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Basics of the grammar of English

Words, phrases, clauses Words Open classes; nouns and verbs Distribution patterns Nouns, pronouns, verbs, tenses Inflection Noun phrases Simple clauses, categories Questions Roles Prepositional phrases Clausal subjects / complements Verb phrases Modifiers Compound clauses Relative clauses CSI 4106, Winter 2005 Basic facts about the English grammar, page 1

Words, phrases, clauses


The building blocks of expressions in natural languages are words, phrases, clauses. There is a semantic motivation for some of these fundamental constructions: noun phrases correspond to entities that have properties (expressed by adjective phrases, relative clauses,and so on); verb phrases correspond to situations with roles (noun phrases, prepositional phrases) and qualities (adverbial phrases).

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Words, phrases, clauses (2) The clause level


Simple and compound clauses. Coordinate clause. Major and subordinate clauses.
simple clause simple clause

We bought him a book because he likes to read


major clause compound clause subordinate clause

The word level


Morphology: book books, make making. Derivation: white whiteness, quick quickly.

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Words
Criteria for distinguishing words are quite arbitrary, though the simplest test (groups of letters between non-letters) works okay. Words are not the lowest level of description. Morphemes, e.g., pre+book+ing, un+glue+d. antidisestablishmentarianism There are four open classes of words (noun, verb, adjective, adverb) and closed classes (including articles, conjunctions, prepositions, numerals, pronouns).

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Words (2)
There are two criteria for word classification. Semantics: situations - roles - properties. Distribution: words in the same class can often be interchanged. Distribution can be tested by diagnostic contexts, positive and negative. Example: adjectives. + + This is a ________ book. The book is very ________. This ________ is new. I want to ________ it to you.

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Words (3) A word may fit more than one pattern. This happens quite often, because word classes are not disjoint. Examples: compound is an adjective, a noun, a verb; bar is a noun, a verb, a preposition.
(The verb-noun ambiguity is frequent in English.)

Classify various in these sentences: John decided to a big, and juicy . Put your the table.

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Words (4) Nouns Proper nouns: Jimmy, Greece, IBM Common nouns: mass nouns (sand, milk, ...) count nouns (all others) Pronouns Personal (I, him, ...) Possessive (its, hers, ...) Interrogative/relative (whom, which, that, ...) Demonstrative (this, those, ...)

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Words (5) Nouns and personal pronouns have clear distributional differences (* marks incorrect expressions). a man is running a box of sand the book is mine a white elephant * a Jim is running * a box of book * the book is which * a white he

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Beyond words
Verb groups In English, there are five basic forms:

infinitive eat, drink, walk present 3rd person eats, drinks, walks simple past ate, drank, walked progressive (present participle) eating, drinking, walking perfective (past participle) eaten, drunk, walked In French, there are about sixty forms. There also are at least 48 English tenses, most of them expressed analytically, that is, using auxiliary verbs (all forms of be, have, do, plus will, would and so on).

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Beyond words (2)


Selected English tenses
Tense present past Example go / goes went Examplecontinuous am / are / is going was / were going

future

will go

will be going
have / has been going had been going will have been going

present perfect have / has gone past perfect future perfect had gone will have gone

How would we add negation?

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Inflection
Words usually have forms with the same meaning and different functions in a sentence. Examples: he him was were long longer book books Such forms have different inflectional categories. Nouns can be inflected by case and number; adjectives by case, number, gender and degree; verbs by person, number, gender and tense.

Inflection in English is quite simple, compared with such languages as Russian, and even French.

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Inflection (2)
French donnais, donnais, donnait English gave, gave, gave

donnions, donniez, donnaient dernier, derniers dernire, dernires English cases Water is good. There is no water. I wonder at water. I see water. I wash with water.

gave, gave, gave last, last last, last Russian cases ... voda ... ... vody ... ... vode ... ... vodu ... ... vodoy ...

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sg = singular, pl = plural

Inflection (3)
Hesubjective spoke. We saw himobjective. I am/was1st, sg yousg are/were2nd, sg he is/was3rd, sg we are/were1st, pl youpl are/were2nd, pl they are/were3d, pl

Case: nouns and pronouns The mansubjective spoke. We saw the manobjective. Person and number: verbs I walk/walked1st, sg yousg walk/walked2nd, sg he walks/walked3rd, sg we walk/walked1st, pl youpl walk/walked2nd, pl they walk/walked3d, pl

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Noun phrases
Segment Function Examples half; both; all the; a; those; every first; second; last one; three; many big; blue; enchanted stone; singing walls; people; ones in town; who fly , which you know s Determiner Pre-determiner sequence Determiner Ordinal Cardinal Modifiers Describers Classifiers Head Head Qualifiers Restrictive qualifier Nonrestrictive qualifier ------------------ Possessive marker

Terry Winograd, Language as a Cognitive Process: Syntax, Addison-Wesley, 1983

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Noun phrases (2)


Examples, short and long, with head marked he Jimmy a man all the first three big stone walls in town, which you know all those many enchanted blue singing people who fly Elements that precede the head Specifiers describe definiteness, cardinality, and so on. Modifiers (adjectives, nouns) narrow down the meaning. Elements that follow the head Postmodifiers: relative clauses, prepositional phrases.

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Simple clauses
A simple clause is not really simple. It is, however, usually built around a single verb, though with many additional elements more in a while. A clause can be in one of three moods: declarative I will buy it. interrogative Will I buy it? What will I buy? imperative Buy it! A clause has a tense the same as the verb. Finally, some clauses can be active or passive: John hit Jim Jim was hit [by John] John felt sick John slept * Sick was felt [by John] ???

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Questions
There are two types of interrogative clauses. They are, in a sense, derived from declarative clauses. He bought two books today. He did buy two books today. Yes/no questions Did he buy two books today? Wh-questions [Who] bought two books today?

[What] did he buy today?


[When] did he buy two books ?

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Roles
A clause consists of a verb group surrounded by noun phrases that serve as role descriptors. One syntactic role that is always present in an English clause is the subject. It may not be the agent or the experiencer (see conceptual graphs).

Yesterday John gave Mary a book.


Yesterday John gave Mary a book. Yesterday John gave Mary a book.

subject
indirect object direct object

Yesterday John gave Mary a book.

modifier

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Roles (2)
The number of roles depends on the verb. Intransitive verbs have one role [subject]: Jim has laughed. The child is sleeping. Transitive verbs have two roles [subject, direct object]: The man rode a pony. He should wash his face. Bi-transitive verbs have a subject, direct object, indirect object: Tom gave Mary flowers. Tom gave flowers to Mary. Verbs with 4 roles: move [who what from-where to-where]. A verb may have several role patterns: Tom bought flowers. Tom bought flowers for Mary. Examples of incorrect clauses (too many / too few roles): * Jim sold. * Jim slept a book.

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Roles (3)
Four most common syntactic forms of roles Noun phrase in a specific position: subject direct object indirect object

Prepositional phrase
Embedded clause Modifier
Examples of the last three follow shortly.

All role-fillers are jointly called complements.

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Prepositional phrases
The syntax is very simple: a preposition followed by a noun phrase. The meaning tends to be quite complex, and there are many roles, jointly determined by the preposition and the noun phrase. Examples of relations between roles and prepositions: with instrument, accompaniment He ate cake with a spoon. He went home with them. by agent, location He was hit by a stranger. He sat by the door.

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Prepositional phrases (2)


More examples: in at on for ??? ??? ??? ???

(there are many more prepositions, but not all that many roles). Prepositional phrases also qualify nouns:

I met a man with a dog.


I met a man in a coat.

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Embedded clauses
Clausal subjects Honour To jump over the lazy dog Jumping over the lazy dog Clausal direct objects John wants John wants John wants Jim John considers John considers Clausal indirect objects John sent a note to John sent a note to means much to him. means much to him. means much to him. peace. to give Mary a book. to give Mary a book. the consequences. giving Mary a book.

Mary. whom it may concern.

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Verb phrases
Verb phrases also have a deceptively simple toplevel syntax: a verb with complements. The complexity arises from the richness of the structure of complements. We can now define the syntax of a declarative clause. (In the example grammars, we will call them sentences.) We keep the noun phrase in the subject position separate. clause nounPhrase, verbPhrase. All other noun phrases, prepositional phrases and so on are part of the verb phrase. verbPhrase verb, complements.

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Modifiers
Much of the interesting complexity comes from modifiers expressions that introduce place, time, manner and many other additional elements of a situation. Here are examples of structures and their meaning. Adverb Obviously, he wants to go. Prepositional phrase He wants to go for a walk. Embedded -ing clause He wants to go whistling a tune. Noun phrase He wants to go tomorrow.

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Modifiers (2)
Ordinal First, he wants to go. A comparative construction He wants to go as soon as possible. Another embedded clause

He wants to go as if he danced.
In theory, we can have as many modifiers as we please, but there are practical limits. This is an almost unrealistic example: More than ever, tomorrow he wants to go quickly for a walk whistling a tune.

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Modifiers (3)
Examples of simple clauses with subjects, qualifiers and modifiers:

A man is walking.
A man with a cane is walking down the lane. A man who seems tired is walking slowly.

A man is walking and whistling a tune.


A man with a cane who seems tired is slowly walking down the lane and whistling a tune. In the last two examples there is the complication of and, but it is still a simple clause it has one subject and one, though far from elementary, verb phrase.

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Compound clauses
There are co-ordinate clauses and subordinate clauses, constructed using conjunctions.
X and Y are simple clauses.

Subordinate conjunctions a few examples X if Y X when Y X because Y Co-ordinate conjunctions X and Y X or Y either X or Y neither X nor Y

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Compound clauses (2)


Co-ordination is a difficult construct, expensive to recognize, because a conjunction may appear between any two constituents. Hansel saw the witch.

Hansel and Gretel saw the witch. Hansel and Gretel saw the witch and her house. Hansel and Gretel saw and killed the witch. Hansel and Gretel saw the witch and killed her. Hansel and Gretel saw the witch and ran. Hansel and Gretel saw the witch and her house and ran.

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Relative clauses
the man who went for a walk the man he knows best the book that you gave to Mary the book that you gave Mary the fair everybody went to the book that Bill promised he would tell John to remember to give to Mary
Note how similar this is to questions.

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Relative clauses (2)


But not everything is possible. We cannot lift a noun phrase just from anywhere. These are examples of incorrect lifting. * the book John gave and the golden magic ring to Mary

* the book I read a note that John gave to Mary


Relative clauses are hard to analyze, especially if we want to reject such incorrect structures. Not to worry: we will manage, at least partially. Stay tuned.

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