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Traditional Grammatical Terminology
by A. G. Rigg


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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:

6.2.1.1 that ("where is the book that I lent you?")

6.2.1.2 who/whom/whose ("the author, who lives in Paris / whom critics describe as brilliant / whose aunt is his agent, is incommunicado")

6.2.1.3 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).

6.2.1.4 zero-relative ("contact clauses", "omitted relative pronoun"), as in "where is the book I lent you?" (see 6.2.3-4)

6.2.1.5 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 (6.2.1.4) 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.

6.2.3.1 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.

6.2.3.2 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.

6.2.3.3 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".


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