What is Syntax?

o   The word syntax is derived from a Greek word meaning ‘arrangement’. It studies the ways in which words are arranged together in order to make larger units.
o   The sentence is normally taken as the largest unit amenable to useful linguistic analysis.
o   The main emphasis of this study will be on the level of language that examines how words combine into larger units, the phrase, the clause and the sentence.
o   Different linguists, however, often define terms differently.
Ø  Structuralists would label ‘sheep’, ‘that lovely sheep’ and ‘that sheep are unpredictable’ as:
            sheep                                                               -word/free morpheme
            that lovely sheep                                             -phrase
            that sheep are unpredictable                            -clause
Ø  Whereas transformationalists would call them all noun phrases.
o   The structuralist one concentrates on the formal differences whereas transformationalists concentrate on  the functional similarities in that all three can occur in the same slot:
            Sheep                                                               can be seen clearly
            That lovely sheep                                            can be seen clearly
            That sheep are unpredictable                          can be seen clearly
1.1  The phrase
o   A phrase is a group of words which functions as a unit and, with the exception of the verb phrase itself, does not contain a finite verb. Example:
            The little boy sat in the corner.
We c
an replace ‘the little boy’ by ‘he’ and ‘in the corner’ by ‘there’.
A phrase does not contain a finite verb.
o   A finite verb is one that can take as its subject a pronoun such as ‘I’, ‘we’, ‘she’, ‘it’, ‘they’. Thus we can have:
I see                            
He sees
They saw
But not:
I seeing
He to see
We seen
And we can say that ‘seeing’, ‘to see’, ‘seen’ are non-finite verb. Only non-finite verb forms can occur in phrases:
            Bending low, he walked awkwardly into the small room.
            Seen from this angle, the mountains look blue.
o   There are five commonly occurring types of phrases in English: noun phrases, adjective phrases, verb phrases, adverb phrases and preposition phrases.
1. A noun phrase is a group of words with a noun as its headword. There can be up to three noun phrases in a simple sentence, as the underlined units in the following simple sentences below:
            The young man threw the old dog a bone.
            That rich man will build his eldest daughter a fine house
2. An adjective phrase is a group of words which modifies a noun. Like adjectives, these words can be either attributive:
            The child laughing happily, ran out of the house.
            That utterly fascinatingnovel has been banned.
    
    or predicative (that is following a verb):
            The letter was unbelievably rude.
            He seemed extremely pleasant.
3.  A verb phrase is a group of words with a verb as headword. Verb phrases can be either finite:
            He has been singing
    or non-finite verb:
            to have sung
4.  An adverb phrase is a group words which functions like an adverb; it often plays the role of telling us when, where, why or how an event occurred:
            We are expecting him to come next year.
            He almost always arrives on time.
            He ran very quickly.
5. A preposition phrase is a group of words that begins with a preposition:
            He arrived by plane.
            Do you know that man with the scar?
            We are on very good terms.
o   The number of modern linguists define a noun phrase, for example, as ‘a word or group of words which can function  as a subject, object or complement in a sentence’:
            The young man came in/Hecame in.
            The young man defended his mother/ He defended her.
            The answer was ‘400 hours’/ The answer was this.
o   Similarity, a verb phrase is a word or group of words which can function as a predicate in a sentence:
            He arrived at two.                   He will arrive at two.
1.2   The clause
A clause is a group of words which contains a finite verb but which cannot occur in isolation, that is a clause constitutes only part of a sentence.
1.  A noun clause is a group of words containing  a finite verb and functioned like a noun:
            He said that he was tired.
            What you said was not true.
The fact that the earth moves round the sun is well known.
    Noun clause can often be replaced by pronouns:
            He said this.
   
    All the following possibilities are acceptable:
            I shall always remember                      John.
                                                                        him.
                                                                        his kindness.
                                                                        what John has done.
    Thus, pronoun, nouns and noun phrases can usually be substituted for noun clauses.
2. An adjective clause is often called a ‘relative clause’ because it usually relates back to a noun whose meaning it modifies:
            The dog which
won the competition
is an Alsatian
            The man who taught my brother French is now the headmaster.
            The girl whom we met on holidayis coming to see us next week.
    Occasionally an adjective clause can begin with ‘when’:
            I remember the day when we won the cup.
    or ‘where’:
            the town where they met was called Scarborough.
3. An adverbial clause functions like an adverb in giving information about when, where, , how, or if an action occurred:
            When he arrived we were all sleeping.
            Put it where we can all see it.
            They won the match because they were the best players.
            He put it away as quietly as he could.
            If you want any more you’ll have to get it yourself.
1.3   The sentence
A sentence is a group of words that can exist independently
1 Types of sentences:
Sentences can be divided into four sub types:
1 Declarative sentences make statements or assertions:
            I shall arrive at three.
            You are not the only applicant
            Peace has its victories.
            We must not forget that date.
2 Imperative sentences give orders, make requests and usually have no overt subject:
            Come here.
            Don’t do that.
            Try to help.
            Don’t walk on the grass.
3. Interrogative sentences ask questions:
            Did you see your brother yesterday?
            Can you hear that awful noise?
            When did he arrive?    
            Why don’t they play cricket here?
4. Exclamatory sentences are use to express surprise, alarm, indignation or a strong opinion.
            He’s going to win!
            You can’t be serious!
            What a fool I was!
Sentences can also be classified as being either major (that can contain a finite verbs) or minor (which do not contain finite verbs). Minor sentences are frequently found in colloquial speech:
            Got a match?
            Not likely!
            Just a minute!

Sentences can be distinguished between sentences which are ‘simple’, ‘compound’ or ‘complex’.

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