English Language - Grammar



We can divide the method of grammar into two sub-methods: morphology and syntax. Morphology is concerned with how words or lexical items are formed from smaller units called mophemes, syntax looks at how lexical iterms are sequenced  into larger units of language. 

The linguistic rank scale is a neat way of showing the relationship between these units. As we move along the scale, we can generally say each unit is structured from those that precede it. So, lexical items are formed from morphemes, phrases from lexical items and so on. Syntax is the level of descriptive analysis that deals with phrases, clauses and sentences.

Morpheme --> lexical item --> phrase --> clause --> sentence --> utterance --> text

                                                l                 l                   l


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Prescriptivism and Descriptivism

Grammar is complex and contraversial area of language. 

A prescriptivist attitude - views varieties of English other than Standard English as grammatically incorrect or bad, and is highly critical of language use that deviate from so-called established grammatical rules.

A descriptivist approach -  comments on the actual usage and describes not whether rules are being adhered to, but how language operates in real examples and contexts. A descriptivist approach to grammar may still use Standard English constructions as a benchmark, but prefers the term non-standard and variant grammar to the more loaded wrong, bad or deviant.

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Noun Phrases

Noun phrases (NP) are centred around a noun (n), which serves as the head word or head noun (h) of the phrase. 

The head word is boldend:

  • The Times
  • Kerrang!
  • A small island
  • The noisy party
  • The pretty cottage by the sea

All the NP except 'Kerrang!' have additionally elements. These form what is called the constituent structure of the noun phrase, along with the obligatory head noun.

'The Times' contains the determiner 'the,' whereas 'a small island' and 'the noisy party' contain a determiner 'a' and also an adjective 'small'/'noisy.' These represent what is called pre-modification, where an adjective is used as a modifier (m) before the head noun. 'The pretty cottage by the sea' has the pre-modifying adjective 'pretty,' but also the qualifier (q) 'by the sea.' The use of a qualifier after the head noun is post-modification.

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Qualifiers as prepositional phrases

A preposition indicates towards the temporal, spatial or logical relationship of an object: eg, 'the book is on the table'

A prepositional phrase is the preposition with the phrase and object. 'The book is on the table' is therefore a prepositional phrase, as it contains the preposition 'on' and the object phrase 'The book is on the table.'

Sometimes, post-modifying qualifiers are prepositional phrases (PrepP). These consist of a preposition (p) and an additional NP, which will contain a head noun of its own and any number of determiners, modifiers and qualifiers.

SO: 'The pretty cottage by the sea.'              Noun phrase     Prep       P                                              d     n 'The pretty cottage' is the noun phrase, as it is made up of a noun, a modifier and a determiner, which pre modifies the noun. The qualifier that post-modifies the noun 'by the sea' is a prepositional phrase because it is made up of a preposition 'by,' and another noun phrase, consisting of a determiner 'the' and a noun 'sea'

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  • Morphology is the area of language study that deals with the formation of words through smaller units called morphemes
  • A morpheme is the smallest unit of grammatical meaning. They can be words in their own right or combine with other morphemes to form lexical units.
  • Prescriptivism is an approach that centres on how language ought to be structured, whilst descriptivism is an approach that focuses on actual langauge use.
  • A noun phrase is a group of words centred around a head noun
  • A consistuient structure is the key components of a phrase
  • Pre-modification is where modifying occurs before the head noun
  • A modifier is a word, usually an adjective or noun used attributiveley, that qualifies the sense of a noun. Adverbs of comment also act as modifiers  (eg, obviously)
  • Post modification is a modifying phrase or lexical item that occurs after the head noun in a noun phrase
  • A prepositional phrase is a phrase consisting of a preposition with an added noun phrase
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Verb Phrases

Verbs indicate actions, events or states of being, thinking and feeling. Verb phrases are larger structures built around a main verb (mv). A main verb is the verb that details the main process in a verb phrase.

1) 'Prime Minister takes a big lead'
2) Internet scam nets millions
3) Cement tipped into lake by vandals
4) GCSE coursework to become history
5) Banks have not signed required customer code

1 and 2 contain a single verb in the present tense - 'nets' 'takes.' This acts as the mv. 

3 contains a further consituent 'into' following the main verb in the past tense. This additionally consituent is known as extention (e). 

4 features the infinitive form 'to become,' whilst 5 contains both a mv 'signed' together with an auxillary verb (aux) 'has' and a negating particle (neg) 'not.' 

The mv is the obligatory component and the other morphemes are optional

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Verb Phrases

1) Prime Minister takes a big lead = a verb phrase


2) Internet scam nets millions = a verb phrase


3) Cement tipped (VP) into lake by vandals

                  mv      e  

4) GCSE coursework to become history (VP)

                                  mv (inf)

5) Banks have not signed (vp) required customer code

               aux  neg  mv

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Types of auxiliary verb

Auxiliary verbs (av) 'help out' main verbs in a verb phrase, to signal a shift in tense or express modality. The primary auxiliaries 'be' 'do' and 'have' often help to distinguish tense - eg 'he was running'/ 'he has run.'

Modal auxiliaries cover a number of verbs that show possibilities or necessities, such as 'may' 'could' 'will 'should 'can' etc

Auxiliary verb example: 'he was riding his bike.' 'he has ridden his bike.' 'mum has given juice to me.' 'My toe is broken.' 'The paint has gone.' 'Where has the paint gone?' 

Modal auxiliary example: 'You should put that down.' 'I ought to drop it.' 'You may take this outside.' 'You shall drop that.' 'You must drop that.' 'I will lose weight.'

'By saying 'I will lose weight,' the use of the modal auxiliary verb 'will' gives a sense of obligation and necessity.'

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  • A main verb is the verb that details the main process in a verb phrase
  • Auxiliary verb is a verb that supports or 'helps' another; it shows tense or modality
  • Negating particle is a small item used to form a negative construction (for example, not)
  • An obligatory component is a necessary part of the verb phrase, that is the main verb
  • An optional component is an additionally part of a verb phrase that may be present, for example, an extention, qualifier or negating particle
  • A primary auxiliary is used to denote tense changes - eg, 'has' 'be' 'do'
  • A modal auxiliary is used to express possibility, probability, certainty, necessity or obligation -eg, 'shall,' 'should' 'may 'might' 'must'
  • A semi auxiliary is a combination of a primary auxilary and another verb part
  • A catenative is a verb that can attach to another to form a chain
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Semi-auxiliaries and catenatives

These combine with other verbs to form verb phrase chains

Semi-auxiliaries follow the formula:

Primary auxiliary + another word + to

eg - to 'be supposed to' as in 'you were supposed to do the washing up.'

           PA                                PN    PA                                  V

Equally, Catenative verbs such as 'appear' 'get' and 'seem' form similar chains, but without the use of a primary auxiliary, as in:

'she appeared to run away' 'he got to play for the first XI' 'You seemed to like it here'

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Active and Passive voice

1) MoD issues gag order on armed forces

2) gag order is issued on armed forces

3) gag order is issued on armed forces by MoD

In 1, the person issuing the order is identified: the MoD. In 2, however, no actor (the individual responsible for the action) is identified.  Passive constructions like 2 subtly avoid specifying agency (responsiblility) and are often used to avoid drawing attention to the person or body responsible for the action.

Sometimes, a prepositional phrase can indicate agency, as in 3, although there remains a difference in stylistic effect. We are told who carried out the act of issuing, placing the actor at the end of the clause has arguably less impact than placing it at the beginning.

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Active and Passive voice

Structurally, passive constructions use a primary auxiliary verb and a particpale, formed by adding an -en/-ed bound morpheme to a verb stem. 

Active = includes an actor or agent; verb phrase includes a finite present or past tense verb eg, They've tipped him away

Passive = Omits an actor or agent or includes the agent as part of a prepositional phrase after the verb eg, He has been tipped away or he has been tipped away by John

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Adjectival and Abverbial phrase

These perform similar roles to those of the word classes adjective and adverb.

Adjectival phrases (Adj P) generally appear after the verb 'to be'

He is very intelligent

np vp           adj p

Adverbial phrases (adv p) modify verb phrases or other abverbial phrases

He fought bravely

np  vp       advp

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  • An actor is the individual or entity responsible for, or cause of, an action
  • Agency is the responsibility for, or cause of, an action
  • Adjectival phrase is a phrase with an adjective as its head (eg, 'very big')
  • An Adverbial phrase is a phrase with an adverb as its head (eg.'very quickly')
  • The active voice includes an actor or agent; verb phrase includes a finite present or past tense verb
  • The Passive voice omits an actor or agent. Or, it includes the agent as part of a prepositional phrase after the verb
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Clause element functions

A clause is a group of words clustered around a verb phrase, containing these elements:

  • Subject (s) - usually indicates the element responsible for carrying out the verb process
  • Verb (v) - the verb phrase
  • Object (o) - That affected by the verb
  • Complement (c) - an attribute that provides more information about a subject or object
  • Adverbial (a) - the circumstances of the action of event (Where, when, how)

'I yawned' - S + V

'I opened the door' - S+V+ (D) + O

'I am ready' - S+V+C

'I gave him a pen' - S+V+O+(d) +O

'I went to London' - S+V+(d) + A

'I put the box on the floor' - S+V+(d) + O + A

'I got my shoes wet' - S+V + (pp) + O + C

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Seven basic clause types are:

  • S + V (I left)
  • S+V+O (I left him)
  • S+V+C (I am ready)
  • S+V+A (I went to Paris)
  • S+V+O+O (I gave him my PEN)
  • S+V+O+C (I got my shoes wet)
  • S+V+O+A (I took my pen to London)

*The SVOO clause is a double- object (O) construction, where there are two objects the DIRECT object 'pen'and the indirect object 'him.'

Verbs such as 'give' are ditransitive as they require two objects (one DIRECT and one indirect ), As opposed to monotransitive verbs such as 'put,' that only takes one. 

An intransitive verb such as 'yawned' requires no object

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In the same way that phrases make up the larger structure of a clause, clauses are the comonents of the grammatical strucutre of a sentence.

  • Simple sentence = contains one clause (eg, 'he kicked the ball.')
  • Compound sentence = contains two or more clauses joined by coordinating conjunctions (words like and, but, or) (eg, he kicked the ball and scored a goal)
  • Complex sentence = contains two or more clauses, where one is the main clause and the other(s) a subordiante clause(s). Linking is through subordinating conjunctions (words like 'although' 'while' 'because'). A main clause can stand independantly as a unit of meaning and will be a simple sentence in its own right. (eg 'although he was tired, he kicked the ball.')
  • Compound-complex sentence - contains both coordination and subordination ('he kicked the ball and celebrated his goal, although he was tired.')
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  • Clause - a group of lexical items centred around a vp
  • Double-object construction - a clause with a verb that has two objects; one direct and the other indirect
  • Direct/indirect- an object directly/indirectly affected by verb process
  • Ditransitive verb - a verb that requires two objects to form a double-object construction
  • Monotransitive verb - a verb that only requires one object
  • Intransitive verb - a verb process such as 'yawned' that has no object
  • Simple sentence - a sentence consisting of a single main clause
  • Compound sentence - a sentence containing two or more main clauses, connected by coordinating conjunctions or sometimes just seperated by punctuation (;/-)
  • Coordinating conjunctions - words such as and but and or that link clauses to form compound sentences
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  • Complex sentence - a sentence containing a main clause with one or more subordinate or dependant clauses, often conected with a subordinating conjunction
  • Main clause - a clause that can stand independantley and make sense
  • Subordinate clause - a clause that is dependant on another for meaning
  • Subordinate conjunction - words like because, although and while that link main clauses to a number of subordinate clauses in complex sentences
  • Compound-complex sentence - a sentence containing at least two main clauses and at least one subordinate clause
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Sentence mood and function

Sentence types:

  • Declarative = telling = S+V = eg, 'before Easter, she had driven over to a development in Fife.'
  • Interrogative = asking = V+S = eg, 'is it done yet?'
  • Imperative = inviting, demanding = V+C = 'look at the evidence.'
  • Exclamatory = exclaim = A DECLARATIVE (S+V) with an ! for stylistic effect = 'That was not an excuse!'

(NB= these are utterances, which are a group of spoke words, roughly equivalent to the sentence in written terms.)

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