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Subordination / Embedding


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Subordination / Embedding

There are several criteria of classifying the subordinated / embedded clauses:

A). According to the functional criterion, we may distinguish:

a). complement / nominal clauses

b). attributive / adjectival clauses

c). adverbial clauses

B). According to their structural type, there are:

a). finite clauses (containing a finite verb)

b). non-finite clauses (containing a non-finite verb)

c). verbless clauses, containing no verbal element at all in the Surface Structure, but obviously having one in the Deep Structure.

1. Classification of Subordinated Clauses: The Functional Criterion

The complement / nominal clause is derived from Noun Phrases which function as Subjects, Subject Complements (Cs), Objects, Objects Complements (Co), and we speak of Subject and Object clauses, respectively.

A clause S1 is a complement clause within a sentence S if it is directly dominated by a NP which functions as Subject or Object (or, in other words, it replaces a NP in the base clause).

The Phrase Structure Rule (PSR) for deriving complement / nominal clauses is: NP → S1.

e.g. That John was still there 1/ surprised Mary. 2/

Another example:

John realized 1/ that something was wrong. 2/

The attributive /adjectival clause modifies Noun Phrases. The most important representative is the Relative Clause.

A clause S1 is an attributive clause in a sentence S if S1 is directly dominated by a NP and also has another NP as left sister (the antecedent).

The PSR for deriving attributive / adjectival clauses is: NP → NP + S1

e.g. A man 1a/ who was wearing a funny hat 2/ approached. 1b/

The adverbial clause may be further subdivided into adverbial clauses of time, place, manner, cause, etc. They go back to nominal adverbials, but this is not always obvious or easily demonstrable.

A clause S1 is an adverbial clause in a sentence S if S1 is directly dominated by a NP which, in its turn, is directly dominated by a PrepNP (a NP preceded by a preposition).

Some special rules are needed here:

S → NP VP (Adv

Adv → PrepNP

PrepNP → Prep NP

Adv are adverbials which may be developed into adverbial clauses.

e.g. John arrived 1/ after we had left. 2/

Classification of Subordinated Clauses: The Structural Criterion

The finite clause always contains a Subject as well as a Predicator, unless they were deleted.

The non-finite clause normally has no Subject in the Surface Structure; often the Subject deletion is optional; other times it is inapplicable.

a). Infinitive with ‘to’:

e.g. The best thing would be 1/ to tell everybody. 2/

or: The best thing would be 1/ for you to tell everybody. 2/ (for is used here to introduce the Subject of the long infinitive verb.)

The Subject is especially used after anticipatory ‘it’ constructions: it would be better, it is time, etc: It would be better 1/ for you to do this.

b). Infinitive without ‘to’ / bare / short infinitive:

e.g. All I did was 1/ open the door. 2/ (Or: All I did was to open the door.)

Rather than John do it 1/ I’d prefer 2/ to do it myself. 3/

c). - ing clauses

* Gerund: e.g. Coming home late 1/ was a mistake. 2/

Mary’s coming home early 1/ pleased her family. 2/

** Present Participle:

e.g. Coming home late1/, he saw a light in her room. 2/

Mary having come home early 1/, the family had dinner together. 2/

*** The Past Participle verb too may be a Predicator in a subordinate non-finite clause.

e.g. Completely destroyed 1/, the ship could not sail. 2/

Work finished 1/, we went home. 2/

As illustrated in the last three examples above, it is obvious that the Subject cannot be deleted / omitted if it is different from that in the matrix / regent clause.

Non-finite clauses offer the advantage of compactness over finite ones, but often give rise to ambiguity.

e.g. I saw her 1/ when crossing the street. 2/ (clause 2 in a non-finite / Present Participle clause)

This can be interpreted either as: I saw her when (I was) crossing the street.

Or: I saw her when (she was) crossing the street.

3. Verbless clauses are usually subjectless, like non-finite clauses. Generally, the deleted verb is ‘be’ and the Subject is recoverable from the context. In other words, it is deleted because it is redundant.

e.g. Whether right or wrong 1/, nobody believes him. 2/

(This can be formulated as: Whether he is right or wrong 1/, nobody believes him.2/)

Verbless clauses may appear as a result of further deletion of non-finite clauses:

e.g. Too weak to rise, he remained in bed. (Being too weak 1/ to rise 2/, he remained in bed. 3/) Here, to rise is, in fact, a non-finite clause dependent on / embedded in the verbless clause too weak.

Sometimes the Subject is not deleted:


e.g. All were punished 1/, many of them innocent. 2/ (i.e. many of them being innocent)


- Non-finite and verbless clauses are always subordinate clauses!

- The terms a) matrix clause and b) constituent clause are used in more recent grammars with the same meaning as the corresponding terms a) regent / superordinate clause and b) subordinate(d) clause are used in traditional grammars.

- It is also necessary to explain the term principal / main clause: such a clause contains the main verb of the sentence (i.e. the Verb of the highest order in the phrase marker). The main clause is always a regent clause, but a regent clause is not necessarily a main clause.

In an example like the following:

John hopes 1/ that Mary believes 2/ that he loves her. 3/

S1 – ‘John hopes’ is a main clause, regent for

S2 – ‘that Mary believes’, which is subordinate to S1 and also regent for

S3 – ‘that he loves her’, which is subordinate to S

In more complex sentences (i.e. compound - complex), there may be several coordinated main clauses:

e.g. Mary hopes that John will arrive in time but I say he won’t be here before 10 p.m.

In this sentence, clauses 1 and 3 are main and also regent clauses which are coordinated by means of the adversative conjunction but; clause 2 is subordinated to 1, and clause 4 is subordinated to 3 (this means that clauses 2 and 4 are only subordinate clauses, they are not regent clauses – each of them depends on another clause, but there is no clause dependent on them).

3. Subordinating Conjunctions / Subordinators / Subjoiners

Subordination can be achieved:

syndetically, by means of subordinators

asyndetically, or by juxtaposition, with no subordinators.

3.1. Syndetical subordination is realised by means of:

a) conjunctions

- simple: if, that

- compound: so that, in order to, granted that

- correlative: (with an element in the matrix / regent clause) if then…, although… yet / nevertheless…, even though… still…

b) ‘wh-‘ words (pronouns and adverbials): when, where, who, which, whenever, wherever, whoever, etc. which function in the introduced clause (i.e. the subordinate clause) as Subject, Object, Adverbial.

c) pronouns: the relative pronoun that.

3. Asyndetical subordination / juxtaposition is marked by punctuation alone.

e.g. Had you listened to me 1/, you wouldn’t be in a fix now. 2/

(i.e. If you had listened to me 1/ you wouldn’t be in a fix now. 2/)

In this situation, juxtaposition is accompanied by Subject – Auxiliary inversion as well.

4. Types of Subordinate Clauses

Earlier we dealt with a classification of the subordinate clauses according to the type of embedding (the functional criterion):

complement / nominal clauses, which replace NPs in the matrix clause (NP → S); they can function as Subjects, Objects, Subject Complements, that is, they can have all the functions filled by NPs;

attributive / adjectival clauses, which have an antecedent in the matrix clause and contain a constituent which is co-referential with this antecedent; they are subordinated to the antecedent with which they form complex NPs (NP → NP + S);

adverbial clauses take the place of adverbial modifiers (which may be adverbs or PrepPs)

Traditional grammars usually propose functional classifications into: Subject Clauses, Predicative / Subject Complement Clauses, Object Clauses, Attributive Clauses, Adverbial Clauses, and it is generally held that there are as many types of subordinate clauses as there are parts of the sentence. In order to enable a more effective comparison between the traditional approach and the Transformational Generative Grammar (TGG), the subordinate clauses will be treated in the order suggested by the classification above.


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