Saturday, December 4, 2010

Relative Pronouns and Relative Adverbs - Difference Explained

Look at the following sentences :

1 The book which I read yesterday is a novel by R.K.Narayan.
2 The man who helped me most is my teacher.
3 This is the song which I like most.
4 This is the house where he lived .
5 The morning when we arrived at the hotel was a lovely one .

In these sentences the italicized part is the relative clause . It is called so because it is introduced by a relative pronoun or relative adverb . The words in bold type are either relative pronouns or relative adverbs .

How will you distinguish relative pronouns from relative adverbs? Well, it is as simple as that! Words like which, who whom and that are preceded by nouns , and these nouns are subjects or objects of the verbs in relative clauses . Thus in Sentence No 1 book is the object of the verb read. and which is a relative pronoun . It stands for the noun book . and so it is a pronoun . At the same time it relates to the noun book and so it is rightly called a relative pronoun

Now, have a look at Sentence No 4:The noun house is neither the subject nor the object of the verb lived .It answers the question "at what place?" ansd so the word that follows it , where. , is called relative adverb . It modifies the verb lived by stating the place .

In Sentence No 5 the noun morning answers the question " at what time ? " . It is , therefore, followed by the adverb when which relates to the noun morning .

The way how and the reason why

The relative adverbs in these expressions sound repetitive, don't they? These expressions have practically disappeared from English .

1This is the way how they treated prisoners.
2 I don't know the reason why they have denied me a promotion

In the following sentences how and why should be treated as conjunctions ,as they have no antecedents to relate to .
1 This is how they treated prisoners .
2I don't know why they deny me a promotion .

Relative adverbs like where and when cannot be used as conjunctions because their antecedents keep changing from context to context . and so they have to be stated for clarity .
In the case of the reason why and the way how their antecedents (reason and way) are fixed and so they got dropped out .


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Participial Construction & Absolute Construction : Difference Explained

Every learner of English ought to know the difference between participial construction and absolute construction . These two constructions are the source of many an error often committed by English - users .

What is participial construction? It is a common type of sentence construction in English . It consists of a participial phrase or clause followed by the main clause. The participle may be present participle ( - ing) or past participle ( -ed or -en) . Look at these sentences :

*Singing loudly , Rama entered the room .
*Being popular , he will win the election hands down .
*Tired from work, Sita went to bed early.
*Having read the book , she returned it to the library.
*Disappointed in love he, decided to commit suicide .

The first part of the sentence is called a participial phrase . The verbs in participial phrases are in the participle forms , present or past, and their subjects (not mentioned) are always the same as the subjects in the main clauses . So , remember that if you put a noun or pronoun other than the real subject( that is, subject of the participial phrase) at the beginning of the main clause , it may result in confusion ! Look at this sentence :

Walking in the grass , a snake bit her .

What impression do you get? Was the snake walking? If you re-write the sentence as

Walking in the grass, she was bitten by a snake

the sentence would make sense .

Now, let me discuss Absolute Construction . This type of sentence construction makes use of absolute phrases . What is an absolute phrase? Well, it is different from participial phrases in that it explicitly mentions the subject. The subject is never mentioned in participial phrases . For example, "being rich" is a participial phrase , "he being rich" is an absolute phrase . Another difference between participial construction and absolute construction is that the subjects of absolute phrases are always different from those of their main clauses . For this reason the syntactic relation between the absolute phrase and the main clause is always a fragile one . Hence the name absolute construction . You know absolute means "independent" or "not related " etc . The absolute phrases serves to give additional details in a hurried manner, so to speak . Nonetheless, there is a strong semantic relation between the absolute phrase and the main clause . Look at these sentences :

*The party being over, the guests began to depart .
*Her husband being away, she felt lonely and miserable .
*All government offices will remain closed tomorrow, tomorrow being a holiday .
*The doctor having arrived, she looked happy and cheerful .

I hope you have understood the difference between absolute construction and participial construction . ,This will help you to avoid errors in future . .

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I thank the readers for their comments .
A reader from Korea wants me to comment on the sentence :
While Caruso drinking the fresh apple cider, the farmer asked the famous singer his name
This sentence is not an example for absolute construction. Nor is it an example for participial construction. The omission of was before drinking is the cause of the error.The omission must have been due to oversight .

Prof. V.P.Rajappan

Monday, July 5, 2010

Adjectives : Degrees of Comparison

Adjectives have three degrees of comparison. They are:

1. positive degree
2. comparative degree , and
3. superlative degree

When an adjective is used without making any comparison , it is said to be in the positive degree

* Rama is clever.
* Sita is pretty.

In these sentences clever and pretty are in the positive degree. No comparison is made in these sentences . But look at the following sentences :

* Rama is cleverer than his brother
* Sita is prettier than her sister.

In these sentences Rama is compared with his brother and Sita is compared with her sister. So the adjectives are in the comparative degree. The comparative degree of adjectives is followed by the conjunction than .

Please note that than is used as a conjunction in grammatically correct English. However, in conversational English than is often treated as a preposition . When pronouns are used ,the learner should treat than as a conjunction and use the subject-form of the pronoun. , like I, he, she they etc.

When more than two persons or things are compared , we use the superlative degree of adjectives .

* Rama is the cleverest boy in the class.
* Sita is the prettiest girl in the school.

Please note that the definite article the precedes an adjective in the superlative degree.

Formation of Comparative and Superlative Degrees

We get comparative and superlative degrees of adjectives by adding -er and -est to their form in the positive degree.Such adjectives are usually monosyllabic or disyllabic words of Anglo-Saxon origin . When the adjectives are polysyllabic words like beautiful, intelligent etc their comparative and superlative degrees are obtained by placing more and most before them., like more beautiful. most beautiful etc.

Changing the Degrees of Comparison without Changing the Meaning

Can you change the degree of comparison of an adjective without changing the meaning the sentence? .Yes, you can . Look at the following examples :

1 Sita is the prettiest girl in the school. (superlative degree)
2 Sita is prettier than any other girl in the school. . (comparative degree)
3 No other girl in the school is as pretty as Sita. (positive degree)

Note the following examples:

1 Sita is one of the prettiest girls in the school. (superlative degree)
2 Sita is prettier than most other girls in the school. (comparative degree)
3 Only very few girls in the school are as pretty as Sita . (positive degree)

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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Reported Speech: Reporting a Question

ESL learners often find it difficult to report a question correctly . There are several pitfalls awaiting them when they try to put an interrogative sentence into reported speech . Here are a few sure-fire methods to help you avoid errors .

1 The first step is to choose a suitable Reporting Verb .The usual reporting verbs are asked or inquired . Note that these reporting verbs are in the past tense!

2 A question is reported at a different place and time . It , therefore ,stands to reason that there should be changes in certain items relating to time and place in the original interrogative sentence . This involves a change of tense from present tense to past tense and from past tense to past perfect . As the reporting verb is in the past tense, the person reporting views present things as taking place at a pont of time in the past and past events as taking place at a remoter point of time in the past . The following changes are consistent with the reporter's changed perspective :

This becomes that
here --------there

these ---------those
today---------that day
tomorrow---- -following day
yesterday------the previous day

3 please remember that once a question is reported it ceases to be a question ! It is a statement . The peculiar structure of a question is gone . It has the structure of a typical English declarative sentence . The basic structure of a question is :

auxiliary +subject +verb +object/complement/adverbial

What happens when simple present and simple past are used ? They have no auxiliaries . Well, the dummy auxiliaries are used to fill the place of regular auxiliaries . But they are needed only in direct questions . In reported questions they are dispensed with . Examples:

" Did John marry Jane? " Sarah asked

Sarah asked whether John had married Jane . (past tense becomes past perfect)

"Does she play tennis " The teacher asked her father .

Her teacher asked her father whether she played tennis .

"Have you had your lunch?", she asked him ,

She asked him whether he had had his lunch.

4 When a Wh-question is reported , the conjunction whether is avoided and the reported question begins with the question-word what , how when , where etc . Example:

The teacher, ""Where do you come from? "

The teacher asked her where she came from. (no conjunction)

From the examples given it is clear that reported questions have the same structure as statements .

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Interrogative Sentences: Asking a Yes/No Question

As you know, there are two kinds of questions in English , Yes / No Questions and Information Questions ( Wh- questions) .

Asking a Yes/No question is simple when compared to asking a Wh- question . In this post, I am going to discuss how Yes/No questions are framed in English .

Well, what is a Yes/ No question? It is a question which requires yes or no as answer .The basic structure of all Yes/No questions is the same . It can be expressed as follows:

auxiliary +subject+ main verb+ (complement)+(object)+(adverbial).

The items given in round brackets are optional . You need use them only if the context requires them . Their order, however, should not be disturbed!

I am giving below a few examples of Yes/No questions .

1 Are you a student?


2 Has she finished her job?


3 Have you sent her the e-mail?

aux+subject+verb+indirect object+ direct object

4 Did you see her yesterday?

dummy aux+subject +verb+object+ adverbial

5 Can she speak French?

modal aux+subject+verb+object

6 Shall I help you?

modal aux +subject+verb+object

7 Did you see her off at the airport yesterday?

dummy aux+subject+verb+object + particle+adverbial of place + adverbial of time

8 Need I accompany her to the airport?

modal aux+ subject+ verb+object+adverbial

9 Shall I make you some tea ?

modal aux+ subject +verb+ indirect object+ direct object

10 Have you had your lunch?

aux+ subject+verb+object

If you take a closer look at these examples , you will notice the following points:

1 The auxiliaries are primary auxiliaries like have, be or do , or they may be modal auxiliaries like shall, will, can need etc

2 The tense of the questions is determined by the tense of the first auxiliary

3 When the question makes use of simple present or simple past tense , the auxiliary is do, does or did . They are called dummy auxiliaries. These tenses have no auxiliaries in their verb- forms .
4 When be is the main verb in a question, it does the job of both the auxiliary and the main verb .

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As you know, April,2010 is the 42nd death anniversary of the great civil rights leader, Dr Martin Luther King Jr. A fitting memorial for this great lover of non-violence is going to be erected in the national capital, Washington, DC.The organizers are now engaged in the last spurt of their fund-raising campaign.If you want to be a part of this noble venture , please , follow this link :

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Subjunctive Mood : Frequently Asked Questions

1 What is Subjunctive Mood?

The word mood has more or less the same meaning in grammar as in common parlance . . In common parlance it refers to one's state of mind . In grammar ,too, it refers to the speaker's state of mind when he makes an utterance . The speaker may say something as a statement of fact ( indicative mood) , as a command or request (imperative mood ) or he may be expressing aa opinion, suggestion, demand, doubt or a wish .(subjunctive mood) .

Look at these sentences :

*He is a student

* Bring me a glass of beer .

* I wish (that) I were rich .

The first sentence is statement of a fact . and so it is in the indicative mood .

The second sentence is a request or a command , and so it is in the imperative mood .

The third sentence expresses a wish, and so it is in the subjunctive mood .

2 How do we know that the speaker is using one mood rather than the other?

The form of the verb provides the clue! Majority of English sentences are in the indicative mood . The various verb forms we learn are in the indicative mood for that reason . The imperative mood makes use of the base- form of the verb . Subjunctive mood is signalled by the base- form of the verb where we expect some other forms ! Base -form of the verb is used in the that -clause , no matter whether the verb in the main clause is in the present tense or past tense .

Subjunctive mood is used in the that- clause after words like demand, insist , suggest, recommend , request etc . When the main clause is It is necessary , It is important , It is essential etc , it is usual to use subjunctive mood in the that-clause that follows it . Why?The speaker is expressing a view , and not making statement of a fact in the that-clause. Examples:

* He demanded that his salary be raised .

*Our Manager insists that everybody come in time .

* It is essential that we work together in unity .

* She insists that every student read this book .

Please note that the use of base form of the verb signals that it is not statement of a fact but only somebody's demand , insistence and so on!

3 What is the mood of the verb in sentences using as if / as though ?

After as if / as though indicative mood is unacceptable . As if is contraction of " as it would be if it were" Example :

He talked as if he were drunk

This sentence means he talked as he would talk if he were drunk .

The subjunctive verb were (where we expect was ) signals that it is not a fact but only an impression that one gets from his way of talking . Other examples :

* He behaves as if he were our boss .

*She looked pale as she saw a ghost .

* He smiled at me as if he had known me for several years!

Please note that past perfect is used when the action belongs a distinctly earlier time . Another example

He ate fast as if he had not eaten for several days

I hope that this lesson has been of help to you .

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Direct Object and Indirect Object: FAQs

1 What is an Object?

English verbs can be classified as transitive verbs and intransitive verbs . A transitive verb is a verb that takes an object . In other words , it can answer the questions whom? or what? An intransitive verb, on the contrary, is incapable of answering these questions . Examples :

1 Rama wrote a story .

The verb wrote is transitive because it can answer the question what? What did Rama write? the answer is a story. , and it is the object of the verb wrote

2 Rama saw his friend.

The verb saw is transitive because it can provide answer to the question whom? Whom did Rama meet? The answer his friend is the object of the verb meet .

3 Sita went to the temple yesterday .

The verb went is incapable of providing answer to the question whom or what So it i9s called an intransitive verb .

2 What is Direct Object?

There are a few verbs in English called ditransitive verbs They are so called because they take two objects . One of these objects provides answers to the question whom ? or what ? and the other provides answer to the question for whom? or to whom?The commonly used ditransitive verbs are;

give , offer, grant , teach, send, bring, make, buy etc

1 I bought her a beautiful saree.

" a beautiful saree" is called the direct object . to distinguish it from her which is called indirect object .

2 Ramesh gave Sita a lovely birthday present. . Sita is the indirect object and a lovely birthday present is the direct object .

Please note that indirect object is usually a person and both the objects are Noun Phrases .

3 Can we change the positions of direct and indirect objects ?

No! English depends on word-order for meaning and , therefore, indirect object must always come before direct object .

However , in order to give end-focus to the indirect object we can shift it to the end of a sentence as a prepositional phrase It is then called an adverbial rather than the indirect object!


She made him coffee?

She made coffee for him .

I bought her an apple.

I bought an apple for her .

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Adverbs and Adverbials :: Difference Explained

The term adverb refers to a word class to which words like slowly, here, now etc belong . Adverbials , on the contrary, is a functional label , covering all the syntactic units performing the same function as single-word adverbs , that is, they are units which describe the action denoted by the verb . These syntactic units may be Prepositional Phrases or Noun Phrases.

An adverbial can describe an action by telling us how, where and when an action is done . Examples

* She sings sweetly . ( how)

* She has gone there. (where)

*He is sleeping now( when)

Instead of using single-word adverbials as in our examples above , we can use Prepositional Phrases and Noun Phrases to describe actions .

* She gets up at 6 o' clock .

* He left home in a hurry .

* She has gone to the hospital.

In these examples we have used Prepositional Phrases as advebials .

In the following examples we are using Noun Phrases as adverbials :

* He worked hard all day

* She came back home home last week .

* They will join us tomorrow .

* She left for the US the day before yesterday.

* They opposed the government proposal tooth and nail.

Please note that the term adverb refers to a word class while adverbial refers to different syntactic units performing a similar function, namely, describing the action performed by the verb.

The basic concept of describing an action is provided by the term adverb while the different realizations of the concept are provided by the term adverbial.

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Subject-Verb Concord : A New Perspective

Subject - Verb Concord may not be a problem for native speakers of English .They have their instincts to trust to .! But it is a major problem area for ESL learners . The crux of the problem lies in the fact that English sometimes bases its concord on meaning and sometimes on form which can be confusing to learners . They do not know whether to follow form or meaning . Thus in the sentence

One of the books is missing .

the learner can follow meaning and choose the singular verb is .But in the sentence

More than one book is missing .

the learner has to follow form in the face of the fact that the subject is undeniably plural and choose the singular verb is.

I think that the form-meaning conflict can be put aside if the instructors train the learners to look upon the subject as a complex consisting of a Noun Phrase with a headword along with its modifiers . Instead of subject- verb concord , the learnershould think of subjectNP headword-verb concord and view the problem of concord in a new way . Then he can forget about meaning- form conflict ! This will obviate the problem to a great extent .

I will discuss specific examples to illustrate the new perspective

1 One of the books is missing .

Here the subject NP consists of the headword one and the prepositional phrase "of the books" . , post-modifying it . The verb naturally agrees with the headword one

2 More than one book is missing .

The subject NP consists of the headword bookwhich is pre-modified by "more than one". The form-meaning conflict need not bother us . The concept of headword- verb concord has made it irrelevant !

3 Many a ship has sunk in the sea .

The subject NP '"many a ship" has ship as its headword . and " many a " as its pre-modifier . Hence,the singular verb has

4 Ship after ship has sunk in this bay .

The headword ship is post-modified by "after ship" and the verb agrees with the singular head , despite the plural sense of the subject as a whole .

5 John or his friends are responsible for this.

As or is a co-ordinating conjunction the head of the NP could be John or his friends ( a case of multiple heads). and the verb could agree with any of them . Proximity is a strong attraction and the verb agrees with the subject nearer to it than with the one farther to it ! .In subjects joined by correlative conjunction either---or and neither---nor we can see proximity concord similar to this .

6 None of them is responsible for this .

The subject NP ''none of them" consists of the head none " and the post-modifier 'of them" .Hence, the singular verb is . The NPs neither of them and either of them follow the same pattern .

7 The President , along with his wife, has left for the US.

Along with his wife is a post-modifier of the head President It does not fully coordinate with the head like and , and so the verb agrees with the singular head .Similar examples are quasi-coordinators like together with, as well as, rather than , as much as etc .

The learner should realize that learning concord on the basis of meaning-form conflict can be absolutely confusing Let him view the problem in a new light .

NB . cases of concord not discussed above can be decided on the basis of meaning

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Saturday, January 16, 2010


I have been discussing regular determiners and pre-determiners in my previous posts . In this concluding post on determiners I will be discussing post- determiners and their usage in English sentences .

Post-determiners, as their name suggests, come after regular determiners in a Noun Phrase .They precede nouns but follow regular determiners in a Noun Phrase .

Cardinal numbers like one. two three .four etc and ordinal numbers like first. second third etc are post-determiners . Examples

The first three apples

The first six boys

Please note ordinals always precede cardinals General ordinals like last, next other ,another etc are also post-determiners .

The important thing for an English learner to note is the order of various determiners in a pre-modification structure .

1 The first three boys

2 The next four days

3Another interesting case

If there is an adjective in the Noun Phrase it immediately precedes the noun , but follows post-determiners .

1 The first three famous novels

2The last six happiest days

Quantifiers like many , few, several , much , little etc are post-determiners and they precede nouns in a Noun Phrase

Determiners ( unlike adjectives ) have a general tendency not to co-occur . In other words, you will not find many of them together in a Noun Phrase . I think the maximum number of determiners you can squeeze into a Noun Phrase is three or four . Try, if you can, to squeeze more into a single Noun Phrase!

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