Tuesday, March 14, 2017

ENGL 3663: Sentence Types

Sentence Types

In order to analyze sentences, we will look first at the five basic types of English sentences – the prototypical English sentences.

We’ve already noticed that all English sentences divide into a subject (a noun phrase) and a predicate (a verb phrase – the main verb phrase and everything attached to that main verb.) Now we’re going to look at the five prototypical variations of the predicate.

Take these sentences, which are Sentence Type I:

                                        Ennis slept.
                                        Anna stood.
                                        The kitten cried.

We can add words to these sentences – badly, wearily, loudly – or even phrases – in his truck, in line, for its mama. But we will notice that these adverbial modifiers leave the core of the sentences, its essential meaning, unchanged.

If we substitute in other verbs for these verbs,

                                        Ennis ________
                                        Anna ________
                                        The kitten ______

                                        Ennis danced
                                        Anna sang.
                                        The kitten pounced.

We’ll discover we’re building sentences on pretty much the same pattern as the ones above. 

This first type of sentence is Type I.

                 Type I: Subject (NP1) + Main Verb Phrase (Intransitive)

What’s an intransitive verb? Basically, it’s a verb which does not take an object (or at least in this case is not taking an object – some verbs can be either transitive or intransitive) and is not a be verb or a linking verb.

An intransitive verb does not need a direct object or any other complement to complete its meaning.

                                The pig was squealing.
                                Lilith coughed all night.
                                Dave might still answer.

Exercise: Which of these sentences have intransitive verbs? That is, which sentences have MVP that don’t have a direct object and don’t need any phrase or word in the rest of the sentence to complete their meaning?

                        Last night it rained.
                        Lily bought six dozen roses for the party.
                        Granny was rocking on the porch.
                        Maria ate before the game.
                        Maria ate pizza.

Type II Sentences: Now look at these sentences:     

                                My house is nearby.
                                The dog might be in the yard.
                                Lily was almost there.

Here, you’ll see we also have a Subject-V-ADVP construction, but in this case the adverb is essential. That is, unlike the examples in Type I, if we leave the adverb off, these sentences don’t have the same core meaning:

My house is.
                                The dog might be.
                                Lily was.

(Prepositional Phrases: Wait, what about that prepositional phrase in the second example? The dog might be in the yard – what do we do with in the yard?

You’ll remember that when we talked about prepositional phrases, we said they functioned (almost always) as either adjective or adverbs? That’s what’s happening here. In these constructions, they’re functioning either as ADJP/ADVP or as part of an ADJP/ADVP.)

Sentence Type II

     Type II: Subject (NP1) + MVP (Be-verb) + Adverb Phrase (of time/place)

This sentence type requires an adverb phrase to be complete. In Type II sentences, that adverb phrase is always an ADVP of time or place.

Sentence Types III and IV:

  Type III: Subject (NP1)  + MVP (Linking Verb) + Adjective Phrase
  Type IV: Subject (NP1) + MVP (Linking Verb) + Nominal Subject Complement (NP1)

These are similar to Type II, but both their MVP and their complements are somewhat different.

Type III: Subject (NP1)  + MVP (Linking Verb) + Adjective Phrase

                                Polly is angry.
                                That pie was delicious.
                                Your dancing has been better.

Type IV: Subject (NP1) + MVP (Linking Verb) + Nominal Subject Complement (NP1)

                                Polly is a surgeon.
                                The winner was a German shepherd.
                                Max may become a zombie.

In both of these constructions, we have a subject-linking verb construction, and in both of these constructions, the Adjective Phrase/Noun Phrase acts as a complement – it completes the construction. The core sentence won’t work or be the same sentence without it.

                                Polly is.
                                Max may become.

And in both of these constructions, the linking verb serves a copular function. Aside from linking the two halves of the sentence, it is otherwise, essentially, neutral. It is helpful to think of the linking verb as a kind of equals mark.   
                                Polly = surgeon
                                Pie = delicious
                                Max = zombie

Because the linking verb adds nothing to this sentence, in many languages, it is left out – omitted entirely. This is true in Russian, in Hebrew, in Japanese, in Latin, in Greek, and in many other languages. African American Vernacular English also omits the linking verb in this construction.

How can we tell Type II sentences from Type III and Type IV, given that they all have a kind of a be verb as their main verb? By their complement. Type II will have an ADVP; Type III an ADJP. Type IV, a NP.

To recap:

  Type I: Subject (NP1) + Main Verb Phrase (Intransitive)
  Type II: Subject (NP1) + MVP (Be-verb) + Adverb Phrase (of time/place)
  Type III: Subject (NP1)  + MVP (Linking Verb) + Adjective Phrase
  Type IV: Subject (NP1) + MVP (Linking Verb) + Nominal Subject Complement (NP1)

So far, so good. However, not every linking verb is a be-verb.

                        Your room looks messy.
                        The music sounds wonderful.
                        That fish tastes bad.
                        (Compare: The cat tasted the fish.)
                        Sherlock felt terrible.
                        (Compare: Sherlock felt the top of the windowsill, seeking clues.)

How can we decide which of these are linking verbs and which are some other sort of verb, given that many verbs can be either?

Remember that linking verbs serve a copular function – they are a kind of equals mark. So if our subject and the complement are referencing the same thing – if the be verb is serving as an equals mark, more or less – then we have a linking verb.

                Your room = messy. (Yes)
                The music = wonderful. (Yes)
                That fish = bad. (Yes)
                The cat = the fish. (Nope)
                Sherlock = terrible. (Yes)
                Sherlock = the top of the windowsill, seeking clues. (Nope)

Usage: One reason this matters is that, especially in modern Standard English, people tend to hypercorrect the adjective phrases in Type III sentences, turning them into adverbs.

                        Sherlock feels terrible. ß Correct.
                        Sherlock feels terribly. ß Incorrect. (Unless he has neurological damage.)

We frequently hear people make this hypercorrection – in fact, you may have been scolded into it by a well-meaning parent or English teacher.

                English teacher: How are you today?
                   Student: I’m good.
                   Teacher: You mean you’re well.
                   Student: (believing must be right) Uh, sorry. I’m well, I mean.
(Note: I’m well is also correct, if you are speaking strictly about your health and wellness. So if the student is returning from school after a bout with the flu, “I’m well today” would be the correct answer.)

Have a look at these sentences – which are correct and which have been hypercorrected?

                        Davis plays the piano wonderfully.
                        Your playing sounds wonderfully today.
                        Do that work differently, please.
                        The corrections look very well.

Type V: Subject (NP1) + MVP (transitive verb) + Direct Object (NP2)

                        Fred shot a zombie.
                        Ivy loves pie.

Type V sentences differ from those we have been discussing so far in two specific ways.

·        First, their verb is transitive.
·        And second, these sentences contain more than one noun phrase, and in a prototypical Type V sentence the second noun phrase will be the object of the transitive verb.

It’s true that other sentences may contain more than one noun phrase – Type IV sentences, for instance, have a phrase as their complement; and sentences which contain prepositional phrases will have noun phrases as the objects of those prepositions; but only Type V sentences will have noun phrases as the direct object of their verbs.

 So take this sentence as an example:

                        Polly was studying her history notes.

                NP1 (subject) = Polly
                MVP (Trans) = Was studying
                NP2 (direct object of MVP) = her history notes

Contrast it with this sentence:
                        Davis has been living at his uncle’s house.

                NP1 (Subject) = Davis
                MVP (Intrans) = has been living)
                ADVP (Place) = at his uncle’s house

Here, the noun phrase “his uncle’s house” is not an object of the main verb phrase, but rather is an object of preposition at. The entire prepositional phrase “at his uncle’s house” functions as an adverbial phrase, modifying the main verb (rather than serving as its object.)


Besides direct objects, we can have indirect objects. When this happens, we’ll have another noun phrase acting as a kind of an objecting and coming between the direct object and the transitive verb.

                        Ivy has bought Elvis a new shirt.
                        I threw my dog a puppy treat.

Here we can see that the main verb phrases – has bought, threw – are both transitive (that is, they answer the question of either who or what – what did Ivy buy, what did I throw?).  The direct objects are not the words that follow the verbs directly, though, although that is where direct objects are usually found.

That is, Ivy didn’t buy Elvis, and I didn’t throw my dog. Elvis and dog are both indirect objects. We’ll be talking about indirect objects and how they happen more later. For now, just be aware that this happens.

Reflexive/Reciprocal pronouns

We already met these, back when we were talking about pronouns. But here we can realize how they function, which is as direct objects.
                        Tom hurt himself.
                        The team defeated itself.
                        We all text one another constantly.

Transitive verbs with Object Complements

This is a relatively rare construction that nevertheless does occur.

                        We named Polly the winner.
                        I found the novel boring.

What we’ve got here is a kind of subordinated sentence. The subordination looks something like this:
                        We named Polly. S + MVP (trans) + Obj
                        Polly is the winner. S + MVP (Linking) + Compl (NOM)
                        We named Polly [to be] the winner.

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