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1 The different functions and how they are realized

1.1  Subject and Predicate

1.2 Direct and Indirect Object

1.3 Subject and Object Predicate

2  Verbs and functions

3  Trees



Keys to the Exercises

Special Topic:

Further Reading



In chapter 3, groups of words that go together were called phrases and divided into NP, VP, AdjP, AdvP, and PP. Phrases (and pronouns since they replace phrases) have functions in the sentence, e.g. subject, direct object, indirect object, and subject and object predicate. The name, label, or realization of the function (e.g. NP) and the function itself (e.g. subject) should be kept separate. As mentioned, we will not be putting functions in the tree structures since (most of) the functions follow from the tree structure, or to put it differently, certain functions such as subject and direct object occupy specific positions in the tree (daughter of S and sister of V respectively), and to label them would be redundant.

     The four basic functions are subject, predicate, complement, and adverbial (see next chapter). A subject and predicate are needed for every sentence. Certain verbs need complements as well. Complements come in different varieties; the ones dealt with in this chapter are direct object, indirect object, subject predicate, and object predicate. Some people equate object and complement, but technically complement is a broader category than object.

1    The different functions and how they are realized

1.1     Subject and Predicate

Every complete sentence has a subject and a predicate. The subject is usually realized by an NP (sometimes by a clause, see chapter 7), and the predicate is realized by a VP. In (1), the moon is the subject and has just risen in the sky is the predicate. The predicate says something about the subject:

1.   The moon has just risen in the sky.

The table below lists three diagnostics for determining what the subject is. Try to apply these to (1):

a.     Inversion in Yes/No questions

     The pig from Malacandra will want to eat soon -->

     Will the pig from Malacandra want to eat soon?

b.     Agreement with the Verb

     The pfiftrigg is nice -->  The pfiftriggs are nice.

c.   Tag questions

     The hross is nice, isn't he?

TABLE 4.1: Subject tests (subject is in italics; verb is in bold)


Applying the first test to (1), as in (2), shows that the moon is the subject since it changes places with has. To use the second test, we need to change the subject and see if that changes the verb as well, indicating there is agreement. In (3), the subject is pluralized and the verb becomes plural as well (i.e. loses the third person singular ending). This shows the moon in (1) is indeed the subject. The sentence is a bit strange since there is only one moon in the real world. However, if we were on Jupiter, (3) would be appropriate. Hence, the strangeness is not caused by the grammar, but by our knowledge of the world:

2.   Has the moon just risen in the sky?

3.   The moons have just risen in the sky.

The third test involves adding a tag question and seeing what the pronoun in the tag replaces. In (4), the it in the tag refers to the moon and not to the sky and that's why the former is the subject:

4.   The moon has just risen in the sky, hasn't it?

     Having discussed three criteria for identifying subjects, I turn to a kind of subject that, at first, does not look like a subject, namely, there in (5):

5.     There are five unicorns in the parking lot.

If we apply the above tests to (5), there and five unicorns each pass some, but not all, of the tests for subject. For instance, in a question there and are switch places; the tag will be formed with there as in aren't there; but the agreement on the verb is determined by five unicorns. To account for this, we'll assume that both there and five unicorns function as the subject. There is called a dummy or pleonastic subject. It is used when no other subject occupies the position in the beginning of the sentence. A variant of (5) is (6), where five unicorns is in subject position and there is not needed:

6.   Five unicorns are in the garden.

1.2     Direct and Indirect Object

A common function is the direct object, usually realized as an NP, as in (7) and (8) (see chapter 7 for the use of a clause as direct object):

7.     Harry Potter played [a game].

8.   I read [the letter from Hogwarts].

Objects occur as sisters to the verb, as in (9), and can be passivized, as in (10):


10.  The letter from Hogwarts was read by me.

Passive sentences are variants of non-passive or active ones and come about by switching the subject and the object and by adding a form of to be as in (11b), the passive variant of (11a). The subject of the active sentence (11a) becomes optional in the passive, and if expressed is preceded by by:

11. a. I saw him.

b. He was seen by me.

Passivization is a way to distinguish between objects (both direct and indirect) on the one hand and subject predicates, object predicates, and adverbials on the other, as we'll see in the next chapter. The indirect object, which is always an NP, expresses the goal (Santa in (12)) or the beneficiary of the action (Harry in (13)):

12. I gave Santa a letter.

13. I made Harry some soup.

Indirect objects can be passivized as well, and in a sentence with both a direct and indirect object, it is the indirect object that becomes the subject. For instance, (14) is the passive counterpart of (12), and the indirect object Santa becomes the subject, not the direct object a letter:

14. Santa was given a letter by me.

Indirect objects can be preceded by the prepositions to, in the case of the goal, and for, in the case of a beneficiary, as in (15) and (16):

15. I gave a letter to Santa.

16. I made some soup for Harry.

When to and for are added the order of indirect and direct object switches, as you can see by comparing (12) with (15). Some grammarians call the PPs to Santa and for Harry indirect objects; others call them adverbials since they seem less important to the sentence, e.g. some can be left out, and they cannot become the subject of a passive sentence, as the unacceptable (17) shows:

17. *Santa was given a letter to.


Beginning of chapter

1.3     Subject and Object Predicate

The subject predicate is usually realized as an AdjP. It makes a claim about the subject, as in (18), and can also be an NP, as in (19), or a PP, as in (20) (see chapter 7 for the use of a clause as subject predicate):

18. He is pleasant.

19. He is a nice person.

20. He is in the garden.

The verb used in sentences with a subject predicate is usually either be or become or can be replaced by it. Thus, in the poem by Dylan Thomas, discussed in the exercises of chapter 2, the adjective gentle is predicated of the unexpressed subject and the verb go could be replaced by become. Other verbs that typically occur with a subject predicate are feel, look, grow, smell, when used as in (21):

21. This silk feels nice; that problem looks hard; she grew tired; that smells nice.

As mentioned in the special topic to chapter 2, many speakers overreact or panic when they produce an adjective right next to a verb, as in (21). The combination is correct since the adjective modifies a noun, and it need not be changed to an adverb and in many cases it can't. The verbs in (21) can be used in other ways too and that's why it is important to think about the entire sentence and not just to look at the verb. Thus, in (22), feel has a direct object, namely his pulse:

22. He felt his pulse.

In (18) and (21), the adjective says something about the subject, but an adjective can also say something about a (direct) object function and then functions as an object predicate. The object predicate is usually an adjective phrase, as in (23), but can also be an NP, as in (24), or a PP, as in (25):

23. She painted the house purple.

24. Jane considers Pride and Prejudice a classic.

25. She put the cup on the table.

Here too, it sometimes depends on your analysis whether you consider a phrase an object predicate or a direct object. For instance, a good chairperson in (26) can be a predicate to the direct object him, in which case to be can occur between them, as in (27), and him is the same person as a good chairperson. Alternatively, him can be an indirect object and a good chairperson a direct object, in which case for can precede him, as in (28), and him and a good chairperson are not the same person. Hence, the verb find is ambiguous:

26. They found him a good chairperson.

27. They found him to be a good chairperson.

28. They found for him a good chairperson.

The terms for the two functions discussed in this section are much debated. Some grammarians call them subject and object complements; others subject and object predicatives; yet others call them subject and object attributives. I have chosen subject and object predicate to show that their function is similar to that of the VP predicate. It is as if the AdjP is more important than the verb in these constructions. That is the reason the verb in (18) to (20) can be left out in many languages and, in English, no verb appears to link object and object predicate, even though to be can be included in (24), as (29) shows:

29. Jane considers Pride and Prejudice to be a classic.

In short, some of the major functions of phrases in the sentence are subject, predicate, direct and indirect object, subject predicate, and object predicate. There are special objects such as prepositional objects and objects of phrasal verbs. These will be dealt with in chapter 5 together with the optional adverbial function.

2     Verbs and functions

Verbs are distinguished depending on what objects or object predicates they select. Verbs that select objects are called transitive verbs and those that don't, as in (30) below, intransitive. If the verb selects one object, as in (8) above, it is (mono)transitive; if it selects two objects as in (12) and (13), it is ditransitive. Verbs that select a subject predicate, as in (17) and (20), are called copula verbs or linking verbs and those that have both an object and an object predicate, as in (23) to (25), are called complex transitive. In the next chapter, two more types of verbs will be discussed: prepositional and phrasal verbs. Since adverbials can always be added to any verb, they do not play a role in the classification of the verb. I will now provide examples of each kind of verb.

     Examples of intransitives are swim, walk, arrive, cough, sleep, and sneeze:

30.  He sneezed and sneezed.

31.  He slept during the meeting.

As mentioned before, you need to look at the context before you can be completely sure of the classification. Thus, walk in I walk the dog is transitive, but in I walked for hours it is not. (In the next chapter, section 5, I give some reasons why during the meeting in (31) is not an object).

     Examples of (mono)transitives are eat, read, see, hear, plant, write, compose, paint, love, hate, drink, and hit, as in (32):

32.  He hit the ball.

Give, tell, bake, cook, and play as in (33) are ditransitives:

33.  I played him a tune.

If a verb selects a subject predicate, it is called a copula verb. A number of copula or linking verbs were given above, namely be, become, go, feel, look, grow, seem, smell. Complex transitives are verbs such as consider, know, elect, keep, prove, deem, judge, reckon, make, and regard. They have direct objects and object predicates as their complements. In chapter 5, I'll summarize the classification of verbs in a table.Please notice (again) that many verbs belong to more than one category. For instance, make can be a transitive, as in I made tea, or a complex transitive, as in She made them happy, or a ditransitive, as in (16) above.

Beginning of chapter

3     Trees

As I have mentioned before, the tree structure reflects what the function of each phrase is. Thus, the subject and the predicate are the daughters of S, and the objects and predicates are sisters to V. The adverbial elements, as we'll see in the next chapter, are not sisters to V, but the prepositional objects and objects to phrasal verbs are.

Intransitives may occupy the entire VP, as in (34):


A structure for the (mono)transitive verb of (32) above is (35), and for the copula verb of (20) above, it is (36):




  In general, we try to make trees show hierarchies, i.e. we seek to avoid triple branches in (37). However, to show that both the direct and indirect object in (37) are objects, I have drawn them as sisters to the V:


There are ways of expressing this in a non-flat/hierarchical structure but they are complicated and still controversial. Hence, this book will use (37), noting the problem of the flatness.

     The other verb where flatness is a problem is the complex transitive one in (23) to (25) above. Since the object and predicate in some way form a unit (unlike the direct and indirect object), I'll represent it as in (38), labelling the node above NP and AdjP a small clause (SC), i.e. a clause with the verb deleted:


Beginning of chapter

4     Conclusion

In this chapter, I have discussed the major functions that phrases fulfill: subject, direct and indirect object, subject predicate, and object predicate. Another way of saying this is that a particular function is realized by a particular phrase. The classification of verbs is dependent on the kinds of objects and predicates they have. Thus, intransitives have no objects, (mono)transitives have one and ditransitives have two objects. Copula verbs have a subject predicate and complex transitive verbs have an object and an object predicate. Tree structures are also provided for each of these verbs. Key terms are functions (subject, direct and indirect object, subject predicate, and object predicate); classification of verbs (intransitive, (mono)transitive, ditransitive, copula, and complex transitive).


A.   How many functions have we discussed so far? Provide an example of each.

B.     Identify the subjects in the text used in chapter 2, repeated here:


     At last, we had begun filming. Should I say `we'? I was living in the house and extremely curious about everything connected with the film. Fortunately, they let me hang around and even gave me a job. As an historian, I kept an eye on detail and did not allow the filmmakers to stray too far from the period of Louis Philippe. The project was to make an hour-long film about Houdin and it was decided to shoot the picture in Switzerland. This may have been a bad idea. It certainly mixed professional and domestic affairs.


C.     Identify the functions of the phrases in the sentences below:

39.  I saw the saguaro.

40.  I planted a dogwood.

41.  The trees in the park are unhappy.


D.     Identify the different kinds of complements (e.g. direct object, subject predicate) in (42) to (48). Give reasons:

42.  They sold us their furniture.

43.  Tom submits his tax-returns.

44.  She seemed very happy.

45.  He found it easy.

46.  He took the early train.

47.  The politician considered that argument invalid.

48.  That sounds terrible.


E. Provide the labels of the main verbs in (42) to (48) (e.g. copula, ditransitive), and draw trees.


F.   Find 4 intransitive verbs and 4 copula verbs (other than the ones discussed in the book). Also, please provide 4 sentences with a direct and 4 sentences with an indirect object.


G.   List all the functions and names/labels of the phrases in (49) to (52):

49.  I considered the book very helpful.

50.  He baked Joan a cake.

51.  The pig from Mars left.

52.  The hard-working students seemed exhausted.

To what categories do the following words belong: helpful, from, hard-working?


H.   Look at the first page of Mavis Gallant's short story "About Geneva" below:

     Granny was waiting at the door of the apartment. She looked small, lonely, and patient, and at the sight of her the children and their mother felt instantly guilty. Instead of driving straight home from the airport, they had stopped outside Nice for ice cream. They might have known how much those extra twenty minutes would mean to Granny. Colin, too young to know what he felt, or why, began instinctively to misbehave, dragging his feet, scratching the waxed parquet. Ursula bit her nails, taking refuge in a dream, while the children's mother, Granny's only daughter, felt compelled to cry in a high, cheery voice, "Well, Granny, here they are, safe and sound!"

     What kinds of verbs are wait, look, feel, drive?

     What is the function of those extra twenty minutes, the waxed parquet, small, lonely, patient?

I. Sentence is (53) is quite complex. Discuss this in class.

53. Emma, Vol 2, chap 1 We must expect to see her grown thin, and looking very poorly.


Keys to the Exercises

A.   See conclusion.

B.   we, I, I, they, I, the filmmakers (this will be clearer after chapter 8), the project, it, this, it.

C.   S, Pred, DO

     S, Pred, DO

     S Pred, SuPred

D.   IO, DO

     DO, (SuPred)


     DO, ObPred


     DO, ObPred


E-F. do in class

G.     Su:NP, Pred:VP, DO:NP, ObjPred:AdjP

     Su:NP, Pred:VP, IO:NP, DO:NP

     Su:NP, Pred:VP

     Su:NP, Pred:VP, SuPred:AdjP

H.     wait: intransitive; look: copula; feel: copula; drive: intransitive (debatable).

     those extra twenty minutes: Su; the waxed parquet: DO; small, lonely, patient: SuPred.


Special Topic:Case

Rule: "Subjects have nominative case. Direct and indirect objects have accusative or objective case. Prepositions also give accusative or objective case. Possessive nouns have genitive case". In Modern English, these cases are only visible on pronouns. Thus, in (53), the subject she is nominative and the direct object him accusative. Me is given case by the preposition towards and that case is also accusative. In (54), you and me have accusative case as well since they are case marked by the preposition between:

53. She saw him come towards me.

54.  This is between you and me.

With full NPs, it is not obvious what the case is.

     In coordinates, however, this rule is often broken in all stages of English. Thus, in (55), (56), and (57), the nominative I is used rather than the accusative me, and in (58), the accusative thee (this is a special form, no longer used) is used rather than the nominative thou (again no longer in use), expected since the Diuell and thee are the subject:

55.     Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice III, ii, 321

     all debts are cleared between you and I.

56.  If you are sick and tired of the way it's been going, ..., you give Al Gore and I a chance to bring America back. (Clinton, as reported in NYT 23 July 1992).

57.  In his speech, Mr. Giuliani said that one of the main differences between he and Mrs. Clinton was that "I'm in favor of reducing your taxes ..." (NYT, 8 April 2000).

58.     Shakespeare 1 Henry IV I, ii, 126

     How agrees the Diuell and thee about thy soule?

Notice that in (58), the agreement on the verb is singular as well even though the subject is the plural the Diuell and thee.

     With wh-questions, the case rule is also broken. Thus, in (59), whom would sound very artificial even though, as the accusative or objective form, it is the correct form, as is evident from the cartoon below:

59.  Who did I meet?


In sentences with the copula verb to be, both subject and subject predicate get nominative case before 1600. Nowadays, this sounds overly formal. See cartoon below.

     The genitive case is used in cases such as (60) and (61). If the word does not end in s, an apostrophe and s are added, as in (60), but if it ends in an s, as in (61), either an apostrophe and s or just an apostrophe is added. Many people consider the ending in (61) pedantic and hence it often disappears altogether:

60.     Shakespeare's works

61.     Employees'(s) cafeteria

Further reading

For more on functions: Quirk et al. (1985: chapter 16). On the different kinds of indirect objects, see Herriman (1995). Information on Old English case can be found in Quirk & Wrenn (1957).

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