Simple sentence. Structural approach

The simple sentence is a sentence in which only one predicative line is expressed. Bob has never left the stadium. Opinions differ. This may happen any time.

According to this definition, sentences with several predicates referring to one and the same subject cannot be considered as simple, e.g.

 I took the child in my arms and held him. (composite sentence)

Sentences having one verb-predicate and more than one subjects to it, if the subjects form actually separate predicative connections, cannot be considered as simple, either, e.g.

 The door was open, and also the front window.

The simple sentence, as any sentence in general, is organized as a system of function-expressing positions, the parts are arranged in a hierarchy.

The traditional scheme of sentence parsing shows the functional hierarchy. On the scheme presented graphically, sentence-parts connected by domination are placed one under the other in a successive order of subordination, while sentence-parts related to one another equipotently are placed in a horizontal order. Direct connections between the sentence-parts are represented by horizontal and vertical lines.





The scheme clearly shows the basic logical-grammatical connections of the notional constituents of the sentence.

However, observing the given scheme carefully, we must note its one serious flaw. Exposing the subordination ranks of the parts of the sentence, it fails to present its original linear order in speech.

This drawback is overcome in another scheme of the analysis called the “model of immediate constituents” (contractedly, the IC-model).

The modal of immediate constituents is based on the group-parsing of the sentence which has been developed by traditional Grammar together with the sentence-part parsing scheme. It consists in dividing the whole of the sentence into two groups: that of the subject and that of the predicate, which in their turn, are divided into their sub-groups according to the successive subordination.

On the upper level of analysis the sentence is looked as a united whole (the accepted symbol S); at the next level it is divided into two maximal constituents – the subject noun-phrase NP and the predicate verb-phrase VP; at the next lower level NP is divided into the determiner (det) and the rest of the phrase to which it semantically refers (NP), while the predicate verb-phrase is divided into the adverbial (D) and the rest of the verb-phrase; the next level includes the division of the NP into its attribute constituent (A) and the noun-constituent (N), and correspondingly, the division of the VP into its verb-constituent (V) and object noun-phrase constituent (NP-obj), the latter being, finally, divided into the preposition constituent (prp) and noun constituent (N).

The described model of immediate constituents has two basic versions. The first is knows as the “analytical IC-diagram”, the second, as the “IC-derivation tree”. The fist model shows the groupings of sentence constituents by means of vertical and horizontal lines, the IC-derivation tree shows the groupings of sentence constituents by means of branching nodes.


IC-derivation tree


   NP      VP

 det   NP   VP    D

   A  N V  VP

       prp  N-pro

The small lady listened to me attentively.

 When analyzing sentence in terms of syntagmatic connections of their parts, two types of subordinative relations are exposed relations are exposed: obligatory relations (The lady listened to me) and obtional relations (the attribute small and the adverbial attentively), which may or may not be actually represented in the syntactic unit.

The paradigmatic approach finds its expression in a system of oppositions making the corresponding meaningful (functional) categories.

Syntactic oppositions are realized by correlated sentence patterns, by “transformations”.

For instance, a question can be described as transformationally produced from a statement, a negation – from an affirmation.

 You are fond of the kid. – Are you fond of the kid?

You’re fond of the kind. – You are not fond of the kid.

Similarly, a composite sentence can be presented as derived from two or more simple sentences.

 He turned to the waiter. + The waiter stood in the door – He turned to the waiter who stood in the door.

 The sentence has always been considered the main and the highest unit of speech. The sentence is the only unit of speech capable of expressing a communication (суждение), i.e. a more or less idea or thought. The sentence is the immediate integral unit of speech built up of words according to a definite syntactic pattern and distinguished by a contextually relevant communicative purpose.

Night. The class was over. Let’s go and sit down up there.

Henry Sweet (A new English Grammar) defines a sentence as a word or a group of words capable of expressing a complete thought or meaning.

According to M. Bryant a sentence is a communication in words, conveying a sense of completeness and containing at least one independent verb with its subject.

Every sentence has several main features:

  •  a certain intonation structure (depends on the aim of communication, its structure, grammatical type);
  •  a certain grammatical structure (the division into members of the sentence and their arrangement);
  •  a certain communicative structure (the theme-rheme structure).

Every  sentence is characterized by predication which establishes the relation of the named phenomena to actual life, the named objects to reality. Formally predication is expressed through the categories of tense and mood: the temporal and the modal characteristics of the sentence are the most important ingredient parts of predication and the most important characteristic feature of the sentence. The centre of predication in a sentence of verbal type (which is predominant type of sentence-structure in English) is a finite form.

The sentence as a lingual unit performs two meaningful functions: nominative function and predicative function. The meaning of the sentence can be expressed in the following four types of situations:

  1.  a state – Jack knew the answer
  2.  a process – Jack learnt the answer
  3.  an action – Jack worked
  4.  action-process – Jack told Jill the answer

The modal aspect of the sentence is also very important. The general semantic category of modality is defined by linguists as exposing the connection between the named objects and surrounding reality. Modality, as different from predication, is not specifically confined to the sentence; this is a broader category revealed both in grammatical elements of language and its lexical, purely nominative elements. Here belong such lexemes as “probability”, “desirability”, “necessity”, semi-functional words and phrases of probability and existential evaluation, such as perhaps, may be, by all means, etc; here belong word-particles of modal semantics such as just, even, would-be, etc; here belong, finally, modal verbs expressing a broad range of modal meanings.

 He must have seen the light.

Perhaps you have seen her portrait in the papers.

As for predication proper, it embodies not any kind of modality, but only syntactic modality as the fundamental distinguishing feature of the sentence.

Being a language unit, a sentence is characterized by form and meaning. The existence of the form becomes evident it we take, for instance such atificial structures suggested by Fries as A diggled woggle uggled a wiggled diggle. The very existence of these two criteria help us to define a sentence, e.g. “There were no landing fields” (J. Aldridge) (sentence) “Were fields there landing no” (non-sentence). This aspect of the sentence can be called a structural aspect of organizing sentences.

The second aspect of the sentence is the semantic aspect. In the study of semantic structure of the sentence we concentrate on the semantic centre of the sentence and on the expression of modality.


       M      P

  modality      proposition


      V    N

             Verb         names

Tenier (a French linguist) calles the sentence a little drama in which the members of the sentence are actors; the verb is the main hero and all other parts of the sentence are names which have certain relations with the verb and play certain roles in their relations with the verb. Charles Fillmore developed they Grammar of cases or roles in which he discusses the parts of the sentence from the point of view of their semantic significance or roles. The actors are classified into the following types: the agent – Jack cleaned the floor; the patient – the floor in the above example; the experiencer – Jill likes to read; the instrument – Jill opened the door with the key; and the locative – We live in Chelyabinsk.

 The pragmatic aspect of the sentence is connected with the ways of expressing different purposes of communication of the speaker, i.e. his “communicative intentions”, which are realized in his “speech acts”.

These three aspects of a sentence (structural, semantic and pragmatic) are considered to be the main aspects, expressing the form, the meaning and the usage.

There are several classifications of the sentence based on these three criteria.

Structural Approach

         The sentence is a communicative unit, therefore the primary classification of sentences must be based on the communicative principle. According to the purpose of communication sentences are classified into declarative, imperative and interrogative. The declarative sentence expresses a statement, either affirmative or negative. We live very quietly here.

The imperative sentence expresses inducement, either affirmative or negative, in the form of request or command. Let’s go and sit down up there.

The interrogative sentence expresses a question, i.e. a request for information wanted by the speaker from the listener. What do you suggest I should do?

Each of the three communicative types can be exclamatory and non-exclamatory.

The second classification is based on the number of predicative groups. According to this criterion sentences are divided into simple and composite (compound/ complex).

The connection between the parts may be syndetic or asyndetic.

Another classification is based on the use of secondary members: extended – non-extended or unextended).

According to the number of the main members the sentences can be one-member and two-member sentences. The following types may be considered as one-member sentences:

  1.  Nominative sentences: a) substantive sentences (the main part of it is a noun). Spring. Night. A house by the sea. b) adjectival sentences (the main member of the sentence is an adjective). Fine. Splendid. Excellent.
  2.  Imperative sentences (the main member of the sentence is a verb in the imperative Mood). Do it! Give me the book.
  3.  Verbless Imperative sentences: Out with it! Down with school uniforms!
  4.  Exclamatory sentences: Fire! Help! What a beautiful night!
  5.  Infinitive Sentences:
  •  the infinitive without the partical “to” which builds a rhetorical question (Why not go there?)
  •  the infinitive with “to” To think of it! To have done such a thing!
  1.  Gerundial Sentences. No talking. No smoking.
  2.  Sentence-words: Oh! Alas! (interjections) Yes! No. Particles). Of course (modal words).

According to the completeness of the structure sentences are divided into complete and elliptical. In elliptical sentences a word form can be omitted:

  1.  in the subject position. Looks like rain.
  2.  In the subject position and part of the predicate position Seen him?
  3.  In the predicate position Who lives there? – Jack

From the point of view of the nature of the subject or the nature of the possible doer, sentences can be: personal (personal proper, indefinite-personal, general-personal) and impersonal.

Impersonal sentences are:

  1.  Sentences, describing phenomena of nature: It’s raining! It’s dark!
  2.  Sentences, expressing time, distance: It’s 2 o’clock! It was Monday! It’s five minutes!
  3.  Sentences expressing a certain state of things: It’s all over with him.
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Exam Questions. The Subject of Theoretical Grammar. Syntagmatic relations. Segmental units. History of English Grammars. Parts of speech. The noun as a part of speech.

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Theoretical Grammar

Exam Questions. The Subject of Theoretical Grammar. Syntagmatic relations. Segmental units. History of English Grammars. Parts of speech. The noun as a part of speech.

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