In English grammar, a word class is a set of words that display the same formal properties, especially their inflections and distribution. The term word class is similar to the more traditional term part of speech. It is also variously called grammatical category, lexical category, and syntactic category (although these terms are not wholly or universally synonymous).
NOTE: Though some traditional grammars have treated articles (the, a[n]) as a distinct part of speech, contemporary grammars more often include articles in the category of determiners.
Parts of Speech
|PART OF SPEECH
||names a person, place, or thing
||pirate, Caribbean, ship, freedom, Captain Jack Sparrow
||takes the place of a noun
||I, you, he, she, it, ours, them, who, which, anybody, ourselves
||identifies action or state of being
||sing, dance, believe, seem, finish, eat, drink, be, become
||modifies a noun
||hot, lazy, funny, unique, bright, beautiful, healthy, wealthy, wise
||modifies a verb, adjective, or other adverb
||softly, lazily, often, only, hopefully, softly, sometimes
||shows a relationship between a noun (or pronoun) and other words in a sentence
||up, over, against, by, for, into, close to, out of, apart from
||joins words, phrases, and clauses
||and, but, or, yet
||expresses emotion and can usually stand alone
||ah, whoops, ouch, Yabba dabba do!
“Grammar is concerned with how sentences and utterances are formed. In a typical English sentence, we can see the two most basic principles of grammar, the arrangement of items (syntax) and the structure of items (morphology):
I gave my sister a sweater for her birthday.
The meaning of this sentence is obviously created by words such as gave, sister, sweater and birthday. But there are other words (I, my, a, for, her) which contribute to the meaning, and, additionally, aspects of individual words and the way they are arranged which enable us to interpret what the sentence means.”
Basic Word Structure in English
“[W]ords are made up of elements of two kinds: bases and affixes. For the most part, bases can stand alone as whole words whereas affixes can’t. Here are some examples, with the units separated by a [hyphen], bases [in italics], and affixes [in bold italics]:
The bases danger, slow, and just, for example, can form whole words. But the affixes can’t: there are no words *en, *ly, *un. Every word contains at least one or more bases; and a word may or may not contain affixes in addition.
“Affixes are subdivided into prefixes, which precede the base to which they attach, and suffixes, which follow.”
Rules of English Syntax
– “Syntax is the set of rules for combining words into sentences. For example, the rules of English syntax tell us that, because nouns generally precede verbs in basic English sentences, dogs and barked may be combined as Dogs barked but not *Barked dogs (the asterisk being used by linguists to mark constructions that violate the rules of the language.) . . . Still other syntactic rules require the presence of an additional word if dog is singular: one can say A dog barks or The dog barks but not *Dog bark(s). Moreover, the rules of standard English syntax tell us that -ing must be attached to bark if some form of be precedes bark: Dogs are barking or The/A dog is barking, but not *Dogs barking. Yet another rule of English syntax tells us that the word to must be present in a sentence such as I allowed him to sing a song, yet to must not be present if the verb is changed to hear (I heard him sing a song but not *I heard him to sing a song). With still other verbs, the speaker has the option of using or omitting to, for example, I helped him (to) sing a song. Morphemes such as the, a, -ing, and to are often termed function morphemes to distinguish them from content morphemes such as dog, bark, sing, song, and the like.”
Why Should We Study English Grammar?
- Accepting the Challenge
“Because It’s There.” People are constantly curious about the world in which they live, and wish to understand it and (as with mountains) master it. Grammar is no different from any other domain of knowledge in this respect.
- Being Human
But more than mountains, language is involved with almost everything we do as human beings. We cannot live without language. To understand the linguistic dimension of our existence would be no mean achievement. And grammar is the fundamental organizing principle of language.
- Exploring Our Creative Ability
Our grammatical ability is extraordinary. It is probably the most creative ability we have. There is no limit to what we can say or write, yet all of this potential is controlled by a finite number of rules. How is this done?
- Solving Problems
Nonetheless, our language can let us down. We encounter ambiguity, and unintelligible speech or writing. To deal with these problems, we need to put grammar under the microscope, and work out what went wrong. This is especially critical when children are learning to emulate the standards used by educated adult members of their community.
- Learning Other Languages
Learning about English grammar provides a basis for learning other languages. Much of the apparatus we need to study English turns out to be of general usefulness. Other languages have clauses, tenses, and adjectives too. And the differences they display will be all the clearer if we have first grasped what is unique to our mother tongue.
- Increasing Our Awareness
After studying grammar, we should be more alert to the strength, flexibility, and variety of our language, and thus be in a better position to use it and to evaluate others’ use of it. Whether our own usage in fact improves, as a result, is less predictable. Our awareness must improve, but turning that awareness into better practice–by speaking and writing more effectively–requires an additional set of skills. Even after a course on car mechanics, we can still drive carelessly.
What Is a Sentence?
“a group of words having a subject and a predicate and expressing a complete idea.”
But wait. It’s not that simple. Not at all.
For one thing, many word groups that contain a subject and predicate aren’t sentences. For another, it’s quite a stretch to say that all sentences express a single “complete idea.” (Nobody, says James Hurford, “has a single reliable idea about how to identify ‘a single idea.'”) And if you’ve ever tried to explain how an absent subject or verb may be “understood,” you know how easy it is to wind up talking in circles again.
In the book Developing Language and Literacy (Sage, 2001), Ann C. Browne illustrates the difficulty of defining a sentence:
When adults try to explain what is meant by a sentence and therefore where to place a full stop, they may use phrases such as:
- a complete thought
- a group of words that make sense
- where you stop
- where your voice falls
- where you take a breath
A sentence has been defined in various ways; but the best definition for our purpose is this: It is a form of words in which something is said about something.
A sentence is a (relatively) complete and independent unit of communication (or–in the case of a soliloquy–what might be a communication were there someone to listen to it)–the completeness and independence being shown by its standing alone or its capability of standing alone, i.e. of being uttered by itself.
It is evident that the sentences in any utterance are marked off by the mere fact that each sentence is an independent linguistic form, not included by virtue of any grammatical construction in any larger linguistic form.
[W]e may distinguish sentence (a grammatically autonomous unit) from utterance (a unit which is autonomous in terms of its pragmatic or communicative function).
[W]e may distinguish sentence (a grammatically autonomous unit) from utterance (a unit which is autonomous in terms of its pragmatic or communicative function).
And in the end, maybe that’s not so important, as long as we can recognize the clues that signal the presence of a sentence.
After all, we can usually pick out four basic sentence structures:
- simple sentences
- compound sentences
- complex sentences
- compound-complex sentences
And with a little practice, we should be able to identify four functional types of sentences:
The most common word order in English sentences is Subject-Verb-Object (SVO). When reading a sentence, we generally expect the first noun to be the subject and the second noun to be the object. This expectation (which isn’t always fulfilled) is known in linguistics as the canonical sentence strategy.
“Sentence structure may ultimately be composed of many parts, but remember that the foundation of each sentence is the subject and the predicate. The subject is a word or a group of words that functions as a noun; the predicate is at least a verb and possibly includes objects and modifiers of the verb.”
The job of grammar is to organize words into sentences, and there are many ways to do that. (Or we could say, Words can be organized into sentences in many different ways.) For this reason, describing how to put a sentence together isn’t as easy as explaining how to bake a cake or assemble a model plane. There are no easy recipes, no step-by-step instructions. But that doesn’t mean that crafting an effective sentence depends on magic or good luck.
Experienced writers know that the basic parts of a sentence can be combined and arranged in countless ways. So as we work to improve our writing, it’s important to understand what these basic structures are and how to use them effectively.
We’ll begin by introducing the traditional parts of speech and the most common sentence structures. For practice in shaping these words and structures into strong sentences, follow the links to the practice exercises, examples, and expanded discussions.
1) The Parts of Speech
One way to begin studying basic sentence structures is to consider the traditional parts of speech (also called word classes): nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections.
Except for interjections (“ouch!”), which have a habit of standing by themselves, the parts of speech come in many varieties and may show up just about anywhere in a sentence. To know for sure what part of speech a word is, we have to look not only at the word itself but also at its meaning, position, and use in a sentence.
2) Subjects, Verbs, and Objects
The basic parts of a sentence are the subject, the verb, and (often, but not always) the object. The subject is usually a noun—a word that names a person, place, or thing. The verb (or predicate) usually follows the subject and identifies an action or a state of being. An object receives the action and usually follows the verb.
3) Adjectives and Adverbs
A common way of expanding the basic sentence is with modifiers—words that add to the meanings of other words. The simplest modifiers are adjectives and adverbs. Adjectives modify nouns, while adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.
4) Prepositional Phrases
Like adjectives and adverbs, prepositional phrases add meaning to the nouns and verbs in sentences. A prepositional phrase has two basic parts: a preposition plus a noun or a pronoun that serves as the object of the preposition.
5) Four Basic Sentence Structures
There are four basic sentence structures in English:
- A simple sentence is a sentence with just one independent clause (also called a main clause): Judy laughed..
ii. A compound sentence contains at least two independent clauses: Judy laughed and Jimmy cried.
iii. A complex sentence contains an independent clause and at least one dependent clause: Jimmy cried when Judy laughed.
iv. A compound-complex sentence contains two or more independent clauses and at least one dependent clause: Judy laughed and Jimmy cried when the clowns ran past their seats.
7) Adjective Clauses
To show that one idea in a sentence is more important than another, we rely on subordination—that is, treating one word group as secondary (or subordinate) to another. One common form of subordination is the adjective clause—a word group that modifies a noun. The most common adjective clauses begin with one of these relative pronouns: who, which, and that.
An appositive is a word or group of words that identifies or renames another word in a sentence—most often a noun that immediately precedes it. Appositive constructions offer concise ways of describing or defining a person, place, or thing.
9) Adverb Clauses
Like an adjective clause, an adverb clause is always dependent on (or subordinate to) an independent clause. Like an ordinary adverb, an adverb clause usually modifies a verb, though it can also modify an adjective, an adverb, or even the rest of the sentence in which it appears. An adverb clause begins with a subordinating conjunction—an adverb that connects the subordinate clause to the main clause.
10) Participial Phrases
A participle is a verb form used as an adjective to modify nouns and pronouns. All present participles end in -ing. The past participles of all regular verbs end in -ed. Irregular verbs, however, have various past participle endings. Participles and participial phrases can add vigor to our writing as they add information to our sentences.
11) Absolute Phrases
Among the various kinds of modifiers, the absolute phrase may be the least common but one of the most useful. An absolute phrase, which consists of a noun plus at least one other word, adds details to an entire sentence—details that often describe one aspect of someone or something mentioned elsewhere in the sentence.
12) Four Functional Types of Sentences
There are four main types of sentences that can be distinguished by their function and purpose:
- A declarative sentence makes a statement: Babies cry.
ii. An interrogative sentence poses a question: Why do babies cry?
iii. An imperative sentence gives instructions or expresses a request or demand: Please be quiet.
iv. An exclamatory sentence expresses strong feelings by making an exclamation: Shut up!
How to Find the Subject of a Sentence
In English grammar, a subject is one of the two main parts of a sentence. (The other main part is the predicate.)
The subject is sometimes called the naming part of a sentence or clause. The subject usually appears before the predicate to show (a) what the sentence is about, or (b) who or what performs the action.
As show below, the subject is commonly a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase.
Types of Subjects
A subject may be one word or several words.
(1) The subject may be just a single word: a noun or a pronoun. In this first example, the proper noun Felix is the subject of the sentence:
In the next example, the personal pronoun he is the subject:
(2) The subject may be a noun phrase–that is, a word group made up of a head noun and any modifiers, determiners (such as the, a, her), and/or complements.
In this example, the subject is The first person in line:
The first person in line spoke to the television reporter.
(3) Two (or more) nouns, pronouns, or noun phrases may be linked by and to make a compound subject. In this example, the compound subject is Winnie and her sister:
Winnie and her sister will sing at the recital this evening.
A Note About Subjects in Questions and Commands
In a declarative sentence, as we’ve seen, the subject usually appears before the predicate:
Bobo will return soon.
In an interrogative sentence, however, the subject usually appears after a helping verb (such as will) and before the main verb (such as return):
Will Bobo return soon?
Finally, in an imperative sentence, the implied subject you is said to be “understood”:
[You] Come back here.
Examples of Subjects
In each of the following sentences, the subject is in italics.
- Time flies.
- We will try.
- The Johnsons have returned.
- Dead men tell no tales.
- Our school cafeteria always smelled like stale cheese and dirty socks.
- The children in the first row received badges.
- The birds and the bees are flying in the trees.
- My little dog and my old cat play hide-and-seek in the garage.
- Could you carry some of these books?
- [You] Go home now.
Practice in Identifying Subjects
Using the examples in this article as a guide, identify the subjects in the following sentences.
- Grace cried.
- They will come.
- The teachers are tired.
- The teachers and the students are tired.
- His new toy is already broken.
- The woman in the back of the room asked a question.
- Will you play with me?
- My brother and his best friend are forming a band.
- Please be quiet.
- The old man at the head of the line was holding a Darth Vader lightsaber.
What Is a Predicate?
In English grammar, a predicate is one of the two main parts of a sentence. (The other main part is the subject.)
A predicate is usually defined as a word group that comes after the subject to complete the meaning of the sentence or clause.
Types of Predicates
A predicate may be one word or many words.
(1) A predicate may be just a single word: the verb. In this first example, the verb laughed is the predicate of the sentence:
(2) A predicate may be a word group made up of a main verb and any helping verbs. In the next example, will sing is the predicate:
Winnie will sing.
Notice that the helping verb (will) comes before the main verb (sing).
(3) A predicate may also be a complete verb phrase: that is, a main verb and all the words related to that verb except the subject. (This construction is called the complete predicate.) In this last example, the predicate is the verb phrase is always greener on the other side:
The grass is always greener on the other side.
Whether it’s just one word or many words, the predicate usually follows the subject and tells us something about it.
Examples of Predicates
In each of the following sentences, the predicate is in italics.
- Time flies.
- We will try.
- The Johnsons have returned.
- Bobo has never driven before.
- We will try harder next time.
- Hummingbirds sing with their tail feathers.
- Pedro has not returned from the store.
- My brother flew a helicopter in Iraq.
- My mother took our dog to the vet for its shots.
- Our school cafeteria always smelled like stale cheese and dirty socks.
Subjects and Verbs
A sentence is commonly defined as “a complete unit of thought.” Normally, a sentence expresses a relationship, conveys a command, voices a question, or describes someone or something. It begins with a capital letter and ends with a period, question mark, or exclamation mark.
The basic parts of a sentence are the subject and the verb. The subject is usually a noun—a word (or phrase) that names a person, place, or thing. The verb (or predicate) usually follows the subject and identifies an action or a state of being. See if you can identify the subject and the verb in each of the following short sentences:
- The hawk soars.
- The boys laugh.
- My daughter is a wrestler.
- The children are tired.
In each of these sentences, the subject is a noun: hawk, boys, daughter, and children. The verbs in the first two sentences—soars, laugh—show action and answer the question, “What does the subject do?” The verbs in the last two sentences—is, are—are called linking verbs because they link or connect the subject with a word that renames it (wrestler) or describes it (tired).
For additional practice in recognizing these key elements in a sentence, see Exercises in Identifying Subjects and Verbs.
Pronouns are words that take the place of nouns in a sentence. In the second sentence below, the pronoun she stands for Molly:
- Molly danced on the roof of the barn during the thunderstorm.
- She was waving an American flag.
As the second sentence shows, a pronoun (like a noun) may serve as the subject of a sentence. The common subject pronouns are I, you, he, she, it, we, and they.
In addition to serving as subjects, nouns may also function as objects in sentences. Instead of performing the action, as subjects usually do, objects receive the action and usually follow the verb. See if you can identify the objects in the short sentences below:
- The girls hurled stones.
- The professor swigged coffee.
- Gus dropped the iPad.
he objects—stones, coffee, iPad—all answer the question what: What was hurled? What was swigged? What was dropped?
As the following sentences demonstrate, pronouns may also serve as objects:
- Before eating the brownie, Nancy sniffed it.
- When I finally found my brother, I kissed him.
The common object pronouns are me, you, him, her, it, us, and them.
The Basic Sentence Unit
You should now be able to identify the main parts of the basic sentence unit: SUBJECT plus VERB, or SUBJECT plus VERB plus OBJECT. Remember that the subject names what the sentence is about, the verb tells what the subject does or is, and the object receives the action of the verb. Although many other structures can be added to this basic unit, the pattern of SUBJECT plus VERB (or SUBJECT plus VERB plus OBJECT) can be found in even the longest and most complicated structures.
Practice in Identifying Subjects, Verbs, and Objects
For each of the following sentences, decide whether the word in bold is a subject, a verb, or an object. When you’re done, compare your answers with those at the end of the exercise.
(1) Mr. Buck donated a wishbone to the Museum of Natural History.
(2) After the final song, the drummer hurled his sticks at the crowd.
(3) Gus smashed the electric guitar with a sledge hammer.
(4) Felix stunned the dragon with a ray gun.
(5) Very slowly, Pandora opened the box.
(6) Very slowly, Pandora opened the box.
(7) Very slowly, Pandora opened the box.
(8) Thomas gave his pen to Bengie.
(9) After breakfast, Vera drove to the mission with Ted.
(10) Even though it rarely rains here, Professor Legree carries his umbrella wherever he goes.
1. verb; 2. subject; 3. object; 4. object; 5. subject; 6. verb; 7. object; 8. verb; 9. subject; 10. verb.
Notes on Verbs
In this edition of Language Notes, we turn our attention to the most active part of speech: verbs.
- How Many Different Types of Verbs Are There?
When we talk about the different kinds of verbs, it generally makes more sense to define them by what they do rather than by what they are. Just as the “same” word (rain or snow, for example) can serve as either a noun or a verb, the same verb can play a number of different roles depending on the context. And verbs can play many different roles. Here are just some of them.
- Auxiliary Verbs and Lexical Verbs
An auxiliary verb (also know as a helping verb) determines the mood or tense of another verb in a phrase: “It will rain tonight.” The primary auxiliaries are be, have, and do. The modal auxiliaries include can, could, may, must, should, will, and would.
A lexical verb (also known as a full or main verb) is any verb in English that isn’t an auxiliary verb: it conveys a real meaning and doesn’t depend on another verb: “It rained all night.”
- Dynamic Verbs and Stative Verbs
A dynamic verb indicates an action, process, or sensation: “I bought a new guitar.”
A stative verb (such as be, have, know, like, own, and seem) describes a state, situation, or condition: “Now I own a Gibson Explorer.”
- Finite Verbs and Nonfinite Verbs
A finite verb expresses tense and can occur on its own in a main clause: “She walked to school.”
A nonfinite verb (an infinitive or participle) doesn’t show a distinction in tense and can occur on its own only in a dependent phrase or clause: “While walking to school, she spotted a bluejay.”
- Regular Verbs and Irregular Verbs
See the answer to question #3.
- Transitive Verbs and Intransitive Verbs
A transitive verb is followed by a direct object: “She sells seashells.”
An intransitive verb doesn’t take a direct object: “He sat there quietly.” (This distinction is especially tricky because many verbs have both a transitive and an intransitive use.)
Does that cover everything verbs can do? Far from it. Catenative verbs, for example, join with other verbs to form a chain or series. Causative verbs show that some person or thing helps to make something happen. Copular verbs link the subject of a sentence to its complement. And we haven’t even touched on the passive or the subjunctive.
What are the most common verbs in English?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, these are the 25 most commonly used verbs in English: 1. be, 2. have, 3. do, 4. say, 5. get, 6. make, 7. go, 8. know, 9. take, 10. see, 11. come, 12. think, 13. look, 14. want, 15. give, 16. use, 17. find, 18. tell, 19. ask, 20. work, 21. seem, 22. feel, 23. try, 24. leave, 25. call. The editors at the OED offer these observations:
Strikingly, the 25 most frequent verbs are all one-syllable words; the first two-syllable verbs are become (26th) and include (27th). Furthermore, 20 of these 25 are Old English words, and three more, get, seem, and want, entered English from Old Norse in the early medieval period. Only try and use came from Old French. It seems that English prefers terse, ancient words to describe actions or occurrences
What’s the difference between a “weak verb” and a “strong verb”?
The distinction between a weak verb and a strong verb is based on how the past tense of the verb is formed.
Weak verbs (also called regular verbs) form the past tense by adding -ed, -d, or -t to the base form–or present tense form–of the verb (for example, call, called and walk, walked).
Strong verbs (also called irregular verbs) form the past tense or the past participle (or both) in various ways but most often by changing the vowel of the present tense form (for example, give, gave and stick, stuck).
Are there any examples of English verbs that are both regular (weak) and irregular (strong)?
One that comes to mind is the verb “to fly.” In most cases, “fly” is an irregular verb: fly, flew, flown. But in the jargon of baseball, “fly” is a regular verb: fly, flied, flied. So we say that “Derek Jeter flied out to center to end the inning.” If Jeter ever “flew out to center,” we’d have quite a different story.
What is Verbing?
In a single work day, we might head a task force, eye an opportunity, nose around for good ideas, mouth a greeting, elbow an opponent, strong-arm a colleague, shoulder the blame, stomach a loss, and finally hand in our resignation. What we’re doing with all those body parts is called verbing–using nouns (or occasionally other parts of speech) as verbs.
Verbing is a time-honored way of coining new words out of old ones, the etymological process of conversion (or functional shifting). Sometimes it’s also a kind of word play (anthimeria), as in Shakespeare’s King Richard the Second when the Duke of York says, “Grace me no grace, and uncle me no uncles.”
What is the difference between the present progressive and the present participle?
A present participle is a verb form with an “-ing” ending (for example, “tapping”). The present progressive aspect is a form of the verb “to be” plus a present participle (for example, “is tapping”).
Here is how each one is used:
A present participle by itself can’t serve as the main verb of a sentence. This word group, for instance, is incomplete: “Sadie, tapping her cane to the music.” Here, “tapping” begins a present participial phrase that modifies the noun “Sadie.” One way to make this word group into a sentence is by adding a subject and a predicate: “I remember Sadie, tapping her cane to the music.”
In contrast, a verb in the present progressive tense may itself serve as the predicate of a sentence: “Sadie is tapping her cane to the music.” The present progressive is used for ongoing actions–that is, for actions occurring at the moment of speaking and for actions that take place over a short period of time.
So we could have a sentence that contains both a present participial phrase (“tapping her cane to the music”) and a main verb in the present progressive tense (“is singing”).
What’s the difference between passed and past?
Passed is both the past and past participle form of the verb pass. Past is a noun (meaning “a previous time”), an adjective (meaning “ago”), and a preposition (meaning “beyond”).
In fact both words are derived from the verb pass, and at one time past was commonly used for the past tense and the past participle. The editors of Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage (1994) offer several examples:
- I did not tell you how I past my time yesterday.
(Jonathan Swift, Journal to Stella, 25 Jan. 1711)
- . . . he was much offended . . . that he past the latter part of his life in a state of hostility.
(Samuel Johnson, Preface to Johnson’s edition of Shakespeare, 1765)
- I know what has past between you.
(Oliver Goldsmith, She Stoops to Conquer, 1773)
Nowadays past has lost its status as a verb form (it’s busy enough serving as a noun, adjective, adverb, and preposition), leaving passed to fill the role of past tense. But who knows? Perhaps this, too, shall pass.
- What’s the difference between a regular verb and an irregular verb?
A regular verb (also known as a weak verb) forms its past tense and past participle by adding -d or -ed (or in some cases -t) to the base form: walked, talked. An irregular verb (or strong verb) doesn’t have a conventional -ed form: rang, chose.
- What’s the difference between an auxiliary verb and a main verb?
An auxiliary verb (also known as a helping verb) is a verb (such as have, do, or will) that may come before the main verb in a sentence. Together the auxiliary verb and the main verb form a verb phrase. A main verb (also known as a lexical verb or full verb) is any verb that isn’t an auxiliary verb. The main verb conveys the meaning in a verb phrase.
- What’s the difference between a transitive verb and an intransitive verb?
A transitive verb takes an object; an intransitive verb does not. Many verbs have both a transitive and an intransitive function, depending on how they’re used. The verb burn, for instance, sometimes takes a direct object (“Jack burned the hot dogs”) and sometimes doesn’t (“The fire burned brightly”).
- What’s the difference between active voice and passive voice?
Voice refers to the quality of a verb that shows whether its subject acts (active voice: I made mistakes) or is acted upon (passive voice: Mistakes were made).
- What’s the difference between a dynamic verb and a stative verb?
A dynamic verb (such as run, ride, grow, throw) is primarily used to indicate an action, process, or sensation. In contrast, a stative verb (such as be, have, seem, know) is primarily used to describe a state or situation. (Because the boundary between dynamic and stative verbs can be fuzzy, it’s generally more useful to talk of dynamic and stative meaning and usage.)
- What’s the difference between a phrasal verb and a prepositional verb?
A phrasal verb (such as tear off or pull through) is made up of a main verb (usually one of action or movement) and a prepositional adverb–also known as an adverbial particle (of direction or location). A prepositional verb (such as send for or rely on) is an idiomatic expression that combines a main verb and a preposition to make a new verb with a distinct meaning.
- What’s the difference between aspect and tense?
Aspect is the verb form that indicates the time at which an event or state of affairs is perceived as taking place. The two aspects in English are perfect and progressive. Tense is the time of a verb’s action or state of being, such as present or past.
- What’s the difference between a finite verb and a nonfinite verb?
A finite verb shows agreement with a subject and is marked for tense. (If there’s just one verb in a sentence, it’s finite.) A nonfinite verb (also called a verbal) doesn’t show a distinction in tense and can’t stand alone as the main verb in a sentence.
- What’s the difference between a gerund and a present participle?
Both of these -ing forms are verbals. A gerund functions as a noun. (Laughing is good for you.) A present participle functions as an adjective. (The old laughing lady dropped by to call.)
- What’s the difference between an infinitive and a zero infinitive?
Both are verbals that can function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. A conventional infinitive (sometimes called the “to”-infinitive) is preceded by the particle to. The zero infinitive (also known as the bare infinitive) is not preceded by to.
Does the English Language Have a Future Tense?
Legend has it that the final words of French grammarian Dominique Bouhours were, “Je vais ou je vas mourir; l’un et l’autre se dit, ou se disent.” In English that would be, “I am about to–or I am going to–die. Either expression is used.”
As it happens, there are also multiple ways of expressing future time in English. Here are six of the most common methods.
- the simple present: We leave tonight for Atlanta.
- the present progressive: We‘re leaving the kids with Louise.
- the modal verb will (or shall) with the base form of a verb: I‘ll leave you some money.
- the modal verb will (or shall) with the progressive: I’ll be leaving you a check.
- a form of be with the infinitive: Our flight is to leave at 10:00 p.m.
- a semi-auxiliary such as to be going to or to be about to with the base form of a verb: We are going to leave your father a note.
But time is not quite the same as grammatical tense, and with that thought in mind many contemporary linguists insist that, properly speaking, the English language has no future tense.
“[M]orphologically English has no future form of the verb in addition to present and past forms. . . . In this grammar, then, we do not talk about the future as a formal category . . ..”
BE CAREFUL WITH ALL YOUR READ! DON’T BE CONFUSED; CONSULT TEXT BOOKS BECAUSE YOUR FUTURE IS IN YOUR HANDS! GOOD LUCK.
Definite & indefinite articles
It is almost impossible to discuss the noun phrase without referring at some stage to the class of words known as determiners, since more often than not a noun will occur with one or more words from this grammatical class. Determiners include articles (a/an, the) and quantifiers.
Determiners consist of a relatively small number of mainly grammatical items that change very little and tend to serve only one specialised function in a sentence. Unlike verbs, nouns and adjectives as word classes, it is difficult, if not impossible, to add any new words to the class of determiners and for this reason it is called a closed set.
What kind of words make up this limited set? The most instantly recognisable is probably thearticles namely the, a/an. In addition, there are others like: that, those, every, some, several, all, much, both, no, which can occupy the space before a noun.
As we noted above, the articles are the, usually referred to as the definite article, and a/an, theindefinite article. They both constitute part of the noun phrase and usually, provided there are no other determiners present, occupy the first position in the noun phrase. Here are six examples of articles being used in conjunction with other word classes:
- We noticed a smell.
- We noticed a strong smell.
- We noticed an unusually strong smell.
- I bought the present.
- I bought the expensive present.
- I bought the most expensive present.
The word unusually in the third sentence begins with a vowel sound, so the a needs to change to anto allow a more natural speech flow. We have an option not to use an article in front of either plural nouns or uncountable nouns; so:
- I’d like steak and chips.
- He always gives way to anger.
The table below should make it clear exactly when we can use articles with certain kinds of nouns.
It’s important not to let special cases blur the general rules. For example, it is possible to talk about “a wine” meaning “a type of wine” and similarly “the wines of Chile” meaning the various types or brands of wine from Chile. We can refer to “the waters of the Ganges” because although “water” is in general an uncountable or mass noun, “the waters” has a particular meaning and usage in the context of rivers and streams.
Although there are only three options when choosing which article to use, the rules governing their use can be rather confusing for learners. The basic rules are follows:
This is used when the noun that we wish to refer to is unknown to our listener/reader or is not part of the common ground that we share. It is most often used to introduce new information.
- I saw a UFO yesterday.
- Tell me a story.
- Have you ever seen a tornado?
By using the, we are signalling to our listener that s/he is very likely to know what we are referring to and that the context of our conversation should help them to identify this. We can use the, therefore, to
- refer backwards to something that we have already mentioned
- refer forwards to something that we can take for granted will happen
- refer to our common ground or shared knowledge
Here are some examples to illustrate each of those contexts:
- I was out the other day and I found a ten-pound note on the street. I couldn’t decide whether to keep the money or hand it in. (I have already talked about this money in the previous sentence.)
- We’ll need to take an axe to cut the trees . (i.e. those trees that we find in the place that we are going to.)
- Have you put the cat out? (i.e. our cat)
The is also used with certain fixed expressions where there is often common knowledge, for example places of entertainment, oceans and seas, hotels etc. the Alps, the cinema, the Pacific Ocean, the Hyatt and even for some more generic tersms such as ‘the High Street’, ‘the open seas’.
Note also that the is sometimes (but not always) used with some countries’ names, such as:
- She lives in England, which is part of the UK.
- He visited the Czech Republic.
- The DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) has experienced strife for many years.
- I think the Philippines is a beautiful country.
- Jack loves the Netherland and works in the Hague.
In addition, when referring to some named or unnamed organizations, for example:
- He was arrested by the FBI.
- She works for the BBC.
- The U.N. has its headquarters in New York.
- He left home and joined the army.
If we want to refer to something general and the nouns that we are using are either plural or uncountable, we leave out articles.
- I really like funfairs. (‘funfairs’ in general; I have no specific funfair in mind.)
- It’s brought us nothing but trouble. (uncountable noun)
Some of the other times when an article is not needed are:
- with proper nouns like people’s names, countries, towns, cities, single mountains, streets, lakes, and countries (but see note above about certain countries and places).
- meals – when are we having lunch, I have cereal for breakfast.
- certain time expressions – next year, last month, this week, on Friday, at five o’clock.
- in an institution – he’s in prison, I’m at school next week, do you go to university.
Complements in English Grammar
The Complement can often be confused with the Object. While the Subject and Object of a clause, in the vast majority of cases, refer to different entities, the Complement gives more information about either the Subject or the Object. As with the Subject and Object elements, there is only one grouping or phrase which is considered to be the Complement of a clause.
The Subject Complement
Let’s begin by looking at some pairs of sentences where this information centres on the Subject.
- Bill hit Harry.
- Bill is a policeman.
- The camel carried the load.
- The camel smells awful.
- A car hit the lamp post.
- A car was what she wanted for her birthday.
So, in the preceding examples the first sentence of each pair contains an Object – Harry, the load, the lamp post. These are clearly not the same entities as the Subjects of the sentences. However, the same cannot be said for the second sentence of each pair where there is a strong connection between the Subjects and the phrases a policeman, awful and what she wanted for her birthday. These phrases act to identify the Subject more precisely. These are known as Complements; more specifically they are subject complements because they define the Subjects of the clauses, in this case Bill, the camel and a car.
In most sentences where the Complement defines the Subject, you will find a particular type of verb being used. The most usual is the verb be and its forms (e.g. am, are, was, have been) followed by a noun phrase or an adjective phrase, often as a single word. In the instances above, a policeman is a noun phrase and awful is an adjective phrase. Other examples are:
Noun phrase as Subject Complement:
- Love is a drug.
- This is her pen.
- He is the father of three.
- Time is the great healer.
- Those animals were very rare Siberian tigers.
- The Earth is 150 million kilometres from the Sun.
Adjective phrase as Subject Complement:
- The weather is hot.
- All the passengers were Russian.
- The little cottage was nice and cosy.
- Her teeth were pearly white.
- The argument became more heated.
- The weather gradually got hotter and hotter.
In all of these cases, the phrases after is, was and were define the Subject. You should notice that, although two of the Complements in the first set of examples contain adjectives (great, very rare Siberian), these are still treated as noun phrases because the main words in the groups are themselves nouns (healer, tigers).
Earlier I commented that a particular type of verb is often used in clauses with a subject Complement and that verb is usually be. However, there is a small number of other verbs either closely connected with be or to do with sensing that frequently occur in this type of clause. A short list with examples might include:
Be type: seem, appear, become, turn out, grow, remain
- The sky seems clearer today.
- He turned out to be a bad influence.
- His client became more and more angry.
Sense type: look, sound, feel, taste, smell (all followed by like with a noun)
- Her voice sounds lovely.
- That sounds like heaven.
- The tea tastes foul.
There is still one type of subject Complement that we haven’t looked at yet – this is the subordinate clause. The example from the original sentences is:
- A car was what she wanted for her birthday.
Here a car is the Subject, the Verb is was and the Complement defining the Subject is what she wanted for her birthday, which is a clause since it has its own Subject (she) and Verb (wanted). Other examples of clauses used as subject Complements are:
- Justice is what we’re looking for.
- The first thing I did was open all the windows.
- The remaining problem is where to find the money.
- Our only option is to run away.
The Object Complement
In all the instances in the previous section the Complement gave additional information about the Subject of the clause. Additional information can similarly be given about the Object. Look at the examples below:
- Everyone thought him an idiot.
- The accusation made me livid.
- The whole town wanted the outlaw dead.
- The board has made him manager.
- I find it difficult to believe.
Here, the phrases in bold are giving extra information about the Objects of the clauses which are him, me, the outlaw, him, it. The object Complement usually follows the Object of the clause as in all the examples above and the choice of verb is not so restricted as it is with the subject Complement clauses.
Morphemes in English grammar
Morphemes may be elements of a word which you have not met before. An example is probably the best way to introduce this concept. We will begin with the lexical item nation and develop the notion of morpheme from there.
So, in the above example, nation, -al, inter-, -ise, and -ation are all morphemes. By adding small units of meaning to the base form, nation, we have created four new, but closely related, lexical items. You should note that these units of meaning are totally dependent on the base form and, therefore, cannot exist on their own. These fundamental units of meaning are morphemes. The examples above are called bound morphemes since they need to be added to an existing base; there are, however, many words which cannot be broken down into smaller elements and these are known as free morphemes. Instances of this are: table, lion, platform, some, horror, label.
Words and morphemes in English grammar
What is a word?
What precisely is a word? At first glance you may find it easy to find many examples of what would unambiguously constitute a ‘word’, for instance: you, the, those, some, hers, them, luck, irritation, large, conspicuously, hide, chemical, preference, of, at, from and similar examples.
Are these English words?
If I were to say The girl over there is frakusiling with the gambanger could you replace any words you don’t know there with other words of a similar type? Does that make the words you replacedwords?
Are all the words in this sentence acceptable? Applying a stochastic production frontier to sector-level data, this paper examines the extent to which industrial countries’ R&D contributes to East Asian economies’ TFP growth.
What about this one? Hence, our analysis addresses foreign technology spillovers as sources of TP in an endogenous framework in addition to autonomous enhancement captured by the time trend as formulated by neoclassical theory.
Once we start to think about words seriously, things don’t look so clear!
Let’s think for a moment about how words are put together. There are two major ways:
As soon as a new word comes into current use, it invariably takes over a whole range of other forms.
- microbe microbes
- house houses
- large larger largest
- fit fitter fittest
- (to) progress progresses progressed progressing
- qualify qualifies qualified qualifying
- Word formation
Words can be joined in a number of different ways.
- foot + ball = football
- fox + trot = foxtrot
- ham + burger = hamburger
- dress + maker = dressmaker
- house + husband = house-husband
- hyper + inflation = hyper-inflation
- in + flexible = inflexible
The last example uses the word in to mean the opposite of the main noun. This is a very common way to produce a meaning that is the opposite of the base word.
- in + excusable = inexcusable
- in + vertebrate = invertebrate
- in + experienced = inexperienced
There are a very large range of these additions. When they are at the front of a word, they are called prefixes. When they are at the end of a word, they are called suffixes. Here are some examples of prefixes:
- defrost, defuse, deskill
- disapprove, disappear, dislike
- downsize, downturn, downtrodden
- endanger, enslave, enrich
- extraordinary, extra-curricular, extravagant
- handbag, handkerchief, hand-held
- improbable, impenetrable, imperfection
- illegitimate, illegible, illiterate
- lowlife, low-grade, low-level
- midnight , mid-term, mid-life
- misunderstood, misjudge, misplace
- newsworthy, newspaper, newsagent
- off-shoot, off-hand, off-colour
- outside, outrun, outclass
- post-war, post-haste, posthumous
- reply, recover, re-site
- unfair, unkind, unhealthy
- There are just as many suffixes, if not more! Here are some of them:
- American, Mexican, Tanzanian
- alcoholic, workaholic, chocoholic,
- freedom, stardom, kingdom
- audible, flexible, visible
- breakdown, splashdown, comedown
- carefree, interest-free, rent-free
- clearly, sweetly, smoothly
- fattish, lightish, boyish
- hostess, authoress, stewardess (note: these are less common today)
- largest, smallest, fattest
- manhood, priesthood, brotherhood
- management, employment, development
- muddle-headed, cool-headed, curly-headed
- pregnancy, fluency, clemency
- readable, dependable, portable
- snowbound, outward-bound, housebound
- started, ended, tumbled
- tradecraft, witchcraft, stagecraft
- trainee, trustee, employee
- Watergate, Irangate, Blairgate (Note: a fairly new addition to the language)
- weakness, lightness, kindness