This article describes a generalized, present-day Standard English
– a form of speech and writing used in public discourse, including broadcasting, education, entertainment, government, and news, over a range of registers
, from formal to informal. Divergences from the grammar
described here occur in some historical, social, cultural and regional varieties
of English, although these are more minor than differences in pronunciation
Word classes and phrases
Nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs form open classes
– word classes that readily accept new members, such as the noun celebutante
(a celebrity who frequents the fashion circles), and other similar relatively new words.
The others are considered to be closed classes
. For example, it is rare for a new pronoun to enter the language. Determiners, traditionally classified along with adjectives, have not always been regarded as a separate part of speech. Interjections
are another word class, but these are not described here as they do not form part of the clause
structure of the language.
Linguists generally accept nine English word classes: nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions, determiners, and exclamations. English words are not generally marked for word class. It is not usually possible to tell from the form of a word which class it belongs to except, to some extent, in the case of words with inflectional endings or derivational suffixes. On the other hand, most words belong to more than one-word class. For example, run
can serve as either a verb or a noun (these are regarded as two different lexemes
Lexemes may be inflected
to express different grammatical categories. The lexeme run
has the forms runs
, and running
Words in one class can sometimes be derived
from those in another. This has the potential to give rise to new words. The noun aerobics
has recently given rise to the adjective aerobicized
Words combine to form phrases
. A phrase typically serves the same function as a word from some particular word class.
For example, my very good friend Peter
is a phrase that can be used in a sentence as if it were a noun, and is therefore called a noun phrase
. Similarly, adjectival phrases
and adverbial phrases
function as if they were adjectives or adverbs, but with other types of phrases, the terminology has different implications. For example, a verb phrase
consists of a verb together with any objects and other dependents; a prepositional phrase
consists of a preposition and its complement
(and is therefore usually a type of adverbial phrase); and a determiner phrase
is a type of noun phrase containing a determiner.
Many common suffixes
form nouns from other nouns or from other types of words, such as -age
(as in shrinkage
(as in sisterhood
), and so on,
although many nouns are base forms not containing any such suffix (such as cat
). Nouns are also often created by conversion
of verbs or adjectives, as with the words talk
(a boring talk
, the assigned reading
Countable nouns generally have singular
In most cases the plural is formed from the singular by adding -[e]s
(as in dogs
), although there are also irregular
, etc.), including cases where the two forms are identical (sheep
). For more details, see English plural
. Certain nouns can be used with plural verbs even though they are singular in form, as in The government were ...
(where the government
is considered to refer to the people constituting the government). This is a form of synesis
; it is more common in British than American English. See English plural § Singulars with collective meaning treated as plural
English nouns are not marked for case
as they are in some languages, but they have possessive
forms, through the addition of -'s
(as in John's
) or just an apostrophe
(with no change in pronunciation) in the case of -[e]s
plurals and sometimes other words ending with -s
(the dogs' owners
, Jesus' love
). More generally, the ending can be applied to noun phrases (as in the man you saw yesterday's sister
); see below. The possessive form can be used either as a determiner (John's cat
) or as a noun phrase (John's is the one next to Jane's
The status of the possessive
as an affix or a clitic is the subject of debate.
It differs from the noun inflection of languages such as German, in that the genitive
ending may attach to the last word of the phrase. To account for this, the possessive can be analysed, for instance as a clitic construction (an "enclitic postposition
) or as an inflection
of the last word of a phrase ("edge inflection").
are phrases that function grammatically as nouns within sentences, for example as the subject
of a verb. Most noun phrases have a noun as their head
An English noun phrase typically takes the following form (not all elements need be present):
In this structure:
- the determiner may be an article (the, a[n]) or other equivalent word, as described in the following section. In many contexts, it is required for a noun phrase to include some determiner.
- pre-modifiers include adjectives and some adjective phrases (such as red, really lovely), and noun adjuncts (such as college in the phrase the college student). Adjectival modifiers usually come before noun adjuncts.
- a complement or postmodifier may be a prepositional phrase (... of London), a relative clause (like ...which we saw yesterday), certain adjective or participial phrases (... sitting on the beach), or a dependent clause or infinitive phrase appropriate to the noun (like ... that the world is round after a noun such as fact or statement, or ... to travel widely after a noun such as desire).
An example of a noun phrase that includes all of the above-mentioned elements is that rather attractive young college student to whom you were talking. Here that is the determiner, rather attractive and young are adjectival pre-modifiers, college is a noun adjunct, student is the noun serving as the head of the phrase, and to whom you were talking is a post-modifier (a relative clause in this case). Notice the order of the pre-modifiers; the determiner that must come first and the noun adjunct college must come after the adjectival modifiers.
Coordinating conjunctions such as and
, and but
can be used at various levels in noun phrases, as in John, Paul, and Mary
; the matching green coat and hat
; a dangerous but exciting ride
; a person sitting down or standing up
. See § Conjunctions
below for more explanation.
Noun phrases can also be placed in apposition
(where two consecutive phrases refer to the same thing), as in that president, Abraham Lincoln, ...
(where that president
and Abraham Lincoln
are in apposition). In some contexts, the same can be expressed by a prepositional phrase, as in the twin curses of famine and pestilence
(meaning "the twin curses" that are "famine and pestilence").
Particular forms of noun phrases include:
- phrases formed by the determiner the with an adjective, as in the homeless, the English (these are plural phrases referring to homeless people or English people in general);
- phrases with a pronoun rather than a noun as the head (see below);
- phrases consisting just of a possessive;
- infinitive and gerund phrases, in certain positions;
- certain clauses, such as that clauses and relative clauses like what he said, in certain positions.
A system of grammatical gender, whereby every noun
was treated as either masculine, feminine or neuter, existed in Old English
, but fell out of use during the Middle English
period. Modern English
retains features relating to natural gender
, namely the use of certain nouns and pronouns
(such as he
) to refer specifically to persons or animals of one or other genders and certain others (such as it
) for sexless objects – although feminine pronouns are sometimes used when referring to ships (and more uncommonly some airplanes and analogous machinery) and nation-states.
Some aspects of gender usage in English have been influenced by the movement towards a preference for gender-neutral language
. Animals are triple-gender nouns, being able to take masculine, feminine and neuter pronouns.
Generally there is no difference between male and female in English nouns. However, gender is occasionally exposed by different shapes or dissimilar words when referring to people or animals.
Many nouns that mention people's roles and jobs can refer to either a masculine or a feminine subject, for instance "cousin", "teenager", "teacher", "doctor", "student", "friend", and "colleague".
- Jane is my friend. She is a dentist.
- Paul is my cousin. He is a dentist.
Often the gender distinction for these neutral nouns is established by inserting the words "male" or "female".
- Sam is a female doctor.
- No, he is not my boyfriend; he is just a male friend.
- I have three female cousins and two male cousins.
Rarely, nouns illustrating things with no gender are referred to with a gendered pronoun to convey familiarity. It is also standard to use the gender-neutral pronoun (it).
- I love my car. She (the car) is my greatest passion.
- France is popular with her (France's) neighbors at the moment.
- I traveled from England to New York on the Queen Elizabeth; she (Queen Elizabeth) is a great ship.
constitute a relatively small class of words. They include the articles the
; certain demonstrative
words such as this
, and which
such as my
(the role of determiner can also be played by noun possessive
forms such as John's
and the girl's
); various quantifying words
; and numerals
, etc.). There are also many phrases (such as a couple of
) that can play the role of determiners.
Determiners are used in the formation of noun phrases (see above). Many words that serve as determiners can also be used as pronouns (this, that, many, etc.).
Determiners can be used in certain combinations, such as all the water and the many problems.
In many contexts, it is required for a noun phrase to be completed with an article or some other determiner. It is not grammatical to say just cat sat on table
; one must say my cat sat on the table
. The most common situations in which a complete noun phrase can be formed without a determiner are when it refers generally to a whole class or concept (as in dogs are dangerous
and beauty is subjective
) and when it is a name (Jane
, etc.). This is discussed in more detail at English articles
and Zero article in English
† Interrogative only. *This is Kim's, whose we forgot is not possible.
The personal pronouns of modern standard English are presented in the table above. They are I, you, she, he, it, we
, and they
. The personal pronouns are so-called not because they apply to persons (which other pronouns also do), but because they participate in the system of grammatical person
(1st, 2nd, 3rd).
The second-person forms such as you
are used with both singular and plural reference. In the Southern United States, y'all
(you all) is used as a plural form, and various other phrases such as you guys
are used in other places. An archaic set of second-person pronouns used for singular reference is thou, thee, thyself, thy, thine,
which are still used in religious services and can be seen in older works, such as Shakespeare's—in such texts, the you
set of pronouns are used for plural reference, or with singular reference as a formal V-form
can also be used as an indefinite pronoun
, referring to a person in general (see generic you
), compared to the more formal alternative, one
, possessive one's
The third-person singular forms are differentiated according to the sex of the referent. For example, she
is used to refer to a female person, sometimes a female animal, and sometimes an object to which female characteristics are attributed, such as a ship or a country. A male person, and sometimes a male animal, is referred to using he
. In other cases it
can be used. (See Gender in English
.) The word it
can also be used as a dummy subject
, in sentences like It is going to be sunny this afternoon
The third-person form they
is used with both plural and singular referents
. Historically, singular they
was restricted to quantificational
constructions such as Each employee should clean their desk
and referential cases where the referent's gender was unknown. However, it is increasingly used when the referent's gender is irrelevant or when the referent is neither male nor female.
The possessive determiners such as my
are used as determiners together with nouns, as in my old man
, some of his friends
. The second possessive forms like mine
are used when they do not qualify a noun: as pronouns, as in mine is bigger than yours
, and as predicates, as in this one is mine
. Note also the construction a friend of mine
(meaning "someone who is my friend"). See English possessive
for more details.
The demonstrative pronouns
of English are this
), and that
), as in these are good, I like that
. Note that all four words can also be used as determiners (followed by a noun), as in those cars
. They can also form the alternative pronominal expressions this/that one
, these/those ones
The interrogative pronouns
, and which
(all of them can take the suffix -ever
for emphasis). The pronoun who
refers to a person or people; it has an oblique form whom
(though in informal contexts this is usually replaced by who
), and a possessive form (pronoun or determiner) whose
. The pronoun what
refers to things or abstracts. The word which
is used to ask about alternatives from what is seen as a closed set: which (of the books) do you like best?
(It can also be an interrogative determiner: which book?
; this can form the alternative pronominal expressions which one
and which ones
, and what
can be either singular or plural, although who
often take a singular verb regardless of any supposed number. For more information see who
In Old and Middle English, the roles of the three words were different from their roles today. "The interrogative pronoun hwā
'who, what' had only singular forms and also only distinguished between non-neuter and neuter, the neuter nominative form being hwæt.
Note that neuter and non-neuter refers to the grammatical gender system of the time, rather than the so-called natural gender system of today. A small holdover of this is the ability of relative (but not interrogative) whose
to refer to non-persons (e.g., the car whose door won't open
All the interrogative pronouns can also be used as relative pronouns, though what
is quite limited in its use;
see below for more details.
The relative pronoun which
refers to things rather than persons, as in the shirt, which used to be red, is faded
. For persons, who
is used (the man who saw me was tall
). The oblique case
form of who
, as in the man whom I saw was tall
, although in informal registers who
is commonly used in place of whom
The possessive form of who is whose (for example, the man whose car is missing); however the use of whose is not restricted to persons (one can say an idea whose time has come).
The word that
as a relative pronoun is normally found only in restrictive relative clauses
, which can be used in both restrictive and unrestrictive clauses). It can refer to either persons or things, and cannot follow a preposition. For example, one can say the song that
] I listened to yesterday
, but the song to which
[not to that
] I listened yesterday
. The relative pronoun that
is usually pronounced with a reduced vowel (schwa
), and hence differently from the demonstrative that
(see Weak and strong forms in English
). If that
is not the subject of the relative clause, it can be omitted (the song I listened to yesterday
The word what
can be used to form a free relative clause
– one that has no antecedent and that serves as a complete noun phrase in itself, as in I like what he likes
. The words whatever
can be used similarly, in the role of either pronouns (whatever he likes
) or determiners (whatever book he likes
). When referring to persons, who(ever)
) can be used in a similar way (but not as determiners).
The word there
is used as a pronoun in some sentences, playing the role of a dummy subject
, normally of an intransitive verb
. The "logical subject" of the verb then appears as a complement
after the verb.
This use of there
occurs most commonly with forms of the verb be
in existential clauses
, to refer to the presence or existence of something. For example: There is a heaven
; There are two cups on the table
; There have been a lot of problems lately
. It can also be used with other verbs: There exist two major variants
; There occurred a very strange incident
The dummy subject takes the number
(singular or plural) of the logical subject (complement), hence it takes a plural verb if the complement is plural. In informal English, however, the contraction there's
is often used for both singular and plural.
The dummy subject can undergo inversion
, Is there a test today?
and Never has there been a man such as this.
It can also appear without a corresponding logical subject, in short sentences and question tags
: There wasn't a discussion, was there? There was.
The word there
in such sentences has sometimes been analyzed as an adverb
, or as a dummy predicate
, rather than as a pronoun.
However, its identification as a pronoun is most consistent with its behavior in inverted sentences and question tags as described above.
Because the word there
can also be a deictic
adverb (meaning "at/to that place"), a sentence like There is a river
could have either of two meanings: "a river exists" (with there
as a pronoun), and "a river is in that place" (with there
as an adverb). In speech, the adverbial there
would be given stress
, while the pronoun would not – in fact, the pronoun is often pronounced as a weak form
The English reciprocal pronouns
are each other
and one another
. Although they are written with a space, they're best thought of as single words. No consistent distinction in meaning or use can be found between them. Like the reflexive pronouns, their use is limited to contexts where an antecedent
precedes it. In the case case of the reciprocals, they need to appear in the same clause as the antecedent.
Other pronouns in English are often identical in form to determiners
), such as many
, a little
, etc. Sometimes, the pronoun form is different, as with none
(corresponding to the determiner no
, etc. Many examples are listed as indefinite pronouns
. Another indefinite (or impersonal) pronoun is one
(with its reflexive form oneself
and possessive one's
), which is a more formal alternative to generic you
The basic form of an English verb is not generally marked by any ending, although there are certain suffixes that are frequently used to form verbs, such as -ate
), and -ise/ize
Many verbs also contain prefixes
, such as un-
), and under-
Verbs can also be formed from nouns and adjectives by zero derivation
, as with the verbs snare
, and calm
Most verbs have three or four inflected forms in addition to the base form: a third-person singular present tense form in -(e)s
), a present participle
form in -ing
), a past tense (wrote
), and – though often identical to the past tense form – a past participle
). Regular verbs have identical past tense and past participle forms in -ed
, but there are 100 or so irregular English verbs
with different forms (see list
). The verbs have
also have irregular third-person present tense forms (has
/sɛz/). The verb be
has the largest number of irregular forms (am, is, are
in the present tense, was, were
in the past tense, been
for the past participle).
Most of what are often referred to as verb tenses
(or sometimes aspects
) in English are formed using auxiliary verbs
. Apart from what are called the simple present
) and simple past
), there are also continuous
(progressive) forms (am/is/are/was/were writing
forms (have/has/had written
, and the perfect continuous have/has/had been writing
forms (will write
, will be writing
, will have written
, will have been writing
), and conditionals
(also called "future in the past") with would
in place of will
. The auxiliaries shall and should
sometimes replace will
in the first person. For the uses of these various verb forms, see English verbs
and English clause syntax
The basic form of the verb (be, write, play
) is used as the infinitive
, although there is also a "to-infinitive" (to be
, to write
, to play
) used in many syntactical constructions. There are also infinitives corresponding to other aspects: (to) have written
, (to) be writing
, (to) have been writing
. The second-person imperative
is identical to the (basic) infinitive; other imperative forms may be made with let
(let us go
, or let's go
; let them eat cake
A form identical to the infinitive can be used as a present subjunctive
in certain contexts: It is important that he follow them
or ... that he be committed to the cause
. There is also a past subjunctive (distinct from the simple past only in the possible use of were
instead of was
), used in some conditional sentences and similar: if I were
) rich ...
; were he to arrive now ...
; I wish she were
. For details see English subjunctive
The passive voice
is formed using the verb be
(in the appropriate tense or form) with the past participle of the verb in question: cars are driven, he was killed, I am being tickled, it is nice to be pampered
, etc. The performer of the action may be introduced in a prepositional phrase with by
(as in they were killed by the invaders
The English modal verbs
consist of the core modals can
, as well as ought (to
), had better
, and in some uses dare
These do not inflect for person or number,
do not occur alone, and do not have infinitive or participle forms (except synonyms, as with be/being/been able (to
) for the modals can/could
). The modals are used with the basic infinitive form of a verb (I can swim, he may be killed
, we dare not move
, need they go?
), except for ought
, which takes to
(you ought to go
). Modals can indicate the condition, probability, possibility, necessity, obligation and ability exposed by the speaker's or writer's attitude or expression.
The copula be
, along with the modal verbs and the other auxiliaries
, form a distinct class, sometimes called "special verbs
" or simply "auxiliaries".
These have different syntax from ordinary lexical verbs
, especially in that they make their interrogative
forms by plain inversion
with the subject, and their negative
forms by adding not
after the verb (could I ...? I could not ...
). Apart from those already mentioned, this class may also include used to
(although the forms did he use to?
and he didn't use to
are also found), and sometimes have
even when not an auxiliary (forms like have you a sister?
and he hadn't a clue
are possible, though becoming less common). It also includes the auxiliary do
); this is used with the basic infinitive of other verbs (those not belonging to the "special verbs" class) to make their question and negation forms, as well as emphatic forms (do I like you?
; he doesn't speak English
; we did close the fridge
). For more details of this, see do-support
A verb together with its dependents, excluding its subject
, may be identified as a verb phrase
(although this concept is not acknowledged in all theories of grammar
). A verb phrase headed by a finite verb
may also be called a predicate
. The dependents may be objects
, complements, and modifiers (adverbs or adverbial phrases
). In English, objects and complements nearly always come after the verb; a direct object
precedes other complements such as prepositional phrases, but if there is an indirect object
as well, expressed without a preposition, then that precedes the direct object: give me the book
, but give the book to me
. Adverbial modifiers generally follow objects, although other positions are possible (see under § Adverbs
below). Certain verb–modifier combinations, particularly when they have independent meaning (such as take on
and get up
), are known as "phrasal verbs
For details of possible patterns, see English clause syntax
. See the Non-finite clauses
section of that article for verb phrases headed by non-finite verb forms, such as infinitives and participles.
, as with other word classes, cannot in general be identified as such by their form,
although many of them are formed from nouns or other words by the addition of a suffix, such as -al
), etc.; or from other adjectives using a prefix: disloyal
Adjectives may be used attributively
, as part of a noun phrase (nearly always preceding the noun they modify; for exceptions see postpositive adjective
), as in the big house
, or predicatively
, as in the house is big
. Certain adjectives are restricted to one or other use; for example, drunken
is attributive (a drunken sailor
), while drunk
is usually predicative (the sailor was drunk
Many adjectives have comparative
forms in -er
such as faster
(from the positive form fast
). Spelling rules which maintain pronunciation apply to suffixing adjectives just as they do for similar treatment of regular past tense formation
; these cover consonant doubling (as in bigger
, from big
) and the change of y
after consonants (as in happier
, from happy
The adjectives good
have the irregular forms better, best
and worse, worst
; also far
becomes farther, farthest
or further, furthest
. The adjective old
(for which the regular older
are usual) also has the irregular forms elder
, these generally being restricted to use in comparing siblings
and in certain independent uses. For the comparison of adverbs, see Adverbs
Many adjectives, however, particularly those that are longer and less common, do not have inflected comparative and superlative forms. Instead, they can be qualified with more and most, as in beautiful, more beautiful, most beautiful (this construction is also sometimes used even for adjectives for which inflected forms do exist).
Certain adjectives are classed as ungradable
These represent properties that cannot be compared on a scale; they simply apply or do not, as with pregnant
. Consequently, comparative and superlative forms of such adjectives are not normally used, except in a figurative, humorous or imprecise context. Similarly, such adjectives are not normally qualified with modifiers of degree such as very
, although with some of them it is idiomatic to use adverbs such as completely
. Another type of adjective sometimes considered ungradable is those that represent an extreme degree of some property, such as delicious
Adjectives can be modified by a preceding adverb or adverb phrase, as in very warm, truly imposing, more than a little excited. Some can also be preceded by a noun or quantitative phrase, as in fat-free, two-meter-long.
Complements following the adjective may include:
- prepositional phrases: proud of him, angry at the screen, keen on breeding toads;
- infinitive phrases: anxious to solve the problem, easy to pick up;
- content clauses, i.e. that clauses and certain others: certain that he was right, unsure where they are;
- after comparatives, phrases or clauses with than: better than you, smaller than I had imagined.
An adjective phrase may include both modifiers before the adjective and a complement after it, as in very difficult to put away.
Adjective phrases containing complements after the adjective cannot normally be used as attributive adjectives before
a noun. Sometimes they are used attributively after the noun
, as in a woman proud of being a midwife
(where they may be converted into relative clauses: a woman who is proud of being a midwife
), but it is wrong to say *a proud of being a midwife woman
. Exceptions include very brief and often established phrases such as easy-to-use
. (Certain complements can be moved to after the noun, leaving the adjective before the noun, as in a better man than you
, a hard nut to crack
Certain attributive adjective phrases are formed from other parts of speech, without any adjective as their head, as in a two-bedroom house, a no-jeans policy.
perform a wide range of functions. They typically modify verbs (or verb phrases), adjectives (or adjectival phrases), or other adverbs (or adverbial phrases).
However, adverbs also sometimes qualify noun phrases (only the boss
; quite a lovely place
), pronouns and determiners (almost all
), prepositional phrases (halfway through the movie
), or whole sentences, to provide contextual comment or indicate an attitude (Frankly, I don't believe you
They can also indicate a relationship between clauses or sentences (He died, and consequently I inherited the estate
Many English adverbs are formed from adjectives by adding the ending -ly
, as in hopefully
(for details of spelling and etymology, see -ly
). Certain words can be used as both adjectives and adverbs, such as fast
, and hard
; these are flat adverbs
. In earlier usage more flat adverbs were accepted in formal usage; many of these survive in idioms and colloquially. (That's just plain ugly.
) Some adjectives can also be used as flat adverbs when they actually describe the subject. (The streaker ran naked
, not **The streaker ran nakedly
.) The adverb corresponding to the adjective good
(note that bad
forms the regular badly
, although ill
is occasionally used in some phrases).
There are also many adverbs that are not derived from adjectives,
including adverbs of time, of frequency, of place, of degree and with other meanings. Some suffixes that are commonly used to form adverbs from nouns are -ward[s]
(as in homeward[s]
) and -wise
(as in lengthwise
Most adverbs form comparatives and superlatives by modification with more
, more often
, most often
, more smoothly
, most smoothly
(see also comparison of adjectives
, above). However, a few adverbs retain irregular inflection for comparative
; a little
); or follow the regular adjectival inflection: fast
Adverbs indicating the manner of an action are generally placed after the verb and its objects (We considered the proposal carefully
), although other positions are often possible (We carefully considered the proposal
). Many adverbs of frequency, degree, certainty, etc. (such as often
, and various others such as just
) tend to be placed before the verb (they usually have chips
), although if there is an auxiliary or other "special verb" (see § Verbs
above), then the normal position for such adverbs is after that special verb (or after the first of them, if there is more than one): I have just finished the crossword
; She can usually manage a pint
; We are never late
; You might possibly have been unconscious
. Adverbs that provide a connection with previous information (such as next
), and those that provide the context (such as time or place) for a sentence, are typically placed at the start of the sentence: Yesterday we went on a shopping expedition.
If the verb has an object, the adverb comes after the object (He finished the test quickly
). When there is more than one types of adverb, they usually appear in the order: manner, place, time (His arm was hurt severely at home yesterday
A special type of adverb is the adverbial particle used to form phrasal verbs
(such as up
in pick up
in get on
, etc.) If such a verb also has an object, then the particle may precede or follow the object, although it will normally follow the object if the object is a pronoun (pick the pen up
or pick up the pen
, but pick it up
An adverb phrase
is a phrase that acts as an adverb within a sentence.
An adverb phrase may have an adverb as its head
, together with any modifiers (other adverbs or adverb phrases) and complements, analogously to the adjective phrases
described above. For example: very sleepily
; all too suddenly
; oddly enough
; perhaps shockingly for us
Another very common type of adverb phrase is the prepositional phrase
, which consists of a preposition and its object: in the pool
; after two years
; for the sake of harmony
form a closed word class,
although there are also certain phrases that serve as prepositions, such as in front of
. A single preposition may have a variety of meanings, often including temporal, spatial and abstract. Many words that are prepositions can also serve as adverbs. Examples of common English prepositions (including phrasal instances) are of
, in front of
, in spite of
A preposition is usually used with a noun phrase as its complement
. A preposition together with its complement is called a prepositional phrase
Examples are in England
, under the table
, after six pleasant weeks
, between the land and the sea
. A prepositional phrase can be used as a complement or post-modifier of a noun in a noun phrase, as in the man in the car
, the start of the fight
; as a complement of a verb or adjective, as in deal with the problem
, proud of oneself
; or generally as an adverb phrase (see above).
English allows the use of "stranded" prepositions
. This can occur in interrogative and relative clauses
, where the interrogative or relative pronoun that is the preposition's complement is moved to the start (fronted
), leaving the preposition in place. This kind of structure is avoided in some kinds of formal English. For example:
- What are you talking about? (Possible alternative version: About what are you talking?)
- The song that you were listening to ... (more formal: The song to which you were listening ...)
Notice that in the second example the relative pronoun that could be omitted.
Stranded prepositions can also arise in passive voice
constructions and other uses of passive past participial phrases
, where the complement in a prepositional phrase can become zero
in the same way that a verb's direct object would: it was looked at
; I will be operated on
; get your teeth seen to
. The same can happen in certain uses of infinitive
phrases: he is nice to talk to
; this is the page to make copies of
express a variety of logical relations between items, phrases, clauses and sentences.
The principal coordinating conjunctions
in English are: and
, and for
. These can be used in many grammatical contexts to link two or more items of equal grammatical status,
- Noun phrases combined into a longer noun phrase, such as John, Eric, and Jill, the red coat or the blue one. When and is used, the resulting noun phrase is plural. A determiner does not need to be repeated with the individual elements: the cat, the dog, and the mouse and the cat, dog, and mouse are both correct. The same applies to other modifiers. (The word but can be used here in the sense of "except": nobody but you.)
- Adjective or adverb phrases combined into a longer adjective or adverb phrase: tired but happy, over the fields and far away.
- Verbs or verb phrases combined as in he washed, peeled, and diced the turnips (verbs conjoined, object shared); he washed the turnips, peeled them, and diced them (full verb phrases, including objects, conjoined).
- Other equivalent items linked, such as prefixes linked in pre- and post-test counselling, numerals as in two or three buildings, etc.
- Clauses or sentences linked, as in We came, but they wouldn't let us in. They wouldn't let us in, nor would they explain what we had done wrong.
There are also correlative conjunctions
, where as well as the basic conjunction, an additional element appears before the first of the items being linked.
The common correlatives in English are:
- either ... or (either a man or a woman);
- neither ... nor (neither clever nor funny);
- both ... and (they both punished and rewarded them);
- not ... but, particularly in not only ... but also (not exhausted but exhilarated, not only football but also many other sports).
- conjunctions of time, including after, before, since, until, when, while;
- conjunctions of cause and effect, including because, since, now that, as, in order that, so;
- conjunctions of opposition or concession, such as although, though, even though, whereas, while;
- conjunctions of condition: such as if, unless, only if, whether or not, even if, in case (that);
- the conjunction that, which produces content clauses, as well as words that produce interrogative content clauses: whether, where, when, how, etc.
Subordinating conjunction generally comes at the very start of its clause, although many of them can be preceded by qualifying adverbs, as in probably because ...
, especially if ...
. The conjunction that
can be omitted after certain verbs, as in she told us (that) she was ready
. (For the use of that
in relative clauses, see § Relative pronouns
- The nominative case (subjective pronouns such as I, he, she, we, they, who, whoever), used for the subject of a finite verb and sometimes for the complement of a copula.
- The oblique case (object pronouns such as me, him, her, us, it, us, them, whom, whomever), used for the direct or indirect object of a verb, for the object of a preposition, for an absolute disjunct, and sometimes for the complement of a copula.
- The genitive case (possessive pronouns such as my/mine, his, her(s), our(s), its, our(s), their, theirs, whose), used for a grammatical possessor. This is not always considered to be a case; see English possessive § Status of the possessive as a grammatical case.
Most English personal pronouns have five forms: the nominative and oblique case forms, the possessive case
, which has both a determiner
form (such as my
) and a distinct independent
form (such as mine
) (with two exceptions: the third person
singular masculine and the third person singular neuter it
, which use the same form for both determiner and independent [his car
, it is his
]), and a distinct reflexive
form (such as myself
). The interrogative
personal pronoun who
exhibits the greatest diversity of forms within the modern English pronoun system, having definite nominative, oblique, and genitive forms (who
) and equivalently coordinating indefinite forms (whoever
, and whosever
Forms such as I
, and we
are used for the subject
kicked the ball"), whereas forms such as me
are used for the object
("John kicked me
Nouns have distinct singular and plural forms; that is, they decline
to reflect their grammatical number
; consider the difference between book
. In addition, a few English pronouns have distinct nominative
(also called subjective
) and oblique
(or objective) forms; that is, they decline to reflect their relationship to a verb
, or case
. Consider the difference between he
(subjective) and him
(objective), as in "He saw it" and "It saw him"; similarly, consider who
, which is subjective, and the objective whom
Further, these pronouns and a few others have distinct possessive
forms, such as his
. By contrast, nouns have no distinct nominative and objective forms, the two being merged into a single plain case
. For example, chair
does not change form between "the chair is here" (subject) and "I saw the chair" (direct object). Possession is shown by the clitic -'s
attached to a possessive noun phrase
, rather than by declension of the noun itself.
As noted above under § Verbs
, a finite indicative verb (or its clause) is negated
by placing the word not
after an auxiliary, modal or other "special
" verb such as do
. For example, the clause I go
is negated with the appearance of the auxiliary do
, as I do not go
). When the affirmative
already uses auxiliary verbs (I am going
), no other auxiliary verbs
are added to negate the clause (I am not going
). (Until the period of early Modern English, negation was effected without additional auxiliary verbs: I go not.
Most combinations of auxiliary verbs etc. with not
have contracted forms
, etc. (Also the uncontracted negated form of can
is written as a single word cannot
.) On the inversion of subject and verb (such as in questions; see below), the subject may be placed after a contracted negated form: Should he not pay?
or Shouldn't he pay?
Other elements, such as noun phrases, adjectives, adverbs, infinitive and participial phrases, etc., can be negated by placing the word not before them: not the right answer, not interesting, not to enter, not noticing the train, etc.
When other negating words such as never
, etc. appear in a sentence, the negating not
is omitted (unlike its equivalents in many languages): I saw nothing
or I didn't see anything
, but not (except in non-standard speech) *I didn't see nothing
(see Double negative
). Such negating words generally have corresponding negative polarity items
, etc.) which can appear in a negative context but are not negative themselves (and can thus be used after a negation without giving rise to double negatives).
Clause and sentence structure
A typical sentence
contains one independent clause
and possibly one or more dependent clauses
, although it is also possible to link together sentences of this form into longer sentences, using coordinating conjunctions (see above). A clause typically contains a subject
(a noun phrase) and a predicate
(a verb phrase in the terminology used above; that is, a verb together with its objects and complements). A dependent clause also normally contains a subordinating conjunction (or in the case of relative clauses, a relative pronoun, or phrase containing one).
English word order has moved from the Germanic verb-second (V2) word order
to being almost exclusively subject–verb–object
(SVO). The combination of SVO order and use of auxiliary verbs
often creates clusters of two or more verbs at the center of the sentence, such as he had hoped to try to open it
. In most sentences, English marks grammatical relations only through word order. The subject constituent precedes the verb and the object constituent follows it. The Object–subject–verb
(OSV) may on occasion be seen in English, usually in the future tense
or used as a contrast with the conjunction "but", such as in the following examples: "Rome I shall see!", "I hate oranges, but apples I'll eat!".
Like many other Western European languages, English historically allowed questions
to be formed by inverting
the positions of the verb and subject
. Modern English permits this only in the case of a small class of verbs ("special verbs
"), consisting of auxiliaries as well as forms of the copula be
(see subject–auxiliary inversion
). To form a question from a sentence which does not have such an auxiliary or copula present, the auxiliary verb do
) needs to be inserted, along with inversion of the word order, to form a question (see do-support
). For example:
- She can dance. → Can she dance? (inversion of subject she and auxiliary can)
- I am sitting here. → Am I sitting here? (inversion of subject I and copula am)
- The milk goes in the fridge. → Does the milk go in the fridge? (no special verb present; do-support required)
The above concerns yes-no questions
, but inversion also takes place in the same way after other questions, formed with interrogative words
such as where
, etc. An exception applies when the interrogative word is the subject or part of the subject, in which case there is no inversion. For example:
- I go. → Where do I go? (wh-question formed using inversion, with do-support required in this case)
- He goes. → Who goes? (no inversion, because the question word who is the subject)
Note that inversion does not apply in indirect questions
: I wonder where he is
(not *... where is he
). Indirect yes-no questions can be expressed using if
as the interrogative word: Ask them whether/if they saw him.
questions are formed similarly; however, if the verb undergoing inversion has a contraction
, then it is possible to invert the subject with this contraction as a whole. For example:
- John is going. (affirmative)
- John is not going. / John isn't going. (negative, with and without contraction)
- Isn't John going? / Is John not going? (negative question, with and without contraction respectively)
The syntax of a dependent clause is generally the same as that of an independent clause, except that the dependent clause usually begins with a subordinating conjunction or relative pronoun (or phrase containing such). In some situations (as already described) the conjunction or relative pronoun that can be omitted. Another type of dependent clause with no subordinating conjunction is the conditional clause formed by inversion (see below).
Other uses of inversion
The clause structure with an inverted subject and verb, used to form questions as described above, is also used in certain types of declarative sentences. This occurs mainly when the sentence begins with adverbial or other phrases that are essentially negative or contain words such as only, hardly, etc.: Never have I known someone so stupid; Only in France can such food be tasted.
In elliptical sentences (see below), inversion takes place after so (meaning "also") as well as after the negative neither: so do I, neither does she.
Inversion can also be used to form conditional clauses, beginning with should, were (subjunctive), or had, in the following ways:
- should I win the race (equivalent to if I win the race);
- were he a soldier (equivalent to if he were a soldier);
- were he to win the race (equivalent to if he were to win the race, i.e. if he won the race);
- had he won the race (equivalent to if he had won the race).
Other similar forms sometimes appear but are less common. There is also a construction with subjunctive be, as in be he alive or dead (meaning "no matter whether he is alive or dead").
Use of inversion to express a third-person imperative is now mostly confined to the expression long live X, meaning "let X live long".
In an imperative
sentence (one giving an order), there is usually no subject in the independent clause: Go away until I call you.
It is possible, however, to include you
as the subject for emphasis: You stay away from me.
Many types of elliptical construction are possible in English, resulting in sentences that omit certain redundant elements. Various examples are given in the article on Ellipsis
Some notable elliptical forms found in English include:
- Short statements of the form I can, he isn't, we mustn't. Here the verb phrase (understood from the context) is reduced to a single auxiliary or other "special" verb, negated if appropriate. If there is no special verb in the original verb phrase, it is replaced by do/does/did: he does, they didn't.
- Clauses that omit the verb, in particular those like me too, nor me, me neither. The latter forms are used after negative statements. (Equivalents including the verb: I do too or so do I; I don't either or neither do I.)
- Tag questions, formed with a special verb and pronoun subject: isn't it?; were there?; am I not?
History of English grammars
The first published English grammar was a Pamphlet for Grammar
of 1586, written by William Bullokar
with the stated goal of demonstrating that English was just as rule-based as Latin. Bullokar's grammar was faithfully modeled on William Lily's
Latin grammar, Rudimenta Grammatices
(1534), used in English schools at that time, having been "prescribed" for them in 1542 by Henry VIII
. Bullokar wrote his grammar in English and used a "reformed spelling system" of his own invention; but much English grammar, for much of the century after Bullokar's effort, was written in Latin, especially by authors who were aiming to be scholarly. John Wallis
's Grammatica Linguae Anglicanae
(1685) was the last English grammar written in Latin.
Even as late as the early 19th century, Lindley Murray
, the author of one of the most widely used grammars of the day, was having to cite "grammatical authorities" to bolster the claim that grammatical cases in English are different from those in Ancient Greek or Latin.
Notes and references
- ^ a b c Payne, John; Huddleston, Rodney (2002). "Nouns and noun phrases". In Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey (eds.). The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 479–481. ISBN 0-521-43146-8. We conclude that both head and phrasal genitives involve case inflection. With head genitives it is always a noun that inflects, while the phrasal genitive can apply to words of most classes.
- ^ a b Carter & McCarthy 2006, p. 296
- ^ a b c d e Carter & McCarthy 2006, p. 297
- ^ a b Carter & McCarthy 2006, p. 298
- ^ a b c Carter & McCarthy 2006, p. 299
- ^ Hudson, Richard (2013). "A cognitive analysis of John's hat". In Börjars, Kersti; Denison, David; Scott, Alan (eds.). Morphosyntactic Categories and the Expression of Possession. John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 123–148. ISBN 9789027273000.
- ^ Börjars, Kersti; Denison, David; Krajewski, Grzegorz; Scott, Alan (2013). "Expression of Possession in English". In Börjars, Kersti; Denison, David; Scott, Alan (eds.). Morphosyntactic Categories and the Expression of Possession. John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 149–176. ISBN 9789027273000.
- ^ Quirk, Randolph; Greenbaum, Sidney; Leech, Geoffrey; Svartvik, Jan (1985). A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. Harlow: Longman. p. 328. ISBN 978-0-582-51734-9. [the -s ending is] more appropriately described as an enclitic postposition'
- ^ Greenbaum, Sidney (1996). The Oxford English Grammar. Oxford University Press. pp. 109–110. ISBN 0-19-861250-8. In speech the genitive is signalled in singular nouns by an inflection that has the same pronunciation variants as for plural nouns in the common case
- ^ Quirk, Randolph; Greenbaum, Sidney; Leech, Geoffrey; Svartik, Jan (1985). A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. Longman. p. 319. In writing, the inflection of regular nouns is realized in the singular by apostrophe + s (boy's), and in the regular plural by the apostrophe following the plural s (boys')
- ^ Siemund, Peter (2008). Pronominal Gender in English: A Study of English Varieties form a Cross-Linguistic Perspective. New York: Routledge.
- ^ a b c d NOUN GENDER EF Education First
- ^ Hogg, Richard, ed. (1992). The Cambridge history of the English language: Volume I. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 144.
- ^ Some linguists consider that in such sentences to be a complementizer rather than a relative pronoun. See English relative clauses: Status of that.
- ^ Fowler 2015, p. 813
- ^ For a treatment of there as a dummy predicate, based on the analysis of the copula, see Moro, A., The Raising of Predicates. Predicative Noun Phrases and the Theory of Clause Structure, Cambridge Studies in Linguistics, 80, Cambridge University Press, 1997.
- ^ "One Definition". dictionary.com. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
- ^ a b Carter & McCarthy 2006, p. 301
- ^ a b Carter & McCarthy 2006, p. 303
- ^ "Modal verbs and modality - English Grammar Today - Cambridge Dictionary". dictionary.cambridge.org. Retrieved 2020-09-24.
- ^ C.D. Sidhu, An Intensive Course in English, Orient Blackswan, 1976, p. 5.
- ^ Dependency grammars reject the concept of finite verb phrases as clause constituents, regarding the subject as a dependent of the verb as well. See the verb phrase article for more information.
- ^ Carter & McCarthy 2006, p. 308
- ^ a b Carter & McCarthy 2006, p. 309
- ^ Carter & McCarthy 2006, p. 310
- ^ a b c Carter & McCarthy 2006, p. 311
- ^ a b c Carter & McCarthy 2006, p. 313
- ^ esl.about.com
- ^ "Adverbs and adverb phrases: position - English Grammar Today - Cambridge Dictionary". dictionary.cambridge.org. Retrieved 2020-09-24.
- ^ Carter & McCarthy 2006, p. 312
- ^ Carter & McCarthy 2006, pp. 314–315
- ^ a b c Carter & McCarthy 2006, p. 315
- ^ British Medical Association, Misuse of Drugs, Chapter 4, "Constraints of current practice."
- ^ Carter & McCarthy 2006, p. 316
- ^ The Chambers Dictionary, 11th edition
- ^ Finkenstaedt, Thomas; Dieter Wolff (1973). Ordered profusion; studies in dictionaries and the English lexicon. C. Winter.
- ^ James Clackson (2007) Indo-European linguistics: an introduction, p.90
- ^ Crystal, David (1997). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-55967-7.
- ^ Stamper, Kory (2017-01-01). Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. pp. 27–28. ISBN 9781101870945.
- ^ "From 'F-Bomb' To 'Photobomb,' How The Dictionary Keeps Up With English". NPR.org. Retrieved 2017-04-21.
- ^ Stamper, Kory (2017-01-01). Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 47. ISBN 9781101870945.
- ^ Stamper, Kory (2017-01-01). Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 44. ISBN 9781101870945.
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Last edited on 5 June 2021, at 13:12
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