English grammar explained

English grammar is the body of rules that describe the structure of expressions in the English language. This includes the structure of words, phrases, clauses and sentences. A text that contains more than one sentence is no longer in the realm of grammar, but is instead is in the realm of discourse.

The grammar of a language is approached in two ways: descriptive grammar is based on analysis of text corpora and describes grammatical structures thereof, whereas prescriptive grammar attempts to use the identified rules of a given language as a tool to govern the linguistic behaviour of speakers. This article predominantly concerns itself with descriptive grammar.

There are historical, social and regional variations of English. Divergences from the grammar described here occur in some dialects of English. This article describes a generalized present-day Standard English, the form of speech found in types of public discourse including broadcasting, education, entertainment, government, and news reporting, including both formal and informal speech. Although British English, American English and Australian English have several lexical differences, the grammatical differences are not as conspicuous, and will be mentioned only when appropriate.

Grammar is divided into morphology, which describes the formation of words, and syntax, which describes the construction of meaningful phrases, clauses, and sentences out of words.

Word classes and phrase classes

Eight major word classes are described here. These are: noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, conjunction, and determiner. The first seven are traditionally referred to as "parts of speech". There are minor word classes, such as interjections, but these do not fit into the clause and sentence structure of English.

Open and closed classesOpen word classes allow new members; closed word classes seldom do. Nouns such as "celebutante", (a celebrity who frequents the fashion circles)" and "mentee," (a person advised by a mentor) and adverbs such as "24/7" ("I am working on it 24/7") are relatively new words; nouns and adverbs are therefore open classes. However, the pronoun, "their," as a gender-neutral singular replacement for the "his or her" (as in: "Each new arrival should check in their luggage."), while in widespread conversational use, has not gained complete acceptance; pronouns, in consequence, form a closed class. Their has been used in the singular for many centuries, yet grammarians oft still object.[1]
Word classes and grammatical formsA word can sometimes belong to several word classes. The class version of a word is called a "lexeme". For example, the word "run" is usually a verb, but it can also be a noun ("It is a ten mile run to Tipperary."); these are two different lexemes. Further, the same lexeme may be inflected to express different grammatical categories: for example, as a verb lexeme, "run" has several forms such as "runs," "ran," and "running." Words in one class can sometimes be derived from those in another and new words be created. The noun "aerobics," for example, has recently given rise to the adjective "aerobicized" ("the aerobicized bodies of Beverly Hills celebutantes.")
Phrase classesWords combine to form phrases which themselves can take on the attributes of a word class. These classes are calledphrase classes. The phrase: "The ancient pulse of germ and birth" is a noun phrase and functions as a noun in the sentence: "The ancient pulse of germ and birth was shrunken hard and dry." (Thomas Hardy, The Darkling Thrush) It is therefore a noun phrase. Other phrase classes are: verb phrases, adjective phrases, adverb phrases, prepositional phrases, and determiner phrases.

Nouns

Nouns form the largest word class. According to Carter and McCarthy, they denote "classes and categories of things in the world, including people, animals, inanimate things, places, events, qualities and states." Consequently, the words "Mandela," "jaguar," "mansion," "volcano," "Timbuktoo," "blockade," "mercy," and "liquid" are all nouns. Nouns are not commonly identified by their form; however, some common suffixes such as "-age" ("shrinkage"), "-hood" ("sisterhood"), "-ism" ("journalism"), "-ist" ("lyricist"), "-ment" ("adornment"), "-ship" ("companionship"), "-tude" ("latitude"), and so forth, are usually identifiers of nouns. There are exceptions, of course: "assuage" and "disparage" are verbs; "augment" is a verb, "lament" and "worship" can be verbs. Nouns can also be created by conversion of verbs or adjectives. Examples include the nouns in: "a boring talk," "a five-week run," "the long caress," "the utter disdain," and so forth.

Number, gender, type, and syntactic featuresNouns have singular and plural forms. Many plural forms have -s or -es endings (dog/dogs, referee/referees, bush/bushes), but by no means all (woman/women, axis/axes, medium/media). Unlike some other languages, in English, nouns do not have grammatical gender. However, many nouns can refer to masculine or feminine animate objects (mother/father, tiger/tigress, alumnus/alumna, male/female). Nouns can be classified semantically, i.e. by their meanings: common nouns ("sugar," "maple," "syrup," "wood"), proper nouns ("Cyrus," "China"), concrete nouns ("book," "laptop"), and abstract nouns ("heat," "prejudice").Alternatively, they can be distinguished grammatically: count nouns ("clock," "city," "colour") and non-count nouns ("milk," "decor," "foliage").

Noun phrases

See main article: English noun phrase.

Noun phrases are phrases that function grammatically as nouns within sentences. Nouns serve as "heads," or main words of noun phrases. Nouns have several syntactic features that can aid in their identification. Nouns (example: common noun "cat") may be

  1. modified by adjectives ("the beautiful Angora cat"),
  2. preceded by determiners ("the beautiful Angora cat"), or
  3. pre-modified by other nouns ("the beautiful Angora cat").

Within the noun phrase, determiners occur at the far left edge of the noun phrase before the noun head and before any other modifiers:

Determiner+Other modifiers+Noun

The head can have modifiers, a complement, or both.

Modifiers which occur before the head are called '"pre-modifiers", and those which occur after the head ("who knows what fighting means") are called "post-modifiers". Pre-modifiers can be determiners ("The"), adjectives ("rough", "seamy-faced", "real raw-knuckle", or "burnt-out"), or other nouns ("College").

Complements occur after the head like post-modifiers, but are essential for completing the meaning of the noun phrase in a way that modifiers are not.

Examples of modifiers (heads are in boldface, modifiers are italicized) include:

Examples of complements (heads are in boldface, complements are italicized) include:

  1. "The burnt-out ends of smoky days."[5]
  2. "The suggestion that Mr. Touchett should invite me appeared to have come from Miss Stackpole."[6]
  3. "The ancient pulse of germ and birth was shrunken hard and dry."[7]

Within a sentence, a noun phrase can function as the grammatical subject or the object, as well as other uses. Examples (the noun phrase is italicized, and the head boldfaced):

  1. Subject: "Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest."[8]
  2. Object: "Dr. Pavlov ... delivered many long propaganda harangues ..."[9])

Noun phrases can be constructed with the determiner "the" and an adjective. Some examples are:

Noun phrases can be compound:

  1. "The idle spear and shield ..."[10]

More examples of noun phrases are:

theballoon
detnoun
manyballoons
detnoun
allballoons
detnoun
thebigredballoon
detadjadjnoun
manybigredballoons
detadjadjnoun
allbigredballoons
detadjadjnoun

The distinctness of the determiner and adjective positions relative to each other and the noun head is demonstrable in that adjectives may never precede determiners. Thus, the following are ungrammatical English nouns phrases: *big the red balloon, *big red the balloon (as well as *big many red balloons, *big red many balloons, *big all red balloons, *big red all balloons).

Order of determiners

Determiners can be divided into three subclasses according to their position with respect to each other:

Predeterminers may precede central determiners but may not follow central determiners. Postdeterminers follow central determiners but may not precede them. Central determiners must occur after predeterminers and before postdeterminers. Thus, a central determiner e.g. the as in

theredballoons
detadjnoun

can be preceded by a predeterminer e.g. all as in

alltheredballoons
predetcent.det
detadjnoun

or the central determiner the can be followed by a postdeterminer e.g. many as in

themanyredballoons
cent.detpostdet
detadjnoun

A sequence of predeterminer + central determiner + postdeterminer is also possible as in

allthemanyredballoons
predetcent.detpostdet
detadjnoun

However, there are several restrictions on combinatory possibilities. One general restriction is that only one determiner can occur in each of the three determiner positions. For example, the postdeterminers many and seven can occur in the following

many smart children

seven smart children

the many smart children

the seven smart children

but both many and seven cannot occur in postdeterminer position rendering the following noun phrases ungrammatical: *many seven smart children, *seven many smart children, *the many seven smart children, *the seven many smart children. Additionally, there are often other lexical restrictions. For example, the predeterminer all can occur alone (as the sole determiner) or before a central determiner (e.g., all children, all the children, all these children, all my children); however, the predeterminer such can only occur alone or before a central determiner (e.g., such nuisance!, such a nuisance!).

Predeterminers include words e.g. all, both, half, double, twice, three times, one-third, one-fifth, three-quarters, such, exclamative what. Examples with predeterminers preceding a central determiner:

all the big balloons

both his nice parents

half a minute

double the risk

twice my age

three times my salary

one-third the cost

one-fifth the rate

three-quarters the diameter

such a big boy

what a clever suggestion

Central determiners include words e.g. the, a/an, this, that, these, those, every, each, enough, much, more, most, less, no, some, either, neither, which, what.

Examples of central determiners preceding adjectival modified noun heads:

the big balloon

a big balloon

this big balloon

that big balloon

these big balloons

those big balloons

every big balloon

each big balloon

no big balloon

some big balloons

either big balloon

In addition to the above determiners, noun phrases with a genitive enclitic -'s can have a determinative function like genitive determiners his, her, its, their. These genitive determinative nouns occur in the central determiner position:

['' my stepmother’s ''] friendly children

both ['' my stepmother’s ''] friendly children

['' my stepmother’s ''] many friendly children

all ['' my stepmother’s ''] many friendly children

Determiners

Determiners constitute a small class of words, including "that", "the", "a", "some", number words like "two" or "three", "some", and "various". They occur exclusively in noun phrases.

Pronouns

Pronouns are a small class of words which function as noun phrases. They include personal pronouns, demonstrative pronouns and relative pronouns.

Personal pronouns

See main article: English personal pronouns. The personal pronouns of English are the following:

NominativeDative/AccusativeReflexiveGenitive (attributive)Genitive (predicative)
Imemyselfmymine1
you2youyourself, yourselvesyouryours
she, he, ither, him, itherself, himself, itselfher, his, itshers, his3
weusourselvesourours
they4themthemselvestheirtheirs

Historical notes:

  1. The difference between the forms such as "my" and "mine" developed in Early Modern English
  2. In modern English, "you" can be used with both singular and plural reference. An obsolete alternative for the nominative form is "ye". An obsolete set of pronouns used for singular reference is "thou, thee, thy, thine".
  3. "Its" is not commonly used in predicative function. "It is his" is grammatical; *"It is its" is not.
  4. "They" is used as a plural pronoun and, in some cases, as a singular gender-neutral pronoun.

Demonstrative pronouns

In English these are "this, these, that, those", when not followed by a noun, as in:

Note that all four of these words can also be used as determiners, as in "these cars".

Relative pronouns

In English the relative pronouns are "that", "which", "who", "whom", and "whose". Relative pronouns provide a link between a dependent clause in which they appear, specifically a relative clause, and a noun phrase in an independent clause, as in these examples:

Verbs

See main article: English verbs.

Verbs form the second largest word class after nouns. According to Carter and McCarthy, verbs denote "actions, events, processes, and states." Consequently, "smile," "stab," "climb," "confront," "liquefy," "wake," "reflect" are all verbs.

Verbs have the following features which aid in their recognition:

Regular and irregular lexical verbs

Verbs are divided into lexical verbs and auxiliary verbs. Lexical verbs form an open class which includes most verbs. For example, "dive," "soar," "swoon," "revive," "breathe," "choke," "lament," "celebrate," "consider," "ignore" are all lexical verbs.

A lexical verb is said to be regular if its base form does not change when inflections are added to create newforms. An example is:

Irregular verbs are ones in which the base form changes; the endings corresponding to each form are not always unique. Examples are

and

The verb "be" is the only verb in English which has distinct inflectional forms for each of the categories of grammatical forms, with even the present form differing from the base form:

Auxiliary verbs

Auxiliary verbs constitute a closed class and their purpose is to add information to other lexical verbs, such as (a) aspect (progressive, perfect, habitual), (b) passive voice, (c) clause type (interrogative, negative), and (d) modality.

The auxiliary verbs "be" and "have" are used to form the perfect, progressive and passive constructions in English: see

  1. Verb phrases
below. Examples (the auxiliary is in boldface and the lexical verb is italicized):

The auxiliary verb "do" is used in interrogative and negative clauses when no other auxiliary verb is present:

For some [14] but not all[15] sources, "used (to)" is an auxiliary verb:

Modal verbs form a closed sub-class of the auxiliary verbs, consisting of the core modals ("can," "could," "shall," "should," "will," "would," "may," "might," "must") and semi-modals ("had better", "ought to", "dare", "need"). Modals add information to lexical verbs about (a) degrees of possibility or necessity (b) permission or (c) ability. Examples:

Modal verbs do not inflect for person or number. Examples:

History of English verbs

Some examples of suffixes that have been used to form verbs include "-ate" ("formulate"), "-iate" ("inebriate"), "-ify" ("electrify"), and "-ise" ("realise"). Prefixes can also be used to create new verbs. Some examples are: "un-" ("unmask"), "out-" ("outlast"), "over-" ("overtake"), and "under-" ("undervalue"). Just as nouns can be formed from verbs by conversion, the reverse is also possible:

Verbs can also be formed from adjectives:

Adjectives

According to Carter and McCarthy, "Adjectives describe properties, qualities, and states attributed to a noun or a pronoun." As was the case with nouns and verbs, the class of adjectives cannot be identified by the forms of its constituents. However, adjectives are commonly formed by the addition of a suffix to a noun. Examples: "-al" ("habitual," "multidimensional," "visceral"), "-ful" ("blissful," "pitiful," "woeful"), "-ic" ("atomic," "gigantic," "pedantic"), "-ish" ("impish," "peckish," "youngish"), "-ous" ("fabulous," "hazardous"). As with nouns and verbs, there are exceptions: "homosexual" can be a noun, "earful" is a noun, "anesthetic" can be a noun, "brandish" is a verb. Adjectives can also be formed from other adjectives through the addition of a suffix or more commonly a prefix: weakish, implacable, disloyal, irredeemable, unforeseen. A number of adjectives are formed by adding "a" as a prefix to a verb: "adrift," "astride," "awry."

Gradability

Adjectives come in two varieties: gradable and non-gradable. In a gradable adjective, the properties or qualities associated with it, exist along a scale. In the case of the adjective "hot," for example, we can speak of: not at all hot, ever so slightly hot, only just hot, quite hot, very hot, extremely hot, dangerously hot, and so forth. Consequently, "hot" is a gradable adjective. Gradable adjectives usually have antonyms: hot/cold, hard/soft, smart/dumb, light/heavy.Some adjectives do not have room for qualification or modification. These are the non-gradable adjectives, such as: pregnant, married, incarcerated, condemned, adolescent (as adjective), dead, and so forth.

In figurative or literary language, a non-gradable adjective can sometimes be treated as gradable, especially in order to emphasize some aspect:

A non-gradable adjective might have another connotation in which it is gradable. For example, "dead" when applied to sounds can mean dull, or not vibrant. In this meaning, it has been used as a gradable adjective:

Gradable adjectives can occur in comparative and superlative forms. For many common adjectives, these are formed by adding "-er" and "-est" to the base form: cold, colder, coldest; hot, hotter, hottest; dry, drier, driest, and so forth; however, for other adjectives, "more" and "most" are needed to provide the necessary qualification: more apparent, most apparent; more iconic, most iconic; more hazardous, most hazardous. Some gradable adjectives change forms atypically: good, better, best; bad, worse, worst; little, less, least; some/many, more, most.

Adjective phrases

Forms

An adjective phrase may consist of just one adjective, or a single adjective which has been modified or complemented.

Adjectives are usually modified by adverb phrases (adverb in boldface; adjective in italics):

An adjective phrase can also consist of an adjective followed by a complement, usually a prepositional phrase, or by a "that" clause. Different adjectives require different patterns of complementation (adjective in italics; complement in bold face):

Examples of "that" clause in the adjective phrase (adjective in italics; clause in boldface):

An adjective phrase can combine pre-modification by an adverb phrase and post-modification by a complement, as in (adjective in italics; adverb phrase and complement in boldface):

Attributive and predicative

An adjective phrase is attributive when it modifies a noun or a pronoun (adjective phrase in boldface; noun in italics):

An adjective phrase is predicative when it occurs in the predicate of a sentence (adjective phrase in boldface):

Adverbs

Adverbs typically modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They perform a wide range of functions and are especially important for indicating "time, manner, place, degree, and frequency of an event, action, or process." Adjectives and adverbs are often derived from the same word, the majority being formed by adding the "-ly" ending to the corresponding adjective form. Recall the adjectives, "habitual", "pitiful", "impish", We can use them to form the adverbs:

Some suffixes that are commonly found in adverbs are "-ward(s)" and "-wise":

Some adverbs have the same form as the adjectives:

Some adverbs are not related to adjectives:

Some adverbs inflect for comparative and superlative forms:

Adverb placement

Adverbs are most usually placed at the end of a phrase. Time adverbs (yesterday, soon, habitually) are the most flexible exception. "Connecting Adverbs", such as next, then, however, may also be placed at the beginning of a clause. Other exceptions include "focusing adverbs", which can occupy a middle position for emphasis. "[56]

Adverb phrases

FormsAn adverb phrase is a phrase that collectively acts as an adverb within a sentence; in other words, it modifies a verb (or verb phrase), an adjective (or adjective phrase), or another adverb. The head of an adverb phrase (roman boldface), which is an adverb, may be modified by another adverb (italics boldface) or followed by a complement (italics boldface):

An adverb phrase can be part of the complement of the verb "be." It then usually indicates location (adverb phrase in boldface; form of "be" in italics):

Adverb phrases are frequently modifiers of verbs:

Adverb phrases are also frequently modifiers of adjectives and other adverbs (modifier in boldface; modified in italics):

Adverb phrases can also be modifiers of noun phrases (or pronoun phrases) and prepositional phrases (adverb phrases in boldface; modified phrases in italics):

Adverb phrases also modify determiners (modifier in boldface; modified in italics):

FunctionsAccording to Carter and McCarthy, "As well as giving information on the time, place, manner and degree of an action, event, or process, adverb phrases can also have a commenting function, indicating the attitude and point of view of the speaker or writer towards a whole sentence or utterance." Examples:

Adverb phrases also indicate the relation between two clauses in a sentence. Such adverbs are usually called "linking adverbs." Example:

Prepositions

Prepositions relate two events in time or two people or things in space. They form a closed class. They also represent abstract relations between two entities: Examples:

  1. ("after":) "We came home from Mr. Boythorn's after six pleasant weeks."[74]
  2. ("after":) "'That was done with a bamboo,' said the boy, after one glance."[75]
  3. ("to":) "I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life, ..."[76]
  4. ("between" and "through":) "Between two golden tufts of summer grass, I see the world through hot air as through glass, ..."[77]
  5. ("during":) "During these years at Florence, Leonardo's history is the history of his art; he himself is lost in the bright cloud of it."[78]
  6. ("of":) "When to the sessions of sweet silent thought I summon up remembrances of things past."[79]

Prepositions are accompanied by prepositional complements; these are usually noun phrases. In the above examples, the prepositionalcomplements are:

  1. preposition: "after"; prepositional complement: "six pleasant weeks"
  2. preposition: "after"; prepositional complement: "one glance"
  3. preposition: "to"; prepositional complement: "the seas"; preposition: "to"; prepositional complement: "the vagrant gypsy life";
  4. preposition: "Between"; prepositional complement: "two golden tufts of summer grass,"; preposition: "through"; prepositional complement: "hot air"; preposition: "as through"; prepositional complement: "glass."
  5. preposition: "during"; prepositional complement: "these years at Florence."
  6. preposition: "of"; prepositional complement: "sweet silent thought"; preposition: "of"; prepositional complement: "things past."

Prepositional phrases

A prepositional phrase is formed when a preposition combines with its complement. In the above examples, the prepositional phrases are:

  1. prepositional phrase: "after six pleasant weeks"
  2. prepositional phrase: "after one glance"
  3. prepositional phrases: "to the seas" and "to the vagrant gypsy life"
  4. prepositional phrases: "Between two golden tufts of summer grass," "through hot air" and "as through glass."
  5. prepositional phrase: "During these years at Florence."
  6. prepositional phrases "of sweet silent thought" and "of things past."

Conjunctions

According to Carter and McCarthy, "Conjunctions express a variety of logical relations between phrases, clauses and sentences." There are two kinds of conjunctions: coordinating conjunctions and subordinating conjunctions.

Coordinating

Coordinating conjunctions link "elements of equal grammatical status." The elements in questions may vary from a prefix to an entire sentence. Examples:

A correlative conjunction is a pair of constituent elements, each of which is associated with the grammatical unit to be coordinated. The common correlatives in English are:

Subordinating conjunctions

Subordinating conjunctions relate only clauses to one another. They make the clause in which they appear into a subordinate clause. Some common subordinating conjunctions in English are: (of time) after, before, since, until, when, while; (cause and effect): because, since, now that, as, in order that, so; (opposition): although, though, even though, whereas, while; (condition): if, unless, only if, whether or not, even if, in case (that), and so forth. Some examples are:

Clause syntax

A clause consists of a subject, which is usually a noun phrase, and a predicate which is usually a verb phrase with an accompanying grammatical unit in the form of an object or complement.

Verb phrases

A verb phrase contains verbs which can be lexical, auxiliary, or modal. The head is the first verb in the verb phrase. Example: '"I didn't notice Rowen around tonight," remarked Don, as they began to prepare for bed. "Might have been sulking in his tent," grinned Terry."'[98] Here, the verb phrase "might have been sulking" has the form "modal-auxiliary-auxiliary-lexical."

A verb phrase contains the following optional features:

The modal comes first, then the auxiliary or several auxiliaries, and finally the lexical (main) verb. When a verb phrase has a combination of modal and auxiliaries, it is constituted usually in the following order: modal verb >> perfect have >> progressive be >> passive be >> Lexical verb. Whichever verbs are used in the verb phrase, the first verb is conjugated for tense, person and number.

The following table shows the different collections of these features being used:[99]

ModalPerfectProgressivePassiveLexical verb
takes
istaken
istaking
isbeingtaken
hastaken
hasbeentaken
hasbeentaking
hasbeenbeingtaken
willtake
willbetaken
willbetaking
willbebeingtaken
willhavetaken
willhavebeentaken
willhavebeentaking
willhavebeenbeingtaken

An example of all being used is "He might have been being used by the CIA as part of their debriefing procedure, but he might just as easily have been part of the Russians' plans to use Oswald in America."[100] Here, the verb phrase is: might (modal) have (perfect) been (progressive) being (passive) used (lexical).

Polarity is constructed with "not" or the clitic "n't", which can combine with auxiliary verbs, such as "do not" becoming "don't". This negates the meaning of the clause. The word "not" follows the first verb. For example: "He will not have been taken away."

Tense

Verb phrases can vary with tense, in which case they are called "tensed verb phrases." Example:

There are several non-finite constructions as well:

The time frame of a non-tensed verb phrase is determined by examining that of the main clause verb. For example, in the first example above the time frame (past) of "practicing" is determined by "was" in the main clause; in the second, the time frame (present and future) of "practicing" is determined by "will in time," also in the main clause.

Aspect

Verb phrases can also express three aspects: progressive, perfect, and habitual.

Progressive aspect

The progressive aspect refers to ongoing, uncompleted action and consists of the auxiliary be form and the -ing form of the lexical verb. Examples:

The progressive aspect cannot be formed for non-tensed -ing forms. For example, "By working every day, he had learned the peculiarities, the weaknesses and strengths, of opposing batters ..."[108] cannot be changed to *"By being working every day, ...."

Progressive aspect can be combined with "to"-infinitive forms in a verb phrase.

Perfect aspect

The perfect aspect is created by the auxiliary "have" and the "-ed" participle form of the lexical verb. It refers to a time period that includes the present moment. Contrast "The flowers didn't bloom this summer" with "The flowers haven't bloomed this summer." The latter sentence suggests that the summer is not over yet.

Examples:

The perfect can be combined with the -ing and the to-infinitive forms.

Finally, the two aspects progressive and perfect can be combined in a verb phrase: "They've been laughing so hard that their sides hurt."

Habitual aspect

The habitual aspect refers to an action or situation which occurred usually, ordinarily, or customarily. English can optionally mark for this aspect in the past tense, in one of two ways:

The "would" form requires explicit reference to a past time, while the "used to" formation forbids a very specific time reference, permitting either a vague past time reference or none at all.

Voice

English may be structured in either active or passive voice. Active voice utterances are those in which the agent of the verb is the subject of the utterance, or in other words, the subject performs the verb (often onto an object). Alternately, in passive voice utterances, the subject is who or what the verb is performed upon. While active and passive voices are most common in English, other uses of voice also exist. Middle voice utterances are those in which the indirect object of the active voice verb serves as subject of the utterance. A final pseudo-voice is used to shift the focus of an utterance to the verb itself. Observe examples of each voice as follow:

Active Voice (Focus: performer of verb)

Passive Voice (Focus: who/what verb is performed upon)

Middle Voice (Focus: 'benefactor' of verb)

'Verbal' Pseudo-voice (Focus: the performance of the verb)

Structure

The verbal component of utterances in active voice is structured using (from left to right) Modal Auxiliary + Perfecting Auxiliary + Aspectual Auxiliary + Main Verb (taking the form required by the preceding auxiliary). Not all utterances utilize each type of auxiliary but whatever auxiliary is used always occurs in the above listed verbal position with the left-most auxiliary also handing agreement for person and number with the subject. Examples:

Aspectual Auxiliary + Main Verb (non-durational aspects):

Aspectual Auxiliary + Main Verb (durational aspects):

Perfecting Auxiliary + Main Verb (in non-durational aspects, the aspectual auxiliary is displaced by modal, vocal, and perfecting auxiliaries)

Perfecting Auxiliary + Aspectual Auxiliary + Main Verb

Modal Auxiliary + Main Verb

Modal Auxiliary + Aspectual Auxiliary + main Verb

Modal Auxiliary + Perfecting Auxiliary + Main Verb

Modal Auxiliary + Perfecting Auxiliary + Aspectual Auxiliary + Main Verb

The verbal component of utterances in passive voice and middle voice is formed similarly to those of active voice utterances except that the vocal auxiliaries BE and sometimes GET are declined to reflect the same combination of mood, aspect, and perfection as the active voice verb with all of this followed by the past participle form of the main verb resulting in the following structure: (from left to right) Modal Auxiliary + Perfecting Auxiliary + Aspectual Auxiliary + Vocal Auxiliary (taking the form required by the preceding auxiliary) + Main Verb (in past participle form). Examples:

Vocal Auxiliary + Main Verb (in non-durational aspects, the aspectual auxiliary is displaced by all other auxiliaries including vocal auxiliaries):

Aspectual Auxiliary + Vocal Auxiliary + Main Verb (durational aspects):

Perfecting Auxiliary + Vocal Auxiliary + Main Verb

Perfecting Auxiliary + Aspectual Auxiliary + Vocal Auxiliary + Main Verb

Modal Auxiliary + Vocal Auxiliary + Main Verb

Modal Auxiliary + Aspectual Auxiliary + Vocal Auxiliary + Main Verb

Modal Auxiliary + Perfecting Auxiliary + Vocal Auxiliary + Main Verb

Modal Auxiliary + Perfecting Auxiliary + Aspectual Auxiliary + Vocal Auxiliary + Main Verb

When the performance is the desired feature of the utterance, the 'verbal' pseudo-voice construction may be used. The main verb of active, passive, or middle voice utterance, in present participle form is placed in the subject position of the passive/middle voice forms. It is then followed by the indirect object and direct object of that original verb if so desired (optional). The verbal component of the utterance is formed identical to those of the passive/middle voice, but with the verb DO in past participle form (DONE) in the original main verb position. Finally, the optional agent information is added. Examples:

Vocal Auxiliary + Main Verb (in non-durational aspects, the aspectual auxiliary is displaced by all other auxiliaries including vocal auxiliaries):

Aspectual Auxiliary + Vocal Auxiliary + Main Verb (durational aspects):

Perfecting Auxiliary + Vocal Auxiliary + Main Verb

Perfecting Auxiliary + Aspectual Auxiliary + Vocal Auxiliary + Main Verb

Modal Auxiliary + Vocal Auxiliary + Main Verb

Modal Auxiliary + Aspectual Auxiliary + Vocal Auxiliary + Main Verb

Modal Auxiliary + Perfecting Auxiliary + Vocal Auxiliary + Main Verb

Modal Auxiliary + Perfecting Auxiliary + Aspectual Auxiliary + Vocal Auxiliary + Main Verb

Mood

A verb phrase can also express mood, which refers to the "factual or non-factual status of events." There are three moods in English: indicative, imperative, and subjunctive.

Indicative moodThe indicative is the most common mood in English. It is a factual mood, and most constructions involving the various choices of person, tense, number, aspect, modality are in the indicative mood. Examples:
Imperative moodThe imperative mood is a non-factual mood and is employed for issuing directives:. It is identical to the second person form of the verb except for the verb "be", in which case the form "be" is used. Clauses in the imperative mood usually do not include a subject, but a subject such as "you" sometimes does.
Subjunctive mood

See main article: English subjunctive. The subjunctive mood is also a non-factual mood.

The present subjunctive refers to demands or desires This uses the bare form of the verb (without inflections). The present subjunctive is rare in English and is used in subordinate clauses only in combination with a particular set of main-clause verbs such as "demand", "request", "suggest", "ask", "plead", "pray", "insist", and so forth.

Present subjunctives can be used after conditional subordinators.

They can also be used after expressions of necessity.

Other examples of the present subjunctive include:

The past subjunctive refers to hypothetical situations. It is identical to the preterite form of the verb for all verbs other than "be". For "be", "were" is preferred to the preterite form "was" in formal English, although "was" is still possible.

A protasis clause whose main verb is "be", which is conjugated in the past tense and subjunctive mood and is followed by an infinitive phrase with "to", denotes future hypothetical situations:

or equivalently,

Adjuncts

The label adjunct refers to any part of a sentence which could be removed without leaving behind something ungrammatical. Adjuncts are usually adverbial in nature. For example, in the sentence ‘I met John yesterday’, the adverb yesterday is an adjunct because it can be removed without producing ungrammaticality.

Similarly, in the sentence ‘I visited France during the summer’, the adverbial phrase ‘during the summer’ is an adjunct because it can be removed without leaving behind a sentence fragment which is ungrammatical.

Verb complementation

Different verbs can be followed by different kinds of words and structures. For example, after a verb like write or read, it is normal to expect a noun, in which case the verb is being used transitively. Phrasal verbs contain a verb and a preposition or adverb; for example, wait for, followed by a noun object, has a different meaning from wait without for. Suggest can be followed by an object in the form of a that-clause or by an –ing form, but not an infinitive. There are no simple rules for determining what kind of structures can follow what verbs.

Transitive and intransitive verbs

Some verbs are usually followed by objects. In grammars these are called transitive verbs. Examples are invite, surprise, give, fill, etc. In what follows, the verbs are boldfaced and the objects are italicized:

Some transitive verbs are followed by two objects (indirect and direct).

Some verbs are not normally followed by direct objects. These are called intransitive verbs. Examples are: sit and sleep.

Ergative verbs

An ergative verb is a verb which can be either intransitive or transitive. When it is used as an intransitive verb it is the subject that is receiving the action. When it is used as a transitive verb the direct object is receiving the action, and the subject is the person or thing causing the action.

Some common ergative verbs are: open, sink, wake, melt, boil, collapse, explode, freeze, start and sell.

Sentence and clause patterns

Identified in English by a capitalized initial letter in its first word and by a period (or full stop) at the end of its last word, the sentence is the largest constituent of grammar. Sentences themselves consist of clauses which are the principal constituents of grammar.

Clause types

Independent

An independent clause is characterized by having a subject and predicate without any words or phrases that link the function of that clause to another clause, and whose meaning is not dependent upon that of any other clause. Examples of independent clauses include relatively simple sentences, such as

However, independent clauses can also be longer sentences that contain many prepositional and other phrases:

An independent clause can appear in the same sentence as a dependent clause, instead of constituting an entire sentence.

Dependent

A dependent clause is characterized by having a subject and predicate and a word or phrase (either explicit or implied) that links the function of that clause to another clause, making the meaning of the dependent clause dependent upon the other clause. The key here is the addition of some word or phrase that causes the entire clause to function in a broader sense, such as cause or background. In the following examples, the dependent clause is boldfaced, while the rest of the sentence is the independent clause:

History of English grammars

See main article: History of English grammars. The first English grammar, Pamphlet for Grammar by William Bullokar, written with the ostensible goal of demonstrating that English was just as rule-based as Latin, was published in 1586. Bullokar’s grammar was faithfully modeled on William Lily’s Latin grammar, Rudimenta Grammatices (1534), which was being used in schools in England at that time, having been “prescribed” for them in 1542 by Henry VIII. Although Bullokar wrote his grammar in English and used a “reformed spelling system” of his own invention, many English grammars, for much of the century after Bullokar’s effort, were written in Latin, especially by authors who were aiming to be scholarly. John Wallis’s Grammatica Linguæ Anglicanæ (1685) was the last English grammar written in Latin.

Even as late as the early 19th century, Lindley Murray, the author of one of the most widely used grammars of the day, was having to cite “grammatical authorities” to bolster the claim that grammatical cases in English are different from those in Ancient Greek or Latin.

See also

Bibliography

Grammar books

. Curme, George O.. George Oliver Curme. A Grammar of the English Language: Volumes I (Parts of Speech) & II (Syntax). 1978; original 1931, 1935. Verbatim Books. 1045. 0-930454-03-0.

. Greenbaum, Sidney. Sidney Greenbaum. Oxford English Grammar. 1996. Oxford University Press. 672. Oxford and New York. 0-19-861250-8.

. Jespersen, Otto. Otto Jespersen. Essentials of English Grammar: 25th impression, 1987. 1933. London. Routledge. 400. 0-415-10440-8.

. Jonson, Ben. Ben Jonson. The English grammar: Made by Ben Jonson for the benefit of all strangers, out of his observation of the English language now spoken and in use. The Works of Ben Jonson: Volume 7. 1756. London. D. Midwinter et al.

Monographs

. Huddleston, Rodney D.. Rodney Huddleston. The Sentence in Written English: A Syntactic Study Based on an Analysis of Scientific Texts. 2009. Cambridge University Press.. 352. 0-521-11395-4.

External links

Notes and References

  1. Oxford English Dictionary has examples from the 15th century onwards
  2. [T. S. Eliot]
  3. [Thomas Carlyle]
  4. Charles Emmett Van Loan, "The Legs of Freckles," Inside the ropes
  5. Unlike post-modifiers, which can be replaced by relative clauses, complements cannot, we cannot say: ends which are of smoky days ...
  6. [Henry James]
  7. [Thomas Hardy]
  8. [Thomas Gray]
  9. [Eleanor Roosevelt]
  10. [John Milton]
  11. [Gene Stratton-Porter]
  12. [Maria Edgeworth]
  13. [John Bunyan]
  14. Palmer, F. R., A Linguistic Study of the English Verb, Longmans, 1965.
  15. Warner, Anthony R., English Auxiliaries, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993.
  16. Pat Conroy, The Prince of Tides, Chapter 10.
  17. [George Elliot]
  18. [G. A. Henty]
  19. The Bible, Ecclesiastes, IX, 11-18, King James Version, 1611.
  20. [Edmund Burke]
  21. [William Shakespeare]
  22. Shakespeare, As You Like It iii. 3.
  23. [Robert Boyle]
  24. [Charles Dickens]
  25. [Mary Elizabeth Braddon]
  26. [Anthony Trollope]
  27. [Jack London]
  28. [Charles Dickens]
  29. [Sinclair Lewis]
  30. [Edgar Allan Poe]
  31. [Richard Burton]
  32. [Walter Scott]
  33. Alison Jolly, Lucy's legacy: sex and intelligence in human evolution, Chapter 10, "Organic Wholes"
  34. Hilary Marland, The art of midwifery: early modern midwives in Europe, "Models of midwifery in the work"
  35. [Charles Dickens]
  36. [Elizabeth Gaskell]
  37. [Nathaniel Hawthorne]
  38. Elmer Kelton, The Time it Never Rained, Chapter 12
  39. [Sinclair Lewis]
  40. [Thomas Grey]
  41. [Walt Whitman]
  42. Joy of Cooking, "Roasted chicken and vegetables"
  43. [Upton Sinclair]
  44. Iona Fowls, "Gleaned by Asking," Gleanings in bee culture, volume 48.
  45. Frear, William. "Experiments in growing Sumatra tobacco under shelter tent, 1904," The Annual Report of The Pennsylvania State College for the year 1905–1906.
  46. Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler, "The Young and Evil: A Walk on the Wild Side," in Boone, Joseph Allen, ed., Libidinal Currents: sexuality and the shaping of modernism.
  47. [Jane Austen]
  48. [Anne Bronte]
  49. [Mark Twain]
  50. [William Shakespeare]
  51. [William Shakespeare]
  52. [Charles Dickens]
  53. [Louisa May Alcott]
  54. [Juliana Horatia Ewing]
  55. Frank Swinnerton, Figures in the foreground: literary reminiscences, 1917–1940, "Apostles of Culture"
  56. http://esl.about.com/od/grammarstructures/a/adverb_placement.htm esl.about.com
  57. [James D. Watson]
  58. [Robert Louis Stevenson]
  59. Brad Inwood, The Cambridge companion to the Stoics, "Stoic Metaphysics"
  60. [Robert Louis Stevenson]
  61. Sis Cunningham and Gordon Friesen, Red dust and broadsides: a joint autobiography, "Youth and politics"
  62. Sonia Nazario, Enrique's Journey, "Gifts and Faith"
  63. Stewart Edward White, "On the Way to Africa," Harper's Magazine, Volume 126)
  64. Stewart Edward White, "On the Way to Africa," Harper's Magazine, Volume 126
  65. [Jeremy Iversen]
  66. Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales, "The Little Mermaid".
  67. Adolf Alt, "Remarks on glioma of the retina and the question of rosettes," The American Journal of Ophthalmology September 1904, Volume XXI, number 9.
  68. [Barack Obama]
  69. [Arthur Conan Doyle]
  70. "Money and its substitutes," Atlantic Monthly," volume 37, page 355, 1876.
  71. In film version of Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind (1939); the book version (1936) did not have the comment adverb "Frankly."
  72. "How to peel chestnuts," The Gift of Southern Cooking: recipes and revelations from two great American cooks by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock.
  73. [Jonathon Swift]
  74. [Charles Dickens]
  75. [Rudyard Kipling]
  76. [John Masefield]
  77. [Edmund Gosse]
  78. [Walter Pater]
  79. [William Shakespeare]
  80. British Medical Association, Misuse of Drugs, Chapter 4, "Constraints of current practice."
  81. [Mark Twain]
  82. [Thomas Gray]
  83. [Charles Dickens]
  84. [Mark Twain]
  85. [Frances Hodgson Burnett]
  86. [Charlotte Bronte]
  87. [Charles Dickens]
  88. [Jack London]
  89. [William Shakespeare]
  90. [Lucy Maud Montgomery]
  91. Meiling Chang, In other Los Angeles: multicentric performance art, Chapter 6, "What's in a Name?"
  92. [Ross Terrill]
  93. Charlotte Ikels, The Return of the God of Wealth: The Transition to a Market Economy in Urban China, Chapter 3, "Family and Household"
  94. Bryan Sykes, The seven daughters of Eve, "The Last of the Neanderthals"
  95. [Sigmund Freud]
  96. Alex Holder, Ana Freud, Melanie Klein, and the psychoanalysis of children and adolescents, Chapter 3, "The technique of child analysis"
  97. [Toni Morrison]
  98. Wyckoff, Capwell. The Mercer boys in Ghost Patrol, "At Rustling Ridge"
  99. http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=897 Language Log, "What's will?" (December 10, 2008)
  100. Edward Jay Epstein in interview with Susana Duncan, "Oswald: The Secret Agent," NewYork Magazine, March 6, 1978.
  101. [James Fenimore Cooper]
  102. [Zora Neale Hurston]
  103. Farah Jasmine Griffin, Salim Washington, Clawing at the limits of cool: Miles Davis, John Coltrane and the greatest jazz collaborationever, "Prelude: The Head"
  104. Immel, Ray Keesler, The delivery of speech: a manual for course 1 in public speaking, "Formal delivery--Action"
  105. [William Makepeace Thackeray]
  106. Cornhill Magazine April 1860, Love the Widower, Chapter IV, "A Black Sheep"
  107. Hugh Walpole, Tendencies of the Modern Novel, "Spain"
  108. Gil Bogen, Ernie Banks, John Kling: a baseball biography, "Chapter 6, Charting a Course"
  109. John Coleman Adams, "Midshipman, the Cat," in The greatest cat stories ever told, edited by Charles Elliott.
  110. Alice Wine.
  111. Russo, Richard. That Old Cape Magic, Chapter 10, "Pistolary"
  112. Philip Freiher Von Boeselager, Valkyrie, "Epilogue"
  113. Wheeler, Billy Edd. Real Country Humor: Jokes from Country Music Personalities, "Introduction"
  114. Anne Rice, Blackwood Farm, Chapter 13.
  115. Eloisa James, Your wicked ways, Chapter 9, "Of Great Acts of Courage."
  116. Delany, Samuel R., Flight from Nevèrÿon, "The Tale of Fog and Granite"
  117. Lee, Luke T. Consular law and practice, Part III, "Consular Functions"
  118. Gail Tsukiyama, Women of Silk: A Novel, Chapter Ten, "1928, Pei".