Thursday, June 9, 2011

Special Gerund Constructions and Their Grammar

There are certain sentence constructions in English which teachers find hard to explain to learners . Constructions like " The Police had a hard time controlling the crowd " do not lend themselves to easy explanation . Teachers often explain them away as special gerund constructions which grammar cannot explain . By the way, the -ing -form in some of these constructions are not really gerunds at all , but they are present participles .( When the -ing -form resembles a noun it is called a gerund .. Gerunds share the characteristics of a noun .Present participles , on the contrary, have the characteristics of a verb . and they resemble verbs rather than nouns ).

How can we explain the sentence construction " The Police had a hard time controlling the crowd" ? It is obvious that the preposition in is omitted in this construction. The English language has been dispensing with prepositions when they serve no useful purpose, or when their meaning is absorbed in the verbs . Gerund form is used after prepositions in English ,and this is continued after the omission of prepositions before verbs . There are a few native speakers of English who omit in after the verb succeed as in the sentence" He succeeded becoming the manager" The following sentences show omission of prepositions: in a similar manner .

* She spent the time watching TV( 9omission of by )
*I had difficulty remembering his e-mail address. (omission of in )
*He wasted his time reading cheap magazines .(omission of by )

In some gerund constructions we can see truncated adverbial clauses , that is , adverbial clauses from which subordinating conjunctions (when, while, as etc ) , subject and auxiliary are omitted , leaving behind the -ing-form of the verb and adverbs Look at the following sentences :

*The poet saw her reaping in the field . *
*I heard him singing in the garden .
*She caught him stealing her money .

In each of these sentences the -ing-form is a remnant from an adverbial clause. Such elliptic constructions are common when it comes to expressions of frequently encountered real-life situations in all natural languages

In a few cases, the gerund construction is a device to fuse together two or more closely related clauses into a single sentence . You may know that to-infinitive is sometimes used to fuse together two or more sequentially related clauses into a single sentence . , e.g. He woke up to see his wife missing from his bed . In this sentence three clauses are fused together: He woke up and then he saw that his wife was missing from his bed. The -ing construction does exactly the same job . Example

He sat in the shade of a tree , thinking of his future .
This is the fusion of two clauses , he sat in the shade of a tree and thought of his future

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

THAT & WHICH as Pronouns introducing Relative Clauses

ESL learners who are not conversant with the intricacies of English speech- rhythm are often confused when it comes to a choice between that and which to introduce relative clauses . They tend to use these pronouns interchangeably ! Are that and which really different?

That as a relative pronoun appeared in English during the Middle English period . This word has phonetic features enabling it to serve as an introducer to defining relative clauses . The defining relative clause and the rest of the sentence belong to the same tone-group . So the glide from the subject Noun Phrase to the relative clause is a smooth one .For example

The book that I read yesterday is a novel by R.K.Narayan.

The clause "that I read " is a defining relative clause as it is essential for getting at the meaning of the sentence. . The relative clause defines or limits the antecedent- book . The pronoun that,by virtue of its phonetic features , ensures a smooth flow from subject NP to the relative clause. No wonder, then, that the English language accepted that as a better choice than which for introducing defining relative clauses! Which is used for defining relative clauses only in written English of very formal style.

Relative clauses may sometimes introduce parenthetical ideas , that is to say, ideas that are not an essential part of the sentence . That clause may be called a non-defining relative clause . It merely provides additional information . So it has to be signalled in some way . English speakers use a pause to signal this, and the relative clause that follows it belongs to a different intonation group . By virtue of its phonetic features which is a better choice than that to indicate the break In written English the non-defining relative clause is marked off from the rest of the sentence with commas . Look at this example

Mobile phones , which are so useful, are often misused by students .

My car , which I bought a year ago, is running well.

Non-defining relative clauses seek to squeeze a lot of information in a single sentence . It is more appropriate in formal style English than in conversational English . The sentences given above can be reworded in spoken English as follows :

Mobile phones are misused by students . It is a pity! They are so useful!

My car is running well. You know , I bought it a year ago .

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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Subject-Verb Inversion & Subject-operator Inversion--Difference Explained

There are many people who are not aware of the difference between subject-verb inversion and subject-operator inversion .They freely interchange these expression! But the difference between the two is a real one and it is worth maintaining , too.

I will first explain subject- operator inversion .What is an operator? It is a term used in modern grammar to denote the auxiliary verb , or if there is more than one auxiliary, the first auxiliary verb . Thus in the sentence :

Rama is reading a book .

is is the operator

In the sentence:

Rama will have been learning English for five years by 2012.

will is the operator as it is the first auxiliary in a row of three auxiliaries .

The different forms of the lexical verb be like is , are , am ,was, were etc come under the grammatical category of operators .

The dummy auxiliary do is used as an operator in interrogative and negative sentences when the tense of the verb is simple present tense or simple past tense .

What is Subject- Operator Inversion?

When subject and operator are switched in a sentence , it is called subject-operator inversion . You may have noticed it in interrogative sentences like :

Do you speak English?
Is he still sleeping?
Are you going to bed so early?

What a convenient method to change statements into questions!

There is another use of bubject-operator inversion which often puzzles foreign learners of English . This use of inversion is seen when a sentence element , usually an adverb of frequency is fronted . The fronted element carries tonic stress ,and this gives a peculiar rhythmic twist to the sentence . The operator that follows the fronted word ( like often, rarely never , seldom etc) carries very light stress, being an auxiliary verb , and the subject that follows it carries a much higher degree of stress .

Of course , one could give prominence to a frequency adverb by giving it tonic stress in its normal position in the sentence . But then, the coming together of two stressed words would disrupt the smooth flow of the sentence . Fronting , followed by subject-operator inversion solves this problem! Remember, rhythm is the fundamental feature of any natural language and the syntax of Enflish ( the arrangement of sentence elements) is best explained in terms of English speech thythm which is stress- based and not quantity- based as Latin languages .

Look at the following examples

He has never come late for work .
Never has he come late for work .

I have often seen him accompanying her to the temple .
Often have I seen him accompanying her to the temple .

We rarely see good films these days
Rarely do we see good films these days .

What is Subject -Verb Inversion?

Subject - verb inversion happens when the speaker wants to give thematic-fronting to a phrase in the sentence This results in the subject taking a position after the verb .


An ancient temple stands on the top of this hill

On the top of this hill stands an ancient temple .

The enemy force marched into the town .

Into the town marched the enemy force .

Remember, the phrase which is given thematic-fronting is often an adverbial realized as a prepositional phrase .

Sentences with the structure subject+ verb+ complement undergo subject- verb inversion when the complement is given thematic-fronting


The ways of God are strange .
Strange are the ways of God .

NB:Subject-verb inversion happens not in all cases of thematic- fronting .It is often seen in sentences with the structure SVA and SVC. Thematic- fronting occurs when the speaker fronts a phrase or word that is uppermost in his or her mind .

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