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Topic 12A – Essential elements of morphosyntax of English. Elementary communicative structures. Progressive use of grammatical categories in oral and written communication to enhance production.

Essential morphosyntactical elements in english. Elementary communicative structures and use of grammatical categories in oral and written productions.

1. Introduction.

The structures of a language, the rules governing the changes of their forms and the combination of elements composing it, constitute the grammar of that language. If our intention is to learn a language, we cannot just learn its vocabulary but we will have to learn also the elements making it up.

Apart from learning a language, if we want to communicate with it productively, we will have to learn that there are other factors shaping the meaning of a grammatically correct sentence in a language, such as: situations, speakers and social background, that is, the context.

1. Essential elements of morphosyntax.

The range of constructions studied by grammar is divided into sub-fields. The oldest and most widely-used division is that between morphology and syntax.

The most basic units of syntax are the sentence and the word. The sentence is the largest unit of syntax: as we move upwards beyond the sentence we pass from syntax into discourse analysis; the word is the lowest unit of syntax: as we move downwards beyond the word we pass from syntax into morphology. The most elementary words, such as girl, car, to, have only one morpheme, the smallest units of meaning and the units of morphology. In this theme we will study the main grammatical units:

– morpheme

– word

– sentence

1.1. The morpheme.

If we study the structure of the following words: un-friend-ly, cat-s, bring-ing, we can

see that the elements friend, cat, bring, have a meaning, as do the elements attached to them (the affixes). Other words cannot be divided into different meaningful units.

In English is difficult to analyze irregular nouns and verbs; mice is the plural of mouse, but it is not obvious how to identify a plural morpheme in the word, analogous to the –s ending of cats. Another complication is that morphemes sometimes have more than one phonetic form, eg. The past tense morpheme –ed in English is pronounced in three different ways. These variant forms of a morpheme are known as allomorphs.

Two main fields are traditionally recognized within morphology:

a) Inflectional morphology: studies the way in which words vary in order to express grammatical contrasts in sentences, such as singular/past or past/present. These grammatical contrasts are called grammatical categories:

aspect: perfective, imperfective progressive, nonprogressive

case: nominative, vocative, accusative, genitive, partitive

gender: masculine, feminine, neuter, animate, inanimate

mood: indicative, subjunctive, optative

number: singular, dual, trial, plural

person: first, second, third…

tense: present, past, future

voice: active, passive

b) Derivational morphology: studies the principles governing the construction of new words, without reference to the specific grammatical role a word might play in a sentence. There are three chief processes in English by which new words are created:

Affixation: divided into prefixation (adding prefixes) and suffixation (adding suffixes).

Conversion: a word changes its class without any change of form e.g. aim and to aim.

Compounding: adding one base to another e.g. blackboard.

Reduplication: type of compound in which both elements are the same e.g. knock-knock.

Clipping: informal shortenings e.g. flu, ad, telly.

Blendings: two words merge into one, e.g. smog = smoke + fog.

Infixation: emphatic structures such as abso-booming-lutely.

1.2. The word.

As we have already pointed out, words sit at the boundary between morphology and syntax. Words are usually the easiest units to identify in the written language, as they commonly have spaces on either side. It is more difficult to decide what words are in the stream of speech as pauses do not occur between each word in natural speech.

Words have been grouped into word classes, traditionally labelled the parts of speech.

a) Closed classes: They can be composed of all the existing elements or of those that may be created. In order to define them in relation with other words, we must do it with those with which they have a semantic relation.

prepositions: of, at, in without, in spite of.

pronouns: he, they, anybody, one, which

determiner: the, a, that, when, although

conjunctions: and, that, when , although

modal verbs: can, must, will, could

primary verbs: be, have, do

articles: the, a, an

demonstratives: this, that, these, those

b) Open classes: The components of this group do not admit any addition of other elements.

nouns: John, room, answer, play

adjectives: happy, steady, new

full verbs: search, grow, play

adverbs: steadily, completely, really

c) To these we may add two lesser categories:

numerals: one, first

interjections: ugh, phew

words of unique function: not, to

1.3. The sentence.

In the discourse, the basic unit is the statement which is defined because it is a fragment of communication, no matter what its extension is, within to marked pauses or the previous silence plus a marked pause. For the fragmentation we do not take into account its grammatical structure or its context, which may be insufficient and incomplete.

Statements can be isolated:

a) Some organise all its constituents in relation to a verb conjugated in a personal form. These are named sentences.

b) Other statements are characterised in relation to the lack of a verb in personal form according to the nucleus, e.g. yes. These are called phrases.

1.3.1. Parts of a sentence.

According to Quirk and Greenbaum when analysing the smallest parts of the sentences, they distinguish between subject and predicate:

Subject Predicate

Mary pointed at him.

Predicate: has a close relationship with what is being dealt with, what the sentence is about, and it generally implies that something new is being told about a subject which has previously appeared in another sentence.

Subject: determines the agreement and it is also the changing part within the sentence, that is the reason why few generalisations are permitted.

The predicate can be sub-divided into auxiliary and verbal predication:

Subject Predicate

Auxiliary Verbal predication

He will write Arthur a letter.

A) Auxiliaries as “operators”.

The verb may be composed of several auxiliaries, e.g. They would have been…, in these cases the first auxiliary is considered the “operator”: would.

In declarative affirmative sentences where there is no auxiliary, when an operator is needed do is introduced, e.g. Did you tell him? and the verb to be and have perform as operators whether they are auxiliary or not:

John is a student – Is John a student?

They have (got) a cottage – Have they (got) a cottage?

1.3.2. Elements of a sentence.

There are five elements we can split the sentence in.

1. Subject

2. Verb

3. Complement

a) Subject complement or atribute.

b) Object complement.

4. Object

a) Direct object

b) Indirect object

5. Adverbial The Subject.

The subject of a sentence can be a clause with nominal function:

(That he came quickly) was unusual.

but it is normally a nominal clause and in its simples forms are a personal pronoun or a proper noun. In affirmative sentences the subject is always placed before the verb and in interrogative sentences the subject is placed after the operator. It also keeps person and number agreement with the verb. Verb categories.

The verbal sentence may be composed of one or two words. In the case of two words, it is composed of a main verb preceded by one or more “auxiliary” verbs.

John wrote a letter à He had given her an apple.

There are different types of verbs, in close correspondence to other types of objects and complements. Quirk and Greenbaum distinguish between:

1) Intensive verbs: sentences with subject complement.

2) Extensive verbs: the rest. All the extensive verbs admit a direct object, some also admit an indirect object.

3) Intransitive verbs: they are followed by no obligatory element

Prices rose.

4) Transitive verbs: they are followed by and object.

a) Monotransitive: She likes carrots.

b) Ditransitive: He gave me a pen.

c) Complex transitive: She lead me to my seat.

5) Progressive verbs: they admit a progressive aspect:

We wrote Arthur a letter.

6) Non-progressive verbs: they do not admit a progressive aspect:

John is a student – John is being now a student (WRONG)

Morphologically the verb can be classified in two categories:

a) Lexical verb: walk, write

b) Auxiliary verb:

primary: have, be

modal: may, can, shall

The English verbs have five components:

1) Lexeme: present (except third person singular), imperative, subjunctive and infinitive.

2) –(e)s form: third person singular.

3) Present participle (-ing): continuous form and present participle sentences (Meeting him was good).

4) Past participle (-ed): perfect tenses of regular verbs, passive voice and past participle in –ed sentences.

5) Lexical irregular verbs: from 3 to 8, e.g. be, am, are, is, was…

6) Modal auxiliaries: special verbs with no infinitive, no –ing participle, no –ed participle and no imperative. Complements.

These elements may have the same structure as the subject itself.

We must distinguish between:

1) Subject complement: this type of complement has a direct relationship with the subject.

John is a student à subject complement (attribute=with stative verbs).

He became richer à subject complement (predicative=with dynamic verbs as the result of the action)

2) Object complement: this complement has a relationship with the direct object similar to the one the subject complement keeps with the subject.

The prize made him rich à object complement (resulting attribute)

I drank the coffee cold. à object complement (current attribute) Objects.

The objects are placed after the subject and the verb. When the sentence is passive, both of them assume the subject status.

1) Direct object: In general it is a name referred to a person and the semantic relation between them is that something is done for or received by someone. It is more frequent than the indirect object and this always appears whenever there is an indirect object, preceding it.

2) Indirect object: It is normally the recipient or receiver of the action.

clip_image001John wrote his friend a letter à direct object

indirect object

1.4. Adverbial categories.

Adverbials may be many and varied. From a syntactic point of view the only classification which is important to make is that between obligatory adverbials and the remainder. Some adverbs can be omitted and the sentence would only suffer a slight change, remaining its sense almost untouched, like this time adverbial:

Yesterday she opened the door noisily – She opened the door noisily.

However, other types of adverbial like manner adverbials: noisily and use carefully, silently, etc., when they are replaced by other, the meaning of the sentence would change although the sentence will continue being grammatically correct. The same happens when we place some of these adverbials in a sentence with a stative or non-progressive verb:

John is a student noisily (WRONG)

The adverbials can be performed by:

1) Adverbial locutions with and adverb as nucleus:

He went home slowly.

2) Nominal syntagma:

We go on holiday every summer.

3) Prepositional syntagma (nominal clause introduced by a preposition):

We live in a large house.

4) Clauses with either personal or impersonal forms:

Watching him go she cried / My father took me to the zoo when I was 8.

1.5. Types of sentence structure.

clip_image002 Place Adverbial à John is at home.

clip_image003clip_image004 Intensive

clip_image005 Subject Comple. à John is a student at Oxford at the moment.

Subject + stative V.

Extensive and transitive + Direct object à He saw the parcel on his desk at seven


clip_image006 Intensive + Subject Com. à He got angry little by little at work yesterday.

Monotran. (Direct Object) à She carefully opened the

clip_image007 parcel in his office at 7.

clip_image008clip_image009clip_image010clip_image011Subject + Dynamic V. Transitive Double (Indirect Object / Direct object) à We happily

wrote him a postcard from Paris during our holiday.

clip_image012 Extensive Complex (Direct object / Object comple.) à The prize

suddenly made him rich last year.

Intransitive à He came home slowly last night.

1.6. Discourse elements.

1. Noun.

We must make the difference between proper and common nouns. Within the common ones, apart from any other subdivision, we can take into account the difference between countable and uncountable nouns and those which can be both depending on the way they are used. Nouns have no genre indication, but they do have number indication.

2. Adjective.

The adjective has neither genre nor number. In most cases, it admits inflexion to form the comparative (-er) and the superlative (-est). Other adjectives which do not admit inflexion form their comparative and superlative differently: good, better, best, bad, worse, worst.

Adjectives are placed before the noun. When there is more than one adjective referred to the same noun the order is as follows:

1) Subjective opinions: careful, naughty,…

2) Size and weight or other subjective opinions: small, wealthy…

3) Age: old, young…

4) Shape: round, square, oval…

5) Colour: blue, green, red, brown

6) Country or origin: German…

7) Material: glass, leather, woollen…

3. Adverb.

The main characteristic of an adverb is of morphological type: most adverbs add the –ly suffix. They are formed by adding the –ly suffix to an adjective.

Syntactically, adverbs are characterised by two types of functions:

1) Adverbial function.

There are three different types of adverbial clauses:

a) adjuncts (they are integrated in the sentence):

We usually go there.

b) disjuncts (not integrated and used to express an opinion about what is being said):

Honestly, I am tired.

c) conjuncts (not integrated and have a connecting function):

If you go on smoking, them, I am leaving.

2) Adjective and adverb modifier

The adverbs also admit to establish comparison relationship. The inflexion to form the comparative and superlative has the same characteristics as the ones already stated before:

well, better, best / little, less, least

4. Preposition.

They expresses the existing relation between two entities, being one of them the one represented by the prepositional complement.

Semantically, they are divided into: place, time, cause, instrument. A prepositional phrase is composed of a preposition followed by a prepositional complement:

Preposition Prep. Complement.

at home

There are simple, like at, in, for… and compound, like in front of, along with…

5. Pronoun.

They substitute the noun. There are personal, reflexive, reciprocal, possessive, relative, interrogative, demonstrative universal (each, all, every and its compounds, partitive and quantifying pronouns.

6. The articles.

We must distinguish between specific reference article and generic reference article. The reference is specific when we refer to a specific element within a group:

A man and two women are waiting outside.

When we refer to the group to which the element belongs to, then the reference is generic:

The monkey is a funny animal.

7. Pro-forms.

We shall refer to two subdivisions:

Pronouns: they substitute the noun:

We wrote Arthur a letter – We wrote him a letter.

Pro-verbs: they also substitute nominal clauses:

Come home – Come here.

8. Question and negation.

1) Question.

a) Wh-questions.

Within the category of substitutes there is a series of words forming a special class which substitutes certain parts of a sentence which may need explanation. These substitutes are: which, when, why, where, who, whose and how.

Who writes her a letter every day?

b) Yes-no questions.

There are questions demanding an affirmative or negative answer with reference to a full sentence:

Did John write her a letter?

2) Negation.

Its use implies a full predicate negation with the operator and the negative adverb not, placed between the operator and the verbal nucleus:

John did not write her a letter.

2. Elementary communicative structures and progressive use of grammatical categories in oral and written productions.

At the stage of Primary Education, children have not yet acquired the capacity of abstraction. For them to learn a foreign language will be to communicate with other people for different aims. We must take advantage of this conception and give priority to the content of messages, to the situations and to the activities where the language is present and the language is used, making the learning of grammar something hidden.

Interaction will make possible that in particular moments specific needs of certain structures, either new or more complex ones arise. Then, first of all, the student will be able to use non linguistic resources and when the latter are not sufficient, the pupils can ask their teacher so that he can give them the appropriate mechanisms. It is the teacher duty to design a series of activities progressively demanding more complex linguistic uses.

After that, we may go through the following phases:

In written production: copying short messages and lists, writing daily sentences for dictation…

In oral production: describing family and friends, referring to age, size, weight, hair colour, etc…

2.1. The place of grammar in language teaching and learning.

These are the aspects of the teaching and learning of grammar categories:







Perception and recognition of the spoken form of the grammar categories.

Comprehension of what the spoken grammar category means in context.


Production of well-formed examples in speech.

Use of the grammar categories to convey meanings in speech.


Perception and recognition of the written form.

Comprehension of what the written grammar categories means in context


Production of well-formed examples in writing.

Use of grammar categories to convey meanings in writing.

2.2. Rule learning: induction and explication.

Grammar rules may be acquired in either of two ways:

1) Through induction.

It is not possible to learn the rules of a language entirely through explication given the current state of knowledge. The process of induction is one whose essence is learning through self-discovery. We present our pupils with relevant language data and they, first, abstract a rule based on the presented data, and secondly, develop a basis for its application.

2) Through explication.

Learning through explication requires two essentials:

– basic knowledge of the language of the explanation

– advanced cognitive development

The formal learning of grammar is not our objective when teaching English to our pupils. We want them to use grammar categories to improve their communicative competence. We can do this using, for example, songs and stories, which can introduce our pupils to the grammatical patterns of English in a natural and authentic way.

2.3. The organization of grammar teaching.

We can distinguish three stages:

presentation: the aim is to get the learners to perceive the grammar categories in both speech and writing and to take it into short term memory.

controlled practice: the aim is to cause the learners to transfer what they know from short-term to long-term memory preparing them to use them for communication.

production stage: production or comprehension of meaning for some non-linguistic purpose, for some real-life purpose.

There are some principles which definitely contribute to successful grammar learning and teaching:

1. Prelearning: familiarize learners with the material, not to introduce it.

2. Volume and repetition: Language structures are easily forgotten so our pupils need initial volume to absorb them and follow-up repetition to maintain their knowledge.

3. Success-orientation.

4. Heterogeneity: The exercises have different levels of proficiency.

5. Teacher assistance: We must support and assist our pupils in the production of acceptable responses rather that correct or assess them.

6. Interest: A well-designed activity must be interesting to our pupils.