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Language Class 1: Introductory Grammar

In our first class, we will look at how Modern English is structured in phrases, clauses and sentences, and at the elements that make up these structures.


Clauses are the main units from which sentences are composed. A sentence will consist of at least one main clause and may also contain one or more subordinate clauses. There are five types of clause element: the subject (S); the verb (V); the object (direct (Od) and indirect(Oi)); the complement (subject complement (Cs) or object complement (Co)); one or more adverbials (A). The subject and verb are usually mandatory, while other elements are optional.
S/V:(I) (run)
S/V/Od:(I) (ran) (the program)
S/V/Oi/Od:(I) (sent) (him) (the program)
S/V/Od/A:(I) (was sending) (it) (unnecessarily)
S/V/Cs:(I) (am) (unnecessary)
S/V/Od/Co:(I) (considered) (the program) (unnecessary)

Sentences must contain a finite verb, one which varies its form to reflect number, person and tense.
Non-finite verbs are invariable and include participles and infinitives.
I am going there
they were going there
he is going to go there

Depending on the type of verb (if any) which it contains, a clause may be finite, non-finite, or verbless.
Our friends are here
Considering his age, he did very well
We will catch that bus if possible

Subordinate clauses
There are six types of subordinate clause:
Noun Clauses
can function as subject or object. The two main kinds are that-clauses and wh-clauses.
I think that it's beautiful
What I think is not important
Adverbial Clauses
function as adverbials within the main clause. They begin with a subordinating conjunction (such as after, before, unless, where, because, since, if.)
She went because she was tired
Relative Clauses
usually post-modify one of the nouns in the main clause. They can also function as adverbials, or as subject or object (like noun clauses). They usually begin with a relative pronoun (who, whose, which, that), although this can be omitted.
The coat I bought yesterday
He's coming tomorrow, which is marvellous
Whose work it is is a matter of dispute
Comparative Clauses
start with as or contain than.
Dogs are faster than cats
Dogs are as lovely as cats
Non-finite Clauses
I'd hate to lose
Verbless Clauses
Without doubt, he is clever


A unit comprising one or more words with a single function in a clause.
There are five types of phrase:
Noun Phrase (NP)
The main word (head word) in a NP is a noun, a pronoun, or occasionally an adjective.
Any other constituents of a NP are called modifiers, and can be numerals, adjectives, prepositional phrases, etc.
A NP can act as subject, object, complement or adverbial in a clause.
He likes snakes
The old book on the table was beautiful
NP acting as subject (head word/modifiers)
NPs with the same referent can be placed next to each other to fulfil a single function. These are referred to as being in apposition.
We were visiting Quito, the capital of Ecuador
I saw my friend, James, a mathematician
NPs in apposition acting as object (head words/modifiers)
Verb Phrase (VP)
The main word in a VP is usually a lexical verb, conveying an action, event or state.
Any other constituents of a VP will usually be auxiliary verbs, including modal verbs such as can, should, will and the primary verbs be, have and do.
A VP can only act as the verb in a clause.
I could have been considered for the position
We should probably go
VP acting as verb (lexical verb/auxiliary verbs)
Adjective Phrase (AdjP)
The head word in an AdjP is an adjective.
An adjective can be modified by, for example, adverbs, noun clauses, and other adjectives.
An AdjP acts as the complement in a clause.
The book was very full of stories
I'm cold
AdjP acting as complement (head word/modifiers)
Prepositional Phrase (PrepP)
A PrepP has a preposition as its main word, which is normally followed by a NP.
A PrepP can post-modify within other phrases or can act as an adverbial in a clause.
I was pleased with the idea
PrepP post-modifying an adjective in an AdjP (head word/NP)
The children are in the garden
PrepP acting as adverbial (head word/NP)
Adverb Phrase (AdvP)
An AdvP has an adverb as its main word.
An AdvP can act as an adverbial in a clause.
He came back particularly quickly
AdvP acting as adverbial


Sentences are divided into major and minor types. Minor sentences lack some essential clause elements and are most often found in informal language, such as conversation, headlines or slogans (Hello!, Ah!, Surely not?, "Not In Our Names".)
The major sentence is further subdivided into the simple, the compound, the complex, and the compound-complex.
Simple sentences
have only one clause and one finite verb. Such a clause is called a main clause.
I think
(main clause)
I like broccoli
main clause)
Compound sentences
comprise two or more simple sentences linked by co-ordinating conjunctions (and, or, but). Each clause is a main clause.
I think and laugh
(main clause + main clause)
(subject-verb conjunction [elliptical subject]-verb)
I like broccoli but hate cabbage
(main clause + main clause)
(subject-verb-object conjunction [elliptical subject]-verb-object)
Complex sentences
consist of a main clause and one or more subordinate clauses.
I think when I'm sad
(main clause-subordinate clause)
(subject-verb-noun clause)
At times, I like broccoli, although I hate cabbage
(subordinate clause-main clause-subordinate clause)
(verbless clause-subject-verb-object-adverbial clause)
Compound-complex sentences
use both subordination and co-ordination in the same sentence.
I think when I'm sad and laugh when I'm happy
(main clause-subordinate clause + main clause-subordinate clause)
(subject-verb-noun clause + [elliptical subject]-verb-noun clause)
At times, I like broccoli, but I hate cabbage
(subordinate clause-main clause + main clause)
(verbless clause-subject-verb-object + subject-verb-object)


A. Read the following passage and complete the exercises that follow:

So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes' heroic campaigns.
There was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes,
a wrecker of mead-benches, rampaging among foes.
This terror of the hall troops had come far.
A foundling to start with, he would flourish later on
as his powers waxed and his worth was proved.
In the end each clan on the outlying coasts
beyond the whale-road had to yield to him
and begin to pay tribute. That was one good king.

A1. Locate three Verb Phrases, and identify the lexical/auxiliary and finite/non-finite verbs in each.
A2. Locate two Prepositional Phrases, and state their functions in the clause/sentence.
A3. Identify examples of three different sentence-types in the passage.

B. Read the following passage and complete the exercises that follow:

When it comes to fighting, I count myself
as dangerous any day as Grendel.
So it won't be a cutting edge I'll wield
to mow him down, easily as I might.
He has no idea of the arts of war,
of shield or sword-play, although he does possess
a wild strength. No weapons, therefore,
for either this night: unarmed he shall face me
if face me he dares. And may the Divine Lord
in His wisdom grant the glory of victory
to whichever side He sees fit.

B1. Locate five Noun Phrases, marking the head word and any modifiers.
B2. State the elements of the following clauses:
line 5, "He has no idea of the arts of war";
lines 7-8, "No weapons, therefore, for either this night";
line 8 "Unarmed he shall face me".
B3. Locate two subordinate clauses, and state what type they are.