Chapter 3 – The grammar of English
Definitions of grammar
• a set of rules which allow the production of well-formed sentences and utterances
• educated native speakers intuitively follow the rules of grammar
• foreign learners study grammar in an explicit way in textbooks
• non-native speakers may develop new rules which deviate from standard rules
• *I never did nothing to upset her.
(rule: multiple negation is not permitted in English).
The correct sentence is:
I never did anything to upset her)
• *She came yesterday, isn’t it?
(rule: the tag question must contain an auxiliary in
accordance with the type of verb used in the main
clause). The correct sentence is:
She came yesterday, didn’t she?
Descriptive vs Theoretical grammar
• Descriptive grammar describes how a language
works, drawing on a long tradition of
grammatical studies, using both traditional and
new terminology (e.g. subject, embedding)
• Theoretical grammars are new analytical models
developed by linguists to describe a language
(e.g. Systemic-functional Grammar).
Morphology and Syntax
• Morphology: the area of grammar dealing with
the internal structure of words
• Morphology can be divided into derivational and
• Syntax: the area of grammar dealing with the
way in which words combine to form larger units
such as phrases, clauses and sentences. A
central feature of English syntax is word order.
The Units of Grammar
• A hierarchy of units (rank scale)
Morpheme: the smallest linguistic unit of meaning
and grammatical function
e.g. un- -less and glad -s
Word: a linguistic unit phonologically preceded and
followed by pauses or, in the written language,
spaces, and carrying a single meaning.
A golden sun filled the air with light, and the green
sea lapped the sand (15 words)
Phrase: a linguistic unit made up of a word or a
group of words
A golden sun (Noun Phrase= sintagma nominale)
Types of Phrases
• Noun phrase (NP): the boy
• Verb phrase (VP): has given
• Adjective phrase (AdjP): extremely
• Adverb phrase (AdvP): very fast
• Prepositional phrase (PP): in front of the
Clause: a linguistic unit made up of one or more
phrases, containing at least a verb phrase
e.g. A golden sun (NP) filled (VP) the air (NP)
Sentence: the largest linguistic unit made up of one or more clauses
e.g. A golden sun filled the air with light, and the green sea lapped the sand
John told me that he would like to move to Paris
Text: a sequence of sentences which is coherent and cohesive
Clause, sentence, utterance
• A main clause is semantically independent and can
• Sit down! People complained; Did they enjoy the dinner
• A complex sentence (main+subordinate): If you don’t
ring, he won’t open the door; while she was reading, he
washed all the dishes.; we didn’t go jogging because it
• If the sentence is uttered by a speaker it is an (an
instance of spoken language) = utterance
• A written or spoken stretch of language, a
sequence of sentences which is coherent
• Examples of texts: an email, a TV
interview, a novel, a letter, a lecture, a
• a word is a linguistic unit phonologically
preceded and followed by pauses,
orthographically preceded and followed by a
space (orthographic criterion), and carrying a
single meaning. But:
- weekend, week-end (with a hyphen), week end
(are they the same word?)
- brother-in-law (it. cognato) (is it one word?)
- identity card (two orthographic words which make
Linguist Plag has summarised
the main criteria for the definition of «word»:
Phonological criteria: a linguistic unit which, in the spoken form, is surrounded by pauses and has only one main stress
identity card [ ]
blackbird, black bird
this definition allows us to consider Mary’s as a single word
BUT these are not considered words:
and, have, from (unstressed in the spoken form)
Other criteria of wordhood
• Internal stability/integrity:
• A word expresses a single concept:
but what about…
- the, to, by, and (function words)
- dry, get (polysemy)
-long strings of words: the man who came to the office an
• A word can be seen as a linguistic unit,
orthographically preceded and followed by
spaces or punctuation marks,
phonologically preceded or followed by
pauses, having one main stress and
internal stability, and expressing a single
Lexeme , word-form
• Lexeme: a unit of vocabulary which includes different
variant forms, called word-forms.
• Word-forms are the physical realisation of a lexeme.
• LEXEMES are represented by using capital letters,
• Word-forms that realise lexemes are in italics
• TEACH (lexeme)
teach, teaches, taught, teaching (word-form)
• LIST v. (lexeme)
list, lists, listing, listed (word-forms)
• LIST n. (lexeme)
list, lists (word-forms)
• entry (voce): an independent lexical unit listed in
a dictionary in alphabetic order
• Headword (in bold type) = the lemma:
represents the lexeme, the canonical form
walk n. lexeme1 (passeggiata)
walk v. lexeme2 (passeggiare)
bank n. lexeme1 (money)
bank n. lexeme2 (river)
HOW MANY ‘WORDS’ ARE THERE IN THIS
I asked him to list all his books, but
instead of listing them all, he listed
only the relevant ones and his
24 or 16?
Word / word-forms / lexemes
List / listing / listed =
3 word forms of the lexeme TO LIST
Book / books = 2 word forms of the lexeme BOOK
He / him / his = three word forms of the lexeme HE
(24 word-forms, 16 lexemes)
Word classes (parts of speech)
• 9 major word classes:
nouns, lexical verbs, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions, determiners, pronouns, auxiliary verbs
• inserts or interjections (Wow, Hey), wh-words, numerals
• some word-forms may belong to more than one class: (e.g. round n. adj. v. prep.)
MULTIPLE CLASS MEMBERSHIP
• the same word form may belong to more than one word class
e.g. fast (Adj), fast (Adv), fast (N)
park (N), to park (V)
can (N), can (Aux)
• only the co-text, i.e. the surroundings of the word, allows the reader/listener to understand the difference
• word stress helps disambiguation
e.g. rebel (n.) [ ], rebel (v.) [ ]
Divide the following words into 2 groups:
(find a logic)
pig, autumn, me, explain, they, which,
sing, suddenly, from, today, biology, and,
truth, could, the, extraordinary, since, hot,
• pig, autumn, explain, sing, suddenly,
today, biology, truth, extraordinary, hot,
• me, they, which, from, and, could, the,
Open and Closed
Classes of Words
• open-class words lexical words content words (new members can be admitted)
nouns, (lexical) verbs, adjectives, adverbs
• closed-class words grammatical words function words (new words are rarely added)
conjunctions, prepositions, determiners, pronouns, auxiliary verbs
• length: (generally) polysyllabic
• origin: (generally) Latin, Greek, French,
• frequency: less frequent
• length: (generally) monosyllabic or
• origin: (generally) Germanic origin
• frequency: more frequent
• Nouns are lexical words which refer to concrete
objects or entities
e.g. house (common, concrete, countable), Mary,
London (proper), love (common, abstract), sugar
(common, concrete, uncountable)
• they may take the ’s genitive case (genitivo
• open class denoting actions or states
• lexical / main / full verbs e.g. I like English
He walked to school
they are open class and carry lexical content
• auxiliary verbs (or auxiliaries) are added to lexical verbs for
e.g. I could go faster. (modality)
John is going nowhere. (aspect)
Do you go to school? (question)
I do love him! (emphasis)
Lexical Verbs (V)
• dynamic: referring to physical processes= allow the progressive form
e.g. to play, to walk, to drink
• stative / state : referring to states and conditions = do not allow the progressive form
e.g. to know, to love, to believe
• Adjectives are lexical words which describe qualities and properties of things, people, etc.
e.g. happy, blue, wonderful
- Gradable: can be modified in terms of a scale (very happy) - ungradable (dead, married)
• attributive function, before a noun
e.g. the extraordinary boy
• predicative function, after copular verbs (to be, to seem, to appear) e.g. John is tall
• some adjectives are only used in either attributive or predicative function
e.g. the child is afraid (predicative)
*the afraid child
e.g. the main task (attributive)
*the task is main
• Adverbs are lexical words which carry out several functions:
- express degree (very, really, totally)
- circumstance adverbs (or adjuncts) provide information about the circumstances of an event or state, i.e., how, when, and where (yesterday, now, inside, there)
- disjuncts allow the speaker to comment on the whole utterance + express one’s point of view or feeling (probably, unfortunately)
- Linking adverbs or conjuncts: connect one sentence or part of a sentence to another (furthermore, besides)
Fortunately, today the dog has eaten his food very quietly outside
She wasn’t free to go to New York at Christmas and besides she couldn’t afford it.
• Coordinating conjunctions: join elements
which have equal grammatical status and
• Connect words, phrases and clauses
• And, but, nor, or, so, and, yet
• Subordinating conjunctions: join clauses
when one is subordinated to the other:
• if (condition), while/when (time), although
(concession), where (place) because/since
(reason), so that (purpose)
• The bowl of squid eyeball stew is hot and delicious.
• Rocky, my orange tomcat, loves having his head scratched but
hates getting his claws trimmed.
• Rocky terrorizes the poodles next door yet adores the German
shepherd across the street.
• Rocky refuses to eat dry cat food, nor will he touch a saucer of squid
eyeball stew. • I hate to waste a single drop of squid eyeball stew, for it is expensive
and time-consuming to make.
• Even though I added cream to the squid eyeball stew, Rocky
ignored his serving, so I got a spoon and ate it myself.
• After Kyle refused the salad served with the meal, he then would not
touch the green vegetables put on his plate.
• At a red light, Maria jumped out of Gino's car and slammed the door
because she could not tolerate one more minute of the heavy metal
music that Gino insisted on blasting from the stereo.
• While Diana was staring dreamily at the handsome Mr. McKenzie,
Olivia furiously jiggled her foot, impatient to escape the boring
economics class that she hated.
• To survive the fetal pig dissection, Rinalda agreed to make all of the
incisions if Frances would promise to remove and label the organs.
Two ways to say
the same thing
• Making an A in Anatomy and Physiology has not helped Sima
choose a career. Although she might decide to make her parents
happy and go to medical school, she might also use her knowledge
of the human body to become a sculptor.
• Making an A in Anatomy and Physiology has not helped Sima
choose a career. She might decide to make her parents happy and
go to medical school, or she might use her knowledge of the human
body to become a sculptor.
• Since Joe spent seven hours studying calculus at the Mexican diner,
he can now set his math book on fire with his salsa breath.
• Joe spent seven hours studying calculus at the Mexican diner, so
now he can set his math book on fire with his salsa breath
• At a red light, Maria jumped out of Gino's car and
slammed the door, for she could not tolerate one more
minute of the heavy metal music that Gino insisted on
blasting from the stereo.
• At a red light, Maria jumped out of Gino's car and
slammed the door because she could not tolerate one
more minute of the heavy metal music that Gino insisted
on blasting from the stereo.
• show the relation in time, place or of another kind between two items
• are typically followed by a noun phrase with which they form a Prepositional Phrase (PP)
e.g. the dog ran under the table
[the table]=NP [under [the table]]=PP
• simple: single word
e.g. under, over, at, on
• complex: more than one word
according to, on behalf of, with regard to
Function words used before a noun to indicate definiteness or indefiniteness, quantity, possession, etc.
e.g. all these sugary cookies filled with jam and cream
The main subclasses are :
• articles (indefinite and definite): a, an, the
• demonstrative: this, that, these, those
• possessive: my, your, his, her, their, our, its etc.
• quantifiers: all, few, many, several, some, every, each, any, etc.
• cardinal numbers: one, two, fifty, etc.
• ordinal numbers: first, second, third, etc.
closed class of words which replace words avoiding repetitions
e.g. Michelle was offered an exciting new job and she decided to take it
Main subclasses :
• personal pronouns
e.g. They love football (subject) She loves them (object)
• possessive pronouns
e.g. This book is mine
• Demonstrative pronouns
e.g. This is my friend Tom
• reflexive pronouns
e.g. She hurt herself
• interrogative pronouns
e.g. Whose car is this?
• relative pronouns
e.g. This is the car which/that I want to buy
A closed class of verbs which accompany lexical verbs
• primary auxiliaries
have, be, do
e.g. Liz is looking for a job, Do you speak English? She has studied a lot
• modal auxiliaries (modality)
can, could, shall, should, will, would, may, might, must,
e.g. I must go now! Would you like a cup of coffee?
A frequently used expression to refer to function words beginning with wh-
They belong to different word classes
adverbs (interrogative, relative, exclamative)
e.g. When did you call her?
pronouns (interrogative, relative, exclamative)
e.g. Whose car is that?
determiners (interrogative, relative, exclamative)
e.g. Which book did you choose?
• cardinal, e.g. one, two, three, etc.
• ordinal, e.g. first, second, third, etc.
• numerals may function as nouns
e.g. The Magnificent Seven