© A. G. Rigg

Traditional Grammatical Terminology

Few students nowadays, either in high school or anywhere else, receive formal training in English grammar; as a result, older grammatical terms used traditionally to describe languages have fallen out of use. Further, until a couple of generations ago, most students aiming at university learned Latin, if only at an elementary level, and it was particularly in Latin that they learned to use this terminology. Nowadays very few people learn Latin at all. Consequently, when, further in their academic progress, they try to learn older languages (Latin, Greek, Old English, etc.), often using older textbooks, they are baffled at the very terms that are supposed to help them understand the structure of these alien systems. This document is designed to help. It is very old-fashioned in content, but although (perhaps because) it does not employ modern linguistic analysis or terminology, it may also provide an introductory framework for an understanding of modern English.

  1. General terms
  2. Parts of Speech
  3. Cases
  4. Number
  5. Person
  6. Syntax
  7. Negatives
  8. Interrogatives
  9. Chart of Tense, Aspect, Voice
  10. Index of terms

Electronic text prepared by Dennis G. Jerz
for the Universty of Toronto English Library.

1. General terms

1.1 Language: The historical account of a language is diachronic; the description of a language at any one moment is synchronic (and is often the province of a linguistics department). Diachronic study is often referred to as "historical philology". The two approaches are interdependent: descriptions of the language that take no account of their development are often cumbersome, and historical developments cannot be explained without a knowledge of the structure of a language at its moments of change.

1.2 Phonology: the study of sounds. A phoneme is an isolable sound unit that can be distinguished from another: e.g. /b/ and /d/ are contrastive phonemes (contrasting big and dig). An allophone is a positional variant of a phoneme: e.g. the variants on /t/ in top, Tuesday, mixture. A phonetic (as opposed to a phonemic) description of speech attempts to describe sounds as closely as possible, including intonation.

1.3 Morphology: the study of grammatical forms. E.g. the plural marker -s in houses, the vowel gradation in break-broke-broken (and the final -n), the forms of pronouns he-him-his, etc. A morpheme is an affix (usually a suffix, or ending) used to change the function/number/gender etc. of a word: e.g. the plural marker s, the possessive s ('s, s'), the feminine -ess. Originally "free" compounding elements sometimes become "bound-morphemes", e.g. -dom in freedom (originally the word doom). Some suffixes can still be "free": e.g. like in child-like = like a child. Inflexion = suffixed morpheme.

1.4 Etymology: the study of the origin of words (or the specific origin of a word). E.g. the etymology of barn is bere-ærn "barley-hall".

1.5 Semantics: the study of meaning. Semantic change occurs when a word's referent changes: e.g. nice in Middle English meant "foolish", in early Modern English "fastidious", and in Present Day English (PDE) "pleasant". The causes of semantic change require a study of the semantic "field", i.e. all the competing words and also the antonyms.

1.6 Syntax (literally "arrangement") sometimes refers to the rules by which a language operates (e.g. the use of do in I do not know); sometimes it refers to subordination of clauses, opposed to parataxis (He came, he saw, he conquered). See 6 below.

1.7 A synthetic language employs morphemes to indicate the relationship between units of a sentence (the boy's dog); an analytic language uses prepositions and word-order (the dog of the boy). No language is wholly one or the other. The tendency in English has been for analysis to replace synthesis, but in French the future tense derives from an auxiliary verb which has now become a morpheme, and it is arguable that in English 'll has become a (synthetic) morpheme denoting the future tense.

1.8 Concord: "agreement". In PDE this affects primarily verbs and a few demonstrative pronouns, where singular must matcb singular, and plural plural: (he goes - they go; that book - those books). In Old English, however, concord is more extensive: article/demonstrative and adjective must agree with the noun they modify in number (4), gender (1.9), and case (3). French and German both require more concord than PDE.

1.9 Gender: nouns are masculine, feminine or neuter in Old English; this has nothing to do with sex (natural gender), but concord applies: masculine nouns are referred to as "he", feminine nouns as "she", etc. French retains two genders, masculine (le), feminine (la); German has all three.

1.10 Tense: time, expressed from the point of view of the speaker or writer. In PDE tense may be expressed by a morpheme or morphological change (he kills - he killed; he grows - he grew) or by an auxiliary verb (he will kill, he did kill). See 2.6.3-4 and Chart 9.

1.11 Aspect (of verbs): this may be continuous (we were walking), habitual (birds sing), perfective (I have eaten my lunch). See Verbs 2.6.3-4, Chart.

1.12 Voice (of verbs): active or passive: see Verbs 2.6.5 on auxiliaries forming the passive. PDE has no passive morphemes such as Latin has, but some verbs have become passive in force: the goose is cooking, the material washes well. Verbs are transitive (taking a direct object: he cooked the goose) or intransitive with no direct object (run, talk). See Chart 9.

1.13 Declension: the forms of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, articles, etc., as they "decline" through their cases (3).

1.14 Conjugation: the forms of a verb; also used to denote different types of verb in Old English.

1.15 Subject, object: the grammatical subject of a sentence is that of which the remainder of the sentence is predicated: "he owns a large house"; "the horse was sold quickly". In these, "owns a large house" and "was sold quickly" form the predicates. The direct object of the verb is that on which the verb acts directly. In "he gave her the book", it is book which is the direct object of gave; in this sentence, her is the indirect object. The indirect object is often expressed in PDE by the preposition to ("he gave the book to her"). See 3.1; 3.3; 3.5 (Nominative, Accusative, Dative).

1.16 A clause is a sentence unit which includes a finite verb (see 2.6.1) but does not form a complete sentence. A phrase is a group of linked words lacking a finite verb. On Subordinate Clauses, see 6.

2. Parts of Speech

2.1 Nouns: in common parlance, a thing (cow, box); a proper noun is a uniquely designated thing or person (George, Toronto). Formally, a noun is any word which is behaving like a noun: e.g. by taking case endings (3) or forms designating plurality, by governing a verb as its subject (1.15) or being the object of a verb, by following a "governing preposition" (2.7), etc. Almost any word can function as a noun ("ins and outs", "but me no buts"); On the Verbal Noun (Gerund) see 2.6.8.

A noun can be modified, by article/demonstrative, adjective, or relative clause (2.3, 2.4, 6.2), e.g. "the little red boat that you used to have"; the whole unit constitutes a Noun Phrase.

2.2 Pronouns stand in for nouns (usually known or implied) and behave like nouns; they may be modified according to case (3), number (4), or gender (1.9). They can be classified as follows:

2.2.1 Personal pronouns: he, she, it, I, we, they, etc. These are modified according to case, number, gender, and also person (5); they refer to nouns that are already known (except where it is a "formal subject"). A reflexive pronoun, formed by adding -self, -selves, refers back to the subject of the verb; when reinforcing the subject, they are used in the oblique case (He himself, They themselves). Unlike French, Eniglish has no true reflexive verbs: in "She despised herself", the reflexive is a true object.

2.2.2 Interrogative pronouns introduce direct or indirect questions (8) : who, whom, whose, which; they are modified by case. Which may also be an adjective: which book do you want?

2.2.3 Relative pronouns introduce relative clauses (6.2): who, which, that.

2.2.4 Indefinite and distributive pronouns: any, one, whoever, each, everyone, either; many of these function also as adjectives; either may also be a conjunction.

2.3 Adjectives describe or limit nouns (big, green); they can precede the noun (the big house) or be predicated of it (the house is big, he seems intelligent, I consider him ambitious). In Old English (but not PDE) they are modified by case, number and gender, and must obey rules of concord (1.8).

2.3.1 A distinction (particularly important for Adjectival or Relative Clauses, 6.2) is made between restrictive use of adjectives ("pass me the red book" i.e. not the blue one) and non-restrictive descriptive usage ("a tall man came into the room").

2.3.2 Adjectives may be used like nouns ("the brave are lonely") or even behave as nouns ("McCarthy saw reds under every bed").

2.3.3 Comparative and superlative degrees of adjectives are expressed by adding the suffixes -er and -est (greater, greatest) or by preceding them with more and most.

2.4 Articles and demonstrative adjectives and pronouns. In PDE the definite article is the, the indefinite a or an; the demonstrative adjectives (which can also function independently as pronouns) are that-those and this-these. In Old English these all decline according to case, number and gender; in Old English the forms of se-seo-þæt function both as definite article and demonstrative adjective (in the sense "that").

2.5 Adverbs (well, badly, very, so) modify verbs ("he writes well"), adjectives ("I'm too busy", "the article is irritatingly obscure") and other adverbs ("he writes surprisingly well", "she runs so quickly"). The negative particle not was originally an adverb.

2.5.1 Adverbs may also modify whole sentences, e.g. "I will probably be there" (= "it is probable that I will be there"). There is some fuss about whether hopefully can operate in this way.

2.5.2 Adverbs and adverbial pbrases can be roughly divided into: time (then, at Christmas, in the evening), place (here, there, in Paris), manner (quickly, stupidly, with a cumbersome gait). Adverbs of degree or comparison (too, very, so) can be classified as manner.

2.5.3 On Adverbial Clauses, see 6.3.

2.6 Verbs (see Chart 9)

Verbs (go, think, spin, beat), other than auxiliary verbs (2.6.3), can be defined formally as those parts of speech that form their present 3 singular in -s and their past tense either by adding -(e)d or -t or by vowel gradation (loves, loved, taught, ran), and which form their present participle and verbal noun in -ing. Grammatically, they introduce what is predicated of the subject of the sentence (see 1.15): "roses smell sweet", "chickens eat seed", "he stole the money".

2.6.1 The finite parts of a verb are those that can complete a sentence ("he saw a goose", "last year we camped"). The non-finite parts are the infinitive and participles (below).

2.6.2 Verbs are transitive with a direct object ("the boy ate the cake") or intransitive with no direct object ("the Don flows into Lake Ontario"). Some verbs can be either ("the river runs into the sea", "he runs a radio station").

2.6.3 Auxiliary ("helping") verbs need to be completed by an infinitive (unless one can be understood from the context); they are used to indicate tenses (will, shall), obligation (must, should), ability (can, may), permission (let, may), possibility (may), and so on. They differ from ordinary verbs by having no participles, infinitives, or verbal nouns, and by not employing do in negatives and questions ("did you go", "he doesn't like cheese", but "can you come?", "you mustn't come").

Some verbs have both auxiliary functions and regular uses: do, have; some require to before the infinitive (ought to, used to). Forms of the verb be are used with present participles for continuous tenses ("he was riding") and past participles for passives ("he was killed"). With to the verb be can also indicate obligation ("you are to come tomorrow"), etc.

2.6.4 Tenses ("times"). In morphological terms, English has only two tenses: present (sing, walks) and past, also called preterite (sang, walked). By means of auxiliary verbs we can form the future (I shall go, he will come) and can also indicate aspect (l.ll): continuous (he is going), perfective (he has gone), pluperfect (he had gone), future perfect (he will have gone). The combination of tenses and aspects can be extended considerably ("by next year he will have been gone for three years"). Other auxiliary formations include: habitual use ("I used to play football"), though the simple present tense is used for present habitual action ("On Saturdays I play football", as opposed to actual present "I am typing this on an IBM Selectric II").

For the purpose of Old English, it is important to note that PDE can use the simple present or the present continuous to refer to the future ("tomorrow I fly to Ottawa", "tomorrow I am flying to Ottawa").

2.6.5 Voice (1.12): passive voice is expressed by forms of the verb be followed by a past participle ("the prisoner was recaptured"). The continuous passive is now formed by using the continuous form of be ("the houses are being built"), but until the eighteenth century the normal usage was "the houses are building". Active voice: where subject (3.1) is agent of verb.

2.6.6 Moods. In traditional (Latin-based) grammar there are said to be three "moods" of the verb, indicative, imperative, and subjunctive. As will be seen, there is some overlap between the Imperative and the Subjunctive. In Old English, these moods were distinguished by different endings to the verb; in PDE, for the most part, auxiliary verbs play a large part in the expression of the subjunctive and some forms of the imperative. Indicative is the ordinary use of the verb in declarative sentences (she went home, he likes fishing). It can also be used in forming questions to which the answer would be in the indicative (does he like fishing ?) Imperative, the "commanding" mood. The simplest form is the second person command (run! catch him! don't do that!); PDE can make no distinction between singular and plural (unlike Old and Middle English). The first person plural imperative in PDE is formed by the auxiliary let's (originally let us): "let's have a party!" The third person is also expressed by let (let them eat cake, let there be light). Subjunctive. This is rare in independent sentences in PDE, and normally expresses a wish (optative): "Long live the Queen !" "God save the Queen!" (which is a wish, not a command to God). Usually in PDE a wish of this kind is expressed by the auxiliary may ("may he rot in hell!").

In dependent clauses, what is originally the past subjunctive is used in wishes and hypotheses contrary to fact ("I wish he were here"; "If I were you, I would accept the offer"). Note that in "If I had known", had known is not a pluperfect (2.6.4) but a past subjunctive.

Many of the PDE uses of would, should, might are originally past subjunctives, as are ought and must, though the last two are now used as simple auxiliaries stating an apparent fact (as though "he must go" is a proposition about he).

The subjunctive was used much more widely in earlier periods of the English language.

2.6.7 Participles are so-called because they "participate" in both verbs and adjectives: they are derived from verbs but behave like adjectives. Present participle is formed in -ing (not to be confused with the Verbal Noun, 2.6.8): flying geese, a going concern. With the verb be the present participle forms continuous tenses (I am reading, he was walking). The present participle is in PDE always active or intransitive (but see 2.6.5). The past participle (killed, written, known) is always passive when used with or predicated of nouns: "the known facts are these", "the painted lady", "the stolen letter", "the article is finished", "she is much admired". The past participle can also be used with the verb have to form perfect or pluperfect tenses (I have finished, he had gone). In earlier usage, the verb be is used with verbs of 'coming into a state": they are gone. Note "you are welcome" (="you are well come").

2.6.8 Verbal Noun (Gerund) ends in -ing. Not to be confused with the Present participle (contrast "I saw him running" participle, with "I am well aware of his running" verbal noun). The infinitive (2.6.9) is sometimes used as a noun, but is not classed grammatically as the Verbal Noun.

2.6.9 The Infinitive is the form of the verb that follows the auxiliaries: "I can see him", "I shall go". It is also used as the complement after verbs of perceiving (I saw him leave). After partial auxiliaries, it is preceded by to ("I need to leave now", "I want to go"). When it is used as a noun (To err is human, to forgive divine) it is always preceded by to.

The use of to originates in Old English, where the infinitive performed often as a noun.

2.7 Prepositions

Normally prepositions are placed before nouns, pronouns, and noun phrases (which they are said to "govern"), specifying their function or relationship to some other element in the sentence ("a book of carols", "a book of Carol's", "at home", "with a knife", "in Rome", "in a moment", "by plane", etc.). In Old English many of their functions are expressed by Case Endings (3). In origin, prepositions were simply specifying adverbs, providing more precision to a case-ending or verb; this is illustrated in contact Relative Clauses (below): "Here is the book I was telling you about".

Care should be taken with words that are both prepositions and adverbs: in "Turn on the radio", on is not a preposition governing radio, but part of the verb turn on. But in "the dog turned on his attacker", on is a preposition with the force of "against".

2.8 Conjunctions

Conjunctions are linking words; they may join parallel linguistic units (from words to whole sentences) or introduce subordinate clauses.

2.8.1 Coordinating:"he arrived and took off his coat", "apples and oranges", "he was clever but abrasive", "the report says so, but I disagree".

2.8.2 Subordinating: these introduce dependent clauses (6): if, because, while, since, although, that, for, after, etc.("if he said that, he was wrong", "while you are here, you can make yourself useful", "he told me that he had just arrived", "after Christmas was over, we got down to work"). Many are derived from original prepositions.

Note: dependent clauses may be introduced by words other than conjunctions (indirect questions, relative clauses, indefinite noun clauses such as "whoever said that was wrong").

2.8.3 Subordinating conjunctions sometimes modify units smalier than a full clause: "though poor, he was wise", "it was a brave, if foolish, action". At least one subordinating conjunctional phrase has almost acquired prepositional status: "he likes apples as well as he likes pears" has developed into "he likes apples as well as pears".

3. Cases

The word case refers to the grammatical function performed in a sentence by a noun or pronoun. In Old English, any article, demonstrative, or adjective "agreeing" (see Concord 1.8) with the noun or pronoun must be in the same case. The system of case-endings (inflexions) is known as a "declension". In PDE all case endings except the genitive ('s, s') have disappeared in nouns, adjectives, and demonstratives, but survive in the personal pronouns in reduced form.

3.1 Nominative (he, she, it, I, we, you, they, who)

The case of the grammatical subject of the sentence (1.15): "Brutus stabbed Caesar", "the girl I was with has disappeared", "Caesar was stabbed by Brutus". Grammatically, it does not matter where the main interest of the speaker is, nor where the emphasis falls. The complement of the verb be and verbs of seeming is also in the nominative: "Who was she?", "He seems very intelligent", "Elizabeth II is Queen of Canada".

3.2 Vocative

The case in which the addressee is expressed ("Romans, lend me your ears"). This is quite irrelevant to English. It is not quite the same as the exclamatory form in "Oh hell, where did I put that file ?" (in Latin, the exclamatory case is the accusative).

3.3 Accusative (him, her, it, me, us, you, them, whom)

The case of the direct object of the verb (1.15): "Brutus stabbed Caesar", "Give me the book", "whom did you see?" Care is needed with relative clauses (below): in "Where is the book which you bought?", book is nominative (after is), but which is accusative, as it is the object of bought.

In Old English, the accusative is also used to indicate duration or length ("the game lasted an hour", "we walked ten miles"), and is the case after many prepositions, particularly those of motion towards or against.

3.4 Genitive (his, her, its, my, our, your, their, whose)

This is the possessive case, preserved in PDE as the inflexions 's and s' ("John's book", "the women's movement", "Canadians' attitudes"). Its function is loosely adjectival ("Which book?" "The green book/John's book"), as is seen in Old English, where min ("mine") can be either the genitive of the pronoun or an adjective.

3.4.1 A distinction is made between the subjective and objective genitive. The subjective genitive implies that the noun in the genitive would have been the subject of an implicit verb (John's book -John owns the book); conversely, the objective genitive would have been the object of the implied verb (Caesar's murder - someone murdered Caesar). In PDE the objective genitive is usually rendered by the of periphrasis (3.4.2)

3.4.2 In PDE (and Middle English) all types of genitive are often expressed by the preposition of ("the book of John", "the attitudes of Canadians"). Many can only be expressed this way ("a work of great value", "one of three", "each of them", "which of you").

Note that the word after of is not itself in the genitive case: it is simply post-prepositional (in Old English it would have been in the dative). ("It is a book of John's" is different: this = "it is one book of John's books", and John's is genitive).

3.4.3 In Old English, some verbs take the genitive. Also, the genitive is used sometimes to indicate an adverb: "he works nights" is a descendent of this usage, though we perceive nights as a plural.

3.5 Dative (him, her, me, us, you, them, whom)

3.5.1 First, this is the case of the indirect object (1.15): "Tell me a story", "I showed her my house", "he gave his mother a present". In PDE (and Middle English) what formerly had a dative inflexion must precede the direct object: "they gave the President a horse" is quite different from "they gave a horse the President". Where the word-order is anything other than Verb-Indirect Object-Direct Object, the preposition to is used: "Give a horse to the President". The preposition to is also used in Old English.

3.5.2 In Old English, the dative (which had fallen together with earlier cases such as the instrumental and locative) was used for many more functions of nouns and pronouns - means by which, place at which, separation, accompaniment, etc. Usually these were made more specific by prepositions, and in PDE the functions are almost always performed by prepositions (by, at, on, from, of, with, for, in, etc.).

3.5.3 PDE has some remnants of the Instrumental (why, the more the merrier), the Locative (alive), and the Dative (archaic methinks and whilom).

3.6 In Middle English, the dative forms gradually ousted the accusative forms (see the forms of pronouns quoted under 3.3 and 3.5), and both are therefore often called the Oblique case. For similar reasons, after Old English, we use the term Postprepositional to refer to the case after prepositions.

3.7 Sample:

nominative     genitive         accusative  dative 
the king       sent his         messenger   to the town
genitive       nominative       dative      accusative
the council's  representatives  gave them   presents

4. Number

PDE distinguishes singular (one) from plural (more than one). Old English also had a dual pronoun ("the two of us", "the two of you").

4.1 PDE has distinctive plural forms for personal pronouns and demonstratives (I-we, me-us, my-our, he/she/it-they, that-those, this-these). We have recently lost the nominative second person plural ye, replacing it with you; at the same time, we have lost the distinctively singular second person pronoun thou-thee-thy/thine, replacing it with you-your.

4.2 The usual plural marker (inflexion) of nouns is -s (-es), brick-bricks, dish-dishes. There are a few vestiges of Old English declensions: man-men, child-children, foot-feet, etc. Some Latin and Greek words retain distinctive plurals (datum-data, phenomenon-phenomena). Some words have no distinct plural (sheep, usually fish); there are some uncountables (sugar, salt, butter). Some collective nouns are treated differently by different speakers (government, people, committee). Although each and every(one) are always given a singular verb, they are often referred to in the plural (everyone has their own opinion).

4.3 In PDE the verb be distinguishes singular and plural (am-are. is-are, was-were). Otherwise, only the 3rd person present singular is distinctive (he talks). In Old and Middle English, singular and plural were distinguished by endings and sometimes also by their vowels (he rode-they riden, he shal-we shul/shulen).

4.4 Rules of concord (1.8) require that a singular subject is followed by a singular verb (he talks-they talk). In Old and Middle English, the more extensive system of inflexions requires even closer observation of these rules. Further, in Old English the elaborate system of adjectival inflexions requires that all adjectives agree in number and case with their noun just as in PDE we have that book-those books, this mouse-these mice).

5. Person

In PDE person is signalled by the personal pronouns only; in earlier English, verbal forms are affected.

5.1 First person of the speaker/writer self-referentially in singular number: (I, me, my, mine). In the plural when the speaker includes others in the same reference (we, us, our). Exalted persons (monarchs, popes) sometimes refer to themselves in the "royal plural" (we, us, our). Note also the authorial and editorial plural ("as we have have seen").

5.2 Second person: the direct addressee of an utterance (you, your). In standard PDE there is no distinction between singular and plural. In earlier English the singular was thou, thee, thy/thine, and ye (nominative, obsolete), you and your were confined to plural usage. The appropriate reply to the royal we (5.1) was naturally ye, you; from this usage developed the "polite plural" which was courteously extended to all addressees except intimates and inferiors. You is sometimes used indefinitely ("you find fossils in old quarries").

5.3 Third person: someone or something other than the speaker or addressee, distinguished by gender and number (he, she, it, they, and the derivative case forms)

5.4 In PDE only the 3rd person singular is distinguished in verbs, by final -s/-es ("she walks"). In earlier English the singular persons were distinguished in the present tense ("I walk", "thou walkest", "he walketh"); in the past tense only the second person singular was distinguished ("I/he spake", "thou spakest"). In Old English the system is somewhat more elaborate.

6. Syntax of Subordinate Clauses

Subordinate clauses (1.16) can be divided roughly according to their function within a complex sentence, as Noun Clauses, Adjectival (Relative) Clauses, and Adverbial Clauses, performing the grammatical functions of noun, adjective and adverb (see 2.1, 2.3, 2.5); there is some overlapping (6.4).

6.1 Noun Clauses can be subject or object of the verb, be complementary after the verb be, or follow a preposition.

6.2 Adjectival (Relative) Clauses describe or limit a noun or pronoun.

6.2.1 In PDE relative clauses are introduced by: that ("where is the book that I lent you?") who/whom/whose ("the author, who lives in Paris / whom critics describe as brilliant / whose aunt is his agent, is incommunicado") which ("the house, which has five rooms, is in Brampton"). In PDE which is not used of persons (but cf. earlier "Our Father which art in heaven") The genitive of which is now normally expressed analytically of which, but some speakers still use whose for the subjective genitive (3.4.1). zero-relative ("contact clauses", "omitted relative pronoun"), as in "where is the book I lent you?" (see 6.2.3-4) interrogative adverbs of place and time where and when ("we revisited the place where we first met", "I remember the winter when we had six feet of snow")

6.2.2 If the relative pronoun is governed by a preposition, the placing of the preposition depends on the choice of pronoun: which and whom may be preceded by the preposition (the man of whom we were speaking), but in clauses introduced by that or in contact clauses ( the preposition must come at the end of the clause (the man (that) we were speaking of).

6.2.3 The distinction betveen restrictive and non-restrictive adjectives (2.3.1) is particularly important for relative clauses. Restrictive: "the man that I saw you with is a criminal" (distinguishing this man from any others). Modern usage does not place commas round restrictive relative clauses. In "the book ___ you borrowed is now overdue", Modern American usage requires that; British usage allows either which or that. Non-restrictive (descriptive): "The house, which is forty years old, is very solidly built": the relative clause simply adds further information. In such clauses, British usage requires the use of commas round the relative clause. In PDE that is rare in non-restrictive relative clauses; it is, however, found as late as 1932 in Neville Shute 'she lives with her mother, that keeps a sweetshop in Auburn Road".

6.2.4 In PDE the use of contact clauses is confined to relative clauses in which the "omitted" pronoun would have been the object of the verb or postprepositional: "the book I mentioned has been sold", "the book I told you about has been sold", but not *"the book was on the bestseller list has been sold". In Middle English the opposite was true: the subject relative pronoun was often omitted, the object relative pronoun rarely.

6.2.5 The Old English system of relative clauses was quite different: the connector that and the wh-pronouns were not used to introduce relative clauses; instead, demonstratives and/or an indeclinable þe were used. Nor did Old English distinguish restrictive/non-restrictive clauses.

6.3 Adverbial clauses are used much as adverbs (2.5 and 2.5.1-2), modifying whole sentences or the actions of the verb. Contrast "he was already there, as I had expected" (modifying the whole sentence) with "he did as he was told" (modifying the action of the verb).

Adverbial clauses are often coordinated with the main clause, by such links as so ... as, such ... as, as ... as, so ... that.

Adverbial clauses may be subdivided much as adverbs:

6.3.1 Place: "an antique fair used to be held where we lived"

6.3.2 Time (Temporal Clauses): "we will leave when he arrives" "we will leave as soon as he arrives", "now you are here, we can talk", "while we are here, we may as well tidy up".

6.3.3 Cause (Causal Clauses): "the weather is colder here, because we are further north", "since you are not interested, I am going home" (note that many causal conjunctions are originally temporal).

6.3.4 Manner (embracing many types): "interpret the sentence as I did", "cut the cake however you like", "come as quickly as you can".

6.3.5 Purpose (in Latin, Final Clauses): 'save money so that you will be rich", "He closed the door lest anyone overhear him".

6.3.6 Result (in Latin, Consecutive Clauses): "There were so many that we couldn't feed them all". Where the verb is in the past tense, there is some ambiguity between Purpose and Result Clauses: "He shut the door so that no one could come in" expresses both purpose and result.

6.3.7 Comparison (some of the as clauses in 6.3.4 could be included here): "He arrived sooner than I had expected", "You have given more examples than you need". Some clauses of comparison also involve result: "there were more than I could count" (= "there were so many that I could not count them").

6.3.8 Concession: "even if he arrives now, he will be too late", "although she had missed breakfast, she was not hungry", "granted that he survived, it was still a foolish risk".

6.3.9 Conditional: the clause that establishes the condition (the if-clause) is known as the protasis, the consequence is the apodosis. "If he is appointed chairman, I will resign", "If I had been chairman, this would never have happened", "I will not go, unless you come too". The protasis can also be introduced by reversal of subject and verb: "Had I known, I would not have let you go". In Early Modern English, the protasis is sometimes introduced by and or an.

6.4 Ambiguous clauses

Conjunctions may perform more than one function, and are no more immune to change in function than any other word. For example, but originally meant "without", then "except", before developing its normal PDE usage. "If you need anything, tell me" is clearly a conditional clause, but "tell me if you need anything" is approaching a noun clause (object of tell), and is clearly a noun clause in "ask him if he wants anything" (where if = whether).

In the following, when performs quite different functions: "when you open the door, turn on the light" (adverbial), "let me know when you will arrive" (noun clause, object), "the topic of discussion was when the murder took place" (noun clause, complement), "in the years when he was here, he did no work" (relative clause, modifying years).

Similarly, the last four sentences can be rephrased: "at the moment when you open the door" (relative clause), "tell me the time when you will arrive" (relative), "the topic of discussion was the time when the murder took place" (relative), "when he was here, he did no work" (adverbial).

These ambiguities should not be seen as objections to traditional classification of clauses but as clues to the development of syntactical structures.

6.5 Subordination in Indirect Speech

Originally direct statements, questions and commands ("he is drowning", "does he have a lifebelt?", "get a boat!") can all be expressed indirectly after verbs of saying, perceiving, thinking, etc. Such clauses are described loosely as Indirect Speech (Latin Oratio Obliqua); frequently they involve a change of tense.

Thus, the above examples become: "I saw that he was drowning"; 'someone asked if/whether he had a lifebelt"; "the drowning man said that someone should get a boat".

The origin of would as the past tense of will is made clear in indirect speech: "he said 'I will go'" becomes "he said he would go".

Tenses do not always change: "He said 'I went'" can become either "he said that he went" or "he said that he had gone".

7. Negatives

7.1 In PDE the negative particle not (originally an adverb) either precedes nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs ("I asked you, not her", "red, not black", "not very much") or follows the finite verb, which is always an auxiliary, and is often abbreviated ("it won't start", "it isn't fair"). In PDE (but not earlier) ordinary verbs must use the auxiliary do ("he did not agree", "she doesn't like anchovies"), followed by the infinitive.

7.2 PDE has several negative pronouns, adjectives, adverbs and conjunctions compounded from Old English n(e)- (no one, nobody, no, never, nor, neither). Old and Middle English had some negative verbs.

7.3 PDE does not allow double or multiple negatives, but these were common in Old and Middle English and remain so in some dialects.

8. Interrogatives

8.1 Direct Questions

8.1.1 Yes/no questions. If the verb is an auxiliary or be, questions are formed by reversing subject and verb ("will it start", "is it fair"). Ordinary verbs require the verb do followed by the infinitive ("did you vote ?"): do was not required in earlier English, where simple reversal is the norm. In conversational PDE a question is often articulated by intonation alone (you want to go?). In Middle English, direct yes/no questions are often introduced by whether.

8.1.2 Wh-questions require a specific answer; rules for reversal of verb and subject or use of do are the same as for 8.1.1, except for who which is itself the subject ("where did you put it ?", "whom do you want ?", but "who said that ?").

8.2 Indirect Questions (see 6.5). Yes/no questions are, when subordinated, introduced by if or whether ("I asked if he wanted to come"); wh-questions are introduced as in 8.1.2. In both types of question, the verb's tense depends on that of the verb in the main clause ("he asked who owned the car" = "'Who owns the car?' he asked")

9. Chart of Forms and Auxiliaries Forming Tenses, Aspect, Voice

Pluperfect Past Present Future
Simple AV has sung sang sings will sing
PV has been sung was sung is sung will be sung


AV - used to sing sings will sing
PV - used to be sung is sung will be sung


AV had been singing was singing is singing will be singing
PV - was being sung is being sung -


AV had sung had sung has sung will have sung
PV had been sung had been sung has been sung will have been sung

Index of Grammatical Terms (principal discussions)