Introducing English Grammar

By David J. Young | Go to book overview

3

Verbs and verb phrases

Verbs and their subjects

In Chapter 2 we identified a set of words called personal pronouns (see p. 29) which distinguish between first person (I, we), second person (you) and third person (he, she, it, they). (Most of the pronouns also have other forms, me, us, him, etc., but for now we only need to use those in the first column of Figure 11, p. 29.)

The class of words that we are now going to investigate is verbs. These are most easily identified by their power of combining with personal pronouns to form a particular kind of construction:

run

She falls

You disappear

He disappears

They cough

It barks

We try

The words that follow the personal pronoun in these examples are verbs. It will be noticed that they vary in form. When a third person singular pronoun is used the verb takes a suffix ‘-s’, as in disappears, falls and barks. The resulting construction, with the pronoun and the verb combined, has the force of a statement. This construction is called the subject-verb construction. Such an expression as I run has I as subject and run as verb. When such an expression is uttered, the utterance has a truth value; that is to say, the speaker is making a claim. It would make sense to respond with That’s true; Yes, I know; Are you sure? That’s a lie; or How interesting!

Thus the subject-verb construction differs in a fundamental way from the expressions we drivers, you boys, he alone, etc., which do not by themselves have any communicative force. If somebody utters we drivers, we need to wait for him to say something else before we can tell whether he is making a statement or not; it would not be sensible to respond by saying It isn’t true. (Exercise 1 is on p. 49.)


Verbs with noun-phrase subjects

We have now established one of the most important properties of verbs. They can have subjects. But as yet we have taken a rather limited view of subjects. When the subject is an instance of third person reference (he, she, it, they), we could use a more explicit form of words to indicate what we are talking about. Instead of It barks, They sing, or She sparkles, we could say The dog barks, Your friendly neighbours sing, or The hostess sparkles; in fact, very frequently we need to do this to be clear.

Thus we can use a noun phrase with a common noun head as subject. It is clear that The dog barks and The hostess sparkles are expressions that have a truth value exactly like the expressions that have a personal pronoun as subject. By itself, the expression the dog cannot

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Introducing English Grammar
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Acknowledgements 7
  • Preface 8
  • 1 - Introduction 11
  • 2 - Nouns and Noun Phrases 18
  • 3 - Verbs and Verb Phrases 36
  • 4 - Adjectives and Adjective Phrases 54
  • 5 - Sentences 71
  • Glossary 89
  • Notes on Further Reading 102
  • Index 119
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