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Understanding Sentence Structure: An Introduction to English Syntax

Understanding Sentence Structure: An Introduction to English Syntax

Christina Tortora

ISBN: 978-1-118-65959-5 July 2018 Wiley-Blackwell 368 Pages




A straightforward guide to understanding English grammar


This book is for people who have never thought about syntax, and who don't know anything about grammar, but who want to learn. Assuming a blank slate on the part of the reader, the book treats English grammar as a product of the speaker's mind, and builds up student skills by exploring phrases and sentences with more and more complexity, as the chapters proceed.


This practical guide excites and empowers readers by guiding them step by step through each chapter with intermittent exercises. In order to capitalize on the reader's confidence as a personal authority on English, Understanding Sentence Structure assumes an inclusive definition of English, taking dialect variation and structures common amongst millions of English speakers to be a fact of natural language.


  • Situates grammar as part of what the student already unconsciously knows
  • Presupposes no prior instruction, not even in prescriptive grammar
  • Begins analyzing sentences immediately, with the “big picture” (sentences have structure, structure can be ambiguous) and moves through levels of complexity, tapping into students’ tacit knowledge of sentence structure
  • Includes exercise boxes for in-chapter practicing of skills, side notes that offer further tips/encouragement on topics being discussed, and new terms defined immediately and helpfully in term boxes
  • Applies decades of findings in syntactic theory and cognitive science, with an eye towards making English grammar accessible to school teachers and beginning students alike


Understanding Sentence Structure: An Introduction to English Syntax is an ideal book for undergraduates studying modern English grammar and for instructors teaching introductory courses in English grammar, syntax, and sentence structure.

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Preface xii

Acknowledgments xvii

1 Let’s get Parsing! 1

2 The Subject NP — Outside and In 18

3 The Subject’s Better Half: The Verb Phrase 51

4 Up Close and Personal with the Prepositional Phrase 73

5 Infinite Wisdom: Sentences Inside the Verb Phrase 98

6 It’s More Complex Than That: The Complex Noun Phrase 126

7 Making Their Presence Felt: Silent Categories 159

8 The Main Attraction: Main Verbs and the Simple Tenses 186

9 The Support System: Auxiliaries and the Compound Tenses 218

10 It Takes a Village: Main Verbs, Auxiliaries, Tense, and Negation 267

11 Unfinished Business 314

Index 344