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Structure of sentence

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1. The Sentence

2. Structure of English Sentence

3. Parts of the Sentence




The theme of my course paper sounds as following: «Structure of Sentence in English». Before beginning of investigation in our theme, I would like to say some words dealt with the theme of my course paper.

When studying the structure of a unit, we find out its components, mostly units of the next lower level, their arrangement and their functions as parts of the unit. Many linguists think that the investigation of the components and their arrangement suffices. Thus Holliday writes: «Each unit is characterized by certain structures. The structure is a syntagmatic framework of interrelated elements, which are paradigmatically established in the systems of classes and stated as values in the structure…. if a unit 'word' is established there will be dimensions of word-classes the terms in which operate as values in clause structures: given a verb /noun/ adverb system of word classes, it might be that the structures ANV and NAV were admitted in the clause but NVA excluded».

Standing on such ground, I would like to point out tasks and aims of my work

1. The first task of my work is to give definition to term «sentence».

2. The second task is to describe the structure of sentences in English.

3. The last task of my work is to characterize types of parts of the sentence.

In our opinion the practical significance of our work is hard to be overvalued. This work reflects modern trends in linguistics and we hope it would serve as a good manual for those who want to master modern English language. Also this work can be used by teachers of English language for teaching English grammar.

The present work might find a good way of implying in the following spheres:

1. In High Schools and scientific circles of linguistic kind it can be successfully used by teachers and philologists as modern material for writing research works dealing with English verbs.

2. It can be used by teachers of schools, lyceums and colleges by teachers of English as a practical manual for teaching English grammar.

3. It can be useful for everyone who wants to enlarge his/her knowledge in English.

After having proved the actuality of our work, I would like to describe the composition of it:

My work consists of four parts: introduction, the main part, conclusion and bibliography. Within the introduction part we gave the brief description of our course paper. The main part of the work includes several items. There we discussed such problems as the types of sentences in English, their construction, parts of the sentence, and etc. In the conclusion to our work we tried to draw some results from the scientific investigations made within the present course paper. In bibliography part we mentioned some sources which were used while compiling the present work. It includes linguistic books and articles dealing with the theme, a number of used dictionaries and encyclopedias and also some internet sources.

1. The Sentence

The notion of sentence has not so far received a satisfactory definition, which would enable us by applying it in every particular case to find out whether a certain linguistic unit was a sentence or not.

Thus, for example, the question remains undecided whether such shop notices as Book Shop and such book titles as English are sentences or not. In favour of the view that they are sentences the following consideration can be brought forward. The notice Book Shop and the title English Grammar mean 'This is a book shop', 'This is an English Grammar'; the phrase is interpreted as the predicative of a sentence whose subject and link verb have been omitted, that is, it is apprehended as a unit of communication. According to the other possible view, such notices as Book Shop and such titles as English Grammar are not units of communication at all, but units of nomination, merely appended to the object they denote. Since there is as yet no definition of a sentence which would enable us to decide this question, it depends on everyone's subjective view which alternative he prefers. We will prefer the view that such notices and book titles are not sentences but rather nomination units.

We also mention here a special case. Some novels have titles formulated as sentences, e. g. The Stars Look Down, by A. Cronin, or They Came to a City, by J.B. Priestley. These are certainly sentences, but they are used as nomination units, for instance, Have you read The Stars Look Down? Do you like They Came to a City?

With the rise of modern ideas of paradigmatic syntax yet another problem concerning definition of sentence has to be considered.

In paradigmatic syntax, such units as He has arrived, He has not arrived, Has he arrived, He will arrive, He will not arrive, Will he arrive, etc., are treated as different forms of the same sentence, just as arrives, has arrived, will arrive etc., are different forms of the same verb. We may call this view of the sentence the paradigmatic view.

Now from the point of view of communication, He has arrived and He has not arrived are different sentences since they convey different information (indeed, the meaning of the one flatly contradicts that of the other).

2. Structure of English Sentence

When studying the structure of a unit, we find out its components, mostly units of the next lower level, their arrangement and their functions as parts of the unit.

Many linguists think that the investigation of the components and their arrangement suffices. Thus Holliday writes: «Each unit is characterized by certain structures. The structure is a syntagmatic framework of interrelated elements, which are paradigmatically established in the systems of classes and stated as values in the structure…. if a unit 'word' is established there will be dimensions of word-classes the terms in which operate as values in clause structures: given a verb /noun/ adverb system of word classes, it might be that the structures ANV and NAV were admitted in the clause but NVA excluded».

Now ‘a syntagmatic framework of interrelated elements' may describe the structure of a combination of units as well as that of a higher unit, a combination of words as well as a sentence or a clause. The-important properties that unite the interrelated elements into a higher unit of which they become parts, the function of each element as part of the whole, are not mentioned.

Similarly, Z. Harris thinks that the sentence The fear of war grew can be described as TN1PN2V, where T stands for article, N for noun, P for preposition and V for verb.

Such descriptions are feasible only if we proceed from the notion that the difference between the morpheme, the word and the sentence is not one of quality but rather of quantity and arrangement.

Z. Harris does not propose to describe the morpheme (as he calls it) is as VC, where V stands for vowel and C for consonant. He does not do so because he regards a morpheme not as an arrangement of phonemes, but as a unit of a higher level possessing some quality (namely, meaning) not found in any phoneme or combination of phonemes outside the morpheme.

Since we assume that not only the phoneme and the morpheme, but also the word and the sentence are units of different levels, we cannot agree to the view that a sentence is merely an arrangement of words.

In our opinion, The fear of war grew is a sentence not because it is TNPNV, but because it has properties not inherent in words. It is a unit of communication and as such it possesses predicativity and intonation. On the other hand, TNPNV stands also for the fear of war growing, the fear of war to grow, which are not sentences.

As to the arrangement of words in the sentence above, it fully depends upon their combinability. We have TN and not NT because an article has only right-hand connections with nouns. A prepositional phrase, on the contrary has left-hand connections with nouns; that is why we have TNPN, etc.

The development of transform grammar (Harris, Chomsky) and tagmemic grammar (Pike) is to a great extent due to the realization of the fact that «an attempt to describe grammatical structure in terms of morpheme classes alone – even successively inclusive classes of classes – is insufficient».

As defined by Harris, the approach of transformational grammar differs from the above-described practice of characterizing «each linguistic entity… as composed out of specified ordered entities at a lower level» in presenting «each sentence as derived in accordance with a set of transformational rules, from one or more (generally simpler) sentences, i.e. from other entities of the same level. A language is then described as consisting of specified sets of kernel sentences and a set of transformations».

For English Harris lists seven principal patterns of kernel sentences:

1. NvV (v stands for a tense morpheme or an auxiliary verb, i.e. for a (word-) morpheme containing the meanings of predicativity).

2. NvVPN

3. NvVN

4. N is N

5. N is A (A stands for adjective)

6. N is PN

7. N is D (D stands for adverb)

As one can easily see, the patterns above do not merely represent arrangements of words, they are such arrangements which contain predicativity – the most essential component of a sentence. Given the proper intonation and replaced by words 4hat conform to the rules of combinability, these patterns will become actual sentences. Viewed thus, the patterns may be regarded as language models of speech sentences.

One should notice, however, that the difference between the patterns above is not, in fact, a reflection of any sentence peculiarities. It rather reflects the difference in the combinability of various subclasses of verbs.

The difference between ‘NvV and ‘NvVN’, for instance, reflects the different combinability of a non-transitive and a transitive verb (He is sleeping: He is writing letters. Cf. to sleep, to write letters). The difference between those two patterns and ‘N is A’ reflects the difference in the combinability of notional verbs and link verbs, etc.

A similar list of patterns is recommended to language teachers under the heading These are the basic patterns for all English sentences:

1. Birds fly.

2. Birds eat worms.

3. Birds are happy.

4. Birds are animals.

5. Birds give me happiness.

6. They made me president.

7. They made me happy.

The heading is certainly rather pretentious. The list does not include sentences with zero predications or with partially implied predicativity while it displays the combinability of various verb classes.

S. Potter reduces the number of kernel sentences to three: «All simple sentences belong to one of three types:

A. The sun warms the earth;

B. The sun is a star; and

C. The sun is bright.»

And as a kind of argument he adds: «Word order is changeless in A and B, but not in C. Even in sober prose a man may say Bright is the sun.»

The foregoing analysis of kernel sentences, from which most English sentences can be obtained, shows that «every sentence can be analysed into a centre, plus zero or more constructions… The centre is thus an elementary sentence; adjoined constructions are in general modifiers». S In other words, the essential structure constituting a sentence is the predication; all other words are added to it in accordance with their combinability. This is the case in an overwhelming majority of English sentences. Here are some figures based on the investigation of modern American non-fiction.



Frequency of occurrence

(per cent)

as sole pattern

in combination






Subject + verb

Babies cry.

Subject + verb + object

Girls like clothes.

Subject + verb + predicative

Dictionaries are books.

Dictionaries are useful.

Structural subjects + verb +

+ notional subject

There is evidence.

It is easy\o learn knitting.

Minor patterns

Are you sure?

Whom did you invite?

Brush your teeth. What a day










Some analogy can be drawn between the structure of a word and the structure of a sentence.

The morphemes of a word are formally united by stress. The words of a sentence are formally united by intonation.

The centre of a word is the root. The centre of a sentence is the predication.

Some words have no other morphemes but the root (ink, too, but). Some sentences have no other words but those of the predication (Birds fly. It rains. Begin.).

Words may have some morphemes besides the root (unbearable). Sentences may have some words besides the predication (Yesterday it rained heavily.).

Sometimes a word is made of a morpheme that is usually not a root (ism). Sometimes sentences are made of words that are usually not predications (Heavy rain).

Words may have two or more roots (blue-eyed, merry-go-round). Sentences may have two or more predications (He asked me if I knew where she lived.).

The roots may be co-ordinated or subordinated (Anglo-Saxon, blue-bell). The predications may be co-ordinated and subordinated (She spoke and he listened. He saw Sam did not believe).

The roots may be connected directly (footpath) or indirectly, with the help of some morpheme salesman. The predications may be connected directly (7 think he knows) or indirectly, with the help of some word (The day passed as others had-passed.).

The demarcation line between a word with more than one root and a combination of words is often very vague (cf. blackboard and black board, brother-in-law and brother in arms). The demarcation line between a sentence with more than one predication and a combination of sentences is often very vague.

Cf. She’d only to cross the pavement. But still she waited. (Mansfield).

As we know, a predication in English is usually a combination of two words (or word-morphemes) united by predicativity, or, in other words, a predicative combination of words. Apart from that the words of a predication do not differ from other' words in conforming to the general rules of. Combinability. The rules of grammatical combinability do not admit of *boys speaks or *he am. The combination *the fish barked is strange as far as lexical combinability is concerned, etc.

All the other words of a sentence are added to those of the predication in accordance with their combinability to make the communication as complete as the speaker wishes. The predication Boys play can make a sentence by itself. But the sentence can be extended by realizing the combinability of the noun boys and the verb play into the three noisy boys play boisterously upstairs. We can develop the sentence into a still more extended one. But however extended the sentence is it does not lose its integrity. Every word in it is not just a word, it becomes part of the sentence and must be evaluated in its relation to other parts and to the whole sentence much in the same way as a morpheme in a word is not just a morpheme, but the root of a word or a prefix, or a suffix, or an inflection.

Depending on their relation to the members of the predication the words of a sentence usually fall into two groups – the group of the subject and the group of the predicate.

Sometimes there is a third group, of parenthetical words, which mostly belongs to the sentence as a whole. In the sentence below the subject group is separated from the predicate group by the parenthetical group.

That last thing of yours, dear Flora, was really remarkable.

As already mentioned, the distribution and the function of a word-combination in a sentence are usually determined by its head-word: by the noun in noun word-combinations, by the verb in verb word-combinations, etc.

The adjuncts of word-combinations in the sentence are added to their head-words in accordance with their combinability, to develop the sentence, to form its secondary parts which may be classified with regard to their head-words.

All the adjuncts of noun word-combinations in the sentence can be united under one name, attributes. All the adjuncts of verb (finite or non-finite) word-combinations may be termed complements. In the sentence below, the attributes are spaced out and the complements are in heavy type.

He often took Inene to the theatre. Instinctively choosing the modern Society plays with the modern Society conjugal problems. (Galsworthy).

The adjuncts of all other word-combinations in the sentence may be called extensions. In the sentences below the extensions are spaced out.

You will never be free from dozing and dreams. (Shaw).

She was ever silent, passive, gracefully averse. (Gals-worthy).

The distribution of semi-notional words in the sentence is determined by their functions – to connect notional words or to specify them. Accordingly they will be called connectives or specifies. Conjunctions and prepositions are typical connectives. Particles are typical specifies.

3. Parts of the Sentence

Traditionally the subject and the predicate are regarded as the primary or principal parts of the sentence and the attribute, the object and the adverbial modifier – as the secondary parts of the sentence. This opposition primary – secondary is justified by the difference in function. While the subject and the predicate make the predication and thus constitute the sentence, the secondary parts serve to expand it by being added to the words of the predication in accordance with their combinability as words. Thus the sentence combines syntactical and morphological relations, which, in our opinion, it is necessary to discriminate more rigorously than it is usually done.

The traditional classification of the parts of the sentence is open to criticism from the point of view of consistency.

The name attribute really shows the subordinate nature of the part of the sentence it denotes. The double term adverbial modifier shows not only the secondary character of the corresponding part of the sentence (modifier), but also refers to a certain part of speech (adverbial). The term object does not indicate subordination, it only refers to the content.

Many words of a sentence, such as prepositions, conjunctions, articles, particles, parenthetical words, are traditionally – not considered as parts of the sentence, even as tertiary ones But as we know, the parts of a unit are units of the next lower level, in our case words. The function of each word in the sentence is its relation to the other words and to the sentence as a whole. So each word is as much a part of the sentence as each morpheme is a part of the word (its root, prefix, inflexion, etc.)

The infinitive to find in the sentence Your task is to find it is regarded as a part of the predicate and is named predicative. The same infinitive in the sentence Jane is to find it is also considered as a part of the predicate, but it is not called 'predicative'. It has no name at all, as well as the infinitives in We ought to find it., We cannot find it, etc.

When a noun or an adjective is attached to a finite link-verb it is called a 'predicative' (He is a, teacher), but when it is attached to a overbid link-verb (To be a teacher is my dream), it has no name. With objects it is different. The noun letter is an object both in He writes a letter and in He wants-to write a letter.

Many of these inconsistencies can be done away with if we discriminate between the syntactical and the morphological relations within the sentence.

As already noted, only the words containing the structural meanings of predicativity are regarded as the structural subject and predicate. The chief criterion for the division of all the other words of a sentence into parts of the sentence is their combinability. Thus combinability is the property that correlates parts of speech and parts of the sentence as well as the functions of notional and semi-notional words.

Those notional words in a sentence which are adjuncts of certain head-words will be divided in accordance with their head-words into attributes, complements and extensions.

Those semi-notional words which serve to connect two words or clauses (prepositions, conjunctions) will be regarded as a separate part of the sentence, connectives.

Those semi-notional words that are used to specify various words or word combinations (articles, particles) will be called specifies.

Finally, words in a sentence, with zero connections, referring to the sentence and known as parenthetical elements, are a distinct part of the sentence.

The Subject

The subject is the independent member of a two-member predication, containing the person component of predicativity. Both members of the predication he sleeps contain the meaning of 'person'. But in sleeps this meaning depends on that of he and is due to grammatical combinability. This accounts for the fact that sleeps cannot make a sentence alone, though it contains all the components of predicativity. Sleeps likewise depends on he as far as the meaning of 'number' is concerned. The meanings of 'person' and 'number' in h? are lexico-grammatical and independent.

The subject is generally defined as a word or a group of words denoting the thing we speak about. This traditional definition is logical rather than grammatical. In the sentence This pretty girl is my sister's friend the definition can be applied to the whole group This pretty girl, to say nothing of the fact that «the thing we speak about» is so vague that it practically covers any part of the sentence expressing substantives.

The subject of a simple sentence can be a word, a syntactical word-morpheme or a complex.

As a word it can belong to different parts of speech, but it is mostly a noun or a pro-noun.

E.g. Fame is the thirst of youth. (Byron).

Nothing endures but personal qualities. (Whitman). To see is to believe.

A word used as a subject combines the lexical meaning with the structural meaning of 'person'. So it is at the same time the structural and the notional subject.

The syntactical word-morphemes there and it are only structural subjects because as word-morphemes they have no lexical meaning. But they are usually correlated with some words or complexes in the sentence which are regarded as notional subjects. In such cases it and there are also called anticipatory or introductory subjects.

In There is somebody in the room the notional subject is somebody. In It requires no small talents to be a bore (Scott) the notional subject is to be a bore. In It is raining there is no notional subject and it is not anticipatory. In It is necessary for him to come the notional subject is the complex for him to come. But a complex may also be used as the only subject.

E.g. For him to come would be fatal.

We may speak of a secondary subject within a complex. In the following sentence it is the noun head.

Several thousand people went to see the headless statue ~ yesterday before it was removed for a new head to be cast from the original plaster moulds. (Daily Worker).

The syntactical word-morphemes there and it may also function as secondary subjects.

It being cold, we put on our coats. I knew of there being no one to help him.

The analysis of sentences like He was seen to enter the house is a point at issue. Traditionally the infinitive is said to form part of the 'complex subject' (He…to enter). B.A. Ilyish maintains that though satisfactory from the logical point of view, this interpretation seems to be artificial grammatically, this splitting of the subject being alien to English. Accordingly B.A. Ilyish suggests that only he should be treated as the subject of the sentence, whereas was seen to enter represents a peculiar type of compound predicate.

The traditional analysis, however, seems preferable, for it admits of treating the sentence as a passive transform of They saw him enter the house with the 'complex object' him enter becoming a 'complex subject' he… to enter. As to the splitting of the subject, it is another device to bring the structural parts of the subject and predicate together (he was), which is so typical of English.

Some authors as, for example, A. Smirnitsky, M. Ganshina, and N. Vasilevskaya speak of definite-personal, indefinite-personal and impersonal sentences in Modern English. We see no syntactical ground whatever for this classification since definite-personal, indefinite-personal, etc. sentences have no structural peculiarities typical of these classes. It is a semantical classification of subjects, not sentences.

If we compare the subject in English with that of Russian we shall find a considerable difference between them.

1. In Modern Russian the subject is as a rule characterized by a distinct morphological feature – the nominative case, whereas in English it is for the most part (unless it is expressed by a personal pronoun or the pronoun who in the nominative case) indicated by the position it occupies in the sentence.

2. In Modern Russian the subject is much less obligatory as a part of the sentence than in English. One-member sentences are numerous and of various types, among them sentences like nude flume. In English a finite verb (barring the 'imperative mood' finites) does not, as a rule, make a sentence without a subject.

3. In English the subject may be a syntactical word-morpheme, a gerund or a complex, which is, naturally, alien to Russian.

The Predicate

The predicate is the member of a predication containing the mood and tense (or only mood) components of predicativity.

E. g. This dictionary employs a pronunciation that is easy to learn. (Thorndike).

I was thinking that Dinny has probably had no lunch. (Galsworthy).

I should hate to make you cry. (lb.).

The predicate can be a word or a syntactical word-morpheme. When it is a notional word, it is not only the structural but the notional predicate as well.

E. g. A picture often shows the meaning of a word more clearly than a description. (Witty).

When the predicate is a semi-notional verb or a syntactical word-morpheme, it is only a structural predicate and is usually connected with a notional word which makes the notional predicate.

E.g. He was strong enough for that. (Galsworthy). We can assist our oppressed brothers in South Africa in their struggle for freedom. (Daily Worker). Does anyone know of that but me? (Galsworthy).

Syntactically strong, assist and know are complements to the corresponding verbs.

Similarly, if we agree with A.I. Smirnitsky that have in I have friends is a semi-notional verb, we may consider friends as the notional predicate. But syntactically friends is a complement to the verb have.

As we have seen, predicates may be divided morphologically into words and word-morphemes, and semantically intonational, semi-notional and lexically empty (structural).

What is traditionally called a predicate is really the combination of the structural and the notional predicate. If we had a name for the combination, that would enable us to make the traditional analysis^ Let us then call the combination a communicative predicate. We may say then that communicative predicates are in accordance with their structure divided into 'simple' (consisting of one word) and 'compound' (of more than one word). According to their morphological composition they are divided into 'verbal' (must see', is to believe) and 'nominal' (is a student, became angry). As we see, the latter division depends on the complements as well as the division into process and qualifying predicates, which will be discussed in the corresponding chapter

When comparing the predicates in English and in Russian, we must first of all note the absence of syntactical word-morphemes used as predicates and the scarcity of morphological word-morphemes in Russian. So the division into structural and notional (parts of) predicates is not so essential in Russian as it is in English.

Secondly, there are many more sentences without finite verbs in Russian than in English. Он студент. Она больна. Ему холодно.

Thirdly, a Russian predication contains a predicate without a subject much more often than in English.


The verb in the sentence forms the greatest number of word-combinations. The adjuncts of all these combinations are united by the term complements. But the complements of a verb are so numerous and variegated that it is feasible to subdivide them into several groups correlated with the subclasses of verbs. As we know, verbs divide into notional, semi-notional and structural ones. We shall call the adjuncts of the latter two groups predicative complements (predicatives). Notional verbs are subdivided into objective and subjective. The common adjuncts of both groups will be termed adverbial complements (adverbials), those of objective verbs alone – objective complements (objects).


In the conclusion of my work, I would like to say some words according the done investigation. The main research was written in the main part of my course paper. So here I’ll give content of it with the description of question discussed in each paragraph.

The main part of my work consists of following items:

  • «The Sentence». Here I gave the definition to the term sentence.

  • «Structure of English Sentence», in this paragraph I described the structure of English sentence.

  • In the next paragraph «Parts of the Sentence» I described main parts of the sentence (subject and predicate), and secondary parts of the sentence.

Standing on such ground I will add that investigation in the questions dealt sentences in English and their types is not finished yet, so we will continue it while writing our qualification work.

I hope that my course paper will arise the sincere interest of students and teachers to the problem of adjectives in contemporary English.


  1. B. Ilyish, The Structure of Modern English.

  2. V.N. Zhigadlo, I.P. Ivanova, L.L. Iofik.» Modern English language» (Theoretical course grammar) Moscow, 1956 y.

  3. Gordon E.M. The Use of adjectives in modern English.

  4. М.М. Галииская. «Иностранные языки в высшей школе», вып. 3, М., 1964.

  5. Г.Н. Воронцова. Очерки по грамматике английского языка. М., 1960

  6. O. Jespersen. Essentials of English Grammar. N.Y., 1938

  7. Иванова И.П., Бурлакова В.В., Почепцов Г.Г. Теоретическая грамматика современного английского языка. – М., 1981. – 285 c.

  8. Ch. Barber. Linguistic change in Present-Day English. Edinburgh, 1964

  9. The Structure of American English. New York, 1958.

  10. World Book Encyclopedia Vol.1 NY. 1993 pp.298–299

  11. Internet http://madrasati2010.bravehost.com/adj.htm

  12. Internet http://www.vestnik.vsu.ru

  13. Internet:http://www.englishclub.com/grammar/verbs/theory.htm

  14. Inbternet:http://www.englishlanguage.ru/main/verbs_mood.htm

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