English grammar is a body of rules (grammar) specifying how phrases and sentences are constructed in the English language. Accounts of English grammar tend to fall into two groups: the descriptivist, which describes the grammatical system of English; and the prescriptivist, which does not describe English grammar but rather sets out a small list of social regulations that attempt to govern the linguistic behaviour of native speakers (see Linguistic prescription and Descriptive linguistics). Prescriptive grammar concerns itself with several open disputes in English grammar, often representing changes in usage over time.
This article describes a generalized Standard English, which is the form of speech found in types of public discourse including broadcasting, education, entertainment, government, and news reporting. Standard English includes both formal and informal speech. The many dialects of English have divergences from the grammar described here, which are only cursorily mentioned.
Lexical categories and phrasal syntax
Noun phrases and pronouns both can have a referential function where they "point" (i.e. refer) to some person or object in the real world (or a possible world). Additionally, they share many of the same grammatical functions in that they can both act as subjects, objects, and complements within clauses.
Noun phrases may consist of only a single noun, or they may be complex consisting of a noun (which functions as the head of the noun phrase) that is modified by different types of elements (such as adjectives, prepositional phrases, etc.).
Pronouns are words that can act as substitutions for noun phrases. For instance, in the following sentence
the noun phrase the very large ball with red spots can be substituted with the pronoun it as in
In spite of the name pronoun, pronouns cannot substitute for nouns — they only substitute for noun phrases. This can be shown with the same sentence above: the noun ball cannot be substituted with the pronoun it (or any other pronoun) as in the ungrammatical sentence
The sections below describe English nouns (their morphology and syntax), the structure of noun phrases, and pronouns.
Nouns are defined notionally (i.e. semantically) as generally describing persons, places, things, or ideas. This notional definition does account for what are the central members of the noun lexical category. However, the notional definition fails to account for several nouns, such as deverbal nouns like jump or destruction (which are notionally more like actions). For this reason, many grammatical descriptions of English define nouns in terms of grammar (i.e. according to their morphological and syntactic behavior). Nonetheless, traditional English grammars and some pedagogical grammars define nouns with a notional definition.
English nouns may be of a few morphological types:
Simple nouns consist of a single root which also acts as the stem which may be inflected. For example, the word (or, more precisely, the lexeme) boy is a simple noun consisting of a single root (also boy). The root boy also acts as the stem boy, which can have the inflectional plural suffix -s added to it producing the inflectional word-form boys.
More complex nouns can have derivational prefixes or suffixes in addition to a noun stem. For example, the noun archenemy consists of a derivational prefix arch- and a root enemy. Here the derived form archenemy acts as the stem which can be used to form the inflected word-form archenemies. An example with a derivational suffix is kingdom which is composed of root king and suffix -dom. Some English nouns can be complex with several derivational prefixes and suffixes. A considerably complex example is antidisestablishmentarianism which has the root establish and the affixes anti-, dis-, -ment, -ary, -an, and -ism.
English compound nouns are nouns that consist of more than one stem. For example, the compound paperclip is composed of the stem paper and the stem clip. Compounds in English can be usefully subdivided (following Bauer 1983) into different classes according to the lexical category of the individual stems and according to a semantic classification into endocentric, exocentric, copulative, and appositional subtypes.
English nouns are typically inflected for number, having distinct singular and plural forms. The plural form usually consists of the singular form plus -s or -es, but there are many irregular nouns. Ordinarily, the singular form is used when discussing one instance of the noun's referent, and the plural form is used when discussing any other number of instances, but there are many exceptions to this rule. Here are some examples:
Words that belong to the noun lexical category (or part of speech) can be simple words that belong primarily to the noun category. These include words like man, dog, rice, et cetera.
Other nouns can be derived from words belonging to other lexical categories with the addition of class-changing derivational suffixes. For example, the suffixes -ation, -ee, -ure, -al, -er, -ment are attached to verb bases to create deverbal nouns.
Still other suffixes (-dom, -hood, -ist, -th, -ness) form derived deadjectival nouns from adjectives:
These derivational suffixes can also be added to (compound) phrasal bases like in the noun stick-it-to-itiveness, which is derived from the phrase [ stick it to it ] + -ive + -ness.
Besides derivational suffixation, words from other lexical categories can be converted straight to nouns (without any overt morphological indication) by a conversion process (also known as zero derivation). For example, the word run is a verb but it can be converted to a noun run "point scored in a baseball game (by running around the bases)" as in the sentence:
Here it is evident that run is a noun because it is pluralized with the inflectional plural suffix -s, it is modified by the preceding quantifier five, and it occurs as the head of the noun phrase five runs which acts as the complement of the preposition with in the prepositional phrase with five runs. Other lexical categories can also be converted:
Additionally, there are phrases which can be converted into nouns, such as jack-in-the-box, love-lies-bleeding (type of flower). These may be viewed as compounds (see noun morphology section). There are also conversion processes that convert from one noun subclass to another subclass (see the noun subclass conversion section).
Three basic noun classes in English can be distinguished according to syntactic criteria:
These syntactic subclasses also correspond fairly well to semantic categories (as indicated by their names and explained below).
Countable and uncountable nouns — such as dog (countable), rice (uncountable) — show article contrast: a dog, the dog, dogs, the dogs are all possible just as rice, the rice are both possible.
Countable nouns differ from uncountable nouns in that they cannot stand alone, cannot be modified by some unless they are in plural forms, can be modified by a, and can be pluralized. Semantically, they generally refer to easily individuated objects. Examples of countable nouns include the following: remark, book, bottle, chair, forest, idea, bun, pig, toy, difficulty, bracelet, mountain, etc.
Uncountable nouns, in contrast, can stand alone, can be modified by some, cannot be modified by a, and cannot be pluralized. Semantically, uncountable nouns refer to an undifferentiated mass. Examples of uncountable nouns include: rice, furniture, jewelry, scenery, gold, bread, grass, warmth, music, butter, homework, baggage, sugar, coffee, luck, sunshine, water, air, Chinese (language), soccer, literature, rain, walking, etc.
The morphosyntactic differences between countable and uncountable nouns are displayed in the table below.
On the other hand, proper nouns, which include personal names — such as Peter, Smith and placenames like Paris, Tokyo — do not show article contrast. Typically, they cannot be preceded by an article. Thus, *a Peter, *the Peter, *a Tokyo, *the Tokyo are all ungrammatical (only Peter and Tokyo without articles are possible). Although several proper nouns (e.g. Peter, Smith, Paris, Tokyo) cannot be preceded by an article, some proper nouns must obligatorily be preceded by an article. These include proper nouns like The Hague, The Dalles, the Netherlands, the West Indies, and the Andes. However, like proper nouns without article modification, these proper nouns with preceding articles also lack article contrast. Thus, while The Hague is grammatical, *a Hague and *Hague are ungrammatical. Semantically, proper nouns have unique reference.
Dual membership, conversion
Complicating the membership of the basic subclasses described above is the existence of some nouns which have dual membership in more than one subcategory and the conversion of a noun from its basic subcategory to a different subcategory. (See the noun membership section.)
Nouns like brick and cake have dual membership. For example, observe the following sentences with brick:
In the first sentence, brick is an uncountable noun. This can be determined by the lack of an article preceding brick, which is a characteristic of uncountable nouns (and, thus, this sentence is parallel to a sentence like The ball was made of rice). In the second sentence, bricks is a countable noun because it is plural, which is a characteristic of only countable nouns (and, thus, this sentence is parallel to a sentence like The toy house was made of matches). Other nouns that have dual membership in both countable and uncountable subclasses are stone, paper, beauty, difficulty, experience, light, sound, talk, and lamb.
As mentioned above, several nouns can undergo a conversion from one subclass to another. One type of conversion is from a proper noun to a countable noun. A proper name like Picasso may become a countable noun through metonymic extension, as in the sentence:
Although Picasso usually has a unique referent (which is the person Pablo Picasso), it can be used metonymically to mean, "a painting created by Picasso". This converted noun can be seen as belonging to the countable subclass by the fact that it is plural and that the article the precedes it. There are also two idiomatic constructions which involve the conversion of a proper noun to a countable noun:
Here the article a before Mr. Smith indicates a meaning of "a certain person called Mr. Smith that is otherwise unknown to you" in the first sentence while in the second sentence the article the with intonational stress (here indicated in caps) gives a reading of "the well-known person called Margaret Thatcher".
Determiners include articles (like the, a/an), demonstratives (like this, these, that, those), quantifiers (like all, many, some, any, each), numerals (like one, two, first, second), genitives (like my, your, his, her, its, our, their), interrogatives (like which, what), and exclamatives (like such, what) that modify noun heads in noun phrases.
Determiners function as words that "determine" other nouns, where "determine" is generally conceived of as indicating information about quantification, grammatical (and/or semantic) number, issues involving reference, and noun subclass membership (i.e. count, noncount, and proper noun subclasses). These "determining" functions make determiners quite distinct from adjectival modifiers which generally provide qualitative information about nouns and cannot provide determining functions.
Within the noun phrase, determiners occur at the far left edge of the noun phrase before the noun head and before any optional adjective modifiers (if present):
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).
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 like the as in
can be preceded by a predeterminer like all as in
or the central determiner the can be followed by a postdeterminer like many as in
A sequence of predeterminer + central determiner + postdeterminer is also possible as in
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
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 central determiner a (e.g., such nuisance!, such a nuisance!).
Predeterminers include words like all, both, half, double, twice, three times, one-third, one-fifth, three-quarters, such, exclamative what. Examples with predeterminers preceding a central determiner:
Central determiners include words like 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:
While the, a/an, no, and every only function as determiners, the other central determiners can also function as members of other lexical categories, especially as pronouns. For example, that functions as a determiner in
but as pronoun in
In additional 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 noun phrases occur in the central determiner position:
Number agreement, selectional restrictions
The definite article "the" is used to refer to a specific instance of the noun, often already mentioned in the context or easy to identify. Definite articles are slightly different from demonstratives, which often indicate the location of nouns with respect to the speaker and audience.
A remnant of grammatical gender is also preserved in the third person pronouns. Gender is assigned to animate objects based on biological gender (where known), and to personified objects based on social conventions (ships, for example, are often regarded as feminine in English). He is used for masculine nouns; she is used for feminine nouns; and it is used for nouns of indeterminate gender and inanimate objects. The use of it to refer to humans is generally considered ungrammatical and impolite, but is sometimes used deliberately as a term of offence or insult as it implies the person is of indeterminate gender or, worse, sub-human - a thing. (See for example: A Child Called "It")
Traditionally, the masculine he was used to refer to a person in the third person whose gender was unknown or irrelevant to the context; recently, this usage has come under criticism for supporting gender-based stereotypes and is increasingly considered inappropriate (see Gender-neutral language). There is no consensus on a replacement. Some English speakers prefer to use the slightly cumbersome "he or she" or "s/he"; others prefer the use of they (third plural) (see singular they). This situation rarely leads to confusion, since the intended meaning can be inferred from context, e.g. "This person has written me a letter but they have not signed it." However, it still is considered by some to be incorrect grammar. Spivak pronouns have also been proposed which are essentially formed by dropping the leading <th> from the plural counterpart, but their use is relatively rare compared to other solutions. For comparison, speakers of German distinguish between the homophonous sie ("she"), sie ("they"), and Sie ("you", polite) with little difficulty.
Historically, English used to mark nouns for case, and the two remnants of this case marking are the pronominal system and the genitive clitic (which used to be called the Saxon genitive). The genitive is marked by a clitic at the end of the modifying noun phrase. This can be illustrated in the following manner:
The ’s clitic attached to company does not modify company but rather modifies the entire noun phrase president from the company. This can be shown more clearly using brackets:
English pronoun forms vary with number, person, case, and notional gender (only in 3rd person singular). Number and case distinctions have collapsed in the 2nd person singular in the standard formal language, although informal dialectal forms have number distinctions (for example singular you vs. plural y'all, youse, etc.).
The reflexive pronouns are compounds consisting an genitive determiner pronoun and a following -self, with exception of the 3rd person singular male form which consists of the objective form him + -self and the 3rd person plural form with consists objective them + -self + -(e)s. In the plural, these reflexives take the regular plural suffix -s (with voicing of the f > v as with the free form of self > selves) along with the plural inflected pronoun form.
Ourself is used instead of ourselves for any semantically singular version of we, such as the royal we.
In some dialects, the 3rd person male and 3rd person plural reflexives are formed with the genitive determiner his > hisself and their > theirself. Thus, these dialects have regularized the entire paradigm to genitive forms.
English verbs fall into two main types:
Main verbs are verbs like jump, take, catch, and hit. They are lexical in nature, carry the main semantic information within the verb complex, and are an open class (i.e. main verbs can be freely and productively created anew via word-formation processes). In the sentence
the verb helping is the main verb.
Auxiliaries are verbs that typically precede the main verb in sentences. They are of limited number, contribute grammatical information to the verb complex, and are a closed class. In the sentence
the verb is is the auxiliary.
Three verbs in English — be, have, and do — may function as both main verbs and as auxiliaries. Quirk et al. (1985) refer to these verbs as primary verbs. The following examples demonstrate their dual functionality:
Besides the three primary verbs, the other auxiliaries are modals which include can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, and would. In addition to their restriction to functioning only as auxiliaries, modals can only occur in finite clauses and cannot be inflected for tense, number, or person.
More marginal to the class of modals are verbs like ought and in British varieties also need and dare. These display many but not all properties of modals and are thus termed marginal modals by Quirk et al. (1985).
Finally, the verb used (as in She used to called me everyday) is considered to be marginal modal by Quirk et al. (1985), but Huddleston & Pullum (2002) find several differences between it and the other modals and marginal modals, concluding that it is an auxiliary of the most marginal type. Semantically, used has reference to time, which distinguishes it from modals, which have modality as their main semantic component.
English verbs only have eight possible inflectional forms:
The copula be has eight distinct inflectional forms as seen in the example sentences below:
Unlike copula be, the verb jump has the same syncretic word-form jump for the base, general nonpast, and 1st. sg. nonpast forms (where the copula has be, are, am, respectively) and the same syncretic word-form jumped for the -en, general past, and the 1st/3rd sg. past forms (where the copula has been, were, was, respectively). Upon comparing other verbs with the copula, one finds that only the copula has a 1st/3rd sg. past form that is distinct from the general past form, a 1st sg. nonpast form that is distinct from the general nonpast, and a base form that is distinct from the general nonpast form — all other verbs display syncretism in these forms. The copula and a regular jump can be compared with each other and three types of irregular verbs in the table below.
All verbs (including the copula) form the -ing form with the addition of the -ing suffix to the base form:
All regular verbs and most irregular verbs form the 3rd singular form with the addition of the -e(s) suffix to the base form:
The parenthetical (e) above indicates that this suffix is spelled as either -es or -s. The -es form (pronounced [ɪz]) occurs after sibilant consonants. The -s spelling occurs after all other sounds. Examples:
All regular verbs form the past/-en form (as well as the syncretic 1st/3rd past) with the addition of the -ed suffix to the base form:
Irregular verb morphology
Irregular verbs may have the same syncretism as regular verbs (like catch) or may show less syncretism with five distinct forms (like take) or more syncretism with only three distinct forms (like hit). (See also: English irregular verbs.) Examples of the three types differing in the number of distinct inflectional forms:
Irregular verbs with five distinct inflectional forms do not syncretize the general past and the -en forms. Irregular verbs with only three forms have the syncretism involving all forms except for the -ing form and the 3rd sg. nonpast form.
Irregular verbs with five and four inflectional forms have different patterns of past formation and -en formation. Many of the patterns involve vowel ablaut (i.e. internal vowel changes) and/or the addition of suffixes. Some of the more common patterns are briefly mentioned below. Note that the spelling does not always reflect pronunciation changes in the internal vowel, so the pronunciation is transcribed phonetically:
A few verbs also have irregular changes between the general present and the 3rd sg. present forms:
A final thing to mention is that a few verbs are defective in that they are not inflected or are missing some inflectional forms. The verb beware has only the base form beware. It is usually found in imperative sentences:
The forms bewaring, bewares, bewared are not present in Modern English.
The verb used only occurs in past form, as in
or in the base form only following do, as in
This used verb indicates habitual action or states in the past and should not be confused with the other verb use which is a regular verb.
The verb stride is missing a past participle form in its inflectional paradigm for many speakers (for some speakers who do have a past participle form, the form may variously be stridden, strid, or strode).
The verbs rumored and reputed only occur in the -en form in passive sentences:
All modals (can, could, should, might, etc.) are defective.
However, most auxiliaries share the additional inflection of negation. Negative inflection consists of a -n't suffix that is attached to the auxiliary. Thus, there are the following inflected auxiliary forms:
The negative forms don't [doʊnt] (and not the expected [dunt]) and won't [woʊnt] (and not the expected [wɪlnt]) are irregular in their changes in internal vowel, and shan't [ʃænt, ʃɑːnt] is irregular in its deletion of the final consonant (and in RP its vowel has shifted from [æ] to [ɑː]). The forms mayn't and shan't are now rare (particularly so with mayn't) and are virtually absent in standard varieties of American English.
Traditional grammar views -n't not as an inflectional suffix but as simply a phonologically reduced form (in traditional terms contracted) of the grammatical word not. According to this view, haven't is equivalent to non-contracted have + not, doesn't = does + not, etc. These contracted negative forms are, thus, equated with the reduced (contracted) forms of some of the other auxiliaries, namely are > ’re, is > ’s, am > ’m, have > ’ve, has > ’s, had > ’d, does > ’s, will > ’ll, would > ’d. Although this is the historical origin of the negative forms, clearly in the modern language the -n't in these words are suffixes forming a single indivisible word as the negative auxiliaries display different syntactic behavior compared with constructions consisting of auxiliary + not:
Additionally, it can also be shown that the reduced forms of the other auxiliaries do not behave similarly to the negative auxiliaries:
Finally, the negative inflection property applies generally to auxiliaries but not to main verbs. There are two exceptions to this, however, involving the "primary" verbs. The verb be as a main verb may also be inflected in the negative as the following examples show:
In British varieties, have may also have negative forms as a main verb while are ungrammatical for most American varieties:
The other "primary" verb, however, cannot have negative forms when acting as a main verb.
This case of properties of auxiliaries applying to be and have is also seen in other syntactic behavior, such as in the inversion of subject and auxiliary operator. (See the operator section.)
Thus, ’ve, ’m, ’s, etc. are phonologically reduced (i.e. contracted) forms of separate words whereas the negative -n’t is not a contracted separate word but rather a (inflectional) suffix.
Most English verbs mark number (in agreement with their subjects) only in the non-past tense, indicative mood. In this context, there is a contrast between the 3rd person and all other persons (i.e., 1st and 2nd): the 3rd person is marked with a -(e)s suffix while all other persons are unmarked (i.e. without overt marking). Furthermore, the inflectional suffix -(e)s also indicates singular number, i.e. -(e)s indicates a 3rd person singular subject. Similarly, singular number is only indicated in the 3rd person — number in the other persons are unmarked. The plural in the 3rd person is unmarked. The 3rd person singular suffix is added to the general present tense form while the unmarked form is general present tense form. There is, thus, only a distinction between a general present form and 3rd person singular form.
Combined with personal pronoun subjects, the following are the possible subject-verb combinations:
The copula be, however, makes additional distinctions of the 1st person singular in the non-past and the 1st or 3rd person singular in the past. Unlike other verbs, these inflected forms of be lie in a suppletive relationship.
Pronoun subject-verb combinations:
In the subjunctive mood, all person and number distinctions are neutralized (see below).
Structure of the verb "complex"
Time, tense and aspect
Changes in tense in English are achieved by the changes in ending and the use of auxiliary verbs "to be" and "to have" and the use of the auxiliaries "will", "shall" and "would". (These auxiliaries cannot co-occur with other modals like can, may, and must.) The examples below use the regular verb to listen:
Auxiliary verbs may be used to define tense, aspect, or mood of a verb phrase.
As mentioned above "going to" is used for some future pseudo-tenses:
Forms of "do" are used for some negatives, questions and emphasis of the simple present and simple past:
Verb tense chart
English verb tenses can be better visualized in the following chart, which shows the times of the English language and its three aspects, namely Prior, Complete, and Incomplete. Note that this chart only represents actions truly happening, be it present, past, or future. Since unreal conditionals are obviously assumptions, conditional structures with 'would' are not included here.
English has two voices for verbs: the active and the passive. The basic form is the active verb, and follows the SVO pattern discussed above. The passive voice is derived from the active by using the auxiliary verb "to be" and the -en form of the main verb.
Examples of the passive:
Furthermore, the agent and patient switch grammatical roles between active and passive voices so that in passive the patient is the subject, and the agent is noted in an optional prepositional phrase using by, for example:
The passive form of the verb is formed by replacing the verb with to be in the same tense and aspect, and appending the -en form of the original verb. Thus:
This pattern continues through all the composite tenses as well. The semantic effect of the change from active to passive is the depersonalisation of an action. It is also occasionally used to topicalize the direct object of a sentence, or when the agent is either unknown or unimportant even when included, thus:
Many writing style guides including Strunk and White recommend minimizing use of the passive voice in English; however, many others do not.
There is a third 'voice' in English, related to the classic "middle" voice. In this, the patient becomes the subject, as in passive, but the verb remains in apparently active voice, no agent can plausibly be supplied, and generally, an adverbial modifies the entire construction. Thus:
Modals and modality
English has "moods" of verb. These always include the declarative/indicative and the subjunctive moods, and normally the imperative is included as a mood. Some people include conditional or interrogative forms as verbal moods.
Indicative, or declarative, mood
Examples are most commonly used verb forms, e.g.:
The conjugation of these moods becomes a significantly more complex matter when they are used with different tenses. However, casual spoken English rarely uses the subjunctive, and generally restricts the conditional mood to the simple present and simple past. A notable exception to this is the use of the present subjunctive in clauses of wish or command which is marked in one or two ways: (1) if third person singular, the "-s" conjugation called for by the declarative mood is absent, and (2) past tense is not used. For example, "They insisted that he go to chapel every morning" means that they were requiring or demanding him to go to chapel. However, "They insisted that he went to chapel every morning" means they are reasserting the statement that, in the past, he did attend chapel every morning. The underlying grammar of this distinction has been called the "American subjunctive". On the other hand, other constructions for expressing wishes and commands, which do not use the subjunctive, are equally common, such as "They required him to go..."
Conditional forms of verb are used to express if-then statements, or in response to counterfactual propositions (see subjunctive mood, above), denoting or implying an indeterminate future action. Conditionals may be considered tense forms but are sometimes considered a verbal mood, the conditional mood.
Conditionals are expressed through the use of the verbal auxiliaries could, would, should, may and might in combination with the stem form of the verb.
Note that for many speakers "may" and "might" have merged into a single meaning (that of "might") that implies the outcome of the statement is contingent. The implication of permission in "may" seems to remain only in certain uses with the second person, e.g. "You may leave the dinner table."
Two main conditional tenses can be identified in English:
The main argument given by Huddleston and Pullum (pp 209-10) that English does not have a future tense is that "will" is a modal verb, both in its grammar and in its meaning. Biber et al. go further and say that English has only two tenses, past and present: they treat the perfect forms with "have" under "aspect". Huddleston & Pullum, on the other hand, regard the forms with "have" as "secondary tenses".
Adjectives are words that can be used attributively within noun phrases where they (pre-)modify noun heads and predicatively within verb phrase where they are the complement of copular verbs. For example, in the sentence below the adjective tall occurs within the noun phrase the tall man modifying the noun head man. The adjective nice occurs within the verb phrase is nice as the complement of the (copular) verb head is.
The adjectives also act as the head of adjective phrases as in the following:
Here the adjectives tall and nice are the heads of the adjective phrases very tall and rather nice.
Semantically, adjectives provide more information about them. Adjectives are used to describe and identify their associated nouns.
A further morphological characteristic of adjectives, which is also shared with adverbs, is their ability to be inflected in comparison: tall-er, tall-est. See also the comparison section.
See also the comparison section.
Syntactically, degree adverbs pre-modify either adjectives or adverbs:
English is a subject verb object (SVO) language: it prefers a sequence of subject–verb–object in its simplest, unmarked declarative statements. Thus, "Tom [subject] eats [verb] cheese [object]" and "Mary sees the cat."
However, beyond these simple examples, word order is a complicated matter in English. In particular, the speaker or writer's point of departure in each clause is a key factor in the organization of the message. Thus, the elements in a message can be ordered in a way that signals to the reader or listener what the message concerns.
The point of departure can also be set up as an equation, known as a thematic equative. In this way, virtually any element in a clause can be put first.
Usually, the point of departure is the subject of a declarative clause; this is the unmarked form. A point of departure is marked when it is not the subject — thus, occasionally it is the object ("You I blame for this dilemma") and more often an adverbial phrase ("This morning I got up late").
In questions, point of departure is treated slightly differently. English questions come in two types: wh-questions and yes-no questions. Ordinary (unmarked) questions of either type start with the word that indicates what the speaker wants to know.
Special (marked) questions displace this key "what I want to know" word with some other element.
Either imperative clauses are of the type "I want you to do something" or "I want you and me to do something." The second type usually starts with let us; in the unmarked form of the first type, you is implied and not made explicit ("Improve your grammar!"), and included in the marked form ("You improve your grammar!"); another marked form is "Do improve your grammar." In the negative, "Do not argue with me" is unmarked, and "Do not you argue with me" is marked.
In spoken English, the point of departure is frequently marked off by intonation.
Generally, English is a head-initial language, meaning that the "anchor" of a phrase (segment of a sentence) occurs at the beginning of the phrase.
The main exception is that simple modifiers precede the noun phrases:
This leads to a sentence like: "Fred's sister ran quickly to the store." As can be inferred from this example, the sequence of a basic sentence (ignoring articles and other determiners as well as prepositional phrases) is: Adjective1 - Subject - Verb - Adverb - Adjective2 - Indirect Object - Adjective3 - Direct Object.
Interrogative sentences invert word order ("Did you go to the store?"). Changing a given sentence from active to passive grammatical voice changes the word order, moving the new subject to the front ("John bought the car" becomes "The car was bought by John"), and lexical or grammatical emphasis (topicalization) changes it in many cases as well (see duke-aunt-teapot examples above).
English also sees some use of the OSV (object-subject-verb) word order, especially when making comparisons using pronouns that are marked for case. For example, "I hate oranges, but apples I will eat." Far more rare, but still sometimes used is OVS, "If it is apples you like, then apples like I," although this last usage can sound contrived and anachronistic to a native speaker.
Interrogative word order is used to pose questions, with or without an expected answer. Most of the time, it is formed by switching the order of the subject and the auxiliary (or "helping") verb in a declarative sentence, as in the following:
However, when the information being requested would be the subject of the answer, the word order is not inverted, and the interrogative pronoun takes the place of the subject, as in the following:
When spoken, an intonation change is often used to emphasize this switch, or can entirely reflect interrogation in some cases (e.g. "John ran?"). The interrogative phrase can further be formed in this manner by moving the predicate of a declarative sentence in front of the helping verb and changing it to a demonstrative, relative pronoun, quantifier, etc. Ending the sentence with a question mark denotes the interrogative phrase <?>.
Rhetorical questions can be formed by moving the helping verb-subject pair to the end of the question, e.g. "You would not really do that, would you?"
Types of Interrogative Sentences
There are three types of interrogative sentences (questions) in English:
Yes/No questions require an answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’. If there is a modal verb (can, must, should, may), an auxiliary verb (will, shall, have) or a form of the verb ‘to be’ in the sentence, put it in front of the subject.
If there is no modal verb, auxiliary verb or the verb ‘to be’ in the sentence, yes/no questions are formed with the help of the auxiliary verb ‘do’. The auxiliary verb ‘do’ has no meaning. It just takes the form according to the main verb in the sentence.
‘did’ - in the past tense
Note: the main verb in yes/no questions comes without any endings (-es, -s, ed) or in case of the past tense – in its first form (arrived – arrive, came – come).
If you need to form the negative yes/no question with the help of the auxiliary verb ‘do’, you have to use ‘don’t’ (do not), doesn’t (does not), or didn’t (did not) instead of ‘do’ does, or did.
The peraphrastic negative is used in more formal English:
Information or Wh- questions require additional information for the answer (as opposed to simply yes or no as with yes/no-questions). To form such questions you have to put the question word (why? when? where? what? how? who? whom?) together with all of the words in the same phrase at the front of the sentence. If the question word is part of the subject you do not have to change the word order. The word order remains as in the statement.
If the question word is not part of the subject you have to use a modal verb (can, must, should, may), an auxiliary verb (will, shall, have) or a form of the verb ‘to be’ after the question word and in front of the subject.
Note: the main verb in information questions comes without any endings (goes – go, plays – play, talked - talk) or in case of the past tense – in its first form (arrived – arrive, came – come).
see also: #Negation, negative polarity, and assertion.
Reversed polarity tags
Disjunctive questions (tag questions) Tag questions are statements with tags at the end. The tag consists of two or three parts.
2nd part: the particle ‘not’ if the statement is positive. If the statement is negative, the particle is omitted.
3rd part: the subject of the statement expressed by a noun.
(a) In BrE the main verb ‘to have’ behaves as an auxiliary.
(c) Such words like ‘nothing’, ‘never’, ‘hardly’ make the statements negative, so the tag should be positive.
(d) If the statement starts with ‘there’, this word counts as a pronoun, so it is placed on the 3rd place in the tag.
(e) If the statement is an imperative, the tag will be ‘will you’ or ‘won’t you’.
(f) If the statement contains ‘Let's’, the tag will be ‘shall we’.
(g) More formal English uses peraphrastic negation in the tags to positive sentences:
Meaning of tags
The tag question requires the person to respond to the statement. Negative tags require a ‘Yes’ answer. Positive tags require a ‘No’ answer.
Constant polarity tags
non-tensed VP topicaliztion:
instead non-tensed VP movement with do-support
Negation, negative polarity, and assertion
restrictions on not:
Adjectives and adverbs typically have the semantic feature of being gradable, that is the quality or state that they describe exists on a gradual scale between two opposite poles. For example, there is a gradable scale between the antonyms cold and hot. Gradable words of this type can have several modifiers that qualify where on the scale a particular quality or state rests as in the following combinations:
Most adjectives are gradable but some adjectives are not. For example, the adjective infinite is not gradable making the adjective phrases very infinite, rather infinite and more infinite semantically odd.
Types of comparison
Comparisons of the same degree use only the general base adjective form.
In higher degree comparisons, the comparison is indicated either by inflectional suffixation, using -er, -est (morphological marking) or by periphrastic constructions involving more, most modifiers preceding the adjective (syntactic marking). The three inflectional forms are known as
Lower degree comparisons only use periphrastic constructions involving less and least adjectival modifiers.
The above examples involve ellipsis in the second component of a coordinated constituent. This type of ellipsis is very common. Other types of non-coordinated optional ellipsis are the following:
Certain kinds of ellipsis indicate a more informal or familiar style of language while other types are neutral in the aspect.
A type of ellipsis that is always obligatory involves control constructions. These sentences are usually analyzed as consisting of a main clause with the verb of the main clause taking a non-finite clause as a complement.
In the sentence above Halil tried [ X ] is the main clause and the embedded (i.e. subordinate) non-finite clause is to paint his house. The non-finite clause is analyzed as having a subject which is obligatorily omitted in the surface sentence. In this case, the omitted subject is Halil (since it is Halil who making the painting attempt). Thus, the underlying structure is
which has a subject that must be omitted (along with an infinitive marker to that must be added) to give:
Types of ellipsis that are obligatory in certain constructions but optional in others include the that complementizer:
Diagrams like this were used in English grammar education:
"The teacher punished Johnny"
Notes and references
English Verb Inflectional Paradigm (excluding copula)
Published - October 2008
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