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Parts Of Grammar

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Parts Of Grammar

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Word Classes

  • Introduction to word classes

  • Words are fundamental units in every sentence, so we will begin by looking at these. Consider the words in the following sentence:
    my brother drives a big car
    We can tell almost instinctively that brother and car are the same type of word, and also that brother and drives are different types of words. By this we mean that brother and car belong to the same word class. Similarly, when we recognise that brother and drives are different types, we mean that they belong to different word classes
  • Nouns

  • brother, car, David, house, London

  • Determiners

  • a, an, my, some, the

  • Verbs

  • be, drive, grow, sing, think

  • Adjectives

  • big, foolish, happy, talented, tidy

  • Preposition

  • at, in, of, over, with

  • Conjunctions

  • and, because, but, if, or

  • Minor word classes

  • There are some words which will not fit the criteria for any of them. Consider, for example, the word hello. It is clearly not a noun, or an adjective, or a verb, or indeed any of the classes we have looked at. It belongs to a minor word class, which we call formulaic expressions.
    Formulaic Expressions
    To express greetings, farewell, thanks, or apologies, we use a wide range of FORMULAIC EXPRESSIONS. These may consist of a single word or of several words acting as a unit. Here are some examples:
    bye goodbye
    hello farewell hi
    so long excuse me
    thanks thank you thanks a lot
    sorry pardon

    Some formulaic expressions express agreement or disagreement with a previous speaker:

    yes, yeah, no, okay, right, sure

    INTERJECTIONS generally occur only in spoken English, or in the representation of speech in novels. They include the following:

    ah, eh, hmm, oh, ouch, phew, shit, tsk, uhm, yuk

    Interjections express a wide range of emotions, including surprise (oh!), exasperation (shit!), and disgust (yuk!).

    Formulaic expressions, including interjections, are unvarying in their form, that is, they do not take any inflections.


Defining a Phrase
A pronoun can sometimes replace a noun in a sentence. One of the examples we used was this:
[Children] should watch less television
[They] should watch less television

Here it is certainly true that the pronoun they replaces the noun children. But consider:
[The children] should watch less television
[They] should watch less television

In this example, they does not replace children. Instead, it replaces the children, which is a unit consisting of a determiner and a noun. We refer to this unit as a NOUN PHRASE (NP), and we define it as any unit in which the central element is a noun. Here is another example:
I like [the title of your book]
I like [it]

In this case, the pronoun it replaces not just a noun but a five-word noun phrase, the title of your book. So instead of saying that pronouns can replace nouns, it is more accurate to say that they can replace noun phrases.

Clauses & Sentences

In more general use, however, phrases are integrated into longer units, which we call CLAUSES:
Q: What would you like to drink?
A: [I'd like coffee]

Q: How are you today?
A: [I'm fine]

Q: Where did you park the car?
A: [I parked the car behind the house]

Most people recognise a sentence as a unit which begins with a capital letter and ends with a full stop (period), a question mark, or an exclamation mark. Of course, this applies only to written sentences. Sentences have also been defined notionally as units which express a "complete thought", though it is not at all clear what a "complete thought" is.

It is more useful to define a sentence syntactically, as a unit which consists of one or more clauses. According to this definition, the following examples are all sentences:

[1] Paul likes football

[2] You can borrow my pen if you need one

[3] Paul likes football and David likes chess

Form & functions

The word Form was one of the criteria we used to distinguish between word classes -- we saw that the form or "shape" of a word is often a good clue to its word class.
Form denotes how something looks -- its shape or appearance, and what its structure is. When we say that the old man is an NP, or that the old man bought a newspaper is a finite clause, we are carrying out a formal analysis.
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