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The Well Bred Sentence
An Intensive Study of Sentence Construction and Punctuation
© Sophie Johnson 

The Well Bred Sentence (Table of Contents)

Chapter 2  The Parts of Speech


What are the parts-of-speech?


`that' and `what'

attributive adjectives


verbial phrases

noun + adjective naming units

predicate adjectives




gerunds and gerundives

distinguishing the copula

`be’  subjunctive

personal pronouns in verb basic sentences

present participle

copular verb

`were’ subjunctive

personal pronouns in the copula basic sentence 


past participle

distinguishing the copular verb and the verb


personal pronouns in the preposition-led phrase

the infinitive

the copular verb and the `that' headed noun phrase



reflexive pronouns

prepositions and the transitive/intransitive verb


genitive-case nouns

relative pronouns `who’ and `whom’

the myth of word classes



Reader, please take it easy!


If you are new to sentence analysis, you are about to encounter a hailstorm of terminology. Do not let it batter you. There is no need for you to memorise all in one go. Be content simply with getting a feel for the linguistic concepts they present. Taking it easy in this way, you will be on top of it all by the time you have read to the end of the fourth Chapter.


What are the parts of speech?


`Parts of speech' is the general name for the various syntactic units that perform the sense-making functions of the sentence. They are the nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbials (verb, copula, copular verb),  and adverbs.

·         If the function of a word or of a group of words in a sentence is to name, then that word or group of words is a noun, noun phrase or pronoun.

·         If the function of a word or group of words is to describe a noun, then that word or group of words is an adjective or adjective phrase.

·         If the function of a word or of a group of words is to denote the activity of the subject upon the object, or of the object upon the subject, that word or group of words is a verb. If the function of a word or a group of words is to assign a description, definition or location to the subject, then that word or group of words is a copula. If the function of the complement is to name a characteristic of the subject’s act, the word or group of words that denote that act is a copular verb or a copular-verb phrase.

·         If the function of a word or group of words is to describe the time, place, manner, reason for or degree of intensity of the activity denoted by a verb or copular verb, that word is an adverb. Adverbs also head the noun phrases that name the reason for and the place of a subject’s activity.

Minor parts of speech are  the articles [a reader comments] and the particles. The articles are the definite article `the' and the indefinite articles `a' and `an'. (Chapter 11 of this work discusses article usage.) The particles are the little words that function as prefixes (indefinite, precondition) and suffixes (happiness, departure), and as prepositions: 'in', 'towards', 'under', etc.). Prepositions are not in themselves parts of speech. Rather, they perform various parts-of-speech functions.

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The verbs

Verbs denote the activity that forges the dynamics of the subject-object relationship. The characteristic of the verb sentence is action, either of (i) the subject upon the object, or of (ii) the object upon the subject:

(i) William Adams might well have ignored the spectacle [active voice],
(ii) The spectacle might well have been ignored by him.  [passive voice].

The copula

The copula is formed from the infinitive `to be', or from a combination of it with the infinitive `to have’:

am/was/is/are/were/were being, shall/has/had/will have been,
should/might/can be ought/used to be, etc.

when it works alone in a sentence:

We were being ignored.
By this time tomorrow, Susan will have been married for a year.
This is the first time anyone has questioned me.

The copula has what we call a 'complement'. It does not have an object. Only the verb sentence has an object.

There are statements (usually of principle, and typically aphorisms) that are copula sentences, but they hide the copula. It is not immediately apparent in this sentence, for instance, that the copula 'is' is hidden:

What goes up must come down.

But it is: Quite simply, 'what' in the above sentence has displaced the noun-phrase header 'that which'. (We shall see in a moment that  'what' can be the header of a noun phrase. It cannot, however, be the header of an adjective phrase.) The complement of this sentence, 'must come down' defines the subject 'What [That which] goes up'. But the copula, is, which connects  the complement (another noun phrase, 'must come done') that defines the subject has been ghosted: it is not visible in this sentence. And the noun-phrase header 'that which' that logically leads the noun-phrase complement 'must come down' is also ghosted. Putting back the ghosted copula, the displaced noun-phrase header and the ghosted noun-phrase headers, we have the full meaning-template of this sentence:

What [That which] goes up [is] [that which/what] must come down.

The other upshot of this discussion is that the words `goes' and `come' only appear to be verbs in the sentence 'What goes up must come down.'  But they are not verbs. They are both parts of a noun phrase.

'What' cannot be the header of an adjective phrase.

In this defective copula sentence:

Something what I like is a burn upon my bike,

'what I like' tries to describes the noun 'Something'. But it cannot do that happily, for one of the very few constants (one might even hazard 'rules')  in English usage is that 'what' cannot head an adjective phrase: An adjective phrase header can be only 'that' or 'which' or nothing. So:

Something that I like is a burn upon my bike; Something I like is a burn upon my bike. For a discussion of 'that' and 'which' please see the section `Which' and `that': the relative-adjective phrase headers' in Chapter 3, The Simple Sentence.

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Distinguishing the copula 

A part of the infinitive `to be’, or a phrase that consists of several parts of the that infinitive working in combination with parts of the infinitive `to have’, is a copula only when it alone is the element that connects the subject and complement of a sentence. When the parts of the infinitives `to be’ and `to have’ occur as the helpers (auxiliaries) of an activity-denoting word, they are either verbs or copular verbs.

It is easy to determine whether the parts of the infinitives `to be’ and `to have’ are copulas or auxiliaries. The determinant is this: If the predicate of the sentence contains an object that acts upon its subject, or upon which the subject acts, then that sentence is a verb sentence. If the predicate contains no object, then the sentence is a copula sentence.

In this sentence:

Mary is constructing the argument to impress John [active voice],

the subject `Mary' perpetrates the act denoted by the verb `is constructing' upon the object `the argument'. In the next sentence:

The argument was constructed by Mary to impress John [passive voice],

the object `Mary’ perpetrates the act denoted by `was constructed’ upon the subject `the argument’. In both these sentences the parts of the infinitive `to be’: `is’ and `was’, are auxiliaries in the verb phrases `is constructing’ and `was constructed’.

On the other hand, in this sentence:

The argument was  impressive,

no subject nor object is performing any act. Rather, the subject `the argument’ is assigned the description `impressive’ by the copula `was’. Similarly in:

The argument was constructed to please John,

the copula `was' assigns the description `constructed to please John' to the subject `The argument'. (Clearly, the subject did not act upon an object in this sentence: there is no object in it. There is instead the predicate adjective `constructed to please John: The subject this sentence raises is `the constructed-to-please-John argument'.)

PS: Some TG analysts will try to argue that 'was constructed' is a verb in this sentence, and 'to please John' is the adverbial phrase of reason that describes it. But this argument founders, for the absence from this sentence of a subject that acts upon the object or an object. that acts upon the subject.

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The copular verb

There are two kinds of copular verb. One kind is like the copula in that it does not denote activity:

This water tastes good.

The meaning in this sentence is clearly not that the subject `the water' is perpetrating the act `tastes'. Obviously, `water' cannot perpetrate the act `taste'. Rather, `tastes' in this context is effectively equi-meaning with `is', and it is therefore a copular verb. Similarly, in:

That dress felt wet,

it is not the subject `that dress' that did the feeling. Dresses cannot feel. `Felt' in this sentence is equi-meaning with `was' or `seemed to be', and is therefore a copular verb. Like the copula, `felt'  attributes the predicate adjective `wet' to the subject `that jumper'.

The other kind of copular verb is like the verb in that it denotes the subject's activity. But it always denotes only the subject's activity. And that activity is never perpetrated upon an object. That is necessarily so because the copular verb does not have an object. Instead, it has a complement that works upon the subject to describe, locate or specify it. In doing this, it is like the copula. In this sentence:

The waiter refused service,

the subject `the waiter’ certainly did perpetrate the act denoted by `refused'. But he did not perpetrate that act upon `service’. Rather, the noun `service’ names the content of the subject's act `refused': the waiter performed  an act of service refusal.

Distinguishing the verb and the copular verb

In this sentence:

The waiter refused to serve the drunkard

the subject `the waiter’ perpetrated an act, denoted by the verb phrase `refused to serve’, upon the object `the drunkard’. Clearly then, `refused to serve' is a verb. 

However, in the next sentence, something more complicated happens:

She refused the drunkard permission to enter.

In this sentence, it might at first seem that the subject `she' perpetrated an act, denoted by the verb `refused’, upon the object `the drunkard’. But 'She refused the drunkard' cannot be said to be the basic sentence of this sentence, for the simple reason that it does not make an independent sense.  In fact, for this basic sentence to make sense, the noun phrase `permission to enter' is needed to name the content of the subject's act `refused'. So `refused' has a complement, not an object. It is therefore a copular verb.

But then, someone might argue, is not 'the drunkard' nevertheless the object of the copular verb 'refused' of which the content is named by 'permission to enter'? The obvious answer is that it is not. Once one admits that in this sentence 'refused' is a copular verb of which the content is named by the noun-phrase complement 'permission to enter', it cannot then be also be a verb. (It has already been established that 'She refused the drunkard' does not make the independent sense required of a basic sentence.) So how to account for the word  'the drunkard'? Well, that is simple: It names the direction of the subject's act denoted by  the copular verb 'refused'.

The reader will recall the following analysis offered in the Chapter 'What is a Sentence':

The boy taught his grandmother Mathematics
The boy taught his grandmother to suck eggs.

The subject `the boy’ perpetrated the act denoted by the verb `taught’ on the object ,`his grandmother’. The content of the subject’s act is named by the noun `Mathematics’ in the first sentence, and by the infinitive-noun phrase `to suck eggs’ in the second.

That reader might well put this very valid question: Why is 'taught' in this context not also a copular verb, since its content is named by a noun-phrase complement? Yet again, the answer is fairly simple: The basic sentence in this sentence, 'the boy taught his grandmother' makes an independent sense. That basic sentence does not have to import the noun complement to achieve a sense, as did in the basic sentence of the sentence 'She refused the drunkard permission to enter '. Thus the subject-object relationship in 'The boy taught his grandmother' is unequivocal.

`Tastes' and `felt' were used as copular verbs in the sentences we discussed above. They were distinguished as copular verbs because, like the copula, they did not denote activity. However, they are verbs in the following sentences because they do denote the activity that the subject perpetrates upon the object (underlined):

He felt the bump on his head.
The employee tastes the food for his master.

There are other problematic sentences that look as if they contain a subject and an object, and therefore, a verb. One such sentence is this:

He felt the wind in his hair.

The subject `he' certainly perpetrates the act denoted by `felt': he did the feeling. But he did not perpetrate that act upon `the wind'. (In fact, logically, it is the wind that acted upon him.) `The wind' is therefore not the object in this sentence. We must conclude that `felt' is a copular verb because the complement `the wind in his hair' names the content of the activity denoted by `felt'.

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The copular verb and the `that'-headed noun-phrase complement

There is an awkward copular-verb construction that must be discussed. (The reader will have to refer back to the concept: `the subjunctive mood'.) Such a construction occurs in this sentence:

I must suggest to her that she cover her windows with curtains.

The verbial `must suggest' might at first glance seem to be a verb. In fact it a copular verb. The subject `I' is not perpetrating the act `must suggest' upon `her'. The subject's act is merely the contemplation of the perpetrating of an act of suggesting. So `to her' is not the object in this sentence. Rather, `to her' names the direction of the contemplated activity  `must suggest'.  And `that she cover her windows with curtains'  names the content of that contemplated activity.

We speak of `contemplated activity' because there is no perpetration of an  activity in this sentence. Also, the tense of `must suggest' is indeterminate: it has a present-tense form but its sense can be either futuristic or present continuous, depending on the meaning it intends to make. (It can be intended to mean either: `my constant task is to suggest to her that she cover her window ...' or `I shall have to suggest to her that she cover her windows ...'.) The noun phrase `that she cover her windows with curtains' names the content of the activity denoted by `must suggest'. Since the tense of `must suggest' is indeterminate, its subjunctive mood is presumed by default. Therefore, the noun phrase that names its content must `fit in' with the presumed subjunctive mood by making an explicit subjunctive of the verb-like element in the content-naming noun phrase. So any verb-like element in the content-naming part of the complement must take a subjunctive-mood form. We can construct the subjunctive mood only with a noun phrase headed by `that'. We cannot construct it with a gerund phrase. For that reason it is entirely ungrammatical to give the content-naming noun phrase a gerund form: I must suggest to her to cover her windows with curtains.

You will see the difference in this sentence:

`I shall tell her to cover her windows with curtains'.

Here, `shall tell' is a verb inasmuch as `her' is its object. And the tense of this verb is clearly `future'.  Given this clarity of tense, there is no demand for the subjunctive mood in the phrase that names its content. So the infinitive `to cover' can head the noun phrase that does that naming.

(I owe the point under this sub-heading to an issue raised by Mr Sándor Csomó.)

Finally, on the verb/copular verb distinction: The reader should keep in mind that the content of a verb can be named by a complement. Such a naming of verb content occurs in the sentence above, in which the subject `I' perpetrates the act denoted by the verb `shall tell' upon the object `her'. The reader should review the discussion of the verb sentence in the Chapter `What is a Sentence?', where examples of other verb-content naming noun complements are discussed. A basic fact to remember about sentence analysis is this: A verb always has an object, and it can have a complement as well, so long as the basic sentence that contains it makes an independent sense that establishes the subject-object relationship. A copular verb and a copula can have only a complement (and never an object).

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Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in the time past.

T. S. Eliot

The tense of a verb is achieved by the word form that locates it in time. That is also true of the tense of a copula or copular verb. The problem with verb tense is not that its formation is governed by any complex syntax, but rather, that approaches to expressing `time/activity' concepts are very diverse. There is, for instance, little similarity in how tense is expressed in Germanic, Slavic and Latin languages. Modes of tense expression in those languages differ from one to another every bit as much as the mode of any of them differs from the English mode. 

A vast body of tense terminology exists in Traditional Grammar, but sadly, much of it is nonsensical: `present perfect continuous', `pluperfect', `future perfect conditional', etc. This book proposes that discussion of English tense formation should be thoroughly spring-cleaned, with the intention of consigning its useless terminology to oblivion. To this end, only somel tense paradigms are commended here as useful ones.

The tense concepts `present', `past', `future', `conditional'

`Past', `present' and `future' are the indispensable time concepts. They each have several tense forms. Examples of these forms are rendered in bold italics:





1. I eat fish. He eats fish.

3. I ate fish. He ate fish.

6. I shall eat fish. He will eat fish.

8. I should eat fish if it were safe. He would eat fish if it were safe.

2. I am eating fish. He is eating fish.

4. I have eaten fish. He has eaten fish.

7. I shall be eating fish. He will be eating fish.

9. I should be eating fish if it were safe. He would be eating fish if it were safe.

5. I had eaten fish. He had eaten fish.

Permutations of these structures make all the other forms:

I have been eating fish even though I know it is not safe.
He might be eating fish despite my rule that forbids it.
He might have eaten fish while I was away.
They will have eaten all the fish they bought before I came home.
You would have been eating fish if I had agreed to serve you some.

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It is not only tense forms that locate activity in time. For instance, `The poor man dies tomorrow' is a sentence that uses the present-tense form `dies’, yet there is a `future time' concept operating in it. That operation is achieved by the adverb `tomorrow’. This adverb is responsible for giving this sentence a `future' aspect.

A verb's tense form can reveal whether the act it denotes is `perfective' (finished) or `imperfective' (unfinished). In this sentence:

He has eaten pies all his life,

the act is clearly unfinished, or `imperfective'. That is, the act denoted by 'has eaten' is not a terminated act but a continuing one. But then, the same can be said of this sentence:

He had eaten pies all his life.

The auxiliary `had' does not, of its own strength, give a sentence a perfective aspect. Please note this fact in this compound sentence:

He had eaten pies all his life and was still eating them when we met him.

Since the act `had eaten' is shown by the subsequent (compound) sentences to be a continuing act, `He had eaten pies'  is ipso facto a sentence with an imperfective aspect.

Aspect in the verb sentence

An interesting thing about aspect in a verb sentence is that the terminating adverb of time that conjoins a sentence with the lead sentence determines that the past-tense form `had' is the appropriate auxiliary of the verb in the lead sentence. We might observe this in the following way: There is no terminating adverb of time in the two foregoing sentences. But there is in the next one:

He had eaten pies all his life until we warned him of the possible adverse health consequences of eating them.

Here, `until' is the terminating adverb that conjoins the sentence `we warned him of the possible adverse health consequences of eating them' with the lead sentence `he had eaten pies all his life'. It is this terminating (and conjoining) adverb of time that enforces the tense form `had eaten'. It is, therefore, this adverb of time that is primarily responsible for giving this sentence a `perfective' aspect. In so doing, it insists that `had' and not `has' is the appropriate auxiliary for the lead sentence. (We cannot possibly say `He has eaten pies until we warned him ...' because we would be proposing a chronologically illogical time concept.)

Aspect in the copula sentence

Aspect in the copula sentence is just as interesting. As in the verb sentence, it is the sentence-compounding and terminating adverb of time that determines when the appropriate copula is `was' and not `is', and when the appropriate auxiliary is `had' and not `has'. In this sentence:

This is the most beautiful flower I have ever seen,

 `the most beautiful flower I have ever seen' is, and continues to be, true of the subject `This'. (Alternately, `This' represents `the most beautiful flower I have ever seen'.) So the aspect of this copula sentence is imperfective (i.e. no truth has been made obsolete). Hence the appropriateness of the the present-tense copula `is ' and the present-tense auxiliary `have'.

On the other hand, in the sentence:

This was the most beautiful flower I had ever seen before you showed me yours,

`This' represents `the most beautiful flower I had ever seen'. This is so because the terminating adverb of time `before' (which compounds the lead sentence `this was the most beautiful flower I had ever seen' with `you showed me yours') precludes the possibility that `the most beautiful flower I have ever seen' remains true of the subject `This'. Instead, `the most beautiful flower I have ever seen' merely was true of the subject `This'. It is no longer true. The possibility of its truth is terminated. A once-true representation of `This' as `the most beautiful flower I have ever seen' has been rendered obsolete by the fact that `you showed me yours' is compounded to it by `before'. Aspect here is therefore perfective. That determines that the past-tense forms `was' and `had ever seen' are appropriate. (We cannot possibly say `This is the most beautiful flower I had ever seen', nor `This was the most beautiful flower I have ever seen'. If we were to say either, we would be obscure about what is a present and what a past truth.)

Instinct and forming tenses

There is a formidable array of tense terminology, not all of which is even passingly perspicacious. There is no need, therefore, to bother with it. Fortunately, native speakers form tenses more or less instinctively. [A reader comments.] It is much more important, for the purposes of sentence analysis, to learn  to recognise a verbial phrase.

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Verbial phrases

Parts of the infinitive `to be’, it has already been noted, act either alone as the copula in a sentence, or are aided by auxiliary verbs that are parts of the infinitive 'to have'. Infinitives themselves can also be parts of a verb phrase:

   They had been trying to become friends.

The present participle is the verbial form that ends in -ing. It, too, can be part of a verbial phrase. When infinitives and present participles are parts of a verbial phrase they are always accompanied by at least one auxiliary.:

The dog is eating.
The dog might have been eating at the time.
The dog had been eating its dinner.
The dog could/would have been eating for some time.

  The past participle is the verbial form that ends in -ed or -en or -n:

He should have worked harder.
He might have eaten more.
They had tried hard.
The dog might have been there.
We could/should/might/ought to/ have known about it.

When `not' or an adverb accompanies the verbial phrase:

John will not cook lunch
I can hardly hear you

those words are part of that verbial phrase. This is so for the obvious reason that a verb phrase such as the one in `I can hear you’ denotes an act quite different from the one in `I can hardly hear you’. It would not be sensible to claim that an adverb or the negative marker `not’ is not part of the sense it is responsible for achieving.

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Caution about advice

Knowing that the foregoing sorts of formations are the ones capable of constituting a verbial phrases, one is well on the way to being able to recognise one. Indeed, people new to sentence analysis are often advised to `find the verb’ in the sentence before them. That, however, is not wonderful advice. For one thing (this was noted in the discussion on distinguishing verb, copula and copular verbials), words that `look as if’ they are functioning as verbs are not necessarily verbs in the sentence under analysis. A much safer procedure is to determine first of all whether the sentence under examination is a `subject/object’ or a `subject/complement’ sentence.


The moods of verbials are indicative, interrogative, imperative and subjunctive. Apart from `subjunctive’, these are not very exciting distinctions. Quite simply, the indicative mood makes a statement (this is the mood this book is largely concerned with), the interrogative mood asks a question, the imperative mood gives an order. There really is very little point in remembering them, since the words `question', `order' and `statement' exist without them as perfectly serviceable terms.

The subjunctive mood

The subjunctive mood of a verbial is distinct from its indicative mood (its statement form) in that it is not located in time, and is therefore without tense. It sets a notional, as distinct from a real or a chronological, time.

The `be’ construction of the subjunctive

The `be' construction of the subjunctive mood of a verbial is often suggestive of the eternal and is used in a mood of adulation:

God be praised.

Colloquially, the `be’ construction accompanies a present-tense, indicative-mood statement:

Be that as it may, I am not changing my mind.
We have a plan, albeit a crude one.
Maybe we can beat them.
They rejected us. So be it.
Blessed be Thy name.

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The `were’ construction of the subjunctive

The common `were’ construction of a verbial’s subjunctive mood expresses a wish:

I wish I were a princess,

or a hypothesis:

If he were to ring I should eat my hat.

The more complex `were’ construction hypothesises a state of being or activity and postulates its real-time, imperfective-aspect, conditional-tense consequence. (The latter is rendered in bold in this sentence):

Were Mary to move to England she would miss Australia.

The still more complex `were’ construction adds a present-tense consequence:

If you were to read [subjunctive] this book on a beach people would wonder who I am.

 (Abuse of the subjunctive mood is discussed in the Chapter `The Simple Sentence’.)

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Adverbs describe verbs. They describe the time (`when'), the manner (`how'), the place (`where'/`which way’), the degree of intensity, and the reason for the activity denoted by a verb. Naturally then, adverbs occur only in verb sentences. In a `subject + verb’ sentence there cannot be anything other than the subject and the verb and the adverb that describes it:

We arrived early/later (time).
slowly (manner).
The rain came teeming (manner) down (place).
This gadget moves only (degree) upwards (place).
He hardly spoke at all (degree)
They separated because of their political difference (reason).

In other sentences, adverbs compound named time concepts to an independent sentence:

Three months later [time], I met a post-trauma psychologist.

Adverbs also take present-participle forms to head noun phrases that name the character of the subject’s act:

The stevedoring company tried to break the power of unions by bringing in  foreign workers.

They head phrases that name the (i) the place (ii) the character, (iii) the direction (iv) the location and (v) the context of the subject’s act, and the (vi) reason for it:

(i) We travelled by bus (adverb of manner: `how').
(ii) They watched us in disbelief (adverb of manner: `how').
(ii) They arrived screaming for revenge (adverb of manner: `how').
(iii) She gossiped about the neighbours (adverb of place: direction).
(iv) The best of theatre is to be found in London’s West End (adverb of place).
(v) The reminder was issued out of kindness (adverb of reason).
(vi) He eats to sustain his energy (adverb of reason).
(vii) She really likes iced coffee (adverb of degree).

Adverbs head noun phrases that expound a comparison or a metaphor:

Milton crafts his tale like a pirate plucking gems from a treasure chest.

Where there is a verb there can also be an adverb. There is no verb in copula and copular-verb sentences. There cannot, therefore, be an adverb in copular and copular-verb sentences.

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Nouns name people and things and abstractions. They name in single words (singular or plural nouns) and in sequences of words (noun phrases). A name is every bit as much a noun when it names the concepts `will to live' and `nationalism' as it is when it names the person `Mary' or the group `the endangered'. Simply, if the effect of a word or sequence of words is that it names, then that word is a noun and that sequence a noun phrase. (Noun phrases are rendered in green font in the following sentences. The verbials are rendered in italic bold type and the basic sentence is underlined.)

Church leaders have been a powerful influence on public attitudes.

There is no sense at all in trying to claim that the `place’ concept implicit in `on public attitudes’ makes it function as an adverb: The only verbial in this sentence is the copula `have been’ A copula cannot, by nature, denote activity. So it makes no sense to say that a phrase in a sentence describes activity when there is no word in it to denote activity. Rather, the copula `has been’ assigns the definition ` a powerful influence on public attitudes’ (two noun phrases) to the subject `Church leaders’.

Noun Case

At one time in the life of Traditional Grammar, nouns were classified with Latin noun-declension terminology. The two subjective cases were:

Nominative [the subject namer]: John has arrived.

Vocative [the addressee namer]: Mary, John has arrived.

The three predicative cases were:

accusative [the object namer]: John read the children a story.

dative [the indirect-object namer]: John read the children a story.

ablative [the orientation namer]: John is under a cloud. John talked about Philosophy.

Two case that were both nominative [subject namer] and accusative [object namer] were:

locative [the place namer]: Living in London caused John to appreciate living in Melbourne.


genitive [the `possession’ indicator]: John’s cats’ collars are pink. The collars of the cats belonging to John are pink.

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Shortage of case namers

A quick count of the broadest categorisation of nouns functions (see the Chapter `What is a Sentence?’) will show that the six Latin noun-case names are not enough to name all of them. What case, for instance, might we say `Mathematics’ is in `Mary teaches Mathematics’? Clearly, `Mathematics’ is not accusative [the object namer]: it is not the object in this sentence. (`Mary' does not perpetrate an act upon `Mathematics', nor vice versa. Rather, `Mathematics’ is the noun that names the content of the activity denoted by the verb `teaches’ in this `verb + subject’ sentence.)

This state of being stuck for a case name is the least of our problems. The big one came when, in another time of the life of Traditional Grammar, some linguists giggled into their palms and told us that grammarians, the dopes, are running around giving names to English nouns that are in fact the names of Latin case forms. That gave the kibosh to naming English noun-case functions in the classical manner, until the distinguished linguist Charles Fillmore wrote his Case Grammar in 1962, pointing out that though it is true that modern English nouns do not have case forms, it is also true that they do have case functions. He commended a case-centred grammar and called for much better efforts at naming noun-case functions exhaustively. Today, grammarians by and large still baulk at the prospect of discussing noun case, mostly, one suspects, for fear of those who remember that doing so is supposed to be silly.

The pity of it is that, having turned against the noun-case distinctions, Traditional Grammar decided that the old Latin objective-case functions are going to be called `adverbs' in its system of analysis. Now, adverbs describe verbs. Nouns can name the properties of actions they denote. The two functions, naming and describing, are quite dissimilar. Traditional Grammar is remiss in having attempted to fudge them. The result of the fudging cannot be anything other than a source of confusion in its system of analysis. Besides, it is quite puerile to tell us that when we use a structure that describes a subject’s act: `She left hurriedly’, and when we use a structure that names the property of that act: `She left in a hurray’, we have used adverbs. Come, now!

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The genitive-case nouns

The genitive-case noun is the only modern English noun that has a case form. It is either the apostrophe [ ’ ] before or after a final-letter `s’, or the `of/for +noun’ construction. Traditional Grammar has settled upon calling this the `possessive’ case. This is none too perspicacious a word, for the genitive case names quite a bit more than possession. It names the existence of these relationships between nouns:

owner and the owned: the girl’s doll / the doll of the girl (`the girl’ is an owner, `the doll’ is an owned item.)

The girl’s doll is being fixed.
The doll of the girl with brown hair is missing.

performer and the performance: the boys’ cooking/the cooking by the boys/of the boys (`the boys’ are performers, `cooking' is the performance.)

The boys’ cooking was the main attraction of the show.
The cooking by the boys attracted many viewers.

custodian and the custody: soldiersorders/orders of/for soldiers (`soldiers’ are custodians, `orders' are in their custody).

The soldiers’ orders were issued with a warning that they are inviolate.
Orders for soldiers are issued without a sense of fun.
Orders of soldiers are never taken lightly.

valuer and the evaluated: a year’s sentence/sentence of one year (The valuer `a year' evaluates `sentence' in terms of itself).

The punishment was a year’s prison sentence.
A sentence of one year of prison is lenient.

category and the sub-category: a teachers’ college/a college for teachers (The category is `college’, the sub-category teachers’ describes the category `college' as a `college for teachers'.)

Not everyone who attends teachers’ college is committed to teaching.
This college for teachers was opened recently.

One genitive is forced on us by idiom. The idiom itself has an `of’ structure: `for the sake of’, `in the name of’:

In the name of all that is holy, muzzle that howling dog! For goodness’ sake, stop that racket!
For the sake of your children, save your money.
Hold your tongue, for Pete’s sake !

(There is a discussion about placing the apostrophe, before or after the `s’, in the Chapter `The Apostrophe and the other Raised Commas’.)

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Noun classification

Instead of looking to classifying nouns in terms of their case functions, Traditional Grammar has been busy with a set of appallingly boring, all-too-obvious categories: Proper nouns name people (John Smith, the Prime Minister), places (Melbourne, Victoria, Auburn Road), edifices (the House of Parliament, Westminster Bridge) and visual and literary publications (The Terminator, The Sydney Morning Herald). Common nouns are somehow ordinary nouns: dog, street, people, governments, invitation. Abstract nouns name abstractions: humanity, love, beauty, eagerness, democracy. Collective nouns (discussed at length in the Chapter `The Simple Sentence') name class rather that item: flock, pair, gathering, audience. Nouns are said also to have `number’. That simply means that they are singular (dog, woman, pair) or plural (dogs, women, pairs). And nouns and verbials have `agreement’, which means that there is a consistency in the singularity or plurality of nouns and verbs that occur in association: John goes; the people go.

Noun + adjective naming units

It is often necessary to include adjectives in a naming sequence: For instance, the noun `publishing' names something other than `literary publishing', and `Australian literary publishing' names something other than `mainstream Australian literary publishing'. Adjectives are rendered in red and the naming sequences of which they are a part are underlined:

Recently, the Mulgar Press, a publishing company, was refused Literature Board funding.
Mainstream Australian literary publishing seems to take funding for granted.

It is practical in sentence analysis to call a phrase by the name of the function it performs as a whole in the sentence, without our being concerned with how the parts of the phrase itself function upon one another. When a phrase performs a noun function and adjectives are part of its naming function, we simply call that phrase a noun phrase:

Mainstream Australian literary publishing seems to take funding for granted.

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`That' and `what' in the noun phrase


`That' heads the ordinary (not relative) noun phrase. That ordinary noun phrase is rendered in green font and is italicised in the next set of sentences. The basic sentences are underlined, noun phrases are rendered in green font and adjective phrases in red font:

That there is a long tradition of democracy in this country does not deter his efforts to secure dictatorial powers for himself. (verb basic sentence)
His problem is that he cannot disguise his contempt for the will of the majority. (copula basic sentence)

`What', too, can head the ordinary (not relative) noun phrase:

What you see is what you get. (copula basic sentence)
What you don't know won't hurt you. (verb basic sentence)

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Pronouns ((See also the discussion in the Chapter `The Simple Sentence.)

Pronouns simply represent nouns. Unlike most nouns, pronouns retain their case forms. That means that when a pronoun represents a noun that is the subject in a verb sentence, it has a subjective-case form:

`I’, `she’, `he’, `we’, `you’ `they’.

When a pronoun represents a noun that is the object in a verb sentence, it takes the objective-case form:

`me’, `her’, `him’, `you’, `them’.

`It' is the neutral pronoun that represents genderless singular nouns. `It’ does not have a case form.

Personal pronouns in verb basic sentences

When a sentence raises a subject that is a person and represents it instead of naming it, the representation is done by the personal pronouns `I', `she', `we', `you’, `they'. These pronouns are the subjects in a basic sentence. That is why they are called the `subjective-case’ pronouns. The person or persons who are the objects in the sentence are represented by the personal pronouns `me', `her', `him', `us', `them'. Hence their name `objective-case pronouns. `You' has the same form in both of its case roles.










 to him/her/me/them/us/you.


Personal pronouns in the copula basic sentence 

There cannot be a subject-object relationship in a copula sentence: There is no object in it. Because personal pronouns in a copula sentence are either the subject or they represent the subject, their forms are always subjective: 'I', `she', `he', `we', `they' in both the subject in a sentence and in its complement:








 I/she/he who matters more than you/they.







That it is I/she/he/we/you/they who volunteered




Personal pronouns in the preposition-led phrase

It was perfectly possible in the foregoing discussion to give a logical account of the use of the subjective and objective case forms of personal pronouns . However, no such logical account is available for why we use their objective forms when they are contained in preposition-led phrases that precede the subject of a verb or the copula, or the complement of the copula. The only available account, quite simply, is that we just do! (Prepositions that lead phrases are underlined in the examples below, and their pronouns are highlighted in yellow):





Between you and me/the two of us, Mary






In the matter that affects  him/her/them/us, I


nothing to add.







The blame


 on him/her/them/us [locative pronouns].

For me, him, her and the rest of us, money


all that mattered [noun phrase]


The reflexive pronouns

Reflexive pronouns – `myself’, `yourself’, `himself’, `herself’, `themselves’, `itself’ – have only objective-case forms, and they feature only as the object in verb basic sentences. Their template of meaning is: `the subject perpetrated the act denoted by the verb upon the subject’.












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The relative pronouns `who’ and `whom’

The relative pronouns perform special adjectival and nounal functions.


In these sentence, `who’ does nothing more than head the adjective phrase that describes a noun. (The sequence it heads is rendered in red font):

The kindergarten is run by an experienced teacher who lives locally [relative adjective phrase].
The man who loves dogs
[relative adjective phrase] visited yesterday.

Yet the next sentences show the `who’-headed phrase performing exactly the same function as the noun phrase that names alternately. Like the alternately-naming noun phrase, it is demarcated by commas. The phrases at issue are underlined in the next sentences:

Andrew, who is my son, [relative adjective phrase] does not hold opinions dispassionately.
Andrew, my son,
[alternately naming noun] does not hold opinions dispassionately.
Dr Charles Cooper
, who led a discussion
[relative adjective phrase] on how to create partnerships between industry and research institutions, said that people should take risks
Dr Charles Cooper, leader in a discussion
[alternately naming noun phrase] on how to create partnerships between industry and research institutions, said that people should take risks.


`Whom’ inevitably leads a relative-adjective phrase:

The man whom Mary married won the jackpot.
This author, whom you know well, will address the meeting.
We talked about the girl whom he had met at the party.

(There is more discussion of `who' and `whom' in the Chapter `The Simple Sentence'. Relative phrases and the meaning-making comma that demarcates them (or does not demarcate them) are discussed in the Chapter `The Comma’.)

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An adjective is any word or phrase that describes a noun. There are two adjective types: `attributive’ and `predicate’. The ways they describe nouns are markedly different:

Attributive adjectives

An adjective is attributive when it describes a noun in the same part of the sentence (subject or object/complement) as itself. The attributive adjectives in the following sentences are rendered in red font:






The man on the bridge

is eating

a green apple.









a neat dresser.

Predicate adjectives 

The predicate adjective is a description assigned by the copula from the predicate in the sentence to a noun in its subject. In these sentence the predicate adjective `rich’ describes the noun subject `the man’, the predicate-adjective phrase `as bad as you say’ describes the noun-phrase subject `walking to school’, the predicate-adjective `prohibited’ describes the noun-subject `smoking’:






The man

used to be


Walking to school


as bad as you say.





The predicate adjective in the copular-verb sentence

The copular verb is party to the description that a predicate-adjective performs. A template of meaning (i.e. not an alternative natural sentence) characterising this feat of joint description appears alongside each of the following copular-verb sentences (The basic sentence is underlined, the predicate adjective is rendered in red font and the noun-subject it describes is rendered in red font.):

Military honours come cheap in some countries. ([the `come-cheap military honours’]
The man married young. [the `young-married man’]
He acted angry to intimidate them. [the `angry-acting he’]
The tutor goes easy on hard workers. [the `goes-easy tutor’]
We sit pretty on our fortune. [the 'pretty-sitting we']

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A curious thing about predicate adjectives and adverbs

When the predicate adjective is used with any part of the inherently copular infinitive `to become’, nobody is tempted to make an adverb of it: Nobody will turn `angry' into `angrily' in `He became angry’. But when the predicate adjective is used with other copulas, many people are tempted to turn the adjective into an adverb. So `crisp' in this sentence is often turned into `crisply'  quite wrongly: 'The chicken was fried crisply.'

Predicate adjectives, like attributive adjectives, describe only nouns. And it is the noun `chicken' that is described here, not `was fried'. This is the syntactically sound construction of this sentence:

The chicken was fried crisp.

This is so because the sequence 'was fried' is not a verb in this sentence. This is a copula sentence in which  'was' is the copula. The predicate adjective 'fried crisp' describes the noun 'chicken': The fried-crisp chicken.

A description of the verb 'was fried', properly adverbial, occurs only in a sentence where 'was fried' actually is a verb:

The chicken was fried hastily.

Here, the adverb 'hastily' describes the verb 'was fried' : it tells us that an activity, denoted by 'was fried', was performed: 'hastily' [adverb].

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The formations

There is Traditional Grammar terminology to name a variety of formations. Formations are not parts of speech; they are simply formations. All formations perform parts-of-speech functions:

The infinitive

The infinitive is the `to' base of any verbial: `to sleep’, `to try’ `to fly’, `to entertain’. When an infinitive heads a phrase, that phrase is an `infinitive phrase’. Infinitives phrases perform as nouns, adjectives, adverbs and verbs. The sentences that follow will illustrate this. The underlined sequences are the infinitive phrases in them:

To try to do that  [noun-phrase subject] is more than a little foolhardy.
That was a dress to beat all dresses
[predicate-adjective phrase].
I was trying to renovate
[part of a verb phrase] my house.
She wore the dress to please her grandmother
[adverb phrase: reaso]).

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The present participle

The present participle is the -ing ended word: `playing’, `speaking’, `walking’. Present participles function as any part of speech. The are underlined in these sentences:

Skiing [noun subject] is what I do best.
I bought some pretty playing
[attributive adjective] cards.
Listening to the dawn chorus
 [header, noun-phrase subject] is an inspiration.
We were playing
[verb phrase] hockey.
The child ran crying to his mother
[adverb header, noun- phrase complement].

The past participle

The past participle is the -ed and -en ended form of regular verbs: `eaten’, `slapped’, etc.. Irregular verbs tend to end with -t: `spoilt’ `hoist’, `slept’. They function as nouns, adjectives and as parts of verb phrases:

The privileged [noun subject] are being too hard on the poor.
Those broken
[attributive adjective] promises left him defeated [predicate adjective].
The burglar had eaten
[verb phrase] the chocolate cake.
The braggart was hoist
[verb phrase] by his own petard.

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 Gerunds and gerundives

The terms `gerund’ is used for nouns that have an infinitive construction, and the term `gerundive’ for adjectives of that construction. The same is true of nouns and adjectives that have participle constructions. This is an important issue in British, Australian and  Canadian spelling: Four infinitives: `to advise’, `to prophesy’, `to practise’ and `to license’ retain their `s’ when they function as adjectives. (This is discussed in the Chapter `The Simple Sentence’.)

Prepositions and the transitive/intransitive verbs

Prepositions are the short `pointer’ words: `to’, `with’, `by’, etc., that attach to a variety of syntactic units. From the point of view of verbs, they are interesting chiefly for the fact that they always accompany intransitive verbs and never transitive verbs:

Transitive verbs: Bob likes/met/prefers/  Susan.
Intransitive verbs: Bob spoke to/ dined with/ voted against Susan.

English verbs are said to be inherently transitive or intransitive. This is not a `rule' of any kind. Rather, the purport of the activity that a verb denotes is bound by logic to be self-sufficient (transitive) or preposition-dependant (intransitive) verb. An intransitive verb cannot make the transition between itself and its object without the help of a preposition. Clearly, it is logically possible to `like Susan' ('like' here is a self-sufficient, or transitive, verb that does not need a preposition), but logically impossible to `spoke Susan'. `Spoke ' is an intransitive verb and needs a preposition to `connect with', or transit to, its object: Hence, `He spoke to Susan' (intransitive verb), not 'He spoke Susan', and 'He likes Susan' (transitive verb), not 'He likes to Susan'. So 'transitive' and 'intransitive' as the characteristic per se of verbs. 

(i) 'I met Mary'
(ii) 'I met with an accident'.

In  (i) there is a transitive verb, and in (ii) an intransitive verb. The intransitive verb in (i) derives from the  infinitive 'to meet', and means 'engage in a meeting with'. The intransitive verb in (ii) derives from the infinitive  'to meet with', which means  'encounter a situation'.

Which preposition we choose to accompany a transitive verb depends of the purpose for which we use a verb. For instance, we choose 'with' to go with 'deal' when we want to say that we have dealings with someone:

I deal with autistic children.

But if we are specifying what 'deal' denotes in our use of it, such as in this sentence:

I deal out punishment as I see fit,

I am causing 'deal' to mean 'give out', or 'distribute.

Proficient speakers of English do not have difficulty with the transitive and intransitive verb usage. The only exception arises with the infinitive 'to meet'. There is a strong contemporary inclination to say 'I met with Mary', especially when the meeting is somehow a formal context, such as in a work place or among adversaries. The idea here is that 'met with' is somehow more democratic than 'met'. But this is not an issue of syntax. It is rather syntax abused by ideological zealotry.

The myth of `word classes'

There is an unfortunately wide-spread belief that English words are willing to lend themselves to division into `classes' on ground that they `look like’ nouns, verbs, adverbs or adjectives. They do not: English words are a classless society. Efforts to pretend that they exist in class-confines inevitably leads to confusion. That is evident in a work that means to teach grammar to primary-school students. (Before the vicious barrage that follows, it is wise to advise the reader that no particular author is under its attack: the work under fire is the output of a government-appointed committee. As with all committee-designed products, this one is no doubt the camel that was meant to be a horse.)

The work proposes the concept `verb chains’ and illustrates it with a text in which certain words are rendered in bold type. Those words, allegedly, are the verbs in the given text. Well, some of them are verbs (`was raining', `sat', `stared'); the others are not. And one verb, 'stayed', is not rendered in bold, and it is thus declared not a verb, never mind that it is a verb.

At playtime it was raining so they stayed in. Mrs Johnson sat at her desk, frowning. She sipped her mug of coffee slowly, taking each sip into her mouth and swilling it around, then sucking it back through her teeth with a sharp intake. Chris stared at his teacher.
Grammar For Writing Department for Education and Employment, UK, 2000, p. 35

(One wonders why `frowning’ was not highlighted too, since every other present-participle that is not functioning as a verb is highlighted along with the verbs.) Given that the idea `verb chains’ is proposed, and that the foregoing text is an illustration of what verb chains are, why were students not told that `frowning’ describes how Mrs Johnson `sat’, and that `taking each sip …’, `swilling it …’ , `sucking it …’ each describe how she `sipped? Such a description would have achieved a neat illustration of how `-ing’ words attach to verbs to function as adverbs. This would have been firm ground for the further instruction that verbs denote actions and adverbs describe them.

Grammar for Writing did nothing like that. Instead, it perpetrated the gross error of tagging several adverbs as verbs. Then the concluding paragraph of the text quoted above claims that the adjective phrase `for blushing' is the verb `blushing'. (It, too, is highlighted to `show’ that it is a verb):

I could win prizes for blushing, he thought.

Had students been told that `for blushing’ describes the noun `prizes’ and is therefore an adjective, a nice lot of information about the capacity of `-ing’ ending words (present-participles) to describe nouns and verbs and to be parts of verbs would have been displayed for students. But none of that happened. Instead, students were enveloped in the obfuscating fog of erroneous parts-of-speech tagging, for no better reason than that somebody somewhere had the nutty idea that `-ing’ words belong to the word class `verbs'.

This sort of thing is not just an error of mistaking one part of speech for another. It is far more pernicious: Grammar for Writing  proposes that present participles are always verbs, or that they are verbs because they are present participles. Not only is this proposition palpably erroneous but it works to knee-cap even the very keenest students’ best efforts to understand English syntax.

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