Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

English Subordinators in Finite Clause: Definition and Classification

Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

English Subordinators in Finite Clause: Definition and Classification

Article excerpt


Traditional English grammar is still not clear on how to define and classify subordinators for finite clauses in that grammarians mix up relative clauses, which are dependent on NPs, and subordinate clauses, which are dependent on other clauses. And different functions of the markers of subordinate clauses are not fully investigated.

The author of this aritcle found, through comparative studies, that relative clauses should be distinguished from subordinate clauses, which implies that words introducing relative clauses are not subordinators, and even among the markers of subordinate clauses some of them, such as before, because and if that indicates condition, are actually prepositions. There leaves a small class of subordinators for finite clauses, namely, that, whether and if that indicates interrogation.

Keywords: subordinator, subordinate clause, preposition

1. Introduction

1.1 Focus and Importance

There is little doubt that defining various word classes is of great significance in facilitating teaching and learning English grammar. A clear definition of a word class in terms of form and syntactic function would enable students to learn how to use a certain class of words more accurately and is helpful to both teachers and students.

This paper talks mainly about subordinators, the definition and the classification. Grammarians disagree on what members should be included and how they should be classified, from the perspectives of form, meaning or function.

1.2 Relevant Research

Some grammarians, such as Quirk et al. (1985), Martin (2000), Downing and Locke (2002) and Carter and McCarthy (2006) define subordinators as markers of dependent status of clauses. However, Biber et al. (2000), Huddleston and Pullum (2005) think that subordinators are words which introduce subordinate clauses and serve to mark a clause as subordinate, which means that the indicators marking other types of subordination than subordinating clauses are not subordinators. To make the definition clearer the following questions have to be solved: does dependent status of clauses mean subordinate clauses? Do subordinators mark subordination including subordinate clauses or only subordinate clauses? What are the subordinate clauses? Do all markers of subordinate clauses function the same?

Quirk et al. (1985) and Carter and McCarthy (2006) divide subordinators into simple and complex subordinators in terms of form and Quirk et al.(1985) add correlative and marginal subordinators. Are simple subordinators single words and complex subordinators multi-word ones? Biber et al. (2000) identify major, complex and correlative subordinators without giving the standard by which a subordinator is viewed as major. Downing and Locke (2002) use simple conjunctions, conjunctive groups and complex conjunctions. What are the differences between the above classifications?

Subordinators are also divided in terms of meaning. Martin (2000) list time, place, reason, manner, contrast condition, purpose and result. Downing and Locke (2002) use time, contingency and manner etc.. And they both sub-classify time subordinators with quite different terms.

Whereas Huddleston and Pullum (2005), from the perspective of function, pick out those subordinators that behave like prepositions and put them into the preposition class and thus extend the preposition class and leave three to the subordinators-that, whether and if that indicates interrogation. Biber et al. (2000) also use the term of complementizer, which emphasizes the syntactic function of marking complements and make distinctions between subordinators and relativizers.

The problems in classification might come from the different definitions above and also involve the various perspectives of classification. Which of them is more complete and reasonable?

1.3 Approaches

The approaches employed to solve the above mentioned questions are, firstly, to differentiate different kinds of subordination of clauses through comparison of the definitions made by some grammarians to clarify what subordinate clauses are. …

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