An Introduction to English Grammar
eBook - ePub

An Introduction to English Grammar

Gerald Nelson, Sidney Greenbaum

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eBook - ePub

An Introduction to English Grammar

Gerald Nelson, Sidney Greenbaum

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About This Book

An Introduction to English Grammar provides a comprehensive overview of all aspects of English grammar. The first part of the book ('The Grammar') provides a step-by-step introduction to the key topics in English grammar. The second part ('The Applications') shows how a grasp of these topics can be helpful in resolving usage problems, in developing a clear writing style, and in mastering punctuation and spelling. A whole chapter, 'English in Use', is devoted to illustrating the grammatical features of a wide range of modern text types, including emails, Facebook pages, and 'tweets'. It also looks at the special grammatical features of English in everyday conversation.

Each chapter is followed by two sets of exercises. The first set can be used in self-study or in the classroom. The second set deals with more advanced topics, and can be used for classroom discussion or essay writing.

This fourth edition has been fully revised and updated and includes:

  • clearer descriptions and improved presentation

  • new material on word structure and word formation

  • new exercises, examples and extracts

  • updated further reading

Assuming no prior knowledge of English grammar, this book is ideal for beginning students on a one-semester course and provides everything a student needs on the theory and practice of English usage. A comprehensive Glossary of grammatical terms is included and a website provides invaluable additional exercises.

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Part I
The grammar

The parts of a simple sentence

1.1 How we analyse sentences: form and function

Consider this sentence:
  • [1] A heavy snowfall has blocked the mountain passes.
There are various ways of analyzing this sentence. One way is to say that the sentence contains three units:
A heavy snowfall
has blocked
the mountain passes.
We cannot simply arrange the units in any way that we like. For example, [1a] below is not a grammatically correct English sentence:
  • [1a] *Has blocked the mountain passes a heavy snowfall.
Sentence [1] has a structure, in that there are rules that decide the units that can co-occur in the sentence and the order in which they can occur.
The three units in [1] are phrases. Phrases also have a structure. We cannot rearrange the internal order of the three phrases in [1]. These are not English phrases: heavy snowfall a, blocked has, the passes mountain.
A heavy snowfall and the mountain passes are noun phrases (section 3.2) and has blocked is a verb phrase (section 3.11). We characterize them as these types of phrases because of their structure: in the noun phrases the main word is a noun, while in the verb phrase the main word is a verb. When we describe items in this way, in terms of their structure, we are referring to grammatical form.
We can also look at the three units in terms of their grammatical function or the role that they play in a particular sentence. For example, in [1] A heavy snowfall plays the role of subject in the sentence and the mountain passes plays the role of direct object (sections 1.5–1.7):
  • [1] A heavy snowfall has blocked the mountain passes.
In contrast, in [2] below, a heavy snowfall plays the role of direct object and in [3] the mountain passes plays the role of subject:
  • [2] They encountered a heavy snowfall.
  • [3] The mountain passes are now open.
It is quite useful to think of grammatical forms as ‘actors’ and grammatical functions as the ‘roles’ that they play in a particular sentence. Identical forms may have different roles (functions) in different sentences.
We can now combine the descriptions by form and by function. Turning back to [1], we can say that A heavy snowfall is a noun phrase (form) in the role of subject (function) and the mountain passes is a noun phrase (form) in the role of direct object (function). In this chapter, we examine the function of the phrases, not their form. In the next section, we take a preliminary look at the functions of the parts of a simple sentence.

1.2 Subject, predicate, verb

We can divide a sentence into two main constituents: the subject and the predicate. The predicate consists of the verb and any other elements of the sentence apart from the subject:
subject predicate
I learned all this much later.
The chef is a young man with broad experience of the world.
The earthquake measured 6.8 on the Richter scale.
The most important constituent of the predicate is the verb. Indeed, it is the most important constituent in the sentence, since regular sentences may consist solely of a verb: imperatives such as Help! and Look! The verb phrase of the sentence may consist of more than one word: could have been imagining. The main verb comes last: imagining. The verbs that come before the main verb are auxiliary verbs (‘helping verbs’) or simply auxiliaries: could have been.

1.3 Operator

In section 1.2, we divided the sentence into two parts: the subject and the predicate. We then pointed to the verb as the most important constituent of the predicate.
We can now identify an element in the verb phrase that has some very important functions in the sentence: the operator. The o...

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