Complex sentences

Mapping the lexical structure of simple and complex linguistic units, which is a grammatical connection of words having a semantic completeness. The linguistic essence of the composite syntactic units. The classification of the subordinate clauses.

Рубрика Иностранные языки и языкознание
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Язык английский
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Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine

Hryhoriy Skovoroda State Pedagogical University of Pereyaslav-Khmelnytsky





Tymoschuk Vladyslav

Pereyaslav-Khmelnytsky, 2015

It has been noted in grammar books that there exist more than three hundred definitions of the sentence but it seems hardly possible to arrive to a complete and exaustive definition of the sentence because the unit itself possesses so many specific features that any attempt to define it in all respects would seem futile. Moreover, the philosophical outlook and the linguistic conception of scholars predetermine their approach to the main communicative units of language:

a) The sentence is identified as a syntactical level unit possessing the distinguishing features of such level-units and occupying its appropriate place in the hierarchy of syntactic units;

b) The sentence is a predicative unit of quite definite type which is a lingual representation of predicative thoughts;

c) The sentence is the main syntactic unit and the highest linguistic form which may occur as part of the super syntactic structural forms. The sentence itself Is not a mere composition of words and word-groups, it is a constructive integration of all the lower language units;

d) The sentence is a very complex linguistic entity. Its complexity is revealed both in its content and expression sides. The content of the sentence is the complex of semantic features whereas the expression of the sentence is represented by the complex of its formal characteristics;

e) the sentence is undoubtedly the main communicative unit of human language with the help of which speech communication is achieved, and without which the latter is inconsistent. The communicative force of the sentence is its distinguishing qualitative characteristics which makes it dominant over the rest of syntactic units of non-predicative and of predicative nature.

The composite sentence, as different from the simple sentence, is formed by two or more predicative lines. Each predicative unit in a composite sentence makes up a clause in it, so that a clause as part of a composite sentence corresponds to a separate sentence as part of a contextual sequence. E. g.: When I sat down is dinner I looked for an opportunity to slip in casually the information that I had by accident run across the Driffields, but news travelled fast in Blackstable (S. Maugham). The cited composite sentence includes four clauses which are related to one another on different semantic grounds. The sentences underlying the clauses are the following: I sat down to dinner. I looked for an opportunity to slip in casually the information. I had by accident run across the Driffields. News travelled fast in Blackstable.

In combination of sentences into larger units we may observe two different types of grammatical relationship based upon relative position and interaction of sentences. These are co-ordination and subordination. This classification remains the prevalent scheme of the structural classification of sentences in the grammars of all types in various languages. A very important syntactic concept developed along with this classification is the concept of syndeton and asyndeton.

Sentences joined together by means of special function words designed for this purpose are syndetic those joined without function words are asyndetic (or contact-clauses). Compound sentences are structures of co-ordination with two or more immediate constituents which are syntactically equivalent, i. e. none of them is below the other in rank.

Complex sentences are structures of subordination with two or more immediate constituents which are not syntactically equivalent. In the simplest case, that of binary structure, one of them is the principal clause to which the other is joined as a subordinate. The latter stands in the relation of adjunct to the principal clause and is beneath the principal clause in rank. The dependent clause may be either coordinate or subordinate.

The constituents of a composite sentence are organically interrelated and as such are not independent elements of a single syntactic unit.

Our starting point in describing the multiplicity of ways in which English sentences may logically be combined in actual usage will be to distinguish one-member and two-member composite sentences. This distinction is a reality in both, speech and writing, but it often has no formal markings other than intonation in the one case and punctuation in the other. The linguistic essence of these two types of composite syntactic units is best understood when viewed in terms of their meaning and structural peculiarities. As we shall further see, a major point of linguistic interest is presented also by the correlation of the verb-forms in the component parts of a composite sentence and its functioning in different contexts of communication. It is noteworthy that when two sentences occur together as constituents of an utterance, their relationship is indicated by at least one and sometimes ail of the following features:

1) the fact that one immediately follows the other in time suggests their natural relationship in both lexical and grammatical meaning;

2) the use of certain linguistic devices in the first sentence may also suggest that another sentence shall follow;

3) the use of some words in the second sentence may recall certain elements of the first and set up retrospective structural links with the latter.

Let us compare the following compound sentences which differ only in the order of their constituents:

a) Now she is my collegue, two years ago she was my student;

b) Two years ago she was my student, now she is my colleague.

The total meaning of (a) is not absolutely the same as that of (b).

We cannot fail to see that two sentences (a) and (b) differ in emphasis, which is due to relative position of the given utterances.

The same is true of all other types of composite sentences in coordination and subordination. We have seen throughout our previous discussion that the position of words in syntactic structures relative to one another is a most important part of English syntax. Relative position seems to bear relation to the meaning of sentences as well. That grammar must take account of "sentence-order" as well as word-order can hardly leave any doubt. It seems perfectly reasonable to distinguish here two lines of linguistic development:

1) one-member complex sentences;

2) two-member complex sentences with subordinate clauses (further abbreviated as "sub-clauses") of cause or result, purpose and time, conditional and concessive sub-clauses.

Logically interrelated, with one idea or subordinated to another, the constituents of such sentences make up a single complex syntactic unit.

Examples are: But she'd had heard his name until she saw it on the theatres. (Mansfield). As soon as he had become a director, Winifred and others of his family had begun to acquire shares to neutralise their income-tax (Galsworthy).

What can you do if you are thirty and, turning the corner of your own street, you are overcome, suddenly by a feeling of bliss - absolute bliss (Mansfield). Laurie agreed with the others, then it was bound to be all right (Mansfield). It was so big that the carter and Pat carried it into the courtyard (Mansfield). Although Bertha Young was thirty she still had moments like this when she wanted to run instead of walk (Mansfield).

The first to be mentioned here are complex sentences with relative sub-clauses, attributive in their meaning.

In such sentences pronominal-demonstrative elements are organically indispensable and are readily reinstated in the principal clause. Examples are: It was the same ship as that in which my wife and the correspondent came to England (Galsworthy).

The fellow, with his beard and his cursed amused way of speaking - son of the old man who had given him the nickname "Man of Property" (Galsworthy). But at night in his leisure moments he was ravaged by the thought that time was always flying and money flowing in, and his own future as much ,,in irons" as ever (Galsworthy). So she slept and dreamed, and smiled in her sleep, and once threw out her arm to feel something which was not there, dreaming still (Mansfield). Further examples of one-member complex sentences are those in which a sub-clause expresses the object or the subject felt as missing in the principal clause, e. g.: Aunt Juley was sure that dear Val was very clever (Galsworthy).

Did not Winifred think that it was much better for the young people to be secure and not run any risk at their age (Gals worthy). What's done cannot be undone (Proverb). Cf. Ukrainian: Here belong also sub-clauses which extend some part of the principal clause: subject, predicative, attribute, object or adverbials with demonstrative pronouns, present or readily understood, e. g.: All is well that ends well. He is the one you wanted to see. The process of coordination, simply stated, involves the linking of structures of equal grammatical rank - single words and phrases in elementary compound groups or independent clauses in compound sentences. The coordinative conjunctions and the correlatives serve to produce this coordination by joining the grammatically equivalent elements in question. Two or more clauses equal in rank can together be given the status of a single sentence. Such coordinated units make up a compound sentence:

Gerald was disappointed, for he had wanted a son, but he nevertheless was pleased chough are his small black-haired daughter (M. Mitchel).

Coordination within a multi-clause sentence is a means of joining a series of parallel subordinate clauses in joint dependence upon a subordination centre in the leading clause, or a means of connecting two or more independent main clauses, which jointly subordinate, a common member, mostly expressed by a dependent clause. In other words, coordination in this monograph is recognized as a syntactic means of connecting the constituent parts of multi-clause sentences only when it is made use of in the same way as in single-clause sentences, which contain a member in common subordinating or subordinated by coordinated syntactic elements. In all other cases independent coordinated subject predicate units are viewed as syntactically independent though contextually related sentences, regardless of the marks of punctuation which divide them.

The patterns of multi-clause sentences containing more than two clauses (from three to twelve or thirteen) are based upon two fundamental principles of connection. The first is the principle of consecutive (step-wise) subordination, according to which in each clause (except the last one) there is a single subordination centre, nominal or verbal. It subordinates only one dependent clause. The second principle is that of parallel (or homogeneous) and non-parallel con-subordination (i. e. dependence of two or more parallel or non-parallel clauses upon one, two or more subordination centres within the main clause). In the second sentence-pattern (represented by several variant patterns) there are only two syntactic levels as all dependent clauses are of the same level of subordination. When both these principles are combined within one and the same sentence, the most complicated structures of multi-clause sentences arise. It will be helpful to identify linking words in co-ordination as follows:

a) Copulative, connecting two members and their meanings, the second member indicating an addition of equal importance, or, on the other hand, an advance in time and space, or an intensification, often coming in pairs, then called correlatives: and, both... and, equally... and, alike... and, at once... and, not... nor for neither, or and neither), not for never)... not for nor)... either, neither... nor, etc.


It was a nice little place and Mr. and Mrs. Witla were rather proud of it.

Mr. Home did not lift his eyes from his breakfast-plate for about two minutes nor did he speak (Ch. Bronte).

b) Disjunctive, connecting two members but disconnecting their meaning, the meaning in the second member excluding that in the first: or, in older English also either or outher(-or) and in questions whether... or with the force of simple or, or... either, either... or, etc., the disjunctive adverbs else, otherwise, or... or, or... else, in older English other else.


He knew it to be nonsense or it mould have frightened him (Galsworthy).

c) Adversative, connecting two members, but contrasting their meaning: but, but then, only, still, yet, and yet, however, on the other hand, again, on the contrary, etc. lexical grammatical word


The room was dark, but the street was lighter because of its lamps. (Dickens).

d) Causative consequtive.

There was something amiss with Mr. Zightnood, for he was strangely grave and looked ill (Dickens). After all, the two of them belonged to the same trade, so talk was easy and happy between them (Priestley).

Coordinative conjunctions are rather few in number: and, but, or, yet, for.

Sentence-linking words, called conjunctive advebs are: consequently, furthermore, hence, however, moreover, nevertheless, therefore.

Some typical fixed prepositional phrases functioning as sentence linkers are: at least, as a result, after a while, in addition, in contrast, in the next place, on the other hand, for example, for instance.

It comes quite natural that the semantic relations between the coordinate clauses depend to a considerable degree on the lexical meaning of the linking words. The classification of subordinate clauses offers special difficulties and remains the area of syntax where we find different linguistic approaches with some important disputable points open to thought and discussion. Much still remains to be done in this field of grammar learning. This is one of many ranges of linguistic structure in which we find borderline cases where the grammatical organization of complex syntactic units presents special difficulties.

Contexts are of extreme importance in understanding syntax.

Various kinds of contextual indication, linguistic or situational, and intonation in actual speech resolve structural ambiguity in homonymic patterns on the syntactic level. As we shall further see, the significant order of sentence elements, as an important factor of syntax, will also merit due consideration in describing the distributional value of various kind of subordinate clauses.

It is to be noted that disagreement over the classification of sub-clauses is based not on conflicting observations in language learning but rather on different linguistic approaches to the study of syntax.

There are obvious reasons for describing sub-clauses proceeding from the similarity of their functions with those of parts of the sentence. Analysis of clause patterns from this angle of view seems most helpful and instructive.

List of literature

1. N.M. Rayevska “Modern English Grammar” Kiev, 1976.

2. E.J. Morokhovskaya “Fundamentals of theoretical English Grammar”, Kiev, 1984.

3. M.Y. Block “A course in theoretical English Grammar”, Moscow, 1983.

4. B. Lyish “The structure of modern English”, Moscow, 1965.

5. V.L. Kayshanskaya “A grammar of the English grammar”, 1959.

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