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Levels of syntactical analysis

§ 39. Within the sentence we usually distinguish two syntactical levels of analysis, one belonging to the sentence proper, which is called the sentence level, and one belonging to various phrases treated as a whole and functioning in the sentence with the same force as separate words. This level is called the phrase level.

The subject and the predicate belong to the sentence level only. The object, the adverbial modifier, the attribute, and the apposition may belong either to the sentence level or to the phrase level.


He did not tell me anything about it. (Me, anything, about it are objects to the verb-predicate - the

sentence level.)

You are unhappy about something, aren’t you? (About something is an object to the predicative unhappy,

which is part of the predicate - the sentence level.)

He will come tomorrow. (Tomorrow is an adverbial modifier to the verb-predicate - the sentence level.)

You seem very tired. (Very is an adverbial modifier to the adjective tired, which is part of the predicate –

the sentence level.)

Poor Amy could not answer. (Poor is an attribute to the noun, which is the subject - the sentence level.)


In other cases objects, adverbial modifiers, attributes and appositions are included in various phrases within which they are not usually treated separately, the whole phrase functioning as part of the sentence on the sentence level.


He insisted on going by train. (On going by train is an object to the verb-predicate - the sentence level;

within the phrase on going by train we distinguish an adverbial modifier by train referring to the word-

form going - the phrase level.)

When analysing a sentence we deal mainly with the sentence levelonly, unless it is necessary for some reason to state the syntactical relations between the words within a phrase.

The subject

§ 40. Every English sentence but the one-member and the imperative one must have a subject. The subject is one of the two main parts of the, sentence. The most important feature of the subject in English is that in declarative sentences it normally comes immediately before the predicate, whereas in questions its position is immediately after an operator. It means that in English sentences any word or words which occur in these positions are to be treated as the subject of the sentence.

The subject determines the form of the verbal part of the predicate as regards its number and person.

Ways of expressing the subject

§ 41. The subject is expressed by:


1. A noun in the common case (including substantivized adjectives and participles) or a nominal phrase with a noun.

The fog is thinning.

Science is not omnipotent.

The blue of the sky deepened visibly.

The dying must be left in peace.

From Marlow up to Sonning is even fairer yet.

Four and three is seven.

A great number of frees were felled.


Occasionally a noun in the genitive case is the subject. This may be if a noun denotes someone’s place of business or residence, as in:

The grocer’s was full.


It may be the result of ellipsis as in:

Jim’s was a narrow escape. (= Jim’s escape was a narrow one.)


The latter type of subject is rather emphatic.


2. A personal pronoun in the nominative case.

I shall do the best I can.

She is very beautiful.


3. Any other noun-pronoun.

Nothing can be done about it.

This is the last straw.

Hers was the final judgement.

One learns by experience.

Who told you this?


4. A numeral (either cardinal or ordinal) or a nominal phrase with a


Seven cannot be divided by two.

Two of them were left in the camp.

The third was a young man with a dog.


5. An infinitive or an infinitive phrase.

To understand is to forgive.

To deny the past is to deny the future.


6. A gerund or a gerundial phrase.

Talking mends no holes.

Working for someone keeps a woman calm and contented.


7. An infinitive or a gerundial predicative complex.

For her to fall asleep in broad daylight was not at all usual.

His walking out of the room in the very middle of the argument was quite unexpected.


8. Any word or words used as quotations.

“And” is a conjunction.

The “how” and the “why” of things never seems to occur to children.

His “How do you do” never sounds cordial enough.

“The War of the Worlds” was first published in 1898.


9. A clause (then called a subject clause), which makes the whole

sentence a complex one.

What girls of her sort want is just a wedding ring.


This kind of subject is treated in full in § 147-148.

Grammatical classification of the subject

§ 42. From the point of view of its grammatical value the subject may be either notional or formal.

The notional subject denotes or (if expressed by a pronoun) points out a person or a non-person.

The formal subject neither denotes nor points out any person or non-person and is only a structural element of the sentence filling the position of the subject. Thus a formal subject functions only as a position-filler. In English there are two such position-fillers: it and there.

The notional subject

§ 43. The notional subject denotes or points out a person or non-person, that is, various kinds of concrete things, substances, abstract no­tions or happening.


The policeman stepped back.

The audience cheered wildly.

I know all about it.

Whoever said that was wrong.

Non-persons, including animals, whose name may be substituted by ifor they.

A house was ready there for the new doctor. It stood on a hill.

These beasts are found only on four southern islets.

Building houses becomes more difficult.

To be a friend takes time.

Whatever he said is of no importance.

Look at the cat. It is very small.

The formal subject


The formal subject it

§ 44. The formal subject expressed by it is found in two patterns of sentences: those with impersonal it and those with introductory it.


1. The formal subject it is impersonal when it is used in sentences describing various states of nature, things in general, characteristics of the environment, or denoting time, distance, other measurements.

It’s spring. - Весна.

It’s cold today. - Сегодня холодно.

It’s freezing. - Морозит.

It’s still too hot to start. - Еще слишком жарко, чтобы отправ­ляться в путь.

It seems that he was frank. - Кажется, он был откровенен.

It turned out that she was deaf. - Оказалось, что она глухая.


Sentences with impersonal it are usually rendered in Russian by means of impersonal (subjectless) sentences.


2. The formal subject it is introductory (anticipatory) if it introduces the notional subject expressed by an infinitive, a gerund, an infinitive/gerundial phrase, a predicative complex, or a clause. The sentence thus contains two subjects: the formal (introductory) subject it and the notional subject, which follows the predicate.

It’s impossible to deny this.

It thrilled her to be invited there.

It gave him a pain in the head to walk.

It was no good coming there again.

It would be wonderful for you to stay with us.

It was lucky that she agreed to undertake the job.

It did not occur to her that the idea was his.


Sentences with introductory it can be transformed into sentences with the notional subject in its usual position before the predicate.

It was impossible to deny this ——> To deny this was impossible.


The difference between the two structural types lies in that the pattern with the introductory subject accentuates the idea expressed by the notional subject, whereas the pattern without it accentuates the idea expressed in the predicate.

Sentences with introductory it must be distinguished from certain pat­terns of sentences with impersonal it:


a) sentences with the predicate expressed by the verbs to seem, to appear, to happen, to turn out followed by a clause, as in It seemed that he didn’t know the place.

In these sentences describing a certain state of affairs it is impersonal, not introductory and the clause is a predicative one. So it cannot fill the position of the subject:

It seemed that he did not know the place —/—> That he did not know the place seemed. (Transformation is impossible)


b) sentences with predicative adjectives preceded by too and followed by an infinitive as in It was too late to start.

Here it is used in sentences describing time, etc. and is therefore impersonal. The infinitive is an adverbial of consequence, not the subject, and so cannot be placed before the predicate:


It was too late to start —/—> To start was too late.


c) sentences with the predicative expressed by the noun time followed by an infinitive, as in It was high time to take their departure.

In such sentences it is also impersonal, the infinitives being attributes to the noun time. These sentences cannot therefore undergo the transforma­tion which is possible in the case of sentences with introductory it:


It was time to take their departure ― /→ To take their departure was time.

Thus, the subject it may be personal, impersonal, and introductory. In the latter two cases it is formal, (see the scheme after § 45).


The formal subject there

§ 45. Sentences with a notional subject introduced by there express the existence or coming into existence of a person or non-person denoted by the subject. Such sentences may be called existential sentences or sentences of presentation. They are employed where the subject presents some new idea or the most important piece of information.

The notional subject introduced by there is expressed:


1. By any noun or by a noun phrase denoting an inseparable unit or an indefinite amount of something.

There, was silence for a moment.

There was a needle and thread in her fingers.

There were a lot of people in the street.


As the notional subject usually introduces a new idea, the noun expressing it is generally used with the indefinite article.


2. By some noun-pronouns:


a) indefinite.

Is there anybody there?

There was something wrong about the whole situation.


b) negative.

There was nobody in.

There was nothingto do.


c) universal (only some of them).

There were all of them on the bank.

There were both of them present.


The pronouns of these three classes are the most frequent in existential sentences. The ones that follow are very seldom used:


d) detaching.

There was the other to be asked.


e) demonstrative.

There is this which is to be settled.


3. By a gerund or a gerundial phrase.

There was no talking that evening.

There’s no going against bad blood.


4. By a clause.


First, there is what we might call a pattern.


The predicate in such sentences is generally a simple verbal predicate expressed by the verbs to be, to appear, to live, to come, to go, or some other similar verbs.


At last far off there appeared a tiny spot.

Once upon a time there lived a king.

Then there came a lightning.


Occasionally the predicate may be a compound verbal modal predicate or a predicate of double orientation. In both cases their second parts are expressed by the verb to be, or one of the others mentioned above.


a) There must be something wrong with him.

There may come a time when you’ll regret this.


b) There seemed to be only two people in the room.

There did not appear to be anything of importance in what he said.

There are said to be those who are “unfit for living”.


Negative sentences with introductory there are formed in the usual way for the verbs which are their predicates, that is, by means of appropriate auxiliaries for all the verbs but to be. In the latter case two negative constructions are possible:


a) either with the negative pronoun no, as in:

There was no sign of him in the hall.

There is no knowing when he will come.


b) or with the negation not, often followed by the indefinite pronoun any, or without it, as in:

There weren’t (were not) any flowers on the balconies.

There isn’t a cloud in the sky.


The sentence is also negative if the subject itself is a negative pronoun:

There was nobody in.

There was nothingto say.



The predicate


§ 46. The predicate is the second main part of the sentence and its organizing centre, as the object and nearly all adverbial modifiers are connected with, and dependent on, it.

The predicate may be considered from the semantic or from the structural point of view. Structurally the predicate in English expressed by a finite verb agrees with the subject in number and person. The only exception to this rule is a compound modal and a simple nominal predicate, the latter having no verb form at all (see § 49).

According to the meaning of its components, the predicate may denote an action, a state, a quality, or an attitude to some action or state ascribed to the subject. These different meanings find their expression in the structure of the predicate and the lexical meaning of its constituents.



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