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Understanding Sentence Structure: An Introduction to English Syntax

Understanding Sentence Structure: An Introduction to English Syntax

Christina Tortora

ISBN: 978-1-118-65948-9

Aug 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 as a given. A consistent effort is made throughout to avoid pathologizing uses and structures which we know to be common amongst millions of English speakers. The finer points of what counts as “dialect” and what counts as accepted academic English is backgrounded in Side Notes.

  • 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.

Preface xii

Acknowledgments xvii

1 Let’s get Parsing! 1

1.1 some introductory words 1

1.2 let’s start understanding what those unconscious rules that create structure are 11

1.3 some conclusions, and what to look forward to in the following chapters 16 list of terms/concepts 17 reference 17

2 The Subject NP – Outside and In 18

2.1 some introductory words about the noun phrase vs. the subject position 18

2.2 the subject position 20

2.3 let’s get inside that NP triangle 23

2.4 possessive NPs 42

2.5 conclusions 47

list of terms/concepts 50

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

3.1 parts of the verb phrase we already know about 51

3.2 building up the VP 53

3.3 revisiting structural ambiguity from Chapter 1 56

3.4 VPs with double objects 58

3.5 VPs with adjectives 61

3.6 constituency test 64

3.7 conclusions 70

list of terms/concepts 71

4 Up Close and Personal with the Prepositional Phrase 73

4.1 aspects of the prepositional phrase we already know about 73

4.2 it’s not just the P and NP anymore! 76

4.3 verb–particle constructions 83

4.4 modifiers within PP 89

4.5 lexical vs. functional prepositions 93

4.6 English prepositions are not inflected 95

4.7 conclusions 96

list of terms/concepts 97

5 Infinite Wisdom: Sentences Inside the Verb Phrase 98

5.1 aspects of the verb phrase we already know about 98

5.2 building up VP 99

5.3 the complementizer phrase 108

5.4 embedded adjunct clauses 119

5.5 conclusions 123

list of terms/concepts 124

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

6.1 aspects of the noun phrase we already know about 126

6.2 subordinate clauses within the noun phrase 127

6.3 the noun complement clause 131

6.4 the relative clause 139

6.5 subject relative clauses 152

6.6 conclusions 157

list of terms/concepts 158

7 Making Their Presence Felt: Silent Categories 159

7.1 what is a silent category in sentence structure? 159

7.2 the reality of the trace of movement: wanna]contraction 163

7.3 other kinds of silence: the null pronoun 166

7.4 the null operator in relative clauses 182

7.5 conclusions 184

list of terms/concepts 185

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

8.1 overview: the “main verb” and its entourage 186

8.2 main verbs: the present, the past, and the future 191

8.3 conclusions 214

list of terms/concepts 216

reference 217

9 The Support System: Auxiliaries and the Compound Tenses 218

9.1 auxiliary verbs: the support in the English verb system 218

9.2 auxiliary have 221

9.3 auxiliary be 242

9.4 modal auxiliaries 254

9.5 verb selection and word order 260

9.6 conclusions: all 16 possible combinations 264

list of terms/concepts 266

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

10.1 the syntax of the English verb system 267

10.2 auxiliaries and the syntactic expression of tense 268

10.3 main verbs: in a class by themselves 298

10.4 conclusions 312

list of terms/concepts 313

references 313

11 Unfinished Business 314

11.1 overview 314

11.2 tense as the head of S 315

11.3 matrix interrogatives 318

11.4 x]bar and binary branching 331

11.5 adverbs 335

11.6 conclusions 340

list of terms/concepts 342

references 343