Home | Table of Contents | Chapter 8 | Glossary

Chapter 7: Finite Clauses: Embedded and Coordinated

Sentences and Clauses

The Functions of clauses

The structure: S' (pronounced S-bar)

Coordinate Sentences


Terminological Labyrinth

6 Conclusion


Keys to the Exercises

Special Topic: Preposition or Complementizer: the `preposition' like

Further Reading



So far, the sentences we have focussed on have included one lexical verb and one or more auxiliaries. These are simple sentences. This chapter gives examples of sentences that include more than one lexical verb, which means that they are composed of more than one clause. Sentences that are part of another sentence, i.e. that have a function in that sentence, are often referred to as embedded clauses, and one clause is seen as subordinate to the other. Coordinated sentences are sentences where both clauses are of equal importance. This chapter provides the structure for both types of clauses, making use of the grammatical categories complementizer and coordinator. Both types of constructions enable us to make very long sentences (infinite if we had the energy) and ones we had never heard before. A special kind of sentence, the extraposed one, will also be discussed.

1.         Sentences and Clauses

A clause contains one lexical verb. Hence, if there are two lexical verbs, there are two clauses. For instance, in (1), the lexical verbs are noticed and like and hence, there are two clauses: the main clause (I should have noticed that Zelda does not like Zoltan) and the embedded one (Zelda does not like Zoltan). This can be indicated by means of brackets:

1.         [I should have noticed [that Zelda does not like Zoltan]].

Auxiliaries, such as should, have and does, are not relevant for determining clauses or sentences, only lexical verbs are.

Some linguists call the larger sentence in (1) the sentence or main clause and the smaller sentence the embedded sentence, dependent or subordinate clause. In section 5, I list some of these terms. I will use both clause and sentence interchangeably to indicate a unit that contains a lexical verb.

The complementizer that in (1) functions to link the embedded sentence to the main clause, but can often be left out in English. Other examples of complementizers are if, whether, because, unless, and since. More on the structure of the embedded clause is given in section 3.

In (1), both clauses have a VP containing a finite verb, i.e. should and does (remember auxiliaries can be finite), but embedded sentences can be non-finite as well. In this chapter, I discuss the clauses with finite VPs and in the next those with non-finite VPs. Be careful not to confuse finite verbs, such as should or does, with lexical verbs, such as noticed and like: each clause must have a lexical verb, but each clause need not have a finite verb.

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2.         The Functions of Clauses

At sentence level, clauses function as subject, direct object, subject predicate, or adverbial. For instance, in (1) above, the clause functions as direct object; in (2), it is a subject; in (3), a subject predicate; and in (4), an adverbial. The clauses are indicated by means of brackets:

2.         [That she left] was nice.

3.         The problem is [that she reads junk].

4.         He read books [because it was required].

Clauses can only function as direct objects, not as indirect objects, objects of phrasal verbs, or prepositional objects (see chapter 10). They do not function as object predicates either.

            Inside an NP or AdjP, clauses function as modifiers (e.g. relative clauses) or complements (e.g. noun complements). Examples of relative clauses will be given in chapters 9 and 10, and of noun complements in chapter 10, section 2.

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3.         The structure: S' (pronounced: S-bar)

As mentioned, embedded sentences have complementizers that connect the embedded clause to another clause. These complementizers are sisters to S, and a sentence with a complementizer is an S'. Using C, S, and S', a sentence such as (1), slightly simplified by taking the auxiliaries out, has a structure as in (5):


Using an S' makes it possible to include the complementizer in the sentence and link the embedded S to the main S. In (5), the embedded S' is the sister to noticed, which means that it functions as the direct object to noticed.

            There are also embedded clauses that express questions. In these, the C position can be occupied by if, or by whether, as in (6), for which a structure is given in (7). The S' here, as in (5), functions as a direct object:

6.         I asked whether he had seen her.



Trees for a subject clause, a subject predicate clause, and an adverbial are given in (8) to (10):




The position of clauses functioning as adverbials, like other kinds of adverbials, is very free. For instance, in a sentence such as (4) above, the because-clause can also precede he read books, as in (11):

11.       Because it was required, he read books.

We will assume that the tree structure for this is as in a sentence with an S-adverbial as discussed in chapter 5, namely, as in (12). However, other trees are possible:



Adverbial clauses may have a preposition as complementizer, as in (13):

13.       She came to the party after he left.

It is not unusual for languages, English included, to have prepositions become complementizers (see the special topic at the end of this chapter). Not all prepositions can be complementizers, however.

            Sentences such as (2) above are often changed into (14). This is called Extraposition. The reason for Extraposition is that speakers do not like to have embedded sentences in the beginning or middle of the main clause. The dummy subject it takes the place of the extraposed clause:

14.       It was nice that she left.

I'll refrain from drawing a tree here, but if you want to draw one, attach the extraposed S' as if it were an S-adverbial (see chapter 5, tree (!2b)).

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4    Coordinate Sentences

As in the case of coordinate phrases (discussed in chapter 3), there is a debate over how best to represent sentences such as (15) and (16):

15.       She arrived and he left.

16.       Phoenix is a city and the moon is made of cheese.

Some people argue that the coordinator and really means `and then' and that the second clause is subordinate to the first. If that is the case, the structure of (15) would be similar to the embedded clauses in (10) above, represented as (17), and and he left would function as an adverbial to the main clause. Other people argue that the structure is as in (18), where neither clause is subordinate to the other. It really depends on the sentence, e.g. (16) is better represented by (18), I think, whereas sentences such as (15) and (19) are better represented by (17):




19.  Jane Austen, Emma, Vol 1, chap 1

     You made a lucky guess; and that is all that can be said.


I leave it to the reader to decide whether (16) or (17) is more appropriate for (15) and (18) and others like them (see chapter 3, section 4, for more arguments).

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5    Terminological Labyrinth

In this short section, I will list some synonyms or near synonyms for terms related to clauses that are in use in the grammatical tradition. Remember, in this book, clause and sentence are used interchangeably:

20.       sentence = main clause = independent clause = superordinate clause = S.

21.       clause = embedded clause = embedded sentence = dependent clause = subordinate clause.

22.       complementizer = subordinating conjunction = C

23.       coordinator = coordinating conjunction

Also note that a main clause always has to be finite, but an embedded clause can be finite or non-finite.


6.   Conclusion

This chapter discusses sentences that contain more than one lexical verb. When that occurs, there is a main clause (or sentence) and one or more subordinate clauses (or embedded sentences). The latter clauses can be represented as S's consisting of a complementizer and a clause. Each subordinate clause has a function in the sentence (or in that phrase, see chapter 10). Examples of all the functions that clauses fulfill are given. Two structures for coordinated sentences are given and the reader is invited to choose for him- or herself. Key terms are clause and sentence; main clause and subordinate; S', S, and C; complementizer; coordinator.

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A.   Draw trees for:


24.       Zelda had not noticed that the Governor was impeached.

25.       They suggested that the sketch was done by the daughter of the architect.

26.       They said that the main computer is down.

27.       They purified books because they didn't like them.

28.       I heard that a manuscript has been stolen.

29.       Amir didn't know if Zoya was unhappy.

30.       He left the party because she arrived.

31.       Fortunately, Zelda discovered that Zoltan likes her.

32.       Because the weather was bad, the traffic on that street became impossible.

33.       Zoltan mentioned that Bela had gone to the library without his rain jacket.

34.       That all paintings were stolen from the Met is false.

35.       I wondered whether that would happen.


B.         List the functions of the embedded clauses in (24) to (35).


Advanced problems

C.        Draw trees for:

36.       I wonder what he saw.

37.       He told us where to go.


D.        Sentences such as I mentioned that Sue won the Nobel Prize yesterday are ambiguous. How are they (draw trees) and how would you `fix' them?


E.        Can you think of another sentence that is similarly ambiguous?

Keys to some of the Exercises

Will be provided in class.


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Special Topic: Preposition or Complementizer: the `preposition' like

Especially since the 1980s, like has expanded its uses tremendously. It is sometimes claimed that it is the most frequent word in the speech of certain groups of speakers (see cartoon chapter 3). Prescriptive grammarians are not too pleased with this development, but tend to focus on the use of like as a complementizer.

The prescriptive rule goes as follows: "like is a preposition and not a complementizer. This means that it can introduce an NP but not a clause".

Fowler (!!1926 [1950]: 325ff.) is not too clear in the following excerpt but is not happy with the use of like except as preposition. He writes:

            It will be best to dispose first of what is, if it is a misuse at all, the most flagrant & easily recognizable misuse of like. A sentence from Darwin quoted in the OED [Oxford English Dictionary] contains it in a short & unmistakable form: Unfortunately few have observed like you have done. Every illiterate person uses this construction daily; it is the established way of putting the thing among all who have not been taught to avoid it . . . in good writing this particular like is very rare.

Swan (1980: 73) is more low-key and says that "[i]n informal American English, like is very often used as a conjunction instead of as".

            According to prescriptive authorities, we should allow like as a preposition as in (38), but not as a complementizer as in (39) to (44):

38.       Certainly, he is not like Mr. Knightley.

            (Jane Austen, Emma, Vol 1, chap 4)

39.       Shop like you mean it. (advertizement)

40.       Eat it as it is, right out of the pouch. Enjoy it like today's astronauts do. (on a package of space food)

41.       "People have never been down and out like they are today", said Angela Alioto, a candidate for Mayor... (NYT, 26 Aug 1991)

42.       "We just felt like this year we needed to get away for a while" (NYT, 10 Aug 1991)

43.       I felt like I could tell you anything. Now I don't feel like I can anymore. (quoted in Tannen's That's not what I meant).

44.       Winston tastes good like a cigarette should. What do you want: Good grammar or good taste? (an ad in the 1960s)

            Except as complementizer and preposition, like is often used to mark direct speech, as in (45), focus, as in (46), or to soften a request or demand, as in (47). These uses are not accepted in formal speech either:

45.       . . . So the other girl goes like: `Getting an autograph is like, be brave and ask for it'. So I got it. I just went up to him and he like. `O.K . . .

46.       I couldn't get to class because, well, like I had this accident on the freeway.

47.       Tiffany, you, like, still owe me that $10.

            As a speaker of English, when would you use the like of (39) and when the like of (45) to (47). Is there a difference?


Further reading

For more on like, see Underhill (1988). To read how the S' is replaced by CP, see Chomsky (1986: 2-4); note that this is quite difficult reading.

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