Basics of the grammar of English
• Words, phrases, clauses
• Words

Open classes; nouns and verbs

Distribution patterns

Nouns, pronouns, verbs, tenses

Inflection
• Noun phrases
• Simple clauses, categories

Questions

Roles

Prepositional phrases

Clausal subjects / complements

Verb phrases

Modifiers
• Compound clauses
• Relative clauses
CSI 4106, Winter 2005
Basic facts about the English grammar, page 1
Words, phrases, clauses
The building blocks of expressions in natural
languages are words, phrases, clauses.
There is a semantic motivation for some of
these fundamental constructions:
noun phrases correspond to entities that have
properties (expressed by adjective phrases,
relative clauses,and so on);
verb phrases correspond to situations with
roles (noun phrases, prepositional phrases)
and qualities (adverbial phrases).
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Basic facts about the English grammar, page 2
Words, phrases, clauses (2)
The clause level
•
•
•
Simple and compound clauses.
Coordinate clause.
Major and subordinate clauses.
simple clause
simple clause
We bought him a book because he likes to read
major clause
subordinate clause
compound clause
The word level
•
•
Morphology: book  books, make  making.
Derivation: white  whiteness, quick  quickly.
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Basic facts about the English grammar, page 3
Words
Criteria for distinguishing words are quite
arbitrary, though the simplest test (groups of
letters between non-letters) works okay.
Words are not the lowest level of description.
Morphemes, e.g., pre+book+ing, un+glue+d.
antidisestablishmentarianism
There are four open classes of words (noun,
verb, adjective, adverb) and closed classes
(including articles, conjunctions, prepositions,
numerals, pronouns).
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Basic facts about the English grammar, page 4
Words (2)
There are two criteria for word classification.
• Semantics: situations - roles - properties.
• Distribution: words in the same class can
often be interchanged.
Distribution can be tested by diagnostic
contexts, positive and negative.
Example: adjectives.
+
+
-
CSI 4106, Winter 2005
This is a ________ book.
The book is very ________.
This ________ is new.
I want to ________ it to you.
Basic facts about the English grammar, page 5
Words (3)
A word may fit more than one pattern. This
happens quite often, because word classes
are not disjoint. Examples:
compound is an adjective, a noun, a verb;
bar is a noun, a verb, a preposition.
(The verb-noun ambiguity is frequent in English.)
Classify various Ω in these sentences:
John decided to Ω a big, Ω and juicy Ω.
Put your Ω Ω the table.
CSI 4106, Winter 2005
Basic facts about the English grammar, page 6
Words (4)
Nouns
Proper nouns: Jimmy, Greece, IBM
Common nouns:
• mass nouns (sand, milk, ...)
• count nouns (all others)
Pronouns
Personal (I, him, ...)
Possessive (its, hers, ...)
Interrogative/relative (whom, which, that, ...)
Demonstrative (this, those, ...)
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Basic facts about the English grammar, page 7
Words (5)
Nouns and personal pronouns have clear
distributional differences (* marks incorrect
expressions).
a man is running
a box of sand
the book is mine
a white elephant
CSI 4106, Winter 2005
⇔
⇔
⇔
⇔
* a Jim is running
* a box of book
* the book is which
* a white he
Basic facts about the English grammar, page 8
Beyond words
Verb groups
In English, there are five basic forms:
infinitive
present 3rd person
simple past
eat, drink, walk
eats, drinks, walks
ate, drank, walked
progressive (present participle)
eating, drinking, walking
perfective (past participle)
eaten, drunk, walked
In French, there are about sixty forms.
There also are at least 48 English tenses, most of them
expressed analytically, that is, using auxiliary verbs (all
forms of be, have, do, plus will, would and so on).
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Basic facts about the English grammar, page 9
Beyond words (2)
Selected English tenses
Tense
Example
Example—continuous
present
go / goes
am / are / is going
past
went
was / were going
future
will go
will be going
present perfect have / has gone
have / has been going
past perfect
had gone
had been going
future perfect
will have gone
will have been going
How would we add negation?
CSI 4106, Winter 2005
Basic facts about the English grammar, page 10
Inflection
Words usually have forms with the same meaning
and different functions in a sentence. Examples:
he — him
was — were
long — longer
book — books
Such forms have different inflectional categories.
Nouns can be inflected by case and number;
adjectives by case, number, gender and degree;
verbs by person, number, gender and tense.
Inflection in English is quite simple, compared with
such languages as Russian, and even French.
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Basic facts about the English grammar, page 11
Inflection (2)
French
donnais, donnais, donnait
English
gave, gave, gave
donnions, donniez, donnaient
dernier, derniers
dernière, dernières
gave, gave, gave
last, last
last, last
English cases
Water is good.
There is no water.
I wonder at water.
Russian cases
... voda ...
... vody ...
... vode ...
I see water.
I wash with water.
... vodu ...
... vodoy ...
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Basic facts about the English grammar, page 12
sg = singular, pl = plural
Case: nouns and pronouns
The mansubjective spoke.
We saw the manobjective.
Person and number: verbs
I walk/walked1st, sg
yousg walk/walked2nd, sg
he walks/walked3rd, sg
we walk/walked1st, pl
youpl walk/walked2nd, pl
they walk/walked3d, pl
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Inflection (3)
Hesubjective spoke.
We saw himobjective.
I am/was1st, sg
yousg are/were2nd, sg
he is/was3rd, sg
we are/were1st, pl
youpl are/were2nd, pl
they are/were3d, pl
Basic facts about the English grammar, page 13
Noun phrases
Segment
Function
Determiner
Pre-determiner
sequence Determiner
Ordinal
Cardinal
Modifiers
Describers
Classifiers
Head
Head
Qualifiers
Restrictive qualifier
Nonrestrictive qualifier
------------------ Possessive marker
Examples
half; both; all
the; a; those; every
first; second; last
one; three; many
big; blue; enchanted
stone; singing
walls; people; ones
in town; who fly
, which you know
‘s
Terry Winograd, Language as a Cognitive Process: Syntax, Addison-Wesley, 1983
CSI 4106, Winter 2005
Basic facts about the English grammar, page 14
Noun phrases (2)
Examples, short and long, with head marked
• he
• Jimmy
• a man
• all the first three big stone walls in town, which you know
• all those many enchanted blue singing people who fly
Elements that precede the head
Specifiers describe definiteness, cardinality, and so on.
Modifiers (adjectives, nouns) narrow down the meaning.
Elements that follow the head
Postmodifiers: relative clauses, prepositional phrases.
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Basic facts about the English grammar, page 15
Simple clauses
A “simple” clause is not really simple. It is, however,
usually built around a single verb, though with many
additional elements — more in a while.
A clause can be in one of three moods:
declarative
I will buy it.
interrogative
Will I buy it? What will I buy?
imperative
Buy it!
A clause has a tense — the same as the verb.
Finally, some clauses can be active or passive:
John hit Jim

Jim was hit [by John]
John felt sick

* Sick was felt [by John]
John slept

???
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Basic facts about the English grammar, page 16
Questions
There are two types of interrogative clauses. They
are, in a sense, derived from declarative clauses.
He bought two books today.
He did buy two books today.
Yes/no questions
Did he buy two books today?
Wh-questions
[Who]  bought two books today?
[What] did he buy  today?
[When] did he buy two books ?
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Basic facts about the English grammar, page 17
Roles
A clause consists of a verb group surrounded by noun
phrases that serve as role descriptors.
One syntactic role that is always present in an English
clause is the subject. It may not be the agent or the
experiencer (see conceptual graphs).
Yesterday John gave Mary a book.
subject
Yesterday John gave Mary a book.
indirect object
Yesterday John gave Mary a book.
direct object
Yesterday John gave Mary a book.
modifier
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Basic facts about the English grammar, page 18
Roles (2)
The number of roles depends on the verb.
Intransitive verbs have one role [subject]:
Jim has laughed.
The child is sleeping.
Transitive verbs have two roles [subject, direct object]:
The man rode a pony.
He should wash his face.
Bi-transitive verbs have a subject, direct object, indirect object:
Tom gave Mary flowers.
Tom gave flowers to Mary.
Verbs with ≥ 4 roles: move [who what from-where to-where].
A verb may have several role patterns:
Tom bought flowers.
Tom bought flowers for Mary.
Examples of incorrect clauses (too many / too few roles):
* Jim sold.
* Jim slept a book.
CSI 4106, Winter 2005
Basic facts about the English grammar, page 19
Roles (3)
Four most common syntactic forms of roles
• Noun phrase in a specific position:
• subject
• direct object
• indirect object
• Prepositional phrase
• Embedded clause
• Modifier
Examples of the last three follow shortly.
All “role-fillers” are jointly called complements.
CSI 4106, Winter 2005
Basic facts about the English grammar, page 20
Prepositional phrases
The syntax is very simple: a preposition followed by a
noun phrase. The meaning tends to be quite complex,
and there are many roles, jointly determined by the
preposition and the noun phrase.
Examples of relations between roles and prepositions:
with
instrument, accompaniment
He ate cake with a spoon.
He went home with them.
by
agent, location
He was hit by a stranger.
He sat by the door.
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Basic facts about the English grammar, page 21
Prepositional phrases (2)
More examples:
in
???
at
???
on
???
for
???
(there are many more prepositions, but not all
that many roles).
Prepositional phrases also qualify nouns:
I met a man with a dog.
I met a man in a coat.
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Basic facts about the English grammar, page 22
Embedded clauses
Clausal subjects
Honour
To jump over the lazy dog
Jumping over the lazy dog
Clausal direct objects
John wants
John wants
John wants Jim
John considers
John considers
Clausal indirect objects
John sent a note to
John sent a note to
CSI 4106, Winter 2005
means much to him.
means much to him.
means much to him.
peace.
to give Mary a book.
to give Mary a book.
the consequences.
giving Mary a book.
Mary.
whom it may concern.
Basic facts about the English grammar, page 23
Verb phrases
Verb phrases also have a deceptively simple toplevel syntax: a verb with complements. The
complexity arises from the richness of the structure
of complements.
We can now define the syntax of a declarative
clause. (In the example grammars, we will call them
“sentences”.) We keep the noun phrase in the subject
position separate.
clause  nounPhrase, verbPhrase.
All other noun phrases, prepositional phrases and
so on are part of the verb phrase.
verbPhrase  verb, complements.
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Basic facts about the English grammar, page 24
Modifiers
Much of the interesting complexity comes from
modifiers — expressions that introduce place,
time, manner and many other additional elements
of a situation. Here are examples of structures
and their meaning.
Adverb
Obviously, he wants to go.
Prepositional phrase
He wants to go for a walk.
Embedded -ing clause
He wants to go whistling a tune.
Noun phrase
He wants to go tomorrow.
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Basic facts about the English grammar, page 25
Modifiers (2)
Ordinal
First, he wants to go.
A comparative construction
He wants to go as soon as possible.
Another embedded clause
He wants to go as if he danced.
In theory, we can have as many modifiers as
we please, but there are practical limits. This is
an almost unrealistic example:
More than ever, tomorrow he wants to go
quickly for a walk whistling a tune.
CSI 4106, Winter 2005
Basic facts about the English grammar, page 26
Modifiers (3)
Examples of simple clauses with subjects, qualifiers and
modifiers:
A man is walking.
A man with a cane is walking down the lane.
A man who seems tired is walking slowly.
A man is walking and whistling a tune.
A man with a cane who seems tired is slowly
walking down the lane and whistling a tune.
In the last two examples there is the complication of
“and”, but it is still a simple clause — it has one subject
and one, though far from elementary, verb phrase.
CSI 4106, Winter 2005
Basic facts about the English grammar, page 27
Compound clauses
There are co-ordinate clauses and subordinate
clauses, constructed using conjunctions.
X and Y are simple clauses.
Subordinate conjunctions — a few examples
“X if Y”
“X when Y”
“X because Y”
Co-ordinate conjunctions
“X and Y”
“X or Y”
“either X or Y”
“neither X nor Y”
CSI 4106, Winter 2005
Basic facts about the English grammar, page 28
Compound clauses (2)
Co-ordination is a difficult construct, expensive to
recognize, because a conjunction may appear between
any two constituents.
Hansel saw the witch.
Hansel and Gretel saw the witch.
Hansel and Gretel saw the witch and her house.
Hansel and Gretel saw and killed the witch.
Hansel and Gretel saw the witch and killed her.
Hansel and Gretel saw the witch and ran.
Hansel and Gretel saw the witch and her house and ran.
CSI 4106, Winter 2005
Basic facts about the English grammar, page 29
Relative clauses
the man who ∆ went for a walk
the man he knows ∆ best
the book that you gave ∆ to Mary
the book that you gave Mary ∆
the fair everybody went to ∆
the book that Bill promised he would tell John
to remember to give ∆ to Mary
Note how similar this is to questions.
CSI 4106, Winter 2005
Basic facts about the English grammar, page 30
Relative clauses (2)
But not everything is possible. We cannot “lift” a
noun phrase just from anywhere. These are
examples of incorrect “lifting”.
* the book John gave ◊ and the golden magic
ring to Mary
* the book I read a note that John gave ◊
to Mary
Relative clauses are hard to analyze, especially
if we want to reject such incorrect structures.
Not to worry: we will manage, at least partially.
Stay tuned.
CSI 4106, Winter 2005
Basic facts about the English grammar, page 31
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Class Notes # 10a: Review of English Language