Grammarbites part 6 – sentence types

Part 1 – introduction

Part 5 – nouns

Part 2 – auxiliary and modal verbs

Part 3 – regular and irregular main verbs

Part 4 – consonant clusters

1 – Five basic sentence types

(1a) Juliet is a young woman.
(1b) Juliet is in love.
(1c) Juliet is happy.

(2) The Prince banishes Romeo.

(3a) This makes Juliet sad.
(3b) This makes Juliet cry.

(4) Friar Lawrence gives Juliet a potion.

(5) Juliet dies.

There are five basic sentence types in English.

Sentence (5) has a subject noun phrase Juliet and a predicate verb phrase died. We can label it S-V, or ordinary transitive.

Sentences (1a-c) have a subject Juliet and a predicate with the verb is and a subject complement: a noun phrase a young woman in (1a), a prepositional phrase in love in (1b) and an adjective happy in (1c). We can label it S-V-sC, or complex intransitive.

Sentence (2) has a subject The Prince and a predicate with the verb banishes and an object noun phrase Romeo. We can label it S-V-dO(direct object), or ordinary monotransitive; Romeo is directly affected by the banishment.

Sentences (3a and b) have a subject This and a predicate with the verb makes, a direct object Juliet and an object complement: an adjective sad in (3a) and a verb cry in (3b). We can label it S-V-dO-oC, or complex transitive.

Sentence (4) has a subject Friar Lawrence and a predicate with the verb gives and two object noun phrases. We can label it S-V-iO(indirect object)-dO, or ditransitive; the potion is directly affected by the giving, while Juliet, the recipient, is indirectly affected.

2 – Identifying the subject noun phrase

Subjects and objects are usually noun phrases (people or things), which includes names and pronouns. In sentences (1a-c) and (5), Juliet is subject of the sentence, in (3) she is the direct object and in (4) she is the indirect object. We need some way of knowing what grammatical function each noun phrase is performing in each sentence. English does this mainly by word order: the subject almost always comes before the verb. Juliet is the subject of the sentence Juliet loves Romeo, and Romeo is the subject of the sentence Romeo loves Juliet. But there are three (or four) other tests.

Firstly, subject noun phrases can be replaced by subject pronouns (I, we, they, she, he), and object noun phrases by object pronouns (me, us, them, her, him): Juliet loves Romeo can become She loves him, and Romeo loves Juliet can become He loves her. (This does not work with you and it, which have the same subject and object forms.)

Secondly, the number of the subject determines the form of the verb in present tenses and the past simple of be, and maybe some other elements. Juliet is/was a young woman v Juliet and Rosaline are/were young women. Singular and plural objects do not affect the form of the verb: Romeo loves Juliet v Romeo loves Juliet and Rosaline.

Thirdly, the subject interacts with an auxiliary verb in negatives and especially questions: Juliet is not a young woman and Is Juliet a young woman?, and Juliet does not love Romeo and Does Juliet love Romeo?

3 – Identifying direct and indirect object noun phrases

Object noun phrases can be replaced by object pronouns, but there is another test (which also acts as a fourth test for some subject noun phrases). S-V-dO and S-V-iO-dO sentences can be rewritten in passive voice, in which case the (or an) object noun phrase becomes the subject of the new sentence. The original subject is indicated by by, or omitted. The Prince banishes Romeo becomes Romeo is banished (by the Prince) and Friar Lawrence gives Juliet a potion becomes either Juliet is given a potion (by Friar Lawrence) or A potion is given (to) Juliet (by Friar Lawrence). Sentence (3a) can just possibly be rewritten in passive voice (? Juliet is made sad by this), but sentences (3b), (1a-c) and (5) can’t. [For more about passive voice, see here.]

The indirect object is usually a person and goes before the direct object, which is usually a thing: we usually give someone something. But we can also give something to someone, so sentence (4) can be rewritten as Friar Lawrence gives a potion to Juliet. (The “older” information is usually placed first. In these sentences, we have already talked about Juliet. The potion is “new”.)

Subjects and objects are usually noun phrases (which includes names and pronouns), though there are one or two more kinds of phrases which can be used there. There is more choice for complements: sentences (1a-c) have a noun phrase, prepositional phrase and adjective. Sentences (3a-b) have an adjective and verb. In both cases, there are more kinds of words and phrases which can be used there.

4 – What must, can or can’t follow a verb

Every English verb has rules about what other elements must, can or can’t follow it. Some verbs are strongly instransitive, monotransitive or ditransitive, but most can be used in different ways in different sentences. Come and go are are strongly intransitive, while eat and drink are usually monotranstive – we usually eat something and drink something: they came (x my house, to my house), they ate pizza, they drank beer, they went (x my house, from my house) – but are sometimes intransitive; we can just eat and drink: they came, they ate, they drank, they went.

Eat and drink don’t change their basic meaning with or without pizza and beer, but other words do: The man drowned (he died) v The man drowned the dog (the dog died), or The manager opened the shop at 9 o’clock v The shop opened at 9 o’clock (all by itself! Probably the manager did it, but maybe we don’t know).

Give is usually ditransitive (I gave you a pizza), but can be monostransitive if we know who I gave it to – A: What did you give to the Christmas food appeal? B: I gave a pizza. Put is strongly ditransitive: I put a pizza in the oven (x I put, x I put a pizza, x I put in the oven).

Some verbs have even more choices: make has three main patterns: I made a pizza, I made you a pizza, I made you happy, and teach has four: I teach, I teach English, I teach my students, I teach my students English.

5 – People and things as subject and object, topic and actor

Many verbs also have rules about what kinds of people or things can be the subject or object, or what extra information can be added. Kill and murder might seem to have the same meaning, and we can say The man killed the tree and The tree killed the man. We can just possibly say The man murdered the tree, but we can’t say The tree murdered the man. Murder requires a human subject and usually a human object. It also requires a deliberate act; we can’t say The man accidentally murdered his best friend.

The subject is usually who or what the sentence is about (sometimes called the topic), and is also usually the person or thing “doing” the action, if there is one (sometimes called the actor). But these ideas don’t always match up. The sentence It is raining isn’t about “it”; it’s about “the weather”. And “it” isn’t “doing” anything, though maybe the raindrops or the clouds or the weather are. In the sentence The man suffered a heart attack, the man isn’t “doing” anything. If anything, the heart attack is “doing” something to him. In the sentence He was rushed to hospital, he isn’t “doing” anything. In most passive voice sentences, the subject of the sentence is actually the recipient of the action. In the sentence He underwent emergency surgery, “he” is definitely the subject, but the actor is definitely the surgeon. Some verbs, for example suffer and undergo, have a “passive” kind of meaning.

6 Adjuncts

To any or all of these sentences we can add an adjunct giving extra information, usually at the end.

(1a’) Juliet was a young woman in fair Verona, where we lay our scene.
(1b’) Juliet was in love with Romeo.
(1c’) Juliet was happy when she was with Romeo.

(2’) The Prince banished Romeo because he killed Tybalt.

(3a’) This made Juliet very sad.
(3b’) This made Juliet cry all day.

(4’) Friar Lawrence gave Juliet a potion to fake her death.

(5’) Juliet died quickly and painlessly.

Adjuncts often give information about:
who with (with Romeo)
where (in fair Verona)
when (when she was with Romeo)
how (quickly and painlessly)
how much (very)
how long (all day) and
why (because he killed Tybalt, to fake her death).

They can be in a wide range of forms:
adverbs and adverbial phrases (very, quickly and painlessly)
prepositional phrases (in fair Verona, with Romeo)
noun phrases (all day)
finite clauses (when she was with Romeo, because he killed Tybalt) and
non-finite clauses (to fake her death).

Adjuncts can contain extra-extra information of their own, for example, in fair Verona, where we lay our scenewhere we lay our scene tells us more about Verona, not about Juliet was a young woman. They can also contain two pieces of equal information, for example, quickly and painlessly.

Unlike subjects, verbs, objects and complements, we can add any number of adjuncts: (6) Despite Lord and Lady Montague’s objections, the Prince angrily banished Romeo from Verona forever, because he killed Tybalt.

7 Placement of adjuncts

Adjuncts usually go at the end of a sentence, but some can come at the beginning, especially for special emphasis or to link to the previous sentence. Some kinds of adjuncts do this more usually/naturally, while others are possible, reserved for special emphasis, awkward, or impossible.

(1a’’) In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, Juliet was a young woman is awkward, because it delays the first appearance of Juliet. Compare In Shakespeare’s famous play Romeo and Juliet, Juliet was a young woman.
(1b’’) With Romeo, Juliet was in love is impossible, because we need to keep in love with Romeo together.
(1c’’) When she was with Romeo, Juliet was happy is usual/natural, especially because we have just met Romeo in sentence (1b’).

(2’’) Because he killed Tybalt, the Prince banished Romeo is awkward, because he is closer to the Prince than it is to Romeo. We could change this to Because Romeo killed Tybalt, the Prince banished him. Contrast Because Romeo hated Tybalt, the Prince banished him. Who did the Prince banish – Romeo or Tybalt?

(3a’) This made Juliet very sad. Very can only go before the word it modifies (usually an adjective or another adverb: very much).
(3b’’) All day, this made Juliet cry is impossible, because all day refers to Juliet’s crying, not to “this” (the Prince’s banishment of Romeo).

(4’’) To fake her death, Friar Lawrence gave Juliet a potion is possible. Compare To fake Juliet’s death, Friar Lawrence gave her a potion.

(5’’) Quickly and painlessly, Juliet died is possible.

(Most terminology from A Student’s Guide to English Grammar, by Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey K Pullum, Cambridge University Press)


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