sentence types
“I spend my days kneeling in the muck of language,
feeling around for gooey verbs, nouns, and modifiers that I can
squash together to make a blob of a sentence that bears some likeness to reason and sense.”
(P. J. O’Rourke)
When there is a single clause in a sentence, it is called a simple sentence.1 This chapter is about the
types of the simple sentence in English: first, we look at the
structural types, i.e., how phrases are “squashed together”
to make sentences with different configurations; then, in the
second part of the chapter, we survey the functional types,
i.e., what functions they fulfil in the communicative process
in spoken or written discourse.
The structural types are based on what grammatical
functions the phrases receive in the sentence. The most
important sentence elements (the subject, the object and the
adverbial) were introduced in Ch. 2.1, then in Ch. 4.1 we
looked at the grammatical functions of modifiers in VPs
more closely. In the present chapter we supplement that
discussion with a view at the elements of the whole clause.
The clause is traditionally divided into two major
parts: the subject and the predicate. The subject is basically
the element that determines the agreement features of the
clause (ultimately appearing on its inflection-carrying word: either the operator or the main verb); the
predicate is what is left of the simple sentence when the subject is removed. In English, the subject is
typically realised by an NP (or a lower clause – see Ch. 8.1), while the predicate always contains a VP
and often starts with the operator or even more auxiliaries in the verb group. Since the verb group of a
clause always contains a single main verb only, and it is only main verbs that assign grammatical
functions to phrases (cf. complementation in Ch. 4.1), to our present purposes auxiliaries are irrelevant
and verb groups can be taken to fulfil the same function as a single lexical verb (abbreviated to V).
Therefore, the predicate can be divided into the V and the rest, which consists of the complements and
adjuncts of the (lexical) verb:
The mice
(complements and adjuncts)
in the cupboard
is having
lasagne for breakfast
The railway
will have been being built
for four years
As you can see, the usual sentence structure in English starts with S-V. What follows that depends on
the subcategory of the lexical verb (i.e., whether it is intransitive or transitive, etc.) and the adjuncts
optionally added. Recall from Ch. 4.1 that the sentence elements that serve to distinguish the different
types of verbs are subject complement (CS), object complement (CO), direct object (Od), indirect object
(Oi), and adverbial (Al). Accordingly, we set up a typology of lexical verbs of five major
subcategories. If we ignore adjuncts, then, since they can be freely added to clauses and as a result do
Recall from Ch. 2.1 that when two or more clauses compose the sentence, it is either a complex sentence (if the
clauses are in subordination), a compound sentence (in coordination) or a compound-complex sentence (the two
types combined) (for more detail, see Ch. 8.1).
not distinguish between sentence types, we arrive at a typology of basic English sentences consisting
of the following seven possible configurations:2
Garfield laughed
Garfield looks hungry
Jon became a Philosophy teacher
The show is at 5
Everybody knows Garfield
Garfield called Odie a stupid dog
Garfield put the pizza on the table
Jon gave Garfield all the pizzas
Subcategory of verb
(Ordinary) intransitive
Copular / Complex-intransitive
(Ordinary) monotransitive
Notice that two of the five verb types allow for two options each, that is how seven structures are
produced eventually. Also, as the same verb may belong to multiple subcategories, it may participate
in various clausal structures. For
example, in Garfield called Odie a
stupid dog the verb call is complextransitive, but in Jon called Liz on the
phone it is monotransitive (S-V-Od +
adjunct Al). In Garfield laughed the
verb laugh is intransitive, but in
Garfield laughed at Jon it is either
analysed as complex-intransitive (S-VAl) or as monotransitive (S-V-Od with a
prepositional object) as it has a PP
complement. In Batman returns the
verb return is intransitive, but in
Batman returns his books to the library
it is complex-transitive (S-V-Od-Al).
In addition to the sentence
elements already introduced and discussed, there is one more, which
we have not dealt with in detail as it is not assigned by verbs, consequently, it is never found as a
function for the immediate constituents of the clause. Rather, it is assigned to premodifying adjunct
APs within NPs, and its name is attribute (At). It was briefly mentioned in Ch. 6.1, when the
attributive and predicative uses of APs were contrasted. Recall, then, that in examples like the
following, the AP takes different functions: the AP stupid is a direct modifier of the verb in (a), it is its
CO (one of the predicative uses), whereas in (b) it is part of the predicate as the attribute of the noun
dog (the attributive use).
a. Garfield called Odie stupid
This typology is primarily based on SGE. The categories introduced in other sources largely overlap with these,
although the terminology used may differ. E.g., in CGEL, V is replaced by P(redicator), C is called Predicative
Complement (PC), and the second type of complex-transitive verbs is not included.
b. Garfield called Odie a stupid dog
a stupid dog
The second way to classify sentences is into functional types, according to the discourse function they
fulfil. In this respect, there are four classes for four basic functions, pairing up as shown here:
4 types of sentence
4 classes of discourse function
Declaratives constitute the usual, unmarked sentence type, so in what follows we take the others under
scrutiny and discuss their individual characteristics.
First, direct questions or interrogatives3 have three major subtypes:
1. Yes/no questions: e.g., Can you swim?
 expect either affirmation or negation, i.e., one of a closed set of possible answers; therefore,
they are also called closed interrogatives
 contain subject-operator inversion in their word order (see Ch. 11.1)
 a special subtype is tag questions, e.g., You can swim, can’t you?
2. Wh-questions: e.g., Where is he going?
 expect a reply from an open range of replies; also called open interrogatives
 contain an information gap indicated by the interrogative phrase (wh-phrase), which can take
various clause functions (cf. Ch. 9.1)
 contain subject-operator inversion (SOI) in their word order except when the wh-element is
subject (cf. Who is going? or Who thinks you are beautiful?; notice in the latter example that
do-insertion does not take place in subject questions, either)
 have two options for prepositional wh-phrases, pied piping and preposition stranding (cf. Ch.
3. Alternative questions:
 expect a reply from a range of two or more options (i.e., they are closed interrogatives)
 two types:
- Would you like blue, white, or red? – resembles a yes/no question
- Which colour would you like? Blue, white, or red? – resembles a wh-question
Questions also have a few minor types:
exclamatory questions: invite agreement, e.g., Am I tired! Isn’t she beautiful!
rhetorical questions: expect no answer, e.g., Isn’t this elementary? Haven’t you got anything
better to do? How should I know?
echo questions, e.g., You saw whom?
Indirect questions are dealt with in Ch. 8.1.
The second type of non-declaratives is imperatives functioning as directives. Directives are usually
composed of a base-form VP and no pronounced subject; even so, that invisible subject is interpretable
as the 2nd person pronoun you – examples like Be good or Please sit down show that they
straightforwardly address the listener. Tag questions and reflexive pronouns are also chosen
accordingly, cf. Shut up, will you? or Be yourself/yourselves no matter what they say. However, in
certain cases the subject is present in directives: of course, most of the time it is you (e.g., You come
here!); sometimes it is a 3rd person subject (e.g., Nobody move!, Customers in the last carriage move
towards the front doors to leave the train!). A special construction is with the verb let, which takes
care of 1st person imperatives (e.g., Let us go = Let’s go; Let me entertain you), but it is also possible
with 3rd person subjects (e.g., Let it be, Let every man have his own wife). In form, imperatives are
either positive (all the examples above) or negative (with operator don’t), but even the positive
imperative is more emphatic if operator do is added (e.g., Do sit down).
The final type of non-declaratives is exclamatives, which subsume exclamatory utterances
introduced by what or how, e.g., What a fool I was! or How much he looks like you! These are
different from wh-interrogatives in that they do not contain subject-operator inversion.
In addition to these four types of sentences, there are marginal, less frequent structures, which
do not follow the regular patterns and are therefore treated as irregular sentences. They are the
the so-called formulaic subjunctive: set phrases expressing a wish or hope, e.g., God save the
Queen!, Heaven help me!
irregular wh-questions, e.g., How about going to the cinema?, Why do linguistics?, How come
you’re here?, What if you were unable to wake from that dream?
subordinate clauses used as sentences, usually with exclamatory force, e.g., If only he was
more considerate!, To think that you might have been killed!
adverbials used as commands, e.g., Hands up!, Left, right!
proverbs with reduced sentence structure, e.g., The sooner the better, First come first served
block language: the simplified structures of labels, titles, newspaper headlines, headings,
notices, advertisements, etc., e.g., Page under construction, David Beckham to come out of
retirement?, Celeb daughter arrested
The last topic of this chapter is another distinction between two types of sentence relevant to English.
In a number of respects negative and interrogative (i.e., non-assertive or non-affirmative) clauses
exhibit parallel behaviour, standing in contrast to positive declaratives (i.e., assertive or affirmative
clauses), the most important of which is the selection of certain words over others. That is, there is a
set of determiners, adverbs and pronouns which primarily appear in non-assertive clauses; these are
called non-assertive (or non-affirmative or negative polarity) items. The most frequent ones are listed
in the chart below.
any- pronouns
at all
Fish don’t have any feelings
I’ll never do anything to hurt you
Nothing changed at all
Have you ever seen the rain?
I’m not an angel either, but at least I’m trying
I don’t care too much for money
Are we having fun yet?
some- pronouns
a lot (of), a great deal (of)
already, still
Some of the non-assertive words have assertive counterparts for affirmative contexts, compare I’ll
never do anything to hurt you with I’ll do something to hurt you, or Are we having fun yet? with We
are already having fun. The examples also show that a sentence does not necessarily become negative
due to the presence of the negative particle not following the operator (as in I’m not an angel either),
but negative words like no, the no- pronouns, never, neither, etc. are also able to provide negative
polarity for it, which results in the selection of non-assertive items in the rest of the clause, e.g., No
man has ever seen anything like this before or I never have much time for the homework or Neither do
I spend many hours practising. Intriguingly, such negative words may be considered assertive in the
sense that, at least in standard English, they are not found in negative clauses: *I don’t need nobody is
replaced by either I need nobody or I don’t need anybody. In most non-standard forms of English,
however, the double negative or multiple negation is well-formed and examples like A little party
never killed nobody are acceptable.
Finally, note that some of the non-assertive items have senses in which they can occur in
assertive constructions, e.g., determiner any and the any- pronouns may be used in a meaning close to
‘every’ (e.g., Anybody could answer that question); while assertive words may appear in interrogatives
under certain circumstances (e.g., Would you like some tea?).
7.2 Further reading
On the simple sentence: SGE 10.1–10.6  On sentence types: SGE 11; OEG 3; CGEL 2  On
interrogatives: T&M 6; AGU 33–35  On commands, requests, etc.: T&M 27  On negation: SGE
10.33; CGEL 2.
7.3 Practice exercises
1. Identify the subjects in the following sentences.
1. Garfield and his friends are very popular characters
2. Everybody who has seen the film says that it is worth watching
3. It is snowing
4. It shocked me that she’d left
5. Jack seems to have hit the jackpot
6. To err is human
2. Which of the clause types identified in the text (SV, SVO, SVC, SVA, SVOO, SVOC, SVOA) do
the following examples belong to? Draw diagrams like the one in the example. Indicate the
categories of the modifiers, too. Keep in mind that these elementary clause types are based on the
arguments of the verb, and adjuncts only supplement them optionally!
1. The bank is located in the city centre
2. Shakespeare died in 1616
3. She wanted me to give her a payrise
4. She promised me to give me a payrise
5. This doctor treated my flu
6. Susan treated him badly
7. We consider him intelligent
8. We regard him as the boss
3. Collect five newspaper headlines that exemplify block language, then paraphrase them to produce
regular sentences.
4. The following sentences are all ill-formed because assertive or non-assertive items are used in the
wrong way. Find the mistakes and correct them.
1. He drinks much at the weekends
2. I think there’s anybody under the table
3. I’m going to the library to borrow any books
4. She can’t swim, and I can’t too
5. She’s yet in bed, the lazy thing
6. That’s all I know, there isn’t something else I can tell you
7. This is really urgent, I need you to do it without some delay
8. We’ve hardly no wine left
5. Is multiple negation well-formed in Hungarian or other languages you know? What can its function
be? After all, as standard English and similar languages show, one negative item is sufficient to
express the negative polarity of the sentence. Discuss.
7.4 Extension: Canonical and non-canonical clauses
In traditional grammatical descriptions, it is customary to differentiate between the so-called canonical
clauses and the opposite, the non-canonical clauses of English. Canonical clauses are the most basic
and elementary kinds of clause, which can be defined as simple (independent) positive statements in
active voice; all the other clause types are non-canonical. Let us see in more detail the properties that
separate the two subtypes.
Many people read Garfield comics
Many people don’t read
Garfield comics
Canonical clauses are positive; negative clauses are non-canonical. Negation has two forms: clause (or
clausal) negation and local (or subclausal) negation. In clause negation there is a negative word, the
negator, which affects the polarity of the whole clause, and all other elements in the clause behave
accordingly. In most cases, the negator is the negative particle not following the operator in the clause.
Recall that in Present-day English the presence of the operator is necessary for the negative particle, so
in simple tenses the dummy operator do is inserted for what is called do-support. This is one of the
forms of clause negation, and it is called verb (or verbal) negation:
Many people
particle rest of predicate
read Garfield comics
In spoken English, most operators normally merge with the particle to produce the so-called
contracted forms or contractions, e.g., can’t, don’t (but see scope of negation below). Note that the
whole clause becomes negative in these examples, as, e.g., the choice of non-assertive items (cf. Ch.
7.1), tag questions and “echoing statements” (Ch. 11.1) indicate:
non-assertive items: I can’t remember anything
tag questions: You can’t swim, can you?
“echoing statements”: You can’t swim and nor can I
The other form of clause negation is non-verbal negation, when the negator is not the negative
particle but a negative word or phrase. These negative phrases are dealt with in detail in Ch. 11.1
because, at least in formal style (and in written language exams ) they readily participate in what is
called negative fronting and the accompanying negative inversion (see the upcoming examples).
These negative phrases can be:
negative in form and meaning, e.g., no, not + NP, no sooner, never, neither, etc. as in No
money can buy happiness, He would say not a word, I have never met such an annoying
person; with inversion: Never have I met such an annoying person
negative in meaning but not in form, e.g., seldom, rarely, scarcely, hardly, barely, little, few
(but not a little, a few!) as in I hardly remember anything, Few of us have ever done the
homework (cf. A few of us have never done the homework); with inversion: Little did I suspect
what was about to happen, Scarcely had I arrived home when the alarm went off
That the whole clause is negative in these cases is evident from the fact that, although the form of the
operator is not negative, i.e., the negative particle is absent, our tests reveal exactly the same properties
in these sentences as above:
non-assertive items: He would say not a word about anything; I seldom buy any CDs, either
tag questions: You would never tell a lie, would you?; She’s rarely on time, is she?
“echoing statements”: They’ve got no idea and nor have I; Few people donate blood and nor do I
Besides its form, negation has two more important features: scope and focus. The scope of negation
refers to the stretch of language over which the negative item has a semantic influence. This normally
extends from the negator to the end of the clause. Note how the interpretation of S-adverbs (Ch. 6.1)
changes according to whether they are or are not included in the scope of the negator:
Jon possibly couldn’t wake up Garfield ‘It’s possible that Jon couldn’t wake up Garfield’
Jon couldn’t possibly wake up Garfield ‘It was impossible for Jon to wake up Garfield’
When the operator in verbal negation is a modal auxiliary, a similar contrast is possible according to
whether the scope of negation includes the modal:
Jon could not wake up Garfield ‘It was impossible for Jon to wake up G.’ – auxiliary negation
Jon could not wake up Garfield ‘It was possible for Jon not to wake up G.’ – main verb negation
Note that the modal and the negative particle will only form a contraction in spoken English in the
case of auxiliary negation, but that option is not available under main verb negation.
The other feature, the focus of negation, refers to which element(s) of the sentence are
focalised or stressed in speech. The following examples illustrate how the interpretation of the
sentence changes accordingly:
I didn’t find Garfield sleeping in the kitchen today – I failed to find him
I didn’t find Garfield sleeping in the kitchen today – I found Odie
I didn’t find Garfield sleeping in the kitchen today – He was eating pizza
I didn’t find Garfield sleeping in the kitchen today – He was sleeping in his bed
I didn’t find Garfield sleeping in the kitchen today – It was yesterday
I didn’t find Garfield sleeping in the kitchen today – It was Jon who found him
In Hungarian, similar effects of focalising are accompanied by word order changes as well (see
Besides clause negation, when the whole clause becomes negative, there is local negation,
which affects a part of the clause, a word or phrase, only. In such cases a negative element is present
but its scope is unable to reach outside its immediate phrase. Negative prefixes like un- and in- have
this effect as well as the particle not when referring to a single word. The adjective untidy, for
example, is negative in meaning since it is the opposite of tidy; still, a clause containing it is not
necessarily negative. Similarly, the S-adverb not surprisingly, although involving the negation of
surprisingly, does not make the rest of the clause negative. Look at our tests:
no non-assertive items: She is untidy, too; Not surprisingly, Jon forgot something again
negative tag questions: She is untidy, isn’t she?; Not surprisingly, Jon forgot it, didn’t he?
“echoing statements”: She is untidy and so am I; Not surprisingly, Jon forgot it and so did I
Because of this, in cases of local negation what seems to be double negation is possible even in
Standard English, e.g., Not surprisingly, Jon didn’t remember anything; moreover, it can be even used
as a rhetorical device for understatements, e.g., She’s not an untidy woman, or even She’s a not untidy
As far as negation in Hungarian is concerned, there are two points to note here. Recall from
Ch. 2.4 that Hungarian word order fundamentally differs from English due to the role the topic and the
focus play in syntax. Consequently, besides verbal negation (referred to as preverbal negation in
Hungarian syntax, as the negative particle nem ‘not’ occupies the immediately preverbal position, cf.
example (a) below), the most important form of negation is a kind of local negation called prefocus
negation. It arises when nem stands immediately before the focus (given in small caps in (b) and (c)
below), and just like in English, it may combine with verbal negation (cf. (c)):
a. Nem találtam Garfieldot a konyhában ‘I didn’t find G. in the kitchen’ – preverbal negation
b. Nem GARFIELDOT találtam a konyhában ‘It wasn’t G. whom I found’ – prefocus negation
Nem A KONYHÁBAN találtam Garfieldot ‘It wasn’t in the kitchen that I found G.’
c. Nem GARFIELDOT nem találtam a konyhában ‘It wasn’t G. whom I didn’t find’ – both
Notice that under prefocus negation ((b) above) it is possible to change the element in the focus rather
freely, and consequently, focalise almost any of the elements of the sentence. Therefore, while in
English word order is more strict and the focus of negation may only fall on different constituents in
pronunciation without a change in syntactic configuration, in Hungarian this normally involves the
rearrangement of clause structure as well.
The second point to note with respect to Hungarian is that, as opposed to Standard English, it
is a so-called negative-concord language: double or multiple negation is the norm, and the negative
particle nem triggers negative concord, i.e., quantifiers and indefinite pronouns agree with it and
assume negative polarity, as in Jont soha senki nem hívja meg sehová ‘Jon is never invited by anyone
anywhere’. Compare the Hungarian sentence with its English translation, and note the appearance of
non-assertive items (anyone, anywhere) – a category that does not even exist in Hungarian due to its
negative concord.
This concludes the discussion of negation; now we continue listing the features of canonical
and non-canonical clauses. The next observation is that canonical clauses are independent sentences:
they are neither subordinate nor coordinate. Let us see coordination first.
Many people read Garfield comics
independent Many people read Garfield
comics and they enjoy them
Therefore, canonical clauses are independent sentences and non-coordinate; coordinated clauses are
non-canonical. Coordination is a relation between two or more constituents in which they are equal in
syntactic status. The elements in coordination are called coordinates, and they are equal in the sense
that one is not a modifier of (or rather: within) the other, as is the case in subordination (see Ch. 8).
Coordination may be marked by:
a single-word coordinating conjunction or coordinator, e.g., and, or, but in the last
coordinate: Many people read Garfield comics and they enjoy them; We can have sandwiches,
cook something or order a pizza
a single-word coordinator in all non-initial coordinates: We can have sandwiches, or cook
something, or order a pizza
no coordinator: the coordinates are simply listed, and the interpretation is with and (i.e.,
addition), cf. We had a sandwich, cooked something, ordered a pizza
a multi-word coordinator: some of them are simply composed of more than one word (e.g.,
as well as) but most of them are so-called correlative coordinators, i.e., one term (frequently
a determiner) appears in the first clause, the other one in the second (both…and, either…or,
neither…nor, not…but, not only…but (also) and a few others):
He both left his bag in the office and lost his keys
We can either cook something or order a pizza
They robbed the bank not because they needed the money but because they were bored
Not only did he leave his bag in the office but he also lost his keys
The remaining properties of canonical vs. non-canonical clauses will only be mentioned briefly.
Many people read Garfield comics
independent It’s surpising how many
people read Garfield comics
Canonical clauses are main clauses or independent sentences; subordinated clauses are noncanonical. Here you may recall the discussion of complementisers and the CP in Ch. 3.4, but we
further investigate the structure of complex sentences in Ch. 8.
Many people read Garfield comics
Do many people read
Garfield comics?
Read Garfield comics!
How many people read
Garfield comics!
Canonical clauses are declarative; interrogative, imperative, and exclamative clauses are noncanonical. These non-canonical clause types were discussed in Ch. 7.1 above.
Many people read Garfield comics
Garfield comics are read by
people all around the world
Finally, canonical clauses are active; passive clauses are non-canonical. This is a matter of
information packaging, and is discussed in Ch. 10.1.
To summarise the main points above, canonical clauses are positive, independent, declarative,
and active; e.g., Many people read Garfield comics. All the other clauses are non-canonical, i.e., the
ones that can be classified into the following types:
Non-canonical clauses
Many people don’t read Garfield comics
Many people read Garfield comics and they enjoy them
It’s surpising how many people read Garfield comics
Do many people read Garfield comics?
Read Garfield comics!
How many people read Garfield comics!
Garfield comics are read by people all around the world
Further reading
On canonical vs. non-canonical clauses: CGEL 2  On negation: SGE 10.33–10.41; Cowan 2008: 5;
CGEL 2  On negation in Hungarian: É. Kiss 2002: 1  On coordination: Cowan 2008: 25; CGEL
2  On interrogatives: Cowan 2008: 4  On imperatives: Cowan 2008: 6.
7.5 Practice exercises
1. The sentence Transport and Infrastructure Minister Mary Smith today opened the new $20 million
railway line is canonical. Produce non-canonical counterparts for it in as many different ways as
you can.
2. A clause is non-canonical if it lacks at least one of the properties introduced above, but of course it
may simultaneously lack more than one of them. Identify the non-canonical properties of the
following sentences.
1. I haven’t seen Odie yet
2. Didn’t you say you loved sushi?
3. Shut up and dance with me
4. Aren’t they all being terrorised by rockets?
5. He seems to have got exhausted by running up the hill
3. Paraphrase the following sentences using correlative coordinators as shown in the example.
Sometimes several solutions are possible.
Example: He both left his bag in the office and lost his keys
Not only did he leave his bag in the office but he also lost his keys
1. He likes helping his friends. And he doesn’t expect anything in return
2. Susan used to date Jack. Or was it Helen?
3. This place is awfully crowded and the music is too loud
4. He never listens to or advises his friends when they have a problem
5. Clouds block the sun and rain on everyone
6. We should learn to accept our weaknesses and our strengths
7. Her mother and her sister didn’t keep her secret
8. We didn’t go to the event to buy the car. We just wanted a test drive in the new Tesla model
4. Consider the following sentences. What does their grammaticality indicate about coordination?
1. They’re rich and famous
2. Jon got up and washed his teeth
3. She is very bright and a good leader
4. I don’t know the cause of the accident or how much damage was done
5. *We’re leaving Rome and next week
6. *I know the truth and that you are innocent
5. Discuss the following examples.
1. Jack and Jill met
2. Jack met Jill
3. Jack and Jill met each other
4. *Jack met
5. *Jack met each other
6. *Both Jack and Jill met (each other)
8.1 The complex sentence. Formal and
functional divisions of subclauses
“What do you call Santa’s little helpers?”
“Subordinate Clauses.”
(Christmas joke)
No; in fact, you call them elves.
But what happens in sentence structure is that when clauses combine with each
other, they enter into a relationship which can be one of two subtypes: either they are equal
in status, i.e., they are coordinated clauses, in which case the sentence they form is called a
compound sentence (e.g., Garfield bought a huge pizza and devoured it); or they enter into
an asymmetrical relation of subordination, in which case one of them is the superordinate,
main clause (i.e., Santa Claus ), the other is the subordinate (or subordinated) clause, or
subclause for short (i.e., the elf ). Subordination actually means that the subclause fulfils a
grammatical function within the main clause; therefore, such clauses are also referred to as embedded
clauses. Consider the structure of a simple sentence (Ch. 7.1) like Garfield devoured the pizza, which
contains an object NP within the VP:
devoured the pizza
Notice how this parallels the structure of a complex sentence, Garfield devoured whatever he found in
the fridge, whose object is realised by a subclause:
devoured whatever he found in the fridge
The subclause is part of the VP (it is embedded in it), and functions as the object of the verb (i.e., it is
subordinated to it in the sense that its function is dependent on the (transitive nature of the) verb).
Similarly, the simple sentence Garfield devoured a huge pizza contains a complex object NP,
a huge pizza, which in turn contains the attributive AP huge:
D At
devoured a huge pizza
Clearly, a huge pizza is a single NP and as such constitutes the object as a single constituent, since a
pronoun can replace it exhaustively (Garfield devoured it or Garfield devoured one), and it functions
as a unit in the object question: What did Garfield devour? – A huge pizza.
Now compare that case to a construction in which the attribute of the noun is a subclause:
devoured the pizza
he’d found in the fridge
The subclause he’d found in the fridge (a so-called relative clause, Ch. 9.1) describes the pizza in a
way similar to huge above – it has the same function, and as a consequence it is considered to be
embedded within the NP in the same way. Again, the pizza he’d found in the fridge is a single
constituent, cf. Garfield devoured it (the pronoun stands for that long sequence!) and What did
Garfield devour? – The pizza he’d found in the fridge.
We can say, then, that the main clause equals the whole sentence (Garfield
devoured the pizza he’d found in the fridge), and the subclause (he’d found in the fridge)
is contained, embedded in the inside of it. Embedding, however, can be repeated, and
thus multiply embedded structures can be produced; e.g., a sentence like Garfield
devoured the pizza he’d bought with the money he found in Jon’s pocket is not a linear
string of three clauses but a big clause containing a smaller clause (the first relative
clause), which in turn contains an even smaller clause (the second relative clause) –
rather like a Russian matryoshka doll! That is, the main clause can be divided into two,
and its second half can also be divided into two:
main clause
Garfield devoured the pizza
relative clause1
he’d bought with the money
relative clause2
he found in Jon’s pocket
In addition, notice that the first relative clause serves as the main clause of the second relative clause,
although it is itself also subordinated. Such clauses are called matrix clauses; the main clause, then, is
the highest matrix clause.
Besides via multiple embedding, it is also possible to build complex configurations by
combining subordination and coordination, i.e., by producing compound-complex sentences like
Garfield bought a huge pizza with the money he found in Jon’s pocket and devoured it, which can be
diagrammed in the following way:
main clause
Garfield bought a huge pizza with the money
and devoured it
relative clause
he’d found in Jon’s pocket
This time, the first half of the sentence contains an embedded clause, and the two halves, being
coordinates, are on the same level in the structure.
Recall, then, that simple sentences consist of a single clause, while compound, complex, and
compound-complex sentences consist of more than one. In the rest of the chapter we take complex
sentences, i.e., subordination, under closer scrutiny, and investigate the types of subclauses. The two
dimensions along which they differ are form (or structure) and function (the two aspects of all phrases
– cf. Ch. 2.1). First, the formal/structural divisions of subclauses are the following:1
In the examples, the subclauses are underlined.
according to finiteness2
according to interrogativity
I wonder what Jon thinks about this
I’m not sure if I should feed Garfield
Garfield devoured the pizza that he’d found in
the fridge
I’m not sure whether to feed Garfield
Jon doesn’t know who to turn to
Garfield wants Nermal to be sent to Abu Dhabi
Garfield promised Jon to behave
Garfield comics always make me laugh
I hope this helps clarify the situation
Everybody is surprised by Garfield(’s) being so
Playing in the cupboard, the mice noticed a box
of cereals
Jon’s just had the TV set repaired
All the food stored in the fridge is in danger
Garfield considers Odie stupid
Although a bit stupid, Odie is amusing to play
A few comments are in order here:
Non-finite and verbless structures may look more unusual, so we include a larger number of
examples of them in the chart. They are recognised as clauses because they can be analysed
into the same functional elements that we distinguish in finite clauses, i.e., they contain the
subject–predicate relationship characteristic of clauses, with both elements potentially
containing subconstituents that function as complements or adjuncts. E.g., in Garfield wants
Nermal to be sent to Abu Dhabi, Nermal is the subject of the subclause while to Abu Dhabi is
an adverbial. In Garfield considers Odie stupid, a sentence we analyse as SVOC (cf. Ch. 7.1),
the relationship between the object and the object complement is the same as what links a
subject with a subject complement: both are subject–predicate relationships. Cf.:
Garfield considers that Odie is stupid
Garfield considers Odie to be stupid
Garfield considers Odie stupid
– finite clause
– non-finite clause
– verbless clause
As you can see, all these structures are parallel, and the difference lies in how they become
more and more reduced: when finiteness is lost, the clause contains a
non-finite verb form; when the verb is also lost, only a subject and a
non-verbal predicate remain. What still characterises such clauses is
person and number agreement between its elements, which is apparent
in examples like His popularity makes Garfield too full of himself,
where the reflexive himself agrees with Garfield, or I consider them my
best friends, where the two NPs in the verbless clause agree in number.
This is why verbless clauses are also called Agreement Phrases.
Any of the non-finite verb forms may appear in non-finite clauses;
accordingly, there are Full Infinitive clauses, Bare Infinitive clauses, ing clauses (or Present Participle clauses or Gerund-Participle clauses,
Cf. Ch. 4.1.
Recall that main clauses/independent sentences are always finite (except for certain “irregular sentences”, see
Ch. 7.1) so it is only subclauses that can be non-finite or verbless.
Verbless clauses are also called small clauses.
usually with progressive meaning), and -en clauses (or Past Participle clauses or Passive
Participle clauses). There are two examples of each type in the chart above.
Non-finite and verbless clauses very often leave their subject unpronounced. Still, this empty
subject is assumed to be present since its interpretation is always possible; e.g., in Jon doesn’t
know who to turn to the subject of the underlined subclause is straightforwardly the same as
the subject of its main clause, i.e., Jon, and the interpretation is undoubtedly the same as that
of Jon doesn’t know who he should turn to. The empty subject pronoun may also have the
same reference as the object in the main clause (e.g., Jon ordered Garfield to catch some
mice) or it may have a general interpretation (e.g., To err is human). It is customarily signalled
by PRO, which is short for pronoun. Therefore, the precise representation of the example
sentences above should also include this abbreviation in the relevant place, e.g.:
Jon doesn’t know who PRO to turn to
Garfield promised Jon PRO to behave
I hope this helps PRO clarify the situation
PRO Playing in the cupboard, the mice noticed a box of cereals
All the food PRO stored in the fridge is in danger
Although PRO a bit stupid, Odie is amusing to play with
The other option is for the non-finite clause to have a pronounced subject, in which case it is
always in the accusative (cf. e.g., Garfield comics always make me laugh). As you can check
in the chart above, these options are available to non-interrogative non-finite and verbless
clauses: the examples are given in pairs in such a way that the first in each pair contains a
visible subject, the second an empty subject.
Infinitive clauses are distinguished for all aspects as well as voice, cf.:
He seems
to be greedy (simple)
to be reading the newspaper (progressive)
to have inherited a fortune (perfect simple)
to have been waiting for hours (perfect progressive)
to be moved by the film (passive simple)
to have been run over by a car (passive perfect)
-ing clauses are partially5 distinguished for aspect, cf. I remember leaving my car here
(simple) vs. I remember having left my car here (perfect), and they can be passive, e.g., I hate
being kept waiting. Very often, the -ing clause is progressive in meaning as in I saw the cat
climbing over the fence.6
-en clauses have no formal contrast of aspect, and are always passive in interpretation, as in
All the food stored in the fridge is in danger.
The functional divisions of clauses are based on what functions the subclauses fulfil in the matrix
clause. These can be of three major subtypes: subject (a clausal function), complement functions and
adjunct functions (see Ch. 2.1 for complement vs. adjunct, and Ch. 7.1 for grammatical functions in
the sentence):
Notice that, formally, “simple” and “progressive” aspects are merged.
Cf. I saw the cat climb over the fence.
to V
(Od, CS)
to P (Cp)
to A (Cadj)
to N (Cn)
That they accepted the offer is
very fortunate
I wonder what Jon thinks about
We all know that people are the
same wherever you go
The idea is that we fill Facebook
with cats
It depends on whether they want
to join us
The report is concerned with
which factors are crucial
I’m not sure if I should feed
The news that he was playing
again came as a surprise
Garfield devoured the pizza that
he’d found in the fridge
The cartoon character who(m) we
like so much is Tweety
While the mice were playing in
the cupboard, they noticed a
box of cereals
I’ll call you when I’ve arrived
If I were you, I’d call the police
He has more vices than he has
To err is human
Telling her father was a big mistake
Her parents didn’t want her to marry
The mice like playing in the cupboard
Garfield considers Odie stupid
Our plan is to cut the annual budget
Everybody is surprised by Garfield(’s)
being so greedy
You’re afraid of not being loved back
He’s lying in the sun without any
sunscreen on
I’m not sure whether to feed Garfield
You’re afraid to accept the reality
The director has announced plans to
cut the annual budget
Most students enrolling in the training
programme come from overseas
All the food stored in the fridge is in
Playing in the cupboard, the mice
noticed a box of cereals
His mother being ill, John had to
cancel the trip
Although a bit stupid, Odie is amusing
to play with
The damage wasn’t quite as bad as
In addition, note the following:
Clauses which function as complements to nouns are called appositive clauses. Apposition
means that there are two constituents (in our case, a N and a clause) “placed side by side”, and
the clause identifies, clarifies the content of the noun. E.g., in The news that he was playing
again came as a surprise, the that-clause specifies what the news is, what it says. Crucially,
this is different from (restrictive) relative clauses, whose function is to narrow down the
meaning of the head noun, to specify which item the predicate is about. Compare the news that
he was playing again (NP containing an appositive clause) vs. the news that he announced
(NP containing a relative clause).8
Subject, object, complement and appositive clauses are sometimes grouped together into the
category of nominal clauses, called so since these functions are typically taken by NPs; and
then, nominal and adverbial clauses are considered to be the two subtypes of so-called content
Peripheral functions to clauses include that of supplementary relative clauses (e.g., my
mother, who prefers dogs or Garfield couldn’t eat all the lasagne, which surprised everyone,
See Ch. 9.1.
In Ch. 9.1, it is argued that relative clauses always contain an information gap and are therefore incomplete in
themselves (cf. *he announced); appositive clauses do not have such a gap (cf. he was playing again).
see Ch. 9.1) as well as S-adverbial functions (cf. S-adverbs in Ch. 6.1) like adding comments
or joining sentences, e.g., He has eaten all the pizza, I believe or What’s more, he’s lost his
When non-finite clauses are complements to verbs (and, marginally, to adjectives), the form of
the non-finite verb is selected by the head verb (or adjective), the choice being between
infinitive and -ing constructions (recall the notion of licensing, Ch. 2.1). Certain verbs carry
the same meaning with both (e.g., prefer), others select either the infinitive (e.g., advise) or the
-ing form (e.g., suggest) only; yet another group of verbs convey separate meanings with the
two constructions (cf., e.g., Jon forgot to lock the car vs. Jon forgot locking the car). Out of
the infinitive forms, in most cases it is the to-infinitive that is involved, but the bare infinitive
may also be selected (e.g., Garfield comics always make me laugh; also compare I saw the cat
climbing over the fence vs. I saw the cat climb over the fence). Adjectival heads may exhibit
similar behaviour: afraid, for instance, will select an of-PP complement (which will, then,
contain an NP or an -ing clause) in some senses and a to-infinitive clause in others, cf. You’re
afraid of not being loved back and You’re afraid to accept the reality.
Another special phenomenon affecting verbal complement clauses is the form of reported
speech which is not a word-for-word quotation (“Where’s my dog?”, Jon asked) but which
incorporates the original into the sentence and thus involves modifications in various aspects
of grammar (Jon asked where his dog was) – it is called indirect speech. Notice that,
typically, there is a reporting verb in such cases in the main clause (asked), which is
complemented by an object clause (where his dog was). The two major modifications are: (i)
backshift (with a past matrix verb, the verb in the subclause is usually put one stage back in
the past; cf. is → was); (ii) changes of time, place and person reference in determiners,
pronouns and certain adverbs (cf. my → his). Indirect interrogatives are interrogative
subclauses introduced by wh-phrases (for indirect wh-questions, e.g., Jon asked where his dog
was) or by whether/if (for indirect yes/no questions, e.g., Jon asked if we had seen his dog), a
major characteristic of which is their word order. While direct questions exhibit SubjectOperator Inversion (Ch. 11.1), resulting in the operator either at the beginning of the sentence
(Have you seen my dog?) or immediately after the wh-phrase (Where’s my dog?), indirect
questions reconstruct the declarative word order. Finally, indirect imperatives typically
involve a to-infinitive clause in the direct object function (e.g., Jon ordered Garfield to catch
some mice).
When the matrix verb is a verb of thinking such as think, expect, suppose, negative subclauses
can move (or shift or transfer) the negative to it; therefore, I think she won’t come very often
becomes I don’t think she will come. This is called shifted or transferred negation or
negative raising.
This chapter has given an overview of the formal and functional divisions of subclauses in complex
sentences. Later, certain clausal structures will be discussed in more detail: relative clauses in Ch. 9,
various types of other structures in Ch. 10, conditional sentences in Ch. 11, and comparative sentences
in Ch. 12.
8.2 Further reading
On coordination and subordination: OEG 6  On subordinated clauses: SGE 14.1–14.10, 15.1–
15.32; OEG 6; CGEL 2; Wekker & Haegeman 1985: 3.4.11  On non-finite VPs: SGE 4.35  On
non-finite clauses: SGE 16.23–16.37, ALP 18  On nominal clauses: SGE 15.3–15.12, T&M 35 
On infinitive and gerund constructions: T&M 23–25; ALP 19; AGU 36–42  On clauses of purpose,
reason, result, etc.: T&M 33–34  On indirect speech: SGE 14.18–14.23; OEG 6; T&M 31; ALP 16;
AGU 43–49  On backshift: T&M 20  The syntactic analysis of non-finite clauses: BESE 8.
8.3 Practice exercises
1. We saw in the text that complex and compound-complex sentences can be diagrammed in the
following way:
Garfield bought a huge pizza with the money
and devoured it
relative clause
he’d found in Jon’s pocket
Such diagrams can be simplified to “mini-diagrams” like this one:
Find example sentences for the following mini-diagrams:
2. Find the subclauses in the following sentences and determine their formal and functional
1. I expect for John to win the race
2. Whether we can stay with my mother is another matter
3. Süsü likes chasing butterflies
4. Paul found Mary very attractive
5. When in Rome, do as the Romans do
6. Seeing is believing
7. Does anybody know what they are looking for?
8. There are a hundred billion castaways looking for a home
9. Sorry seems to be the hardest word
10. This library gets a copy of every book printed in Hungary
11. I could feel the earth move
12. They don’t need to see you cry
13. I can’t remember to forget you
14. I remember every word you said
15. I can’t stop these feelings melting through
3. Use the following verbs as matrix verbs in complex sentences with non-finite subclauses. Which
non-finite form is needed? In some of the cases, there is more than one option.
accuse, afford, begin, can’t help, deny, fail, forget, hear, let, manage,
need, promise, refuse, regret, remember, stop, suggest, try
4. You met an old friend, who said a lot of things. Later that day, you told your mother about this. You
started your sentences with She said… and used complex sentences in indirect speech. These are
the things she said to you:
1. We’ll be counting stars
2. You may say I’m a dreamer
3. I know I’ve said it a million times
4. I thought that we would just be friends
5. There’s a fire starting in my heart
6. My loneliness is killing me no more
5. The following sentences are ambiguous. Discuss their structure, and the nature of the ambiguity.
1. He asked me when I got up
2. I’ve forgotten how bad beer smells
3. I remember when I first saw her
8.4 Extension: More on non-finite clauses in English and Hungarian
There are non-finite clauses in both English and Hungarian but, as their characteristics differ from
each other, we need to discuss them in some detail. Ch. 8.1 above mentions that one of the distinctive
properties of these clauses in English is that their subject may be pronounced (or overt, as in Jon
wants Garfield to catch mice) or invisible (non-overt or covert, as in Garfield promised Jon PRO to
catch mice) (recall overt vs. covert from Ch. 2.4). It is also shown above that the empty subject
pronoun PRO may receive its reference from (or, may be controlled by) a subject or an object in the
matrix clause, or may have indefinite, general reference. In the latter case, the reference may also be
described as arbitrary since it depends on the context in a way that is unpredictable, arbitrary
syntactically. Control (or the absence thereof) is usually indicated with the help of indices: with the
coindexation of PRO with its controller, or the index arb for arbitrary control. Cf.:
Garfieldi promised Jon PROi to catch mice
Jon couldn’t persuade Garfieldi PROi to catch mice
PROarb Catching mice is not an easy job
Although PROi a bit stupid, Odiei is amusing to play with
subject control
object control
indefinite/arbitrary control
subject control in verbless clause
The choice of the controlling element depends on the matrix verb: in the examples above, promise
illustrates subject-control verbs and persuade illustrates object-control verbs. Control is obligatory in
these cases; however, sometimes it is optional: the same sentence ((a) below) may be ambiguous
between a definite and an indefinite interpretation, as the choice of reflexives also indicates in (b) and
a. Garfieldi is not sure how PROi/arb to behave in public
b. Garfieldi is not sure how PROi to behave himselfi in public
c. Garfield is not sure how PROarb to behave oneself in public
In non-finite and verbless clauses functioning as adverbial, however, PRO requires obligatory subject
control for the sentence to be well-formed or at least interpretable. This is the so-called Attachment
Rule. Notice the subject control in all of the following examples:
PROi Playing in the cupboard, the micei noticed a box of cereals
PROi Exhausted by the day’s work, Johni fell asleep immediately
Garfieldi went to the post office PROi to send Nermal in a parcel to Abu Dhabi
Although PROi a bit stupid, Odiei is amusing to play with
Such clauses are treated in EFL coursebooks and writer’s guides because it is “too easy” to break the
Attachment Rule: even native speakers often do so and only realise it when they notice that their
sentence is anomalous and does not convey the intended meaning. The following sentences are
examples of such unattached or “dangling” clauses:
*PROi Opening the closet, a skeletoni fell out
*PROi Stuck in the back of the cupboard, the micei noticed a box of cereals
*PROi An author of considerable distinction, studentsi flocked to her lecture
In these cases the intended meaning is such that somebody (but not the skeleton) opened the closet, the
box of cereals (and not the mice) was stuck in the cupboard, and of course, “she” was an author and
not her students.
Adverbial -ing, -en and verbless clauses may also contain overt subjects; such clauses are
called absolute clauses. They are more frequent in written English than in spoken language.
His mother being ill, John had to cancel the trip
The boss having left the room, everybody was hotly debating the issue
The interviews completed, the committee retired to discuss the case
Christmas then only days away, the family was pent up with excitement
He’s lying in the sun without any sunscreen on
Verbless clauses are also called Agreement Phrases because, although they are not marked for tense,
certain signs of agreement are present in them (see Ch. 8.1 above). Their structure is composed of a
subject (overt accusative or PRO) plus a non-VP predicate (NP, AP or PP), and in some cases they are
introduced by subordinators or prepositions like if, unless, when, while, although; with, without. The
functions they can fulfil in sentences divide them into two major subtypes:
(i) complement verbless clauses: complements to a V or a P, containing overt subjects (and are also
called Small Clauses); the subject and the predicate may be linked with as:
Garfield considers Odie stupid
I regard them as my best friends
We believe these mechanics incapable of mending the car
They want him out of the team
complement to V
The boys aren’t very keen on an old spinster as their coach
With the kitchen a mess, how can I possibly cook anything?
I kept thinking I could never live without you by my side
complement to P
(ii) in adjunct function: adverbial verbless clauses:
- with overt S (absolute clauses, see above): (a) below
- with non-overt S (obligatory subject control, see the Attachment Rule above): (b) below
There stood the doctor, a baby in each hand
Over 200 migrants attempting the perilous journey across the Mediterranean are
feared to have drowned, many of them children
PROi An overweight, lazy cat with a passion for food, Garfieldi is not on good terms
with his scales
PROi Too nervous around beautiful women, hei always sticks to the back in the bar
with his buddies
Whether PROi right or wrong, shei always has the last word in our arguments
Although PROi a bit stupid, Odiei is amusing to play with
Similarly to English, Hungarian verbs also have non-finite forms which participate in non-finite
clauses: the infinitive (-ni), and adjectival (-ó/-ő participles are present, -t/-tt participles are past – but
see below) and adverbial participles (-va/-ve participles are simple active, -ván/-vén participles are
active perfective).
Infinitive clauses can assume the role of a complement (Garfield szeret aludni ‘Garfield likes
sleeping’) or adjunct (Garfield bement a szobába aludni ‘Garfield went into the room to sleep’). In
these examples, the subject of the subclause is empty, i.e., PRO, controlled by the matrix subject
Garfield. When no controller is present, the infinitive has a (dative) case-marked overt or covert
subject, and it is inflected for agreement. Recall from Ch. 4.1 that inflected infinitives in Hungarian,
like tudnom kell ‘I have/need to know’, are called semi-finite forms. Now, compare the two cases:
Garfieldi szeret PROi aludni ‘Garfield likes sleeping’
Garfieldnak tudnia kell ezt ‘Garfield needs to know this’
Besides subject control, object-control verbs are also found in Hungarian, although they are much less
numerous, similarly to the English situation. E.g., Garfield látta az egereket a konyhában játszani
‘Garfield saw the mice playing in the kitchen’. An interesting feature of control structures in
Hungarian is what is called long distance object agreement: when the matrix verb is transitive, it
chooses between the definite and the indefinite paradigm (cf. Ch. 1.4) according to the object of the
infinitive, e.g.:
Próbálom megkeresni Jon kutyáját
‘I am trying to find Jon’s dog’
Próbálok megkeresni egy kutyát
‘I am trying to find a dog’
Próbállak megkeresni (téged)
‘I am trying to find you’
definite object
indefinite object
second person singular object
In Hungarian, auxiliaries also select the infinitive, e.g., Garfield egész nap aludni fog ‘Garfield will
sleep all day’, but the division between auxiliaries and subject-control verbs in Hungarian is not
straightforward, and a few (e.g., kezd ‘begin’, próbál ‘try’, bír ‘manage’, mer ‘dare’, tud ‘can’, etc.)
can be used both ways, therefore they are sometimes called semi-auxiliaries. In Hungarian, the
structure of the maximal verb group is illustrated by the following example:
a (finite) aux. semi-auxiliary/-ies
Garfield holnaptól
próbálni kezdeni
‘Garfield will try to start to lose weight tomorrow’
an (infinitival) lexical verb
Notice that a number of further word orders are possible, which we do not discuss here.
Adverbial participles also produce non-finite clauses. They have two possible functions: (i)
manner or time adverbial adjunct; (ii) subject or object complement in the predicate:
(i) A konyhaszekrényben játszadozva, az egerek egy doboz zabpehelyre bukkantak
‘Playing in the cupboard, the mice found a box of cereals’
(ii) Jon meg van fázva
‘Jon has a cold’
The type in (ii) resembles the English passive construction, even in the way different copulas convey
different aspectual meanings, e.g., Ez a pizza meg van égetve ‘This pizza is burnt’ vs. Ez a pizza meg
lett égetve ‘This pizza has got burnt’. However, it is not passive structure proper, since on the one
hand, it also affects intransitive verbs (cf. (ii) above); on the other hand, it is more limited than the
English passive as it is only possible if the meaning is such that the subject undergoes a change of
state. Cf. A zabpehely meg van romolva a konyhaszekrényben ‘The cereals have gone off in the
cupboard’ vs. *A zabpehely meg van látva a konyhaszekrényben ‘The cereals have been spotted in the
cupboard’. Hungarian, then, lacks a genuine passive voice, but it has a copula + adverbial participle
construction that is very similar to it; therefore, phrases like Fel vagyok rá készülve ‘I am prepared for
that’ are not passive proper and are well-formed although the verb is intransitive, while sentences like
*A macska fel van mászva a fára ‘*The cat is climbed up the tree’ are ill-formed because climbing
does not involve a change of state.
Finally, Hungarian also has adjectival participle clauses, which can function as attributes in
NPs whose head nouns also provide reference for their PROs, e.g., Láttunk a konyhában egy PRO1
pizzát evő macskát és PRO2 a szekrényben játszó egereket ‘In the kitchen we saw a cat eating pizza
and mice playing in the cupboard’, where PRO1 is controlled by macskát and PRO2 is controlled by
egereket. The two adjectival participles of Hungarian are the ones suffixed with -ó/-ő called present
participles, and the ones with -t/-tt called past participles. Their
names are misleading – the real difference between them is that the
former is active (meaning that the head noun functions as a kind of
subject, cf. a macska eszi a pizzát ‘the cat is eating the pizza’ and az
egerek játszanak a szekrényben ‘the mice are playing in the
cupboard’) and the latter is passive (its head noun is object). When t/-tt participles are used as if they referred to past tense or perfect aspect, we get anomalous meaning,
as you can see in the sign9: az itt fogyasztott vendégek is interpreted as customers who have been
consumed here (!) rather than the intended meaning, customers who have consumed here.
The main conclusion of this chapter may be that non-finite clauses are diverse in both form
and function in both English and Hungarian, but, although the two languages differ from each other in
fundamental respects, the structures that they exhibit can be described with reference to the same
Further reading
On finite and non-finite clauses: Wekker & Haegeman 1985: 5  On the subject of non-finite and
verbless clauses: SGE 15.34  On participle clauses: T&M 26; AGU 74–75, 102  On subject
clauses: Cowan 2008: 20  On complement clauses, including infinitive and gerund constructions:
Cowan 2008: 21  On adverbial clauses: Cowan 2008: 23  The syntactic analysis of control:
BESE 8.2.2; Wekker & Haegeman 1985: 5.4  On non-finite phrases and clauses in Hungarian: É.
Kiss 2002: 9.
8.5 Practice exercises
1. Find the non-finite subclauses in the following sentences and identify their functions. Indicate
empty subjects where relevant by inserting PRO in the right slot.
1. Cats normally like catching mice
2. Garfield standing on the bathroom scales should amuse you
3. Having furnished ourselves with garlic, we set off
4. I have just seen a TV thrown out of a window
5. His first job was selling vacuum cleaners
6. I saw her catch the bus
7. I strongly object to him receiving this award
8. I’ll be waiting for love to come around
9. Jon is busy making lasagne for Garfield
10. Rather than you do the job, I’ll do it myself
11. The wine finished, we dozed fitfully in our armchairs
12. His current research, investigating attitudes to cats, takes up most of his time
13. They are reluctant to attend my courses
14. The last man to leave the boat is always the captain
15. They left the door open for me to hear the baby
2. Identify the type of control (subject, object, or arbitrary) in the following English and Hungarian
1. Jon told Garfield to eat less lasagne
2. To eat too much lasagne is bad for your health
3. Liz didn’t remember having eaten such lasagne before
4. Exhausted by cooking lasagne all day, Jon fell asleep immediately
5. Garfield tried to catch some mice
6. Odie nem merte felébreszteni Garfieldot ‘Odie did not dare to wake up Garfield’
7. Félek ráállni a mérlegre ‘I am afraid to stand on the scales’
8. Jon hallotta Garfieldot kimenni a konyhába ‘Jon heard Garfield go to the kitchen’
9. Nem akarom elolvasni ezt a könyvet ‘I do not want to read this book’
10. Vissza fogom tudni fizetni a pénzt ‘I will be able to pay the money back’
3. Rewrite the following sentences so that they contain verbless subclauses.
1. Although unemployed now, Sam used to earn a lot
2. Davidson fought bravely, and although he was badly wounded, he refused to surrender
3. He shared a cell with Al Capone while he was in prison
4. When you are in doubt as to how to use a word, look it up in the dictionary
5. I always carry a gun when I am in this part of the city
6. Robert’s essays are always interesting, even if they are sometimes rather careless
7. She used to call me “Tiny” although she was shorter than me
8. The stories are basically true, even if they are a little exaggerated
9. While she was in Africa, she met Jack and married him
10. He unexpectedly appeared at the party, holding a bottle of champagne in his hand
4. Which is the non-finite verb form that is usually found in non-interrogative non-finite clauses
functioning as complements of prepositions? Give an example.
5. What determines how many clauses there are in a sentence? Is it the number of verbs, or the number
of lexical verbs? Is it the number of subjects? Discuss.
9.1 Information gap in wh-questions and
relative clauses
“Listen to me Hillary. I’m not the first guy who fell in love with a woman
that he met at a restaurant who turned out to be the daughter of a kidnapped scientist
only to lose her to her childhood lover who she last saw on a deserted island
who then turned out fifteen years later to be the leader of the French underground.”
(Nick Rivers in Top Secret)
This example is packed with relative clauses: subordinated clauses which function as postmodifying
adjuncts (attributes) in NPs. Their structures can be mapped onto each other in the following way:
head N
relativiser rest of relative clause
fell in love with a woman
he met at a restaurant
turned out to be the daughter of a kidnapped scientist
she last saw on a deserted island
then turned out fifteen years later to be the leader of
the French underground
Notice that in all these cases there is a head noun present, which the clause relates to – hence the
name; in addition, in all these cases the clause is introduced by a relative pronoun or conjunction: a socalled relativiser (who or that in these examples). All the wh-phrases of English (including how!) can
act as relativisers, and in fact, they are the most frequent ones (only two other options remaining: that
and no relativiser), which means most relative clauses start with a wh-phrase. For this reason, we
analyse relative clauses as involving wh-fronting.
The other important feature of relative clauses is revealed if you look at their part without the
relativiser, i.e., the last column of the chart above that says “rest of relative clause”. Notice that none
of those strings constitute a well-formed sentence: something is missing, there is an “information gap”
in them. E.g., fell in love with a woman lacks who fell in love, i.e., the subject; he met at a restaurant
lacks the object; etc. This information gap is what distinguishes relative clauses from the other noninterrogative subclauses. You may be able to recall from Ch. 8.1, when we were looking at NPs with
appositive clauses like the news that he was playing again, that we compared them to NPs with
relative clauses, which apparently resemble them in form, e.g., the news that he announced. Compare
them again and notice that, the conjunction that removed, the remaining chunk is self-contained and
therefore well-formed in the appositive clause only (he was playing again); the relative clause (he
announced) contains a gap (viz., what he announced, i.e., the object of the verb).
Wh-fronting and the information gap are what characterise relative clauses and wh-questions
in English. Relative clauses are all subclauses (by definition); wh-questions1, on the other hand, have
two major subtypes:
direct wh-interrogatives, which are independent or main clauses, and contain wh-fronting
accompanied by Subject-Operator Inversion (SOI) in their word order (e.g., Who did he
meet at the restaurant?), except when the wh-element is subject (cf. Who met him at the
See Ch. 7.1.
Since SOI is not needed when the wh-element is subject, the operator is not necessarily there, either, which
means that in simple tenses do-insertion does not take place in subject questions.
indirect wh-interrogatives (incl. reported questions; cf. Ch. 8.1), which are subordinated
clauses (just like relative clauses), and do not contain SOI (e.g., I wonder who he met at the
Minor, less frequent constructions that also involve wh-fronting are (certain) exclamative main
clauses starting with wh-phrases (e.g., How old you are!), and so-called semi-indirect speech, a form
of reported speech in which changes of time, place and person reference are applied but otherwise it is
like quoted speech and may include SOI (e.g., He asked me who did I meet at the restaurant). In sum,
the clause types relevant here can be characterised in the following way:
direct wh-question
indirect wh-question
semi-indirect wh-question
relative clause
main clause
main clause
information gap
information gap
information gap
information gap
information gap
Our chapter concentrates on wh-interrogatives and relative clauses. First, direct wh-questions. They
will be very useful to us here because they have a type that helps identify the place of the information
gap in our examples: the so-called echo question. It is not asked to require some specific information
but repeats what somebody has said, with an unclear or doubted element in it replaced by a wh-phrase
which is pronounced with extra stress. That is, there is an information gap, but there is no wh-fronting;
the wh-phrase occupies the information gap3. Cf.:
a. (Brad Pitt has sent me a friend request.) WHO has sent you a friend request??
b. (I met Brad Pitt at the restaurant.) You met WHOM at the restaurant??
c. (I have sent a friend request to Brad Pitt.) You have sent a friend request to WHOM??
d. (I saw Brad Pitt at the party in our garden.) You saw Brad Pitt WHERE??
e. (I met Brad Pitt between two classes.) You met Brad Pitt WHEN??
Therefore, a direct question like Who did he meet at the restaurant? contains an information gap since
it is incomplete without the wh-phrase at the beginning; and the gap is between meet and the PP at the
restaurant since that is the place of the wh-phrase. Similarly, an NP with a relative clause like a
woman that he met at a restaurant contains an information gap in the relative clause; and the gap is
again between meet and the PP.
The examples above also illustrate the functional diversity of wh-phrases in wh-questions:
they can function as subject (a), direct object (b), prepositional complement (c), etc., as well as various
adverbial/adjunct functions such as place (d) and time adverbial (e). In fact, the same goes for
relativisers in relative clauses (whether they are pronounced (a wh-phrase or that) or invisible – see
below). Cf.:
a. Brad Pitt is the guy WHO sent me a friend request
b. Brad Pitt is the guy WHOM I met at the restaurant
c. Brad Pitt is the guy WHOM I sent a friend request to
c’. Brad Pitt is the guy to WHOM I sent a friend request
d. Our garden is WHERE I saw Brad Pitt
e. Between two classes is WHEN I met Brad Pitt4
Similar wh-structures include quiz questions (e.g., Budapest is the capital of what European country?) and
multiple wh-questions, in which only one of the wh-phrases can be fronted (e.g., Who brought which present?).
The relative clauses in (d) and (e) are so-called headless relative clauses (see below); and the sentences
themselves are so-called reversed pseudo-cleft sentences (see Ch. 10.1).
Notice that sentence (c) has two alternatives: the first one exemplifies preposition stranding, its
version in (c’) contains pied piping (Ch. 6.1), as the usual options for wh-phrases in PPs. Another
curiosity to notice is what happens in subject wh-questions and subject relative clauses (examples (a)
in both sets of sentences above): since the normal, “canonical” position of both the subject and the whphrase/relativiser is at the beginning of the clause, the information gap is not separately visible in these
cases, and apparently the wh-phrase/relativiser occupies the information gap. For the same reason, the
subject echo question is not formally distinct from its direct wh-question equivalent.
Now, let us turn to relative clauses. They constitute a whole variety of different functional
and formal classes; the box below shows their functional subtypes, while the formal subgroups are
discussed later. According to function, then, we distinguish two major types: restrictive relative
clauses (RRCs) and supplementary relative clauses. RRCs have a noun (i.e., a word) as the head,
while supplementary RCs have phrase-level heads. There are two options for that: either an NP (for
non-restrictive RCs; NRRCs) or a clause (for sentential RCs, always introduced by which).
(i) types acc. to function:
(a) restrictive/defining relative clause (RRC):
the cartoon character who(m) we like so much
the cartoon character that we like so much
the cartoon character we like so much
the topic (which/that) we are discussing
(b) supplementary relative clause:
- non-restrictive/non-defining rel. cl. (NRRC):
my mother, who prefers dogs
the topic, which we already discussed at the meeting
cf. my brother who is a vet vs. my brother, who is a vet
- sentential: Garfield couldn’t eat all the lasagne, which surprised everyone
The fundamental difference is that RRCs are post-modifying adjuncts narrowing down the
interpretation of the head noun to which they refer, while supplementary RCs are comment clauses,
parenthetical additions to the main message only,
therefore their boundaries (the “opening” and
“closing brackets”) are indicated in speech by
brief pauses. It is these pauses that English
punctuation shows with the commas. That is, the
English spelling rule here is that you use the
comma to denote the pause in speech.5 Compare
this to the corresponding Hungarian spelling
rule, which says that all clause boundaries are
indicated with punctuation marks.6
RRCs and NNRCs, then, as their names suggest, differ in whether they narrow down
the meaning of a head noun specifying which item we mean (RRC) or serve the comment
function. A “classical” example is the contrast between an NP like my brother who is a vet, in
which case the interpretation is that I have more than one brother and my statement concerns the only
one that is a vet, and my brother, who is a vet, which is used when we have already mentioned my
brother, or I know that the listener knows my brother, and there is no information about how many
brothers I have.
The number of examples next to the same category in (i) above already suggests that relative
clauses in general, and the RRC in particular, have many different forms. They are listed in (ii). As
Meme credits go to Ágnes Piukovics.
Appositive clauses introduced by that can also be used as comment clauses (e.g., when the content of the head
noun has already been explained, and it is simply repeated), in which case their boundaries are marked with
pauses in pronunciation, and commas in writing, cf.: This problem, that the budget has been cut, needs further
you can see, the two major subtypes are headed RCs and headless RCs. Headed RCs are the more
frequent type, when the head noun is present in the NP, usually together with at least a determiner (the
definite article in most cases), whereas headless RCs arise when the head “merges” or “fuses” with
the relativiser and disappears. In such cases, however, it is always possible to reconstruct the original,
headed expression, e.g., Whoever wakes Garfield up will regret it for the rest of their lives is identical
to The person who wakes Garfield up…, which contains the head noun person. Because of this, we
assume here that headless RCs do come with a head, though it is unpronounced (but interpretable).
(ii) types acc. to form:
- headed/proper:
(a) wh-relative: the cartoon character who(m) we like so much
(b) that-relative: the cartoon character that we like so much
(c) zero relative:
- finite: the cartoon character we like so much
- non-finite (“reduced relative clause”):
(a) -ing relative (always subjective): the person preferring dogs (active)
the topic being discussed (passive)
(b) -en relative (always passive): the topic discussed
(c) to-relative7: the first to arrive
the person to ask
there’s nothing to do
there’s nothing to be done
- headless/fused/free: Whoever wakes Garfield up will regret it for the rest of their lives
The box also shows that headed RCs can be introduced by a wh-phrase (for the wh-relative), the
conjunction that (that-relative), or nothing (called zero relative), and that the zero relative can be
finite or non-finite, with three possible verb forms.
The rules of the relativisers:
 formal/informal distinction: which and whom are formal, the others are informal (see (1)
below); pied piping is formal, preposition stranding is informal (cf. Ch. 6.1) (see (2))
 personal/non-personal distinction: which is non-personal only, who(m) is personal only (see
(3)). N.B. that and whose are neutral (see (1) for that and (4) for whose)
 that can be omitted (unless it is subject), producing the zero relative. Whenever that is
possible, the zero relative is also possible (unless it is subject); that is, the zero relative is a
version of the that-relative (see (1) and (5))
 pied piping is not possible with that and who. That is, it is only possible with which for nonpersonal, and with whom for personal (see (6))
 what and whatever/whoever/whichever stand alone and can only introduce headless RCs (see
 sentential RCs are always introduced by which (see above)
Check these rules in the following examples. Note that most of them are not sentences but NPs only,
and pay attention to where you see an asterisk (meaning that the example is ungrammatical)!
(1) formal:
the topic which we are discussing
informal the topic that we are discussing
/neutral: the topic we are discussing
the woman whom he met at a restaurant
the woman who he met at a restaurant
the woman that he met at a restaurant
the woman he met at a restaurant
To-relatives are in fact somewhat more variable in form than suggested here: certain wh-relatives may contain
the to-infinitive as the verb form (e.g., the person on whom to rely), and other constructions, unavailable to other
verb forms, are also possible, e.g., the person for you to rely on.
(2) formal:
a person on whom you can rely
informal a person who(m) you can rely on
/neutral: a person that you can rely on
a person you can rely on
(3) *a person which you can rely on
*the topic who(m) we are discussing
(4) a person whose name is too long
the topic whose discussion will be long
(5) a woman who/that he met at a restaurant
a woman he met at a restaurant
the guy who/that fell in love with a woman
*the guy fell in love with a woman
(6) *a person on who you can rely
a person on whom you can rely
*the topic with that we are dealing
the topic with which we are dealing
(7) *the topic what we are discussing
*whoever who wakes Garfield up
A final minor subtype of RCs is the so-called connective relative clause, which resembles NRRCs in
form, but the relativiser has the function of connecting, linking two clauses, more like a conjunction.
An example such as I asked Jon, who said that he met Liz at a restaurant is identical to I asked Jon,
and he said that he met Liz at a restaurant.
Non-finite relative clauses are also called reduced relative clauses because they do not only
lack a pronounced relativiser, but their subject NP is also invisible, i.e., PRO (cf. Ch. 8.1). E.g., the
person to ask is identical to the person whom we should ask. Compare the following options:
head N
relativiser rest of relative clause
we should ask
we should ask
we should ask
we should ask
PRO to ask
The other examples of non-finite RCs also contain PRO:
(a) the person PRO preferring dogs
the topic PRO being discussed
(b) the topic PRO discussed
(c) the first PRO to arrive
the person PRO to ask
there’s nothing PRO to do
there’s nothing PRO to be done
Keep in mind that at the same time the relativiser is also invisible in these cases: these structures are
pretty abstract and, as their name shows, drastically reduced.
Recall, then, that wh-fronting (with the information gap) characterises both wh-interrogatives
and relative clauses. Wh-phrases, however, may travel a long way to the left edge of the sentence,
skipping other clauses. The question Which pizza did you say that Jon thought that Garfield would
prefer? ultimately boils down to the question of Garfield will prefer WHICH PIZZA?, i.e., the whphrase is the object of prefer, and the structure is a multiply embedded complex sentence with as many
as three clauses in a “Matryoshka-doll” construction:
Which pizza did you say
that Jon thought
that Garfield would prefer __
This is called long wh-fronting. In Hungarian, such sentences may or may not be translated with long
wh-fronting, cf. Melyik pizzát mondtad, hogy Jon azt hiszi, hogy Garfield jobban szereti? (with long
fronting) and Mit mondtál, mit gondol Jon, hogy melyik pizzát szereti jobban Garfield? (without long
fronting, containing a wh-phrase at the beginning of each clause). Notice, however, that the latter
solution is not available in English: *What did you say, what does Jon think, (that) which pizza will
Garfield prefer? and similar constructions are ungrammatical. The same type of long wh-fronting is
found with relative clauses, too, as in (This is) the postman the neighbour claims that Garfield has
bitten, where the hidden, zero relativiser is ultimately the object of bite: that is the place of the
information gap. In sum, wh-fronting exhibits basically the same characteristics in all major
constructions it appears in.
9.2 Further reading
On relative clauses: T&M 8; ALP 18; AGU 70–73  On reduced relative clauses (active and
passive): AGU 74  The syntactic analysis of the “information gap”: BESE 7.3–7.4; Wekker &
Haegeman 1985: 4.1–4.2.8.
9.3 Practice exercises
1. Find the information gaps in the following examples.
1. Where have all the flowers gone
2. How do you do the things that you do
3. What are you waiting for
4. All that she wants is another baby
5. All that I can see is just another lemon tree
6. I don’t know what to do with myself
7. She’s just a girl who claims that I am the one
8. How I hate the winter
9. Who do you think is the weakest link
10. There’s nothing you can throw at me that I haven’t already heard
11. That’s what friends are supposed to do
12. What do I think I think
2. Which of the following relative clauses can only be interpreted as supplementary? Provide commas.
1. the dog who stopped the war
2. our father who art in heaven
3. my mother who is me
4. the man who sold the world
5. we who are your closest friends
6. He who laughs last laughs best
7. We haven’t seen a Japanese film which is very interesting
8. We haven’t seen this Japanese film which is very interesting
3. Underline the zero relative clauses in the following examples.
1. every breath you take
2. the way you look tonight
3. just the way you are
4. things we lost in the fire
5. All we need is somebody to lean on
6. I’m not sure I understand this role I’ve been given
4. Rewrite the sentences so that they contain reduced relative clauses.
1. We have got stars that direct our fate
2. You are my shoulder on which I can cry
3. There’s nothing funny that is left to say
4. There are a lot of things that go on in the world you don’t know about
5. There are a hundred billion castaways who look for a home
6. We found an island that is lost at sea
7. I’m the only one who knows your heart
8. Everything that kills me makes me feel alive
5. Find the relative clauses in the following sentences.
1. We have been making money since the day that we were born
2. That is just the way it is, baby
3. This will be the day that I die
4. You are the one I want
5. Every little thing she does is magic
6. Do you remember the time when we fell in love?
7. This is how you remind me of what I really am
8. All you need is love
9. Now you’re just somebody that I used to know
10. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
11. All I want to say is that they don’t really care about us
12. The horse raced past the barn fell
9.4 Extension: More on wh-fronting and relative clauses
Here we look at some of the aspects of wh-fronting constructions more closely. In the first part, we
investigate long wh-fronting; in the second part, we make a brief comparison of relative clauses in
English and Hungarian, and then deal with headless relative clauses.
Long wh-fronting is introduced in Ch. 9.1 above, where it is explained that a wh-element may
“originate” very low in a multiply embedded structure and move to the front of the direct
interrogative, leaving the information gap behind in its original clause. The example Which pizza did
you say (that) Jon thought (that) Garfield would prefer? can be represented as follows:
Which pizza did you say
(that) Jon thought
(that) Garfield would prefer __
Notice that all lower clauses (shaded in grey) behave as simple non-interrogative clauses: no SOI takes
place in them, and they all can optionally be introduced by the non-interrogative complementiser that.
Such constructions can be shown to have been formed in a step-by-step fashion, with more and more
embedding added gradually, and with a potential slot for a wh-phrase at the beginning of each clause.
Our example, for instance, can be broken down into the following three stages:
Which pizza will Garfield prefer
Which pizza does Jon think (that) Garfield will prefer
Which pizza did you say (that) Jon thought (that) Garfield would prefer
As it is mentioned above, in Hungarian long wh-fronting is one of two options in such cases; besides
long fronting (Melyik pizzát mondtad, hogy Jon azt hiszi, hogy Garfield jobban szereti?), treating the
clauses as separate questions (Mit mondtál, mit gondol Jon, hogy melyik pizzát szereti jobban
Garfield?) is also possible. Crucially, this latter is not an option in English, which causes difficulties
for Hungarian learners as a result.
Long fronting can be applied in the two languages in similar ways. The following sentences,
e.g., illustrate cases when the wh-phrase is subject or complement. Interestingly, subject wh-phrases
behave as objects and take the accusative at the front of the sentence in both languages, although in
English this is not apparent due to the prevalence of who in both nominative and accusative.
Kit mondtál, hogy __ megjelent a buliban?
Kit mondtál, hogy láttad __ ?
Who(m) did you say (that) __ turned up at the party?
Who(m) did you say (that) you saw __ ?
With adjunct wh-phrases, on the other hand, ambiguity arises in both languages. Since adjuncts are
not licensed/selected by their heads, the information gap their fronting produces is not
straighforwardly connectable to one or the other verbal heads in the sentence. E.g., in Who did you say
turned up at the party?, turn up is the verb whose subject is “missing”, therefore the interpretation is
unambiguous. However, in When did you say he turned up at the party?, the adjunct wh-phrase when
can refer to either the time of saying or the time of turning up; being a time adjunct, it is able to
modify either head. This difference between complements and adjuncts is found in English and
Hungarian alike: in the following sentence pairs, the first contains complement fronting in both
languages, while the second fronts an adjunct – in the latter case, the sentence has two possible
interpretations, which you are invited to check for yourselves. Also, note that in speech, intonation can
differentiate between the senses.
On whom did you say I could rely?
Mikor mondtad, hogy születtél?
‘When did you say you had been born?’
On which day did you say I could come?
Mikor mondtad, hogy találkoztatok?
‘When did you say you had met?’
Despite these similarities, English seems more flexible in long fronting than Hungarian, since any
constituent is able to participate in it, while in Hungarian not all of them produce grammatical
structures. E.g., while How old did you say (that) you were? is well-formed, its Hungarian equivalent
does not work with long fronting (*Hány évest mondtál, hogy vagy?), only the other option is
available (Mit mondtál, hány éves vagy?).
Long movement is also found in relative clauses in both languages, e.g.:
(This is) the pizza
(that) Garfield said
(that) __ was delicious
The Hungarian equivalent is (Ez) az a pizza, amit Garfield mondott, hogy nagyon finom, which mirrors
the English example in its structure. It also illustrates a major difference between English and
Hungarian restrictive relative clauses (RRCs): in Hungarian, the NP also contains a demonstrative
(e.g., az, annyi, olyan), which we have underlined; in contrast, English RRCs do not normally include
such an element (cf. *that pizza that is delicious). Compare the following Hungarian NPs with their
English counterparts:
az a srác, aki beleszeretett egy nőbe ‘the guy who fell in love with a woman’
egy olyan nő, akivel egy étteremben találkozott ‘a woman that he met at a restaurant’
Consequently, in Hungarian RRCs and non-restrictive relative clauses (NRRCs) differ not only in
pronunciation (via the intonational phrasing produced by pauses in speech, as explained above), but
also in syntactic form: NPs with NRRCs have no demonstrative element. Let us see the “classical”
example cited in Ch. 9.1 above again, this time the Hungarian NP pair:
a bátyám, aki állatorvos ‘my brother, who is a vet’
az a bátyám, aki/amelyik állatorvos ‘my brother who is a vet’
With respect to headless (free, fused, nominal) relative clauses, English is more important to discuss
because, unlike in Hungarian, in English they largely differ in form from headed RCs; and because,
although they are far less frequent than their headed peers, they show a wide variety in grammatical
First, as mentioned briefly above, certain relativisers, namely, what and the -ever pronouns
(whatever/whoever…) are restricted to headless RCs. That is, at least in Standard English, they never
modify an overt noun – their head is always covert, thus they always stand alone. Recall the examples
from Ch. 9.1, of which the first one is of particular significance as it represents a typical mistake
learners of English make:
*the topic what we are discussing
*whoever who wakes Garfield up
Second, headless RCs (more precisely, the NPs containing them – see below) fulfil a number of
grammatical functions. Here are a couple of examples:
Whatever they accused him of turned out to be untrue
I want what you want
I’ll send whoever emails me a signed copy of my book
This is what I want
Home is where the heart is
You can call me what(ever) you wish
From what you say, she’s brilliant
In some of their functions, it is easy to mix them up with indirect interrogatives. E.g., I want what you
want is a headless RC, while I’m not sure what you want is an indirect question. The difference is that
headless RCs are in fact NPs with a non-overt noun head, and therefore they can be paraphrased and
replaced by corresponding overt noun + RRC sequences. Accordingly, I want what you want is
equivalent to I want the thing(s) that you want, but I’m not sure what you want cannot be paraphrased
as *I’m not sure the thing(s) that you want. Instead, being an interrogative subclause, it contains a
hidden question (What do you want?). What this also means8 is that in headless RCs there is always a
covert noun, so they are always NPs, even though the noun head itself is invisible and therefore this is
not straightforward. Therefore, it is not surprising that most of their grammatical functions (see the list
above) are nominal functions, i.e., primarily characteristic of NPs.
A final note on headless RCs is the following. Since they are very similar to indirect
interrogatives, sometimes it happens that exactly the same words are used for the two structures; i.e.,
sentences may be ambiguous between containing such a RC and containing some other nominal
subclause. For example, the sentence I know what you saw may be interpreted as ‘I am familiar with
the thing(s) that you saw’ (headless RC) or as ‘I know the answer to the question “What did you see”’
(indirect wh-question); similarly, What you saw is a mystery either means ‘You saw a mysterious
thing’ (headless RC) or ‘We have no information about what you saw’ (indirect wh-question).
Mind my subject here with a headless RC 
Further reading
On relative clauses in English: Cowan 2008: 18  On relative clauses in Hungarian: É. Kiss 2002:
9.5 Practice exercises
1. Fill the gaps with the relativisers who, whom, which, that or whose. Indicate all possibilities. Write
an “x” if the relative pronoun can be left out. Add commas where necessary.
Examples: Peter is the boy who/that rides the blue bike
Peter is the boy who/whom/that/x we saw yesterday
Peter , who rides the blue bike, is Jane’s boyfriend
1. Mary was late yesterday ……………………………………… was unusual for her
2. Yesterday I saw a car ……………………………………… was really old
3. There is one person to ……………………………………… I owe more than I can say
4. I haven’t seen Frank ……………………………………… brother is five, for a long time now
5. The robber stole the car …………………………… the lady parked in front of the supermarket
6. This is the man ……………………………………… house is on fire
7. Can I talk to the girl ……………………………………… is sitting on the bench?
8. The book ……………………………………… you gave me is great
9. Midway through the second half City scored their fourth goal, at ………………………………
point United gave up completely
10. Bill Clinton …………………………………… was President of the USA, has only one daughter
2. Finish the second sentence so that it has a similar meaning to the first sentence, using the word
1. No one can do anything about the situation
There ……………………………………………………………………… about the situation
2. I don’t really approve of his proposal
I don’t really approve of …………………………………………………………… proposing
3. I can’t remember the last heavy rain
I can’t remember ………………………………………………………………………… heavily
4. Do you get on with your next-door neighbour?
Do you get on with …………………………………………………………… lives next door?
5. I waited for him until 6.30 and then gave up
I waited for him until 6.30, …………………………………………………………… gave up
3. a. List all the wh-words of English, and add at least 5 multi-word wh-phrases with what, which and
how (like how much).
b. Write a direct wh-interrogative with each of the wh-phrases on your list. Try to use various main
verbs, including phrasal verbs, and different constructions, e.g., preposition stranding. Avoid
you as the subject pronoun.
c. Rewrite your questions into long wh-interrogatives by adding do you think (no backshift needed)
and did you say (backshift needed).
4. Find the headless relative clauses in the following
sentences and identify their grammatical functions.
1. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
2. Whoever needs help from Garfield is going to wait
a long time
3. The little statue is for whoever it designates as the
award winner
4. You can choose whatever you like
5. She looks pretty whatever she wears
6. Whatever she wears suits her
5. Compare the following two sentences. Which of them is
ambiguous? Why? Why is the other not ambiguous?
a. We’ll ask him when we get there
b. We’ll ask him when to get there
10.1 Information packaging
In Ch. 7.1 we saw how simple sentences are usually structured,
i.e., what the most frequent, “unmarked” clause structures are.
Then, in Ch. 8.1 and 9.1 we introduced the most frequent types
of complex sentences. This chapter deals with a set of special
configurations, some of which are clause-level variations (i.e.,
any single clause can contain them), some involve at least two
clauses and are therefore always complex or compoundcomplex. What they have in common is that they function to
help the speaker/writer express their message in communication
in different ways depending on how they wish to present (or
“package”) the information, what they wish to emphasise, etc.
Notice, for example, that passive voice fulfils exactly that
function in most cases: You ate six donuts can be paraphrased as
Six donuts were eaten to ignore the “agent”, the “doer” of the action of eating; alternatively, it can be
amended with by you, as in the example, with the opposite effect: to emphasise the agent. We discuss
the passive construction in detail below.
However, the passive is not the only method for “packaging” your message. There are a whole
lot of constructions for that, listed in the following chart. Most of the examples are variants of the
basic sentence Garfield broke the vase (yesterday).
The vase was broken by Garfield yesterday
The vase, Garfield broke yesterday
Garfield broke yesterday the valuable vase that Jon got from Aunt Jill
It was Garfield who broke the vase yesterday
What Garfield broke yesterday was the vase
There lay the vase, broken to pieces
Never before has Garfield broken any of Jon’s vases
There used to be a vase on that shelf
It is evident that Garfield broke the vase
I don’t find it surprising that Garfield broke the vase
He broke the vase, Garfield
Garfield, he broke the vase
In what follows we discuss these briefly one by one, skipping the passive in this first part, as that
construction is given a thorough analysis at the end of the chapter. So, the first structure to explain
here is preposing. It means that a phrase moves to the beginning of the sentence to get into focus, as
in The vase, Garfield broke yesterday. Some sources also call it fronting but that may be a bit
misleading to us because we use that name for wh-fronting, a movement that takes place for a very
special reason and is typically accompanied by Subject-Operator Inversion (SOI) in main clauses like
the ones relevant here (cf. Ch. 9.1). However, we should not mix the two up because the preposing we
are dealing with here is never paired with inversion: simply, a constituent comes forward. As a result,
it gets highlighted, either to be emphatic (the focus of the clause) or to be able to introduce a topic or
topic shift. Basically any sentence element for which the initial position is unusual, “marked”, will
receive prominence when placed at the front: NPs (other than the subject), complements, adjuncts
(other than certain time adverbials – see Ch. 11.1) will sound “odd” at the beginning and thus catch the
listener/reader’s attention. Further examples include:
Very good pizza we had yesterday!
Why he did this we will probably never find out
A strange cat, he is indeed
We are planning to survey the syntax of English. To be able to do so, we need to read a few
books first
Still packed in white tissue paper, the plates were stacked on the worktop in the kitchen
We mentioned above that the two main functions of preposing are focus fronting and topicalisation.
As the names suggest, focus fronting1 moves an element that needs special emphasis with extra stress,
frequently because it is contrasted with something already said; whereas topicalisation moves a
phrase that represents old information (something mentioned before), and the new information (the
focus) only follows in the rest of the clause. In clauses with topicalisation, usually a pause is held after
the topic in pronunciation, which is frequently signalled in writing with a comma.2 Consider the
following examples, and also compare them to their Hungarian equivalents. The preposed elements
are underlined, whereas the foci, which receive major stress in speech, are in small caps.
(A: Jon brought the pasta)
B: THE PIZZA Jon brought
A PIZZÁT hozta Jon
focus fronting
(We have some pizza and pasta)
The pizza, JON brought
A pizzát JON hozta
The second construction to examine is postposing, which is basically the opposite: a phrase moves to
the end of the sentence. The motivation, however, is totally different in this case: it happens to
facilitate processing the sentence when it contains a particularly long constituent that would normally
occur in the middle. In our example above, for instance, we have a transitive verb with two modifiers,
a direct object and an adjunct. Normally, the verb is immediately followed by the complement, and the
adjunct can only come later:
Garfield broke the vase yesterday
*Garfield broke yesterday the vase
However, when the object NP has many modifiers and becomes long as a result, the sentence with that
order of the elements sounds “awkward” and hard to process:
Garfield broke the valuable vase that Jon got from Aunt Jill yesterday
Therefore, in such cases the long NP swaps places with the adjunct:
Garfield broke yesterday the valuable vase that Jon got from Aunt Jill
In fact, object NPs are very frequently involved in this phenomenon, and these subcases have their
own name, heavy NP shift. The other category frequently postposed is the object that-clause, e.g., He
explained to me that Garfield is the most unbearable creature on earth, where the dative PP normally
follows the direct object. Sometimes it is not the whole “oversized” phrase that moves but only a part
of it, in which case it is divided into the half remaining in the default clausal position (containing the
head) and the half shifted to the end of the sentence. That way, so-called discontinuous constituents
are created, i.e., something intervenes to separate the beginning from the end. E.g., in I’m so fond in
many ways of this overweight orange tabby cat, the underlined PP is postposed, with the head
adjective fond left behind, in the original clausal slot. Similarly, when a relative clause is postposed, as
in We will meet a cat tomorrow that hates Mondays and eats pizza and lasagne, the determiner–noun
string is separated from it, and thus the NP is discontinuous.
The next two constructions under scrutiny also involve cutting constituents into two: we
“cleave” clauses when we produce two major structures used for focalising: cleft sentences and
pseudo-cleft sentences. What they have in common is that they contain a focus position: a slot where
As explained above, focus preposing might be a better choice for a name. Still, we use focus fronting here since
it is somewhat more widespread in the literature.
Notice my topic, in clauses with topicalisation, at the beginning of this very sentence! 
a constituent chosen to be emphasised comes, and the rest of the clause is found separated from it.
They also both involve a form of be (in the relevant tense/aspect) as the main verb, and a relative
clause-like element (a wh- or that-relative in cleft sentences, and a headless RC in pseudo-cleft
cleft sentence
pseudo-cleft sentences
it (be) ___ that/wh- (rest of clause)
wh- (rest of clause) (be) ___
It was the vase that Garfield broke
It was Garfield who broke the vase
It was break the vase that Garfield did
What Garfield broke was the vase
Whoever broke the vase was Garfield
What Garfield did was break the vase
Because of the headless RC at the beginning, the pseudo-cleft structure is also called wh-cleft, and it
has two further subtypes: the so-called reversed pseudo-cleft (e.g., The vase is what Garfield broke),
and the all-cleft (e.g., All (that) Garfield did was break the vase). All of these constructions are
primarily characteristic of written and literary language, and are used for focalising, very often
compensating for the absence of intonational differences which serve this function in spoken English.
The next method for packaging information in English is inversion. It has so many forms that
the whole following chapter is devoted to this topic. In a nutshell, they can be grouped into two major
formal classes:
Subject-Verb Inversion: There lay the vase, broken to pieces
Subject-Operator Inversion: Never before has Garfield broken any of Jon’s vases
Under Subject-Verb Inversion, the lexical verb (marked by single underlining) inverts with the
subject (double underlining) to produce the reverse of the normal, “unmarked” word order; at the same
time, a constituent is fronted (there in our example). Notice that in the neutral word order the clause
goes The vase lay there. The other main form of inversion is Subject-Operator Inversion (SOI),
which we are already familiar with from Ch. 9.1 as the process applying in direct questions. As we
will see, it is not only the fronting of wh-elements that can trigger it but, e.g., phrases with negative
meaning (such as never before) can also be focalised by fronting, which is also accompanied by
inversion, as you can see in the example sentence above. This time, however, it is not the main verb
but the operator (single underlining) that inverts with the subject (double underlining). The various
types of inversion, and of SOI in particular, are examined in Ch. 11.
Our example of Subject-Verb Inversion above, There lay the vase, is seemingly the same as
the so-called existential construction, illustrated by There used to be a vase on that shelf. Notice,
however, that the two there’s are different: one is an adverb phrase, the (distal) opposite of (proximal3)
here, whereas the other functions as the subject NP of the existential construction, more like a
pronoun. There4 is no contradiction in a sentence like There used to be a vase here, whereas *There
lay the vase here is ungrammatical. In addition, inversion occurs with other adverbs as well (see Ch.
11), whereas the existential clause always has there as the subject: a semantically empty NP, similar to
the semantically empty auxiliary do (Ch. 4.1). And the function of the existential construction is as
that of the above structures, i.e., to shift focus: A vase used to be on that shelf puts stress on the place
of the vase, the shelf; There used to be a vase on that shelf rather emphasises the very existence of the
vase on the shelf.
The next process is extraposition, which is similar to postposing and the shifting of “heavy”
elements in motivation: a long constituent moves out of its usual position to ease processing. This
time, however, the semantically empty pronoun it appears in the sentence to mark the original slot of
the extraposed constituent, which is either subject or object originally:
Cf. proximal and distal demonstratives, Ch. 2.1 and 3.1.
extraposed subject: It is evident that Garfield broke the vase
extraposed object: I don’t find it surprising that Garfield broke the vase
Notice that extraposition can be “undone” to yield a well-formed, though odd-sounding, sentence, cf.:
That Garfield broke the vase is evident
I don’t find that Garfield broke the vase surprising
This is evidence of the original function of the extraposed constituent. Also, this is the difference
between extraposition and cleft sentences:
It is evident that Garfield broke the vase
cf. That Garfield broke the vase is evident
It is Garfield that broke the vase
cf. *That broke the vase is Garfield
That is, in a cleft sentence the dummy pronoun it does not simply replace an element that has been
moved out.
Finally, dislocation is another method to move a constituent either to the front or the end of
the sentence, but it differs from preposing and postposing in that a pronoun is left behind in the
original clause position; and it differs from extraposition in that the pronoun is not semantically empty
but it is a true personal pronoun agreeing in person and number with the dislocated NP. When shifting
happens to the beginning of the sentence, i.e., to the left edge, it is called left dislocation (Garfield, he
broke the vase); when it happens to the end, i.e., to the right edge, it is called right dislocation (He
broke the vase, Garfield). Compare left dislocation and preposing:
left dislocation: The vase, Garfield broke it yesterday
preposing: The vase, Garfield broke yesterday
Recall that preposing simply means moving the constituent to the front, whereas left dislocation also
involves the insertion of the personal pronoun, i.e., the constituent is present in the construction twice.
In function, left dislocation is like clefting or similar structures: it can be used to emphasise or define a
topic. The meaning of The vase, Garfield broke it yesterday is similar to that of It is the vase that
Garfield broke yesterday or As for the vase, Garfield broke it yesterday. Right dislocation, on the other
hand, is more like adding a clarifying afterthought: in He broke the vase, Garfield, Garfield is adduced
to clarify exactly who we mean.
This concludes the list of our information packaging constructions. Recall, however, that the
most basic is passivisation, whose primary function is to shift focus from the “doer” or “agent” of an
action to the passive “undergoer” – hence the name. In the vase story, for instance, Garfield is the
agent and the vase is the undergoer: this is constant in both the active and the passive versions, since
fundamental meaning relations are the same. The categories of these constituents are also constant: the
same NPs are “moving around”. What differs is the grammatical functions these phrases receive in the
sentences (see the shaded area in the example below): passivisation is a grammatical function
changing transformation.
Garfield broke the vase yesterday
The vase was broken by Garfield yesterday
Formally, the passive construction is composed of the passive auxiliary be followed by the past
participle. The role of the passive auxiliary can also be played by get, in which case the subtype is
called the get-passive. Passive voice is used in English out of two basic, but interestingly opposing,
when the identity of the agent is unknown or general, or
deliberately avoided because unimportant or obvious:
The vase was broken yesterday
This is called short passive (or agentless passive); it is
characterised by impersonality, and is therefore more
common in written English than in speech, in formal
language than in informal contexts. Notice that it has no
active counterpart. In addition, notice that the same
effect can be produced by other means, e.g., by
choosing certain intransitive verbs with non-agent
subjects (e.g., An error has occurred, as in the example
here, which of course does not involve the passive
when the agent is to be emphasised:
The vase was broken by Garfield (and not by Odie)
This is called long passive because, in contrast to the short passive, it includes the agent in the
form of a PP called the by-phrase.
A secondary function of the long passive is to
avoid a long, “heavy” subject (a kind of “heavy NP
shift”), as in Nobody is surprised by the fact that
Garfield broke Jon’s valuable vase.
In Ch. 4.1 passivisation was used as a test
to identify objects. There we saw that verbs with
two objects (i.e., ditransitive verbs) can
(theoretically) be made passive in two ways, cf.:
The postman handed Garfield the birthday cards
Garfield was handed the birthday cards
?The birthday cards were handed Garfield
In practice, however, the indirect object (Garfield) passivises more readily than the direct object (the
birthday cards). The problem can be solved by extracting the direct object from a complex-transitive
construction, cf.:
The postman handed the birthday cards to Garfield
The birthday cards were handed to Garfield
The complements of prepositions are also objects in the sense that they can be passivised (cf. The
doctors operated on Jon vs. Jon was operated on). PPs are also frequent in complex-transitive
structures, even in collocations such as take care of sy/sg (a V-NP-PP string!), and they can be
passivised in the same way, cf. Garfield has been taken care of. Complex-transitive verbs with a
(direct) object and an object complement, like consider, also undergo passivisation, but only the object
can be passivised. The object complement is not an object (but in fact, a predicative constituent in a
verbless clause, cf. Ch. 8.1), cf.:
Everyone considers Jon a failure
Jon is considered a failure
*A failure is considered (to) Jon
So-called multi-word verbs, when transitive, lend themselves to passivisation, too, e.g.:
Odie woke up Garfield
Garfield got woken up by Odie
(so-called phrasal verb)
Jon has looked after Garfield
Garfield has been looked after
(so-called prepositional verb)
As a final verb class to mention here, the so-called middle verbs (Ch. 4.1) as well as certain transitive
verbs can not be used in the passive. These include become, fit, get, have, lack, let, like, resemble, suit,
and a few others.
As you can see, the passive construction is one of the most frequent information packaging
tools, with two major functions (as explained above) and many subcases. In addition, passivised verbs
are used in certain other structures like forms of what is called raising (e.g., Garfield is said to be the
most sarcastic cat in the world) and the causative (e.g., Jon has had the broken vase fixed).
10.2 Further reading
On information packaging and emphasis: CGEL 2; ALP 14; Wekker & Haegeman 1985: 1.3; AGU
115–120  On Passive Voice: T&M 30; ALP 6–7; AGU 29–32  On fronting movements: BESE
7.5; Wekker & Haegeman 1985: 4.1–4.3  On movement to focus position, clefting and pseudoclefting: Wekker & Haegeman 1985: 4.4–4.5.
10.3 Practice exercises
1. Identify the information packaging constructions in the following examples.
It rained all night the day I left, the weather it was dry
I let it fall, my heart
All the things you’d say, they were never true
Unhappiness, where was when I was young
My father, he liked me
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
7. The sea it swells like a sore head and the night it is aching
8. My hands, they’re strong
9. I was shot down in cold blood by an angel in blue jeans
10. All that she wants is another baby
2. Package the information in the following sentences differently by finishing their variants.
I’ve come to discuss my future with you
The reason why ...
Your generosity impresses me more than anything else
The thing that ...
The jewels are hidden under the floor at 23 Robin Hood Road, Epping
The place where …
Under the floor at 23 Robin Hood Road is ...
Mary works harder than anybody else in this organisation
The person who ...
Mary is ...
The Second World War ended on 7 May 1945 in Europe
The day (when) …
7 May 1945 was ...
We now need actions rather than words
What ...
Actions rather than words ...
I enjoyed the brilliant music most of all in the Ballet Frankfurt performance
What ...
The brilliant music was ...
The police interviewed all the witnesses to the accident first
What the police did first was ...
You should invest all your money in telecoms companies
What you should do is ...
What you should invest all your money in is ...
She writes all her novels on a typewriter
What ...
Their car broke down on the motorway so they didn’t get to Jo’s wedding on time
What happened was that ...
I want a new coat for Christmas
All I want for Christmas is ...
A new coat is ...
I touched the bedside light and it broke
All ...
My brother bought his new car from our next-door neighbour last Saturday
It was my brother ...
It was last Saturday ...
It was a new car ...
It was our next-door neighbour ...
3. Rewrite these sentences with preposed participle clauses as shown in the example.
Example: He built two schools in the capital city after he had left his hometown
Having left his hometown, he built two schools in the capital city
1. Fred has been appointed director as he is known to be an expert in the field
2. We went by coach because we found the train way too expensive
3. It’s a useful book since it explains everything clearly
4. I couldn’t phone you because I hadn’t got your number
5. They had dinner before they went to the training
4. Rewrite the following sentences in such a way that “heavy” constituents are positioned at the end.
1. That Garfield should spare Odie a slice of pizza is surprising
2. The agent got in touch with the secret members of the movement in London
3. To say no is not always easy
4. Everybody in the team considers how the leading coach talks to his colleagues rude
5. I haven’t met anyone who is able to eat so much lasagne in one sitting before
5. Passivise the following sentences.
1. Garfield is believed to have played a cruel trick on Odie
2. I hate others keeping me waiting
3. The farmer shouldn’t have fed the chickens so early in the morning
4. People are likely to re-elect the president
5. You may as well have deleted that message because we won’t need the information anymore
6. This time next year they will have been building the railway for 5 years
10.4 Extension: Raising and the causative
Raising structures and the various forms of the causative are related to passivisation because both may
involve a passive verb form as well as a suppression of the “agent” from the focus in the interpretation
of their clauses – this way they can also be considered as modes of information packaging.
In Ch. 10.1 above we saw that passivisation is a grammatical function changing operation in
which the object of the active structure becomes the subject. An interesting question arising at this
point is whether that is always what happens when a passive verb form is used in a clause – and the
answer is no. Consider a verb like believe as an example. When it is complemented by a subclause,
that may be finite or non-finite:
Everyone believes [that Garfield is selfish]
Everyone believes [Garfield to be selfish]
Since believe is transitive, it is possible to passivise it, to yield the form (be) believed. Recall that the
active subject disappears from the “canonical” subject position, either completely (short passive) or
being “demoted” to adjunct function (in the by-phrase – long passive). Accordingly, the emerging
intermediate, incomplete constructions, one with a finite subclause (a) and one with a non-finite
subclause (b), are the following:
a. __ is believed [that Garfield is selfish] (by everyone)
b. __ is believed [Garfield to be selfish] (by everyone)
In the case of the finite subclause, there are two options to complete the sentence: by simply moving
the that-clause into the subject position, exactly the way object NPs move under passivisation, with
obligatory long passive (c), or by filling it with expletive it (the dummy subject pronoun – Ch. 2.4),
producing an extraposition-like construction (d):
a. __ is believed [that Garfield is selfish] (by everyone)
c. [That Garfield is selfish] is believed by everyone
d. It is believed [that Garfield is selfish] (by everyone)5
With the non-finite subclause, however, the situation is more problematic, since neither of these
strategies produce a well-formed sentence, whether the passive is short or long:
b. __ is believed [Garfield to be selfish] (by everyone)
e. * [Garfield to be selfish] is believed (by everyone)
f. * It is believed [Garfield to be selfish] (by everyone)
Instead, what happens in such cases is that the subject of the non-finite subclause moves up into the
subject position of the matrix clause:
g. Garfield is believed [ __ to be selfish] (by everyone)6
If the by-phrase is present, the that-clause is normally postposed: It is believed by everyone that Garfield is
Alternatively, the object clause moves to the end of the sentence through “heavy shift” (cf. Ch. 10.1): Garfield
is believed by everyone to be selfish.
This is called raising since a subject in a lower clause gets “promoted” to become a subject higher up
in the syntactic hierarchy. In the following examples you can see further matrix verbs whose
passivisation may trigger raising:
Garfield is said to be selfish
Garfield is thought to be selfish
Garfield is supposed to be selfish
Garfield is alleged to be selfish
Garfield is assumed to be selfish
Besides certain passivised verbs, there are other predicative elements occurring in such constructions:
so-called raising verbs and raising adjectives, cf.:
Garfield seems [ __ to be selfish]
Garfield appears [ __ to be selfish]
Garfield happens [ __ to be here]
Garfield is likely [ __ to kick Odie]
Garfield is unlikely [ __ to spare Odie a slice]
Garfield is certain [ __ to kick Odie]
In all the above cases raising only takes place when the complement clause is non-finite; with finite
subclauses the normal solution is with dummy it:
It is believed that Garfield is selfish
It seems that Garfield is selfish
It is likely that Garfield will kick Odie
A construction resembling raising affects objects. It is traditionally referred to as tough movement,
since the “classical” example involves the adjective tough:
This problem is tough [ PROarb to solve __ ]
As with raising, in tough movement, too, the alternative with non-referential it is available, cf. It is
tough to solve this problem. Find further adjectives and NPs allowing this construction in the
following examples:
Garfield is not easy to please
Those cars are too dangerous to drive
These tips are useful to remember
She is fun to be with
Cigarettes are illegal to buy under 18
Jon was a pleasure to meet
The exam was a breeze to pass
This cake is delicious, and a cinch to make
Scuba diving is a fun thing to do
This ballet is a delight to watch
You are invited to check for yourself that all of these sentences have variants starting with dummy it.
In addition to such adjectives and NPs, the verb take can also raise embedded objects as in This
problem will take Jon a long time to solve.
The causative is another structure involving relationships between participants which diverge
from the simple agent–undergoer setting. It is called so because here the subject causes the agent to do
something (in the type called active causative), or causes something to happen to another participant
(in the passive causative), with the agent either expressed (in a by-phrase) or left implicit (as in short
The patterns of the passive causative are the following:
The king had his portrait painted by a famous Italian artist
The place has been much cosier since they got it redecorated
An unusual subcase of the passive causative is what is called the happenstance passive. It coincides
with it in form, but in meaning it is different: it usually describes an unfortunate event or accident that
the subject did not intentionally cause, so in fact the subject is more like an undergoer of the event;
e.g., She got her purse stolen while on holiday. Other, apparently analogous structures include the ones
in examples such as I should be able to get the essay finished by midnight; Something got me started;
Let’s get the party started. The meaning in these sentences, however, is not causation since there is no
(explicit or implicit) agent separate from the subject (and as a result, the by-phrase cannot be present).
The verb make can also be used in this pattern, with a past participle verb, as in I finally managed to
make myself understood or She made it known that she was the CEO’s daughter.
The patterns of the active causative are the following:
DO sg
TO DO sg
DO sg
I’ll have the porter bring your luggage up
If only we could get him to work harder!
The boss made us work for 12 hours a day
Whenever something went wrong, you had me believing it
was always something that I’d done
Fred managed to get my PC working again
Out of these constructions, make can be passivised, in which case it changes patterns and requires the
to-infinitive, e.g., We were made to work for 12 hours a day.
As far as meaning is concerned, in certain cases these constructions express persuasion rather
than direct causation, and make may even convey the meaning of ‘evoke a reaction/response’ as in
This sad film made me cry, although normally it is identical to ‘force sy to do sg’. The meanings of
have and get are very close, but get may imply more force or persuasion. In fact, semantic relations
similar to what these constructions express also appear in a series of truly lexical matrix verbs such as
cause, force, compel, persuade, convince, etc.
Further reading
The syntactic analysis of raising: BESE 8.2.1; Wekker & Haegeman 1985: 5.3  On the passive and
the causative: Cowan 2008: 17  On extraposition and raising: Cowan 2008: 20  On focus
structures: Cowan 2008: 22.
10.5 Practice exercises
1. Consider the constructions exemplified by the following sentences, and discuss whether they are
raising structures. Warning: sentence (d) is ambiguous (but (c) is not)!
a. These pictures are pretty to look at
Lee’s mattress is too lumpy to sleep on
b. Alan is eager to participate
c. This is a nice place to write
d. This lamb is too hot to eat
2. Identify the constructions discussed above in the following sentences.
1. Garfield seems to be likely to kick Odie
2. It seems that it is likely that Garfield will kick Odie
3. It seems that Garfield is likely to kick Odie
4. Jon is unlikely to be chosen for the job
5. Who was invited?
6. Who do you think is likely to have found the solution?
7. Who seems to be said to have been selected?
3. Complete the sentences to produce the different forms of the causative.
1. Dr. Smith __________ his nurse take the patient’s temperature
2. How can parents ___________ their children to read more?
3. I ___________ the mechanic check the brakes
4. John ___________ me drive his new car
5. My teacher ___________ me apologise for what I had said
6. She ____________ her children do their homework
7. Susie ____________ her son to take the medicine even though it tasted terrible
8. The government TV commercials are trying to __________ people to stop smoking
4. Match the examples below to the names of the constructions in the box. Focus on the underlined
fragments. Encircle the dummy subjects.
(left) dislocation, (short) passive, active causative, cleft, existential, extraposition, long wh-movement,
passive causative, postposing, preposing, pseudo-cleft, raising, SOI, subject-verb inversion
1. It’s outside that I park my car
2. The Guardian I sometimes read
3. Who do you think you are?
4. John seems to have won on the lottery
5. What I like watching is comedy programmes
6. These pictures lay naked the horror of growing old
7. Beneath this stone lies the body of Samuel Taylor Coleridge
8. It won’t take long to do this exercise
9. Never had I expected this
10. The Browns are having their sitting-room redecorated
11. There could hardly have been a more extraordinary coincidence
12. This church was built in the 17th century
13. Monica, she’s been living here for 3 years now
14. Did somebody make you wear that ugly hat?
5. The following examples are not acceptable in (Present-day) Standard English, the variety taught in
the EFL classroom. Discuss their grammatical structure as well as the circumstances under which
they are well-formed.
1. Take on me, take me on
2. Ain’t nobody loves me better
3. I’m loving it
4. That don’t impress me much
5. Where do you go, my lovely? I wanna know
6. I’m going to Louisiana my true love for to see
7. If I would have known that you wanted me the way I wanted you
8. Tell me what we are seeing
9. Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
10. You and me would write a bad romance
11. There’s a whole lot of problems here
12. Men shall know who that I am
11.1 Word order and types of inversion
The basic, “unmarked” word order in English is Subject-VerbObject – that is, the clause starts with the subject, which is
followed by the (lexical) verb. Both elements are obligatory: there
are no (full) sentences1 in English without them; the subject can
only be hidden, unpronounced in certain non-finite subclauses;
and the verb is only absent in verbless clauses (cf. Ch. 8.1). As
the most important complement, the object normally immediately
follows the verb (as long as the verb is transitive, of course). In
this chapter, in the first part we discuss a few issues concerning
typical, neutral word order; then the second part deals with
“marked”, unusual word orders produced by the fronting of an
element and/or the inversion of others.
Besides the Subject-Verb-Object requirement, the other
general rule of word order stems from the difference between
complements and adjuncts (cf. Ch. 2.1): adjuncts cannot normally intervene between the head and
the complement, cf.:
Sometimes Jon buys Garfield a pizza
Jon sometimes buys Garfield a pizza
*Jon buys sometimes Garfield a pizza
*Jon buys Garfield sometimes a pizza
Jon buys Garfield a pizza sometimes
As you can see, the indirect object NP Garfield as well as the direct object NP a pizza have to closely
follow the verb buy, in accordance with both general rules – objects always come after the head, and,
what really concerns us here, the adjunct sometimes can be inserted into the sentence in several ways
as long as it does not separate the verb from its objects.2 When adjuncts are “stacked”, however, there
is no ordering restriction, and they can freely arrange:
This happened in London in 2001
This happened in 2001 in London
For learners of English, a special difficulty is caused by adverbials. Being peripheral adjuncts rather
than central complements, place and time adverbials are usually “driven” to the edges of the clause,
and generally take either the front position or the end position:
In the kitchen, the mice are playing in the cupboard
The mice are playing in the cupboard in the kitchen
Yesterday Garfield devoured all the lasagne
Garfield devoured all the lasagne yesterday
In speech, of course, these elements may be ellipted (cf. Ch. 12.1), as in Dunno or in short answers constituted
by sentence fragments like (What did you buy?) Bread and a dozen eggs.
The final logical possibility, *Jon buys Garfield a sometimes pizza, is out for a slightly different reason:
sometimes and a pizza are two separate phrases both modifying the verb, therefore one cannot “intrude” into the
A special subgroup of time adverbs is adverbs of frequency: they typically produce one-word AdvPs,
which are positioned after the (place of the) operator. In addition, a few other time AdvPs (e.g.,
soon, yet) can also stand in that position. In the following examples the (place of the) operator is
underlined (note the fronted operator in the interrogative due to SOI) and the adverbs are given in
small capitals.
I will ALWAYS love you
I’ve NEVER felt this way before
You are ALWAYS on my mind
He __ NEVER cleans up
Have you __ EVER really loved a woman?
The day will SOON come
Notice the crucial difference here between verb and operator: when both are present, the adverb of
course comes in-between (e.g., I’ve NEVER felt this way before); when only one is found in the clause,
however, the adverb either precedes (e.g., He __ NEVER cleans up) or follows (e.g., You are ALWAYS on
my mind) the verb. The former case is when the finite inflection of the clause lands on a lexical verb
other than be; the latter is when the lexical verb is be, which, strangely enough, always behaves as if it
was an operator, even when it is the only verb in the clause. Cf.:
a. Garfield is ALWAYS hungry
b. Garfield is ALWAYS mocking Odie
c. Garfield is ALWAYS woken up by the sound of the doorbell
Although be is a lexical verb (the copula) in (a), the progressive auxiliary in (b) and the passive
auxiliary in (c), as long as it is the tense-carrying element in the clause, it occupies the same position
and precedes the adverb of frequency.
These are the general principles of the place of adverbials in clauses. Unfortunately, there are
a few that exhibit individual behaviour, e.g., still, which takes the position of adverbs of frequency (as
explained above) when its clause is positive (e.g., I’m still standing), but when the clause is negative,
it precedes the operator (e.g., I still haven’t found what I’m looking for). Nevertheless, most adverbials
follow the regularities described above.
Marked, i.e., special word orders constitute another source of difficulty for learners of English.
They arise when two clause elements swap places, producing the reverse order; such an operation is
called inversion. Inversion has two major formal subtypes:
when a finite auxiliary inverts with the subject. This is traditionally called Subject-Auxiliary
Inversion (SAI); however, as it does not affect any auxiliary but the operator only, we refer to
it as Subject-Operator Inversion (SOI, cf. Ch. 4.1). It produces the familiar “question word
when a lexical verb inverts with the subject. This is called Subject-Verb Inversion (SVI).
Since it only takes place when certain adverbials are fronted (e.g., Here comes the summer
sun), in certain idiomatic expressions (e.g., Long live the Queen), and in literary style (e.g.,
Into the valley of death rode the six hundred), we will not discuss it here in detail.
Interestingly, the two are formally identical when the finite verb in a clause is be: recall from the
above discussion that be can act as the operator; unlike other lexical verbs, it does not need dosupport. As a consequence, whether it is SOI or SVI, it is always be that moves:
SOI: When is Garfield hungry?
SVI: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
The function of inversion is in general to bring about a special word order, which signals and supports
the special function of a sentence or clause; at the same time, this produces a more dramatic effect,
therefore inversion is also a very important stylistic device. In terms of that function, the various types
of inversion can be classified in different ways. For example, we can distinguish four functional
grammatical inversion: taking place for grammatical purposes, primarily to achieve
“interrogative force” in direct questions (e.g., (When) is Garfield hungry?)
lexical inversion: limited to certain lexical items as triggers (mainly, locative adverbs (e.g.,
Here comes the bride, big, fat and wide) and negative phrases (e.g., Never have I felt more
stylistic inversion: chosen for a stylistic effect (e.g., Should you have any further questions, do
not hesitate to ask me or In a canyon dwelt a miner3)
information packaging (cf. Ch. 10.1) inversions (e.g., On the table were two bottles of French
The chart below provides a summary of the formal types of inversion4, classifying them into the two
major subtypes introduced above (SOI/SVI). Very often the trigger of the inversion is the fronting of a
constituent (underlined in the chart), e.g., in Never have I felt more embarrassed, the negative
adverbial never is fronted for emphasis, and subsequently the question word order is formed. In some
of the subtypes, especially comparative inversion, the triggering element has not straightforwardly
moved out of the clause, but is rather a conjunction (e.g., as, than) at the front that allows for the
inversion. Whenever no fronting is involved (like yes/no interrogatives and conditional inversion), the
marked word order itself carries the special function (and as a result, these constructions are formally
with fronting
SOI direct wh-interrogatives
When is Garfield hungry?
semi-indirect speech
He asked me who did I meet at the party
How beautiful are the flowers!
negative inversion
Never have I felt more embarrassed
with so/such (… that)
Such is Garfield’s popularity that nobody
condemns him for his greed
with so and nor/neither in short responses5
(I don’t spend many hours practising.)
Neither do I
comparative inversion with SOI6
The train isn’t any faster than is the coach
We travel to Budapest every day, as do most
of the people who live in the neighbourhood
no fronting
direct yes/no interrogatives
Had he been more careful?
semi-indirect speech
He asked me should he feed the cat
yes/no exclamatives
Doesn’t it rain! Oh boy was I tired!
conditional inversion
Had he been more careful, he wouldn’t be in
trouble now
Should you have any further questions, do not
hesitate to ask me
The full text is “In a cavern, in a canyon / Excavating for a mine / Dwelt a miner forty-niner / And his daughter
Inversion is also a common literary device characterising poetry in particular (but is also applied in “simple”
story-telling in direct quotations like “I do”, answered the bride), whereby further categories may invert, in a
non-productive, creative way. We are not concerned with such cases here.
These also called “echoing” statements, with two forms: agreeing (so) and disagreeing (neither/nor).
Comparative inversion is optional, therefore sentences like The train isn’t any faster than the coach is are wellformed, too. As a further alternative, than can also function as a preposition, followed by a single NP, as in The
train isn’t any faster than the coach.
with fronting
with adverbials (AdvPs and PPs)
Here’s your coffee
Long live the Queen
In a canyon dwelt a miner
comparative inversion with SVI
Usually the train would be very fast, as
would be the coach
no fronting
in conditional-concessive clauses7
Be it so or not, I believe that he is innocent
Be they rich or poor, they’ve got love on their
Notice that comparative inversion appears twice in the chart since it is not only used with SOI but, in
certain cases, with SVI, too. In the rest of the chapter we examine negative inversion and conditional
inversion a bit more closely, and at the end we discuss structures involving fronting without inversion.
Negative inversion means inversion after negative adverbials. That happens when a (oneword or multi-word) negative phrase is moved to the beginning of its clause (negative fronting),
which is accompanied by SOI. Here are a few examples:
one-word negative
phrases fronted:
Never have I felt more embarrassed
Little had Odie noticed Garfield’s greed before he devoured his dinner
Hardly had Jon stepped out of the house when Garfield switched on the TV
multi-word negative
phrases fronted:
No sooner had Jon stepped out of the house than Garfield switched on the TV
Not until Jon got back had he realised that Garfield had run up a huge bill
Under no circumstances should you show Garfield where the fridge is
Not only did he eat all the lasagne but he also devoured Odie’s dinner
Some of the negative phrases are negative in meaning only but not in form (e.g., hardly, only later);
others are negative in form, too (i.e., contain the negative particle not or negative determiner no). The
phrases most frequently fronted are the following:
never (before), rarely, seldom; little
hardly, barely, scarcely, no sooner: Note that no sooner contains a comparative adverb,
therefore the whole sentence will behave as if it was comparative, taking than rather than
when as the conjunction (compare the examples above)
phrases with only (only if/when, only then, only later, only (once), only by, only in, only
with...); not until, not even: These often introduce their own adverbial clauses and the
inversion comes in the second part of the sentence (see the example above)
under no circumstances, on no account, at no time, in no way, on no condition, nowhere else
not only... (but also)
The other form of inversion we devote some space to here is conditional inversion. Before doing so,
however, let us see conditional sentences in general.
Conditional sentences are normally composed of two clauses: the if-clause (the condition)
and the main clause (the result). The if-clause expresses the condition on which the claim of the main
clause hinges. English grammars traditionally distinguish four degrees of conditional clauses: zero,
first, second, and third conditional.8
Concessive clauses express a factor in spite of which something happens; typical concessive conjunctions are
(even) though, although, even if. Conditional-concessive clauses give choices of conditions in spite of which
something happens; typically, they contain an -ever pronoun or whether…or (e.g., Whether you like it or not…).
The inversion we see here is only possible with be as the verb, when whether is omitted from structures like
Whether it be so or not… (a type of the base-form subjunctive). Therefore, it is very similar to conditional
T&M (Section 21) uses a different classification and terminology: they call the would + plain form construction
present conditional, while the would + have + ppt structure is called perfect conditional. In addition, they merge
Function, meaning
general statement
If you annoy a cat, it starts wagging its tail
prediction for the future
If you annoy Garfield, he will bite you
present hypothesis
If you annoyed Garfield, he would bite you
past, unreal hypothesis
If you hadn’t annoyed Garfield, he wouldn’t have bitten you
Since the degrees can be combined with each other (e.g., If you hadn’t annoyed Garfield, he wouldn’t
be so cross with you now – third conditional + second conditional), it is more useful not to match the
structures in the two clauses of the degrees too strictly but rather remember these three simple, basic
rules describing the grammar of conditionals in general:
there is no will/would in the if-clause (this is also true of time clauses, so in fact it is a more
general phenomenon)9
for hypothetical forms (= Hu. -na/-ne/-ná/-né), use the preterite (either of an auxiliary
(would/could/should...) or of the main verb)
for past hypotheses (= Hu. volna), use some form of (perfect) have
These three rules combine in various ways to derive the different degrees. The first two, for instance,
are responsible for the if…preterite…would pattern in second conditional; all three added together
gives you the past perfect form in third conditional if-clauses and the modal+perfect infinitive
sequence in third conditional main clauses (since modals are followed by bare infinitives, cf. Ch. 4.1).
Two remarks at this point. First, although it is the most frequent one, if is not the only
conditional conjunction, but there are a couple of others, too, including unless, provided, suppose:
I won’t give Garfield any of the pizza unless he promises to save Odie a slice
Suppose you won the lottery; what would you do?
Second, bear in mind that preterite forms in conditional clauses do not express past time (see time vs.
tense in Ch. 4.1). All such unusual uses of the preterite are called Modal Past, while in the case of be,
when the form were replaces was, the construction is called Were-subjunctive (cf. e.g., If I were
you…). Both are found with other expressions as well, e.g., if only, I wish, as if, it’s time, I’d rather
you, etc.
Now we are ready to discuss conditional inversion. It arises when, for stylistic purposes, the
if of the if-clause is left out – in such cases, inversion takes place to signal the special, conditional
function of the subclause. This, however, can only happen in three cases; i.e., there are no more than
three types of conditional inversion:
inversion with should, i.e., in a subtype of first conditional; e.g.:
If you should have any further questions, do not hesitate to ask me10 →
Should you have any further questions, do not hesitate to ask me
zero and first conditional in what they refer to as Type 1, and then second conditional and third conditional are
called Type 2 and 3, respectively. Other sources call zero and first conditional real conditionals, and the rest
(second and third) are unreal conditionals.
This only applies to true conditionals – if in other senses may behave differently, e.g., if you will… and if you
would… are possible as polite requests.
Should in conditional clauses carries the meaning of happen to; cf. If you happen to have any further
inversion with were to, i.e., with be to in second conditional; e.g.:
If I were to fail the exam tomorrow, I would be expelled from university →
Were I to fail the exam tomorrow, I would be expelled from university
inversion with had, i.e., in third conditional; e.g.:
If you hadn’t annoyed Garfield, he wouldn’t have bitten you →
Hadn’t you annoyed Garfield, he wouldn’t have bitten you
The final topic of the chapter is fronting without inversion. Recall from the above discussion that
time adverbials are frequently fronted (e.g., In no time you’ll be fine, don’t worry!); even certain
adverbs of frequency may occupy that clause position (e.g., Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a
partner) as well as other adverbials (e.g., In the kitchen, the mice are playing in the cupboard; Gladly
the cross I’d bear). In addition, Ch. 10.1 introduced preposing (The vase, Garfield broke yesterday)
and left dislocation (Garfield, he broke the vase) as “plain” forms of fronting, used for information
packaging. However, one more, very special construction exists, which we have not mentioned: in
certain clauses of concession in highly formal style, (part of) the predicate can undergo fronting to the
very beginning of the clause, even before the conjunction, which is either though or as in such cases;
while the subject and at least the operator are left behind in their original position and order. The
clause often contains may as the modal auxiliary:
(Al)though he may seem indifferent, he is not inconsiderate →
Indifferent though he may seem, he is not inconsiderate
(Al)though they were talented, they decided not to go to university →
Talented as they were, they decided not to go to university
(Al)though I failed first, I would not give up the fight for all the tea in China →
Fail first though I did, I would not give up the fight for all the tea in China
(Al)though I like your paintings very much, I can’t afford to buy any of them →
Much as I like your paintings, I can’t afford to buy any of them
Note that, although certain coursebooks refer to such examples as inversion, they do not contain it in
our sense of the term: in these concessive clauses neither SOI nor SVI is found.
11.2 Further reading
On the position of adverbs: T&M 4.35–4.41  On conditionals: T&M 21; ALP 8–9; AGU 99–101
 On inversion: AGU 119–120; ALP 13–14; T&M 4.45, 21.225; Cowan 2008: 22  On fronting in
concession clauses: T&M 34.340.
11.3 Practice exercises
1. Complete the following sentences with adverbs of frequency (such as always, sometimes, never).
Add the negative particle not and non-assertive items (Ch. 7.1) wherever you wish.
1. My mother/father/parents and I agree
2. Finding a new job is a bit of luck
3. There’s a pen in my handbag
4. I wonder if all this work is really worth it
5. My dad cooks dinner, and/but my mum does it
6. I eat Chinese food
7. I throw food away
2. Identify the type of inversion in the following examples.
1. After many a summer dies the swan
2. The king is dead, long live the king!
3. Many are the afflictions of the righteous
4. Little does she know that I know that she knows
5. In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit
6. The sun is shining and so are you
7. May the force be with you!
8. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so
many to so few (W. Churchill)
3. Write new sentences with a similar meaning beginning with one of these adverbials. The first one
has been done for you.
never before
not until
no sooner
only by
on no account
1. The door could not be opened without using force
Only by (using) force could the door be opened
2. This was the first time the race had been won by a European athlete
3. The plane had only just taken off when smoke started to appear in the cabin
4. She made no sound as she crept upstairs
5. This window must not be unlocked without prior permission
6. He only thought about having a holiday abroad after he retired
7. She didn’t realise what would happen to her next
4. Identify the degree of the conditional clauses in the following examples. Remember to evaluate the
main clauses and the if-clauses separately.
1. If happy ever after did exist, I would still be holding you like this
2. I know if I go, I’ll die happy tonight
3. If I had known then that I’d be feeling this way, I would have never let you go
4. Come and get it if you really want it
5. If you ever find yourself lost in the dark and you can’t see, I’ll be the light to guide you
6. If I fall for you, I’ll never recover
7. If ever I should falter, your love is an anchor and a refuge for my soul
8. If I were a boy even just for a day, I’d roll out of bed in the morning and throw on what I
wanted and go drink beer with the guys and chase after girls
9. I never would have hitchhiked to Birmingham if it hadn’t been for love
10. If I had an aeroplane I still couldn’t make it on time
11. If you were a woman and I was a man, would it be so hard to understand?
12. If I had never let you go, would you be the man I used to know?
5. Apply conditional inversion in the sentences in Ex. 4 above in which it is possible.
11.4 Extension: Two highlights: Subject-Verb Inversion and the
Principle of End Weight
This chapter focusses on two aspects of English word order not dealt with previously: first, as a
follow-up of the discussion of Ch. 11.1 above, we examine Subject-Verb Inversion in more detail,
listing the groups of fronted constituents that trigger this type of inversion; in the second part, we
introduce the so-called Principle of End Weight.
Under Subject-Verb Inversion (SVI), the subject of the clause inverts with the main verb, or,
more precisely, it inverts with the verb group (the string of verbs from the operator up to and including
the lexical verb). This clarification is needed as the example sentence Usually the train would be very
fast, as would be the coach shows; in most cases a single verb is involved (as in Long live the Queen
or The train isn’t any faster than is the coach), and the difference is irrelevant.
It is shown in Ch. 11.1 that SVI has one context in which it applies without the fronting of a
constituent, in conditional-concessive clauses. In such cases it is similar to conditional inversion in
that the inversion is motivated by the omission of the conjunction, this time the complementiser
whether, in clauses with third-person subjects and the type of the base-form subjunctive called
conditional “be” subjunctive (cf. Ch. 4.4). Consequently, this form of SVI is only possible with be as
the verb:
Whether it be so or not, I believe that he is innocent → Be it so or not, I believe that he is innocent
Whether they be rich or poor, they’ve got love on their side →
Be they rich or poor, they’ve got love on their side
Whether she be willing or not, she will have to eventually make up her mind →
Be she willing or not, she will have to eventually make up her mind
Comparative inversion is unusual for at least two reasons. First, it is free to apply with SOI or SVI –
SOI seems to be more common, although the most frequently used verb is a finite form of be, in the
case of which the difference is impossible to make (and is in fact irrelevant). Second, as it is
mentioned above, it is optional in the sense that the conjunction (as or than) is present in the same way
in both the inverted and the uninverted versions, with only a minor stylistic difference between the
two. Therefore, while in the previous examples of conditional-concessive clauses, the choice between
the inverted and uninverted variants is similarly optional, the presence vs. absence of whether
produces a formal difference (in addition to the difference in word order). In comparative inversion, in
contrast, the only formal difference is in the order of the subject and the verb group:
The train isn’t any faster than is the coach ~ The train isn’t any faster than the coach is
Finally, perhaps the most “famous” subgroup of SVI types is the one triggered by the fronting of
adverbials, which has three patterns:
here/there + be/come/go + NP subject: e.g., Here comes the rain again
This way, here/there carry more stress, and there may be a meaning
difference, too; in our example, the implication is that it is just starting
to rain.
It cannot be used if the subject is a personal pronoun:
cf. Here it comes vs. *Here comes it
adverb particle + verb of motion + subject NP: e.g., Away went the
It involves more drama than the unmarked word order.
It cannot be used if the subject is a personal pronoun:
cf. Away they went vs. *Away went they
PP + verb of position/motion (plus a few other verbs like live) + subject NP: In a canyon dwelt
a miner; Into the bar walked a three-legged dog
It cannot be used if the subject is a personal pronoun:
cf. Into the bar it walked vs. *Into the bar walked it
Note that no inversion is possible when the subject NP is pronominal in all three cases – that may be
due to what we are to discuss next: the Principle of End Weight. It is also known by a number of
other names including the Principle of Given-New Information, Principle of End-Focus, the GivenBefore-New Principle, the Given-New Contract, the Known-New Contract. Whatever the name, the
idea is the same: given or known information comes first, new or focussed or heavy elements come at
the end. We have seen (in Ch. 10.1) that several information packaging methods exist which aim to
highlight new information by putting it where it is not expected: at the end of the sentence. These
constructions include:
passivisation, in the long passive: The vase was broken by Garfield
pseudo-cleft: What Garfield broke yesterday was the vase
existential: There used to be a vase on that shelf
extraposition: I don’t find it surprising that Garfield broke the vase
right dislocation: He broke the vase, Garfield
Recall that End Weight also means that constituents which are phonetically “substantial”, i.e., long or
strong due to stress, tend to be placed at the end even if they are not specifically
meant to be highlighted: that is the idea behind postposing (especially heavy NP
shift), as in Garfield broke yesterday the valuable vase that Jon got from Aunt Jill.
Turning back to the ban on SVI with pronouns: notice that SVI pushes the subject
NP to the end of the clause; when that is realised by a personal pronoun, SVI would
move an unstressed function word to the end – the result of which would contradict
the Principle. E.g., in Here it comes, the stressed content word comes ends the
clause, whereas in *Here comes it the “undersized” pronoun at the end produces
ill-formed, uneven rhythm in speech, which tends to be avoided. We noted a
similar phenomenon in Ch. 4.4, too, in the discussion of phrasal verbs with
pronominal direct objects: the adverb particle is stressed and thus will obligatorily choose the end
position, cf. wake me up vs. *wake up me.
Most of the other examples of “heavy shift”, however, are optional. But it is important to keep
in mind that whenever two alternatives are available, the one ending in the element to be highlighted
or emphasised is preferred. Recall from Ch. 11.1 the following two sentences:
Yesterday Garfield devoured all the lasagne
Garfield devoured all the lasagne yesterday
If we wish to highlight yesterday, it is better to use the second word order. Or look at the examples of
the dative shift (repeated from Ch. 4.1):
Jon gave Garfield all the pizzas
Jon gave all the pizzas to Garfield
The meaning of the two versions is basically the same; but the constituent at the end (underlined)
receives more emphasis in both, in accordance with the Principle of End Weight. Therefore the two
sentences differ with respect to information packaging: the new information is all the pizzas in the
former, and to Garfield in the latter.
Further reading
On inversion: Cowan 2008: 22  On SVI: ALP 14; T&M 4.36  On conditionals: Cowan 2008: 19.
11.5 Practice exercises
1. Rewrite the following sentences so that they contain inversion. Decide whether it is SVI or SOI.
1. Whether Jon is late or not, the main thing for him is to get there
2. All the students in this year are far more talented than anyone in previous semesters has been
3. Whether she is invited or not, she attends all her friends’ weddings
4. You’re even better than the real thing
5. Garfield’s stomach is bigger than all the food in the world
6. Whether it is raining or not, we are not going to take a taxi
7. Occasionally, Mike makes a personal phone call from the office, as all his colleagues do
8. A house in Budapest costs at least three times as much as a similar house in the countryside
9. Sue is a good teacher, as her mother before her was
10. Whether the students are hard-working or lazy, they all fail this exam for the first time
2. Rewrite the following sentences so that they contain Subject-Verb Inversion with adverbials.
1. The sun came down
2. Your order is here
3. A narrow pathway led through the park
4. A flock of white gulls flew over our heads
5. Three odd-looking dogs ran into the room
6. The bus goes right to the centre
7. My hero goes there
3. Fill the gap in each sentence with a word from the box.
along the street, as, here, neither, never, no sooner, nor, should, so dangerous, such
1. ……………. did weather conditions become that all mountain roads were closed
2. ……………. have I heard a weaker excuse!
3. ……………. came a strange procession
4. For some time after the explosion Jack couldn’t hear, and ……………. could he see
5. The council never wanted the new supermarket to be built, ……………. did local residents
6. ……………. you need more information, please telephone our main office
7. ……………. had I reached the door than I realised it was locked
8. The cake was excellent, ……………. was the coffee
9. ……………. is the popularity of the play that the theatre is likely to be full every night
10.……………. comes Sandra’s car
4. Identify the type of inversion used in these examples.
1. Research shows that children living in villages watch more television than do their
counterparts in inner city areas
2. Dave began to open the three parcels. Inside the first was a book of crosswords from his
Auntie Acid
3. Had Alex asked, I would have been able to help
4. Incy Wincy spider climbed up the water spout,
Down came the rain and washed poor Incy out.
Out came the sunshine and dried up all the rain,
And Incy Wincy spider climbed up the spout again.
5. So successful was her business that Mary was able to retire at the age of 50
6. It would be a serious setback, were the talks to fail
7. In the doorway stood his father
8. Seldom has the team given a worse performance
9. I lit the fuse and after a few seconds up went the rocket
10. I believed, as did my colleagues, that the plan would work
5. Match the first halves (1–6) and second halves (a–f) to form full sentences. Then pronominalise the
objects of the phrasal verbs and change the word order as necessary.
1. Finally, he gave
2. I couldn’t make
3. I’d do anything to get
4. The police turned
5. You should have let
6. You don’t need to switch
a. away all the reporters who tried to get into the apartment
b. back Susan for what she’s done to me
c. in the cat – it’s freezing outside!
d. on the lights before it gets really dark
e. out what he was saying
f. up the idea of marriage
12.1 Pro-forms and ellipsis
“I’m a linguist, so I like ambiguity more than most people.”
(Linguistics joke)
The humour of this joke comes from the fact that the sentence in it is itself ambiguous: you can
interpret is as ‘I like ambiguity more than most people do’ – most probably, this would be the primary
meaning; or you interpret it as ‘I like ambiguity more than I like most people’ – the secondary,
humorous meaning, with a kind of “asocial” linguist… The options for the interpretation arise because
the sentence has many of its elements omitted: than is used as a preposition and followed by an NP,
therefore it is not clear whether meaning-wise, that NP is to be taken as an “agent” (in the first sense)
or as an “undergoer” (in the second). However, as soon as than is followed by a clause, further clausal
elements need to appear, and the ambiguity is lost. Therefore, when we reconstruct the sentence to
yield the first meaning, we analyse it as having this abstract structure, recovering omitted do:
I like ambiguity more than most people do
Notice that in this reconstructed structure, the NP most people functions as subject. On the other hand,
in the second meaning the structure is the following:
I like ambiguity more than I like most people
Crucially, in this case the NP is now direct object – a grammatical function different from the one
above, generating an interpretation different from the one above. In sum, the omission of sentence
elements in the comparative clause introduced by than is responsible for the ambiguity. As we will see
presently, such omissions are rather frequent in grammar, and in comparative clauses in particular,
because not repeating something that has been said is one important method to “economise” in
language and avoid “hoarding” unnecessary, redundant information that would only divert attention
from the main message in communication. The name of this type of grammatical omission is ellipsis.
In the first sense of the ambiguous sentence, the verb do is ellipted; in the second one, the sequence I
like is ellipted.
The first sense, however, reveals another technique for the avoidance of redundancy. Notice
that the reconstructed version I like ambiguity more than most people do contains auxiliary do in the
subclause, which is the dummy operator we identified in Ch. 4.1. It has no semantic content
whatsoever; the only reason why it is used in that case is to signal that the NP is a subject, to which
end we need a predicative VP. That is, the single function of do is to indicate the place of the VP: the
“fully recovered” sentence is I like ambiguity more than most people like ambiguity. Again, repeating
the VP twice makes the sentence sound odd, and at the same time, the second instance is both
redundant and harmful, diverting attention from the rest. Therefore, that second instance is replaced
(or substituted for) by an element which is minimally sufficient to fulfil the grammatical function, but
which is also “light” both in phonetic form and in semantic content. Grammatical function words or
short phrases having this function of substitution are called pro-forms. In fact, we have already seen
one of the most important pro-forms in languages: pronouns, whose primary function is to replace
NPs (not nouns! – cf. Ch. 2.1). Compare the following two sentences:
Odie has found the bone that Odie buried in the garden months ago
Odie has found the bone that he buried in the garden months ago
Clearly, the second is the usual variant: Odie is known information for the second clause, there is no
need to repeat it there in full. The personal pronoun he is used instead, only to refer to the same entity
as the reference of the NP Odie. That is, the two NPs are co-referential. The pronoun has no reference
in itself – notice that a clause like He has found the bone cannot be interpreted out of context; he could
as well refer to anybody (masculine) in the world. The pronoun is thus “bound” to another NP for
reference, its so-called antecedent. That is, in our example above, Odie is the antecedent that binds
the pronoun he. Pronouns may also be antecedents for other pronouns; in a sentence like He hurt
himself, the personal pronoun he is unbounded (and receives its reference from the situation – see
below) but the reflexive pronoun himself is bound – by the subject NP he.
This chapter, then, is about pro-forms and ellipsis. Recall that what unites them is the
motivation for their use: they both are modes of abbreviation applied to avoid redundancy, to
economise in language. Economy is always achieved in the most optimal way: the element unrepeated
has to be recoverable. Therefore, recoverability is an important aspect of both substitution and
ellipsis; its three types, based on where the information comes from to help the listener/reader to
recover the missing items, are as follows:
textual recoverability: the information is included in the text; very often, within the same
sentence or clause. Two types: anaphoric reference: the antecedent is before the element
cataphoric reference: the antecedent is after the element
Odie has found the bone that he buried in the garden months ago
Although he was suspicious, Odie thought it had been left there by someone else
I’m happy if you are __
If you want me to__ , I can do the shopping for you
– anaphoric
– cataphoric
situational recoverability (exophoric reference): the information is outside the text, only
recoverable from the situation
He has found the bone
__ Hope he’s alright now (may be I or we, depending on the situation)
– anaphoric
– cataphoric
structural recoverability: the information follows from the grammatical structure
I think __ Odie is mistaken (clause analysis reveals that the conjunction is missing)
We make two remarks here. First, it has been noted that in ellipsis, there is not always a clear dividing
line between situational and structural recoverability: e.g., in See you soon! the subject may be
recovered from the situation or from the knowledge of the grammar of English alike. Second, the
reference of personal pronouns and reflexives is a particularly intriguing topic. In a sentence like He
hurt himself, the reference of he is situational, while that of himself is textual; and, as the reflexive is
bound to the personal pronoun, the two have the same antecedent (they are co-referential). In another
sentence, such as He hurt her, both references are situational, as is the case in He hurt him: crucially,
the two pronouns require two separate antecedents; He hurt him cannot mean the same as He hurt
Pronouns, then, constitute a major group of pro-forms. Here is a list of some of the other
types, with examples:
pro-forms for NPs: pronouns, one, some... (cf. determiners which also function as pronouns,
Ch. 3.1)
I can see a cat → I can see one
I can see some cats → I can see some
Pronominal one can also replace part of an NP: I don’t like this cat – show me another one
pro-forms for VPs: do, do so, do it/that, so
Garfield likes lasagne, and I do (so) too
You’re annoying Garfield with this – I wouldn’t do that
Garfield asked Jon to make pizza, and he did so
Garfield devoured the lasagne, and so did I1
The pro-form do so can also replace part of a VP: Garfield bit the postman yesterday, and he
will also do so this morning
pro-forms for adverbials: here, there, then, so, thus
He went to university in London, and he also met his bride there
pro-form for subject or object complements: so
He may not be that greedy after all, but everbody considers him so
We’d tried to make it a great event, and so it was
(I’m sleepy) So am I
pro-forms for object that-clauses: so, not
(Will Garfield spare Odie a slice of pizza?) I hope so / not
Jesus loves me, for the Bible tells me so
So and thus can also replace other types of clauses:
Will Garfield spare Odie a slice of pizza?And if so, where shall we hide it from the mice?
“… Only in their dreams can men be truly free. ‘Twas always thus, and always thus will be.”
(John Keating)
Verbs frequently used with so and not include believe, expect, guess, hope, imagine, presume,
reckon, suppose, suspect, think.
Types of ellipsis, i.e., grammatical omission, can also be
classified in various ways. For example, certain
coursebooks group them according to the category of the
ellipted element, and set up classes like nominal (e.g., The
first problem is solved; but the second __ is still ahead of
us) and verbal ellipsis (e.g., If she works hard, I won’t have
to __). Another option is to classify them in terms of the
position of the ellipsis; then, it is possible to distinguish
three types:
initial ellipsis: e.g.,
- the ellipsis of the subject NP:
__ Wish you were here; __ Dunno; __ Can’t stop
including the ellipsis of the second (and further)
subject(s) in coordination (see below):
Garfield bought a pizza and __ devoured it
- the ellipsis of conjunction that from the beginning
Note the fronting of so here, accompanied by SOI (cf. Ch. 11.1).
of the embedded clause: I think __ Odie is mistaken
medial ellipsis: e.g., verb gapping:
final ellipsis: e.g., VP ellipsis: If she works hard, I won’t have to __
Jill owns a Volvo and Fred __ a BMW
Jill ordered pizza and Fred __ lasagne
Ellipsis is common in two types of sentences: comparative sentences and coordinated (i.e., compound)
sentences. These two are whose properties we discuss in the rest of the chapter.
Recall the example of ellipsis in comparative
clauses at the beginning; we mention there that
omissions are particularly frequent in comparative
clauses. As a result, many jokes in English are based
on the ambiguity which may arise from the
interpretational options produced by the ellipsis. Not
only is the sentence I like ambiguity more than most
people ambiguous but so are similar sentences like The
antelope can jump higher than the average house. In
fact, it is an inherent property of comparative
sentences to contain considerable overlap between the
clauses – as a result, it is regular for such sentences to
reduce their comparative clauses (the second one,
introduced by a comparative conjunction), in
accordance with the principle of economy and
redundancy avoidance.
In general, there are two types of comparative sentences: so-called equality comparisons
(where the two clauses are linked with as/so … as) and so-called inequality comparisons (containing
a comparative adjective/adverb in the main clause and than introducing the subclause). The two ellipt
in the same way, so we do not need to treat them separately: the number of options in both cases
depends on the kind of overlap between the main clause and the comparative subclause in the
following way. When the clauses have different subjects, the second clause will contain the new
subject, with or without the operator (including dummy do):
I like ambiguity more than most people like ambiguity → I like ambiguity more than most people do
I like ambiguity more than do most people2
I like ambiguity more than most people
When the two clauses require different verb forms, however, the operator will be obligatory:
Garfield will eat more lasagne than you could
Garfield will eat more lasagne than could you
Of course, as the overlap gets smaller, the ellipted string gets shorter, too, cf.:
Garfield will eat more lasagne than you could imagine
The other possibility is that the subjects of the two clauses are the same, in which case only one option
is available:
I like ambiguity more than I like most people → I like ambiguity more than most people
Finally, there may only be logical overlap, not formal:
With comparative inversion (Ch. 11), see some discussion below.
Garfield is more greedy than we thought he would be → Garfield is more greedy than we thought
Here, the string he would be is not present in the main clause but is logically deducible and therefore
potentially ommitted.
A special subcase of comparative sentences is when a non-finite subclause (Ch. 8.1) is
involved. The gerund-participle (or -ing) clause is typically either subject or object; again, several
variants are possible in the former case but not in the latter:
Pleasing Garfield is just as difficult as feeding him is
Pleasing Garfield is just as difficult as is feeding him
Pleasing Garfield is just as difficult as feeding him
I find pleasing Garfield just as difficult as feeding him
The other non-finite subclause is the infinitive clause, which typically appears as an extraposed subject
in the relevant cases3 (as in It’s difficult to please Garfield); however, as an unexpected property of
such sentences, they offer a free choice between the bare infinitive and the to-infinitive in the
comparative clause, giving rise to as many as three alternatives:
It’s just as difficult to please Garfield as feed him
It’s just as difficult to please Garfield as to feed him
It’s just as difficult to please Garfield as it is to feed him
In all the examples above the comparative clause copies the structure of the main clause in terms of
the verb form: an infinitival main clause is matched with an infinitival subclause, and a gerundparticiple clause is paired up with another -ing. This is not always the case, though; when the two
logical comparative terms are not directly linked but another clause intervenes, the form of the
comparative clause can follow several patterns, e.g.:
I’ll try to make a pizza; that will be cheaper than ordering one
(to) order one
I tried to make a pizza, which turned out to be more difficult than ordering one
(to) order one
The other construction in which the clauses are more often than not composed of overlapping material,
which is then, unsurprisingly, the target of ellipsis, is coordination. What we are concerned with here
is clausal coordination, i.e., when clauses (rather than phrases) are coordinated, producing compound
sentences. Very frequently, the subjects of the clauses are the same, and therefore the subject of the
second clause is ellipted, e.g.:
We like Garfield and __ read the comics each day
We like Garfield but we don’t like Odie → We like Garfield but __ not Odie
Two of the ellipsis types introduced above are worthy of mention here because they are characteristic
of compound sentences: one is verb gapping (cf. Jill owns a Volvo and Fred __ a BMW), the other is
VP-ellipsis (e.g., She works hard, but I won’t have to __ ). There is, however, a very special form of
coordination that we have not discussed. It is called shared constituent coordination (or backward
gapping, or delayed right constituent coordination) as the overlap between the clauses (now referred to
For extraposition, see Ch. 10.1.
as the “shared constituent”) is delayed to the end (the right edge) of the sentence, with “gaps”
produced in both clauses in its original position, as in:
I used to __ , but now I won’t have to __ , work hard
Notice that this is the optimally “economised” version of something like I used to work hard, but now
I won’t have to work hard, and the VP work hard is indeed the shared constituent, which the principle
of redundancy avoidance dictates not to repeat twice – similarly to all the other cases of ellipsis and
A final point to make is that the topic of this chapter (ellipsis and pro-forms) is closely linked
to that of the previous one (Ch. 11: inversion), since certain types of inversion are systematically
accompanied by ellipsis. The strongest case for that is conditional inversion and conditionalconcessive inversion, which are actually triggered by the ellipsis of if and whether, respectively. Cf.:
If Had he been more careful, he wouldn’t be in trouble now
Whether Be it so or not, I believe that he is innocent
You may have also noticed that, while comparative inversion is mentioned in Ch. 11, comparative
sentences themselves are dealt with in more detail in this one. That is because both inversion and
ellipsis are found in this construction, but we judged ellipsis to be more prominent and more generally
present in them. However, as a result of this structural complexity of comparatives, very often the
alternative structures we present above are possible due to the potential occurrence of inversion.
Recall examples such as:
I like ambiguity more than most people like ambiguity → I like ambiguity more than most people do
I like ambiguity more than do most people
Here, the latter version arises exactly because of comparative inversion. This holds for both SOI and
SVI, cf.:
We travel to Budapest every day, as do most of the people who live in the neighbourhood travel
to Budapest every day
The train isn’t any faster than is the coach fast
Usually the train would be very fast, as would be the coach very fast
In fact, comparative inversion with SOI resembles VP-ellipsis on the one hand, since the VP (like
ambiguity and travel to Budapest every day in our examples) is deleted, and the operator (carrying the
inflection of the clause, basically: do in our examples) is left behind; on the other hand, the operator is
like a pro-form (and the dummy auxiliary do is indeed a pro-form), therefore the construction also
resembles substitution. Compare the following examples:
plain VP-ellipsis:
My classmates won’t prepare much but I will
comp. + VP-ellipsis: I’m more hard-working so I’m sure I’ll prepare more than my classmates will
+ SOI:
I’m more hard-working so I’m sure I’ll prepare more than will my classmates
plain VP-ellipsis:
comp. + VP-ellipsis:
+ SOI:
(Does Garfield dominate the household?) Yes, he does
Cats normally dominate their households, and Garfield does so/it/that, too
Cats normally dominate their households, as Garfield does
Cats normally dominate their households, as does Garfield
Notice that the conjunction as may even be taken as a pro-form substituting for the VP, just like so and
neither/nor in short responses or “echoing” statements (agreeing and disagreeing, respectively).
(Cats normally dominate their households) So does Garfield
(I don’t spend many hours practising) Neither do I
The structural symmetry is evident in these examples. But similar connections can be found between
inversion and substitution with pro-forms, too: note that wh-phrases, for instance, are pro-forms by
definition, in both interrogatives and relative clauses, since they substitute the information gap in
This concludes the chapter on ellipsis and pro-forms. There are minor types and other forms of
both that could not make it into the discussion, like special elliptical constructions such as the rich and
the sublime (so-called “nominal adjectives”), which can be analysed as NPs with omitted nouns (cf.
the rich people, the sublime thing/notion); or “correlative comparatives” like the sooner the better
(cf. the sooner it happens the better it is for us), and certainly many more. This also indicates the
significance of the role these two strategies play in English grammar.
12.2 Further reading
On pro-forms and ellipsis: SGE 12.1–12.23; OEG 7; T&M 35.347; Wekker & Haegeman 1985: 4.6–
4.7; AGU 76–81  On ellipsis in comparative clauses: SGE 15.38–15.39; T&M 34.341; Cowan
2008: 24  On ellipsis in coordination: Cowan 2008: 25.
12.3 Practice exercises
1. The chapter introduces many different constructions. Identify them in the following examples.
1. The sun is shining and so are you
2. You were the one that got away
3. You tossed it in the trash, yes, you did
4. If you loved me half as much as I love you, you wouldn’t worry me half as much as you do
5. She may be the beauty or the beast
6. I’m sexy and I know it
7. You say your heart will never break – I hope so for your sake
8. Loving is the thing I crave, you gotta give me some
9. If I lose myself tonight, it’ll be by your side
10. Will I wait a lonely lifetime? If you want me to, I will
11. Don’t wanna be all by myself
12. You like my fingers running through your hair, so do I
13. When you walk by, I try to say it, but then I freeze and never do it
14. I must be sure from the very start that you would love me more than her
2. Are the following sentences well-formed or ill-formed? Evaluate each separately. Then discuss
possible reasons for your judgements.
1. Garfield painted a picture of Garfield
2. Garfield painted a picture of himself
3. Garfield watched Odie and painted a picture of him
4. Garfield painted a picture of him (him = Garfield)
5. Garfield painted a picture of him (him = Odie)
6. He painted a picture of himself
7. He painted a picture of Garfield (he = Garfield)
8. Himself painted a picture of Garfield (himself = Garfield)
9. Himself painted a picture of him (himself = him)
3. Fill the gaps in the sentences with pro-forms from the box.
it, neither, she (3x), so (3x), there, this
1. My mother-in-law’s cat is unwell. … makes me feel sad
2. Their flag is green and yellow, and … is ours
3. I got a dragon here, and I’m not afraid to use …!
4. Garfield is greedy, but he is less … than we had expected
5. Susan couldn’t open the bottle. … could her husband
6. If you’ll look on the table, you’ll find the book …
7. “My grandmother started walking five miles a day when … was sixty. …’s 97 now, and we
don’t know where the hell … is.” (American comedian Ellen DeGeneres)
8. “When the tzar was seated, everyone else sat, and … did we.” (L. E. Modesitt, Jr., Ghost of the
White Nights. Tor Books, 2001)
4. The following sentences illustrate ellipsis. Locate the “gaps”, and specify the types.
1. Bill speaks Spanish, and Jack Norwegian
2. My mother has Facebook friends in more countries than I have friends in
3. Should I email you, or you me?
4. She wanted to so she put on his coat; then he put on hers
5. He has done it before, which means he will again
6. She ordered more beer than we could drink
7. I will do the washing-up today if you will tomorrow
8. They took a picture of us, and we of them
9. I will do two exercises because you have also done two
10. If you try my paprika chicken, I will try yours
5. Rewrite the following sentences so that they contain ellipsis.
1. This computer programme runs data search more quickly than the old version ran data search
2. She has promised to help me so I hope she will help me
3. Coffee with sweetener is not as unhealthy as coffee with sugar is unhealthy
4. Today’s news showed less violence than yesterday’s news had shown violence
5. I don’t want to break the news to the other colleagues but I will have to break the news to the
other colleagues
6. If Odie wanted to take revenge on Garfield, he surely would take revenge on Garfield
6. Go back to Ex. 1 in Ch. 11.5, and find examples of ellipsis and pro-forms accompanying inversion.
13. Bibliography
Abbreviations used in the Further reading sections:
AGU = Hewings 1999.
ALP = Vince 2003.
BESE = Newson & al. 2006.
CGEL = Huddleston & Pullum 2002.
OEG = Greenbaum 1996.
SGE = Greenbaum & Quirk 1990.
T&M = Thomson and Martinet 1986.
Cowan, Ron 2008. The Teacher’s Grammar Of English. A Course Book and Reference Guide.
Cambridge: CUP.
É. Kiss, Katalin 2002. The Syntax of Hungarian. Cambridge: CUP.
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