The Structure of English Language - Clause Types

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  • Clause elements combine to form clauses. The number of patterns is small. According to David Crystal (The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, p. 221) there are only seven basic types.
    • S + V: I / yawned
    • S + V + O: Fred / opened / the door
    • S + V + C: The dinner / is / ready
    • S + V + A: Dick Whittington / went / to London
    • S + V + O + O: Romeo / gave / Juliet / a kiss
    • S + V + O + C: Henry/ got/ his feet/ very wet
    • S + V + O + A: Sam / put / the beer / in the cellar

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  • We can vary these patterns using directives (such as advising, instructing or commanding): Turn left at the junction. Help yourself to a beer. Go to hell! You be quiet.
  • We can also vary the patterns through pro-forms (words which replace long constructions) and ellipsis (omitting an understood element).
    • Pro-forms: I've got a lovely cold drink and you've got one as well.
    • Ellipsis: I'd like to drink some beer, but I won't. (drink some beer understood)

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Building or analysing?

These are contrasting ways of organizing the same theoretical model. We may either analyse long structures (and find the smaller elements in them) or think of how smaller elements are combined to form longer structures. The second approach has been seen as akin to what really happens in speech and writing (phrase structure grammar). Noam Chomsky argues that real language users start with longer structures and alter these by means of transformations (transformational grammar). For example, a model or paradigm with an active verb is changed by a transformational rule into a structure with a passive verb.

To understand the contrast in these approaches, see the table at the start of this guide to structure. The two approaches are shown in simple form below:

  • "Bottom up"/synthetic model: morpheme è word è phrase èclause è sentence
  • "Top down"/analytic model: sentence è clause è phrase è word è morpheme

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