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 supersyntactic 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
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
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
The constituents of a composite sentence are organically interrelated
and as such are not independent elements of a single syntactic unit 1.
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
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
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
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
It seems perfectly reasonable to distinguish here two lines of
linguistic development: 1) one-member complex sentences and 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.
But she’d had heard his name until she saw it on the theatres.
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
Laurie agreed with the others, then it was bound to be all right.
It was so big that the carter and Pat carried it into the courtyard.
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”.
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.
Further examples of one-member complex sentences are those in
which a sub-clause expresses the object or the subject felt as missing
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)
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 co-ordinated units make up a compound
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
It will be helpful to identify linking words in co-ordination as
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
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.
The room was dark, but the street was lighter because of its lamps.
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,
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 lexico-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
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
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
List of literature
N. M. Rayevska “Modern English Grammar” Kiev, 1976.
E. J. Morokhovskaya “Fundamentals of theoretical English Grammar”, Kiev,
M. Y. Block “A course in theoretical English Grammar”, Moscow, 1983.
B. Ilyish “The structure of modern English”, Moscow, 1965.
V. L. Kayshanskaya “A grammar of the English grammar”, 1959.
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