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Chapter 11: Special Sentences

1          Questions

                        1.1       Yes/No Questions

                        1.2       WH-Questions

            2          Exclamations

            3          Topicalization, Passive, Cleft and Pseudo-cleft

            4          Conclusion


            Keys to the Exercises

           Special Topic: Comma punctuation

            Further Reading

Review Chapters 9-11


            Keys to the Exercises

  Sample Extra-credit Homework Assignment



In this chapter, I discuss sentences in which elements have moved around for a particular reason, e.g. to ask a question, to make an exclamation, or to emphasize something (through topicalization, passive, cleft, and pseudo-cleft, to be explained below).

1     Questions

Questions can be main clauses (Will she leave?) or embedded clauses (I wonder if she'll leave, see chapter 7 for the latter kind). They can also be classified according to whether the entire sentence is questioned, in which case a Yes or No answer is expected, or whether another element is questioned using who, what, why, etc., in which case a full answer is expected.

1.1     Yes/No questions

In Yes/No questions, the only appropriate answer is Yes or No (or maybe). To make a question, e.g. of (1), the auxiliary is fronted, as in (2):

1.         She has gone.

2.         Has she gone?

If there is no auxiliary present, as discussed in chapter 6, a dummy do is used, as in (3):

3.         Did you see Santa?

A structure for Yes/No Questions is given in (4), where the auxiliary moves to C (indicated by a trace):


One piece of evidence for this movement to C is that when the complementizer is filled as in subordinate clauses such as (5), this movement is not possible:

5.         *I wondered whether can she go.

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1.2  WH-questions

The characteristics of a WH-clause that is a main clause are that it starts with a WH-word (who, what, why, when, where, how) and that the auxiliary is in second position. There is also an empty position in the sentence, indicated by a t. Examples are given in (6) to (8):

6.         Who will you see t?

7.         How heavy is that package t?

8.         How much wood would a wood chuck chuck t, if a wood chuck could chuck wood?

Evidence is for the trace is that, with special intonation, movement is not necessary. Thus, (9) is possible with emphasis on what:

9.         You saw WHAT?

Questions such as (9) are called `echo-questions'.

            Some people have argued that the C position in (6) to (8) can contain both the WH-word and the auxiliary. Others have argued that there are two separate positions. Therefore, in this book, a structure for (6) to (8) will not be given.

2     Exclamations

Sentences such as (10) can be analyzed as in (4) above, namely as structures where the what a nasty person is in C. Notice that in sentences such as (10), the auxiliary does not move, unlike in (6):

10.       What a nasty person he is t!

3     Topicalization, Passive, Cleft, and Pseudo-cleft

Even though the structures of topicalizations, clefts, and passives look very different, they have in common that the order of words is rearranged, i.e. that they all involve movement. In English, old information is usually given in the beginning of the sentence, as in (11), and often preceded by as for, as in (12):

11.       That book, I love.

12.       and as for herself, she was too much provoked . . .

            (Jane Austen, Emma, Vol 1, chap 15)

If the old information comes first, the readers or listeners can prepare themselves for the new information that comes later in the sentence. Thus, topicalizations as in (11) and (12) serve to front old information. The difference between (11) and (12) is that in (12) the topicalized element is repeated by means of a pronoun, whereas it is not in (11).

            In the same way, passives and clefts can shift phrases to put old information at the beginning and new at the end. In a passive, as seen in chapters 4 and 6, the subject she in (13) is the object her of the corresponding active in (14). This shifts the attention:

13.       She was persuaded to go.

14.       He persuaded her to go.

            Examples of a cleft and pseudo-cleft are given in (15) and (16). The structure of clefts is that of a restrictive relative clause, as in (17) (note that I have represented an NP and PP by means of a `coathanger' since the internal structure is not relevant here). The structure of pseudo-clefts is controversial and will not be given:

15.       It was on the wedding-day of this beloved friend that Emma first sat in mournful thought of any continuance. (Jane Austen, Emma, vol 1, chap 1)

16.       What was irritating was that the disk collapsed.



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4     Conclusion

In this chapter, I briefly describe a number of special constructions. Except for the Yes/No question and the cleft, tree structures are not provided. Key terms are questions (WH and Yes/No); exclamations; topicalization, cleft, pseudo-cleft, and passive.

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A.        Identify the special constructions in:

18.       It is his character I despise.

19.       She was recognized going into the store.

20.       Higgins I hate.

21.       I recommended that you go there.

B.         Draw a tree for:

22.       Will she go then?

C.        Explain the ambiguity in the following headline:

23.       Stolen Painting Found by Tree.

Keys to the Exercises

A.        Sentence (18) is a cleft; (19) a passive; (20) a topicalization; and (21) a subjunctive.



C. The sentence can be a passive in which case the meaning is strange/funny since typically trees are inanimate objects and don't find things. The intended meaning is not a passive, but one where by tree is a place adverbial and the finder has been left out or is unknown.

Special Topic: Comma Punctuation

Commas are used in writing to indicate a pause in speech. Pauses help disambiguate structural ambiguities, and that's why the topic is relevant to this book. For instance, the well-known (24) is ambiguous, when pronounced without pauses or written without commas:

24.       Woman without her man is a savage.

The two possible sentences are either (25) or (26):

25.       Woman, without her, man is a savage.

26.       Woman, without her man, is a savage.

The tree structure of (26) is as in (27), with woman the subject and is a savage as the predicate. The structure of (25) is more complex since it is topicalized and, as shown in (28), man is the subject and is a savage is the predicate:




28.                                                       S

            NP                                                                   S

(as for) woman             PP                                                        S

                        P                      NP                               NP                   VP

                        without her                               man      V                     NP

                                                                                                is          D                     N

                                                                                                            a                      savage

            Sometimes, if we want to indicate that some information is not crucial, we put commas around it. Since objects and complements are more important than modifiers or adverbials, we don't use commas for the former but we may do so for adverbials. The discussion here is not meant to be exhaustive but merely discusses commas in connection to some of the constructions dealt with in this book.

Some rules:

a.         Commas are not used around subjects, as in (29), objects, or subject predicate clauses. They are not used for complement clauses in an NP or AdjP, as in (30):

29.       *That he met Arafat, was untrue.

30.       *The story, that he met Arafat, is untrue.

b.         Commas may be used for non-restrictive relative clauses, as in (31), and for adverbial clauses, as in (32). Sentence adverbials are always surrounded by commas, as in (33) and (34):

31.       Pure Empiricism, which he was disposed not to accept, leads to scepticism.

32.       While he was gone, there were lots of parties at his house.

33.       Unfortunately, the sentence remained ungrammatical.

34.       The sentence, however, remains ungrammatical.

c.         Commas are not used between independent clauses, as in (35). This construction is called comma splice:

35.       Scientists think they have detected life on the Moon, visions of people living in lunar colonies that stop off to refuel on the way to Mars can be envisaged.

            There is no agreement about when to use commas in coordinating three or more elements. Some argue that all commas should be present in (36); others argue the last can be left out. Allegedly, it once became the matter of a law suit, when something like (37) appeared in a will:

36.       The books, magazines, and records in this store are on sale.

37.       Equal parts of the estate will go to Mary, Jane, Edward and Michael.

Apparently, Mary and Jane assumed they would each get a third and Edward and Michael each a sixth, whereas Edward and Michael assumed each would get a quarter.

            Some common mistakes are (38) and (39). Identify what is wrong:

38.       They argued, that the earth was flat.

39.       The woman, that wears a red hat, is a neighbor.

Further Reading

On special constructions, see Quirk et al (1985: chapter 18); for a prescriptivist view on avoiding the passive, see Strunk at www.bartleby.com/141/strunk#11. Information on the CP can be found in Radford (1995: chap 7). On punctuation, see a writing guide, such as The Holt Handbook; Strunk at www.bartleby.com/141

Beginning of chapter


In chapters 9 and 10, the inner structure of the phrase is examined. PPs and AdvP are the simplest: PPs have a head and a complement and AdvPs have a modifier and a head. NPs and AdjPs are more complex. The NP can have a determiner, a head, several modifiers (both preceding and following the head) and a complement (either preceding or following the head); the AdjP can have a modifier preceding the head and a complement following the head. DON'T memorize this; just be able to analyze a given sentence. Chapter 11 gives examples of some special effect sentences such as topicalizations, passives, questions, and clefts. Just be prepared to recognize these.


A.   Draw a tree for (1):

1.   The president that founded this organization was arrested twice before he was replaced.

B.     Which are the lexical verbs in (1) and which are the finite Verb Groups?

C.   List the special constructions in (1).

D.     Change one of the finite clauses into a non-finite one.

Keys to the Exercises



B.     lexical: founded, arrested, replaced

     finite VGPs: founded, was arrested, was replaced

C.     There are 2 passives.

D.   The president that founded this organization was arrested twice before being replaced.

Sample extra-credit Homework, chapters 7-11. Note that Extra-credits are always somewhat challenging!

In the text below:

A.     Locate the relative clauses and indicate whether they are restrictive or non-restrictive.

B.   Find all the finite verbs and indicate whether or not they are lexical.

C.     Analyze the sentence in ll. 12-16 in terms of basic sentence structure. Try to draw a tree.

D.   Draw a tree for the NP its practitioners' insistence . . . being considered (ll. 21-23).

E.   How might one analyse a sentence with if as in ll. 29-31.


From Kuhn "Mathematical versus Experimental Traditions in the Development of Physical Science"

     Anyone who studies the history of scientific development repeatedly encounters a question, one version of which would be, "Are the sciences one or many?" Ordinarily that question is evoked by concrete problems of narrative organization, and these become especially acute when the historian of science is asked to survey his subject in lectures or in a book of significant scope. Should he take up the sciences one by one, beginning, for example, with mathematics, proceeding to astronomy, then to physics, to chemistry, to anatomy, physiology, botany, and so on? Or should he reject the notion that his object is a composite account of individual fields and take it instead to be knowledge of nature tout court? In that case, he is bound, insofar as possible, to consider all scientific subject matters together, to examine what men knew about nature at each period of time, and to trace the manner in which changes in method, in philosophical climate, or in society at large have affected the body of scientific knowledge conceived as one.

          Given a more nuanced description, both approaches can be recognized as long-traditional and generally noncommunicating historiographic modes. [note deleted] The first, which treats science as at most a loose-linked congeries of separate sciences, is also characterized by its practitioners' insistence on examining closely the technical content, both experimental and theoretical, of past versions of the particular specialty being considered. That is a considerable merit, for the sciences are technical, and a history which neglects their content often deals with another enterprise entirely, sometimes fabricating it for the purpose. On the other hand, historians who have aimed to write the history of a technical specialty have ordinarily taken the bounds of their topic to be those prescribed by recent textbooks in the corresponding field. If, for example, their subject is electricity, then their definition of an electrical effect often closely resembles the one provided by modern physics. With it in hand, they may search ancient, medieval, and early modern sources for appropriate references, and an impressive record of gradually accumulating knowledge of nature sometimes results.


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