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English majors and minors, year II, autumn 2009-2010

Lecture 2

Function word classes

Function words can also be categorized in different classes: determiners,

pronouns, auxiliary verbs, prepositions, adverbial particles, coordinators, and
subordinators. To distinguish these classes briefly, we will look at their semantic
function and syntactic role, list their main forms, and consider their subclasses.

1 Determiners
Determiners normally precede nouns, and are used to help clarify the meaning of
the noun. The most important are the following:
• The definite article the indicates that the referent (i.e. whatever is referred to)
is assumed to be known by the speaker and the person being spoken to (or
• The indefinite article a or an makes it clear that the referent is one member of
a class (a book).
• Demonstrative determiners indicate that the referents are 'near to' or ‘away
from' the speaker's immediate context (this book, that book, etc.).
• Possessive determiners tell us who or what the noun belongs to (my
book, your book, her book, etc.).
• Quantifiers specify how many or how much of the noun there is (every book,
some books, etc.).
There are also determiner-like uses of wh-words and numerals.

2 Pronouns
Pronouns fill the position of a noun or a whole noun phrase. The reference of
a pronoun is usually made clear by its context. There are eight major classes of
• Personal pronouns refer to the speaker, the addressee(s), and other
I won't tell you how it ended.
Personal pronouns are used far more frequently than the other classes of

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• Demonstrative pronouns refer to entities which are 'near to' versus 'away
from’ the speaker's context, like demonstrative determiners:
This is Bay City.
/ like those.

• Reflexive pronouns refer back to a previous noun phrase, usually the

subject of the clause:
I taught myself.
She never introduced herself?

• Reciprocal pronouns, like reflexive pronouns, refer to a previous

noun phrase, but indicate that there is a mutual relationship:
They know each other pretty well.

• Possessive pronouns (such as mine, yours, his) are closely related to

possessive determiners (my, your, his, etc.), and usually imply a missing noun head:
Is this yours, or mine?
Ours is better than theirs.
These possessive pronouns include the meaning of a head noun. For example,
yours might refer to your car or your pen.
• Indefinite pronouns have a broad, indefinite meaning. Some of them are
compound words consisting of quantifier + general noun (everything, nobody,
someone, etc.). Others consist of a quantifier alone (all, some, many, etc.):
Somebody tricked me.
That's all I know.
• Relative pronouns (who, whom, which, that) introduce a relative clause:
I had more friends that were boys.
He's the guy who told me about this.
• Interrogative pronouns ask questions about unknown entities:
What did he say?
I just wonder who it was.

Most relative and interrogative pronouns (e.g. who, which, what) belong to the
class of wh-words.

3 Auxiliary verbs

There are two kinds of auxiliary verbs: primary auxiliaries and modal
auxiliaries. Both are 'auxiliary verbs' in the sense that they are added to a main
verb to help build verb phrases.

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Auxiliary verbs precede the main or lexical verb in a verb phrase: will arrive; has
arrived; is arriving; may be arriving, etc. Some common auxiliaries have contracted
forms – ‘s, ‘re, ‘ve, ‘d, ‘ll – used particularly in speech.

A Primary auxiliaries
There are three primary auxiliaries: be, have, and do. They have inflections like
lexical verbs, but are normally unstressed. The same verbs be, have, and do can also act
as main verbs.
base present tense past tense ing-participle ed-participle
be is, am, are was, were being been
have has, have had having had
do does, do did doing done

In various ways, the primary auxiliaries show how the main verb is to be
• The auxiliary have is used to form the perfect aspect: I've done that once.
• The auxiliary be is used for the progressive aspect or 'continuous' aspect:
She was thinking about me.
• The auxiliary be is also used for the passive voice: It was sent over there
• The auxiliary do is used in negative statements and in questions; this is
know as do insertion: Did he sell it? This doesn't make sense.

B Modal auxiliaries
There are nine modal auxiliary verbs. As their name suggests, they are largely
concerned with expressing 'modality', such as possibility, necessity, prediction and
volition. The modals are:
will can shall may must
would could should might
Each modal in the lower row is historically the past tense of the modal directly
above it. For example, would was historically the past tense of will. (Must has no
matching historical past tense.) Nowadays, though, the relationship of will to would,
or can to could, etc. has less to do with tense than with modal meaning.
In practice the modals can be regarded as invariable function words, within
inflections such as -ing and -ed. The modals will and would have contracted forms ('//
and 'd), and most modals have a contracted negative form ending in n't, such as

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wouldn't. Modals occur as the first verb in a clause, and are followed by the base form of
another verb, usually the main verb (underlined below):
I can live here quietly.
They would have a different view.

4 Prepositions
Prepositions are linking words that introduce prepositional phrases. The
prepositional complement following a preposition is generally a noun phrase, so
prepositions can also be seen as linking words that connect other structures with
noun phrases. For example:
Eleven fifty with the tip.
And she's in a new situation.
that picture of mother
She's still on the phone.
Most prepositions are short, invariable forms: e.g. about, after, around, as, at, in,
down, for, from, into, like, of, off, on, round, since, than, to, towards, with, without.
In the following examples, the preposition is in bold, and the prepositional phrase
it introduces is enclosed in [ ]. The noun phrase functioning as prepositional
complement is underlined:
He'll go [with one of the kids].
Late one morning [in June], [in the thirty-first year of his life], a message was
brought [to Michael] as he raked leaves [in the garden].
Prepositions can be linked to a preceding verb, such as rely on and confide in.
You can't, you can't rely on any of that information.
She confided in him above all others.
These multi-word units are referred to as prepositional verbs.

Complex prepositions
Another set of prepositions consists of multi-word units known as complex
prepositions, which have a meaning that cannot be derived from the meaning of the
parts. Two-word complex prepositions normally end with a simple preposition:
ending in examples
as such as
for as for, except for
from apart from
of because of, instead of, out of, regardless of
to according to, due to, owing to
Three-word prepositions usually have the structure simple preposition + noun +
simple preposition:
ending in examples
of by means of, in spite of, on account of, on top of

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to in addition to, with regard to
as as far as, as well as
As with many grammatical categories, there are borderline cases with complex
prepositions. It is not always clear whether a multi-word combination is a complex
preposition - that is, a fixed expression with a special meaning - or a free combination of
preposition (+ article) + noun + preposition. At the expense of is an example of an in-
between case.

5 Adverbial particles
Adverbial particles are a small group of words with a core meaning of motion. The
most important are: about, across, along, around, aside*, away*, back*, by, down, forth*,
home*, in, off, on, out, over, past, round, through, under, up. All of these forms except those
marked * can also be prepositions.
Adverbial particles are closely linked to verbs. They generally follow verbs, and are
closely bound to them in meaning: go away, come hack, put (something) on, etc. They are
used to build phrasal verbs, such as the following;.
Come on, tell me about Nick.
I just broke down in tears when I saw the letter.
Margotte rarely turned on the television set.
They are also used to build extended prepositional phrases, where a particle
precedes the preposition. For example:
We were going back to the hotel when it happened.
Adverbial particles have been called 'prepositional adverbs', because of their
resemblance to both prepositions (in form) and adverbs (in syntactic role).

6 Coordinators
There are two types of words traditionally called conjunctions in English:
coordinators (also called coordinating conjunctions), and subordinators (or
subordinating conjunctions).
Coordinators are used to indicate a relationship between two units such as
phrases or clauses. Coordinators link elements which have the same syntactic role,
and are at the same level of the syntactic hierarchy. Thus, in any structure [X +
coordinator + Y], X and Y are equivalent. The main coordinators are and, but, and
or. In the following examples, the coordinated elements are marked by [ ]:
[Mother] and [I] saw it.
[I don't want to speak too soon], but [I think I have been fairly consistent this
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Is this necessarily [good] or [bad]?
Or has a rather infrequently used negative counterpart, nor, which is used after
negative clauses:
[The donkeys did not come back], nor [did the eleven men], nor [did the
As this example shows, coordinators can be used to connect more than two

Correlative coordinators
Each simple coordinator can be combined with another word, to make a
correlative coordinator:
both [X] and [Y] either [X] or [Y]
not (only) [X] but (also) [Y] neither [X] nor [Y]
For example:
The couple were both [shoved] and [jostled].
It's yes or no, isn't it? Either [you agree with it] or [you don't agree with it].
We used not only [the colors reflected from mineral surfaces] but also [the colors
transmitted through minerals in microscopic thin sections].
Neither [Zack] nor [Jane] had slept that night, but they looked happy anyway.

7 Subordinators
Subordinators (also called subordinating conjunctions) are linking words that
introduce clauses known as dependent clauses - clauses which cannot stand alone
without another clause, called the main clause:
You can hold her [if you want].
The subordinator shows the connection of meaning between the main clause and
the subordinate clause. In the above example, the subordinator if shows a relation
of condition.
In the case of coordination, the two elements have the same status. However,
in the case of subordination, the dependent clause starting with the subordinator is
embedded (or included) in the main clause. This can be shown by nested brackets [[ ]]:
[[As they watched,] a flash of fire appeared.]
[A flash of fire appeared [as they watched.]]
Notice the dependent clause can come at the front or at the end of the main
Subordinators fall into three major subclasses:

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 The great majority of subordinators introduce adverbial clauses, adding details of
time, place, reason, etc. to the main clause: after, as, because, if, since, although, while,
 Three subordinators introduce degree clauses: as, than, that.

 Three subordinators introduce complement clauses (or nominal clauses): if, that,
The subordinators in the first two subclasses indicate meaning relationships such
as time, reason, condition, and comparison. The subordinators in the third
subclass are called complementizers because they introduce clauses following verbs,
adjectives or nouns, complementing or completing the meaning of these key words in
the main clause:
I'm glad [that I've found you again].
Sometimes he did not know [whether he was awake or asleep].
Dependent clauses can also be introduced by other forms, like wh-words and the
relative pronoun that. These are not subordinators.

Complex subordinators
Like prepositions, subordinators may consist of more than one word. Most of
these complex subordinators end with as or that (often the that is optional, as shown by
parentheses ( ) below):
ending in examples
as as long as, as soon as
that given (that), on condition (that), provided (that), except
(that), in that, in order that, so (that), such (that)
others as if, as though, even if, even though

Special classes of words

A few classes of function words have special qualities: wh-words, existential
there, the negator not, the infinitive marker to, and numerals.

1. Wh-words
Wh-words, like subordinators, introduce clauses. However, wh-words form
an independent word class. Instead, they are members of other word classes ,
especially determiners, pronouns, and adverbs. As their name suggests, wh-words
begin with wh-, with the single exception of how. They are used in two main ways:
at the beginning of an interrogative clause, and beginning of a relative clause.

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Two further uses are at the beginning of a complement clause and at the
beginning of an adverbial clause.

A Introducing an interrogative clause

What do they want?
When are you leaving?
Which one do you mean?
Why should I care?
Interrogative wh-words can be:
• interrogative pronouns: who, whom, what, which
• interrogative determiners: what, which, whose
• interrogative adverbs: when, where, how, why

B Introducing a relative clause (relativizers)

1 the kind of person [who needs emotional space]
2 Graham Poole, [whose grandfather started the place in 1895]
3 a small place [where everyone knows everyone else]
Relativizers can be:
• relative pronouns: who, whom, which, that
• relative determiners: which, whose
• relative adverbs: where, when, why
Relative pronouns stand for a noun phrase, as in 1 above, where who refers
back to the kind of person. Relative determiners occur before the noun, as in 2
above (whose grandfather) or in the phrase by which time. Relative adverbs are
used to refer to times (when), reasons (why), or places (where), as in 3 above (where
refers back to a small place).

C Introducing a complement clause (complementizers)

I don't know [what I would have done without her].
I give them [whatever I have in my pocket].
Jane wonders [where she stands in her father's affections].

D Adverbial clause links

1 They could not improve upon that, [whatever they might say].
2 [However they vary], each formation comprises a distinctive set of rock
In adverbial clauses as in 1 and 2, wh-words combined with -ever express the
meaning 'it doesn't matter what/when/where/...'.
Finally, the word whether is versatile: it is used as a subordinator but it can
also be classed as a wh-word.

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2 Single-word classes

The three words considered in this group are special in that they are each
unique, grammatically, and do not fit into any other class. That is, they form single-
word classes.

A Existential there
Existential there is often called an anticipatory subject. No other word in
English behaves in the same way, heading a clause expressing existence:
There's a mark on this chair.
There were four bowls of soup.
There are no trains on Sundays.
Existential there should not be confused with the place adverb there.

B The negator not

The negator not is in some ways like an adverb, but in other respects it is unique.
The main use of not (and its reduced form n't) is to make a clause negative.
You can do this but [you can’t do that]. [ ] marks the clause
Apart from negating whole clauses not has various other negative uses (as in
not all, not many, not very, etc.).

C The infinitive marker to

The infinitive marker to is another unique word (not to be confused with the common
preposition to). Its chief use is as a complementizer preceding the infinitive (base) form of
What do you want to drink?
I'm just happy to be here right now.
In addition, infinitive to occurs as part of two complex subordinators expressing
purpose: in order to and so as to:
You don't have to live under the same laws as a foreigner in order to trade
with him.
Each has the job of writing his chapter so as to make the novel being
constructed the best it can be.

3 Numerals

Numerals form a rather self-contained area of English grammar. As a word class,

numerals consist of a small set of simple forms (one, two, five, etc.), and a large set of
more complex forms which can be built up from the simple forms (e.g. three million eight
hundred and fifty-five thousand four hundred and eighteen - 3,855,418).

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They are most commonly used in the role of determiners or heads in noun phrases.
There are two parallel sets of numerals, cardinals and ordinals.

A Cardinals
Cardinal numerals answer the question 'How many?' and are most commonly used
like determiners, with a following noun:
Four people were arrested.
However, cardinals also occur as heads of noun phrases:
Four of the yen traders have pleaded guilty.
In their nounlike use, cardinals can be made plural by adding -(e)s:
Cops in twos and threes huddle and smile at me with benevolence.
Damage is estimated at hundreds of millions of pounds.

B Ordinals
Ordinal numerals answer the question 'Which?' and serve to place entities in
order or in a series: first, second, third, etc. Similar to cardinals, they can be used either
like determiners, before a noun:

I was doing my third week as a young crime reporter and had just about
finished my second and last story of the day when the phone rang.
or like nouns, as head of a noun phrase:
Three men will appear before Belfast magistrates today on charges of
intimidation. A fourth will be charged with having information likely to be of
use to terrorists. The fifth, a woman, was remanded on the same charge
Ordinals are also used to form fractions. Treated as regular nouns, ordinals such
as fifth, tenth, and hundredth can take a plural -s ending:
Probably two thirds of the people who live here now are not natives.
The pupil can identify the place value of a column or a digit for values of
tenths, hundredths and thousandths.

Word-class ambiguities
It is important to notice that English has a large number of word forms which
occur in more than one word class. In other words, the same spelling and
pronunciation applies to two or more different grammatical words.
Some word-class ambiguities are systematic. For example, the class of
quantifiers (e.g. all, some, any, much) can be seen as a 'superclass' of words which can
function with similar meanings as determiners, pronouns or adverbs:
• as determiners:
He kept whistling at all the girls.

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I have a little money in my room. <Note: a little is considered as a single
• as pronouns:
Is that all I've got dad?
'Water?' -- 'Just a little, and a lot of ice'.
• as adverbs:
Don't get all mucky.
It was a little hard for him to understand.
As these examples show, it is impossible to identify the word class of many
English words without seeing them in context.
Words in more than one class
form noun verb adj adv prep sub examples
before x She had never asked him that before.
x He was there before her.
x They’d started leaving before I arrived.
early x Steele kicked an early penalty goal.
x He has also kicked a penalty goal early
in the match.
fight x There was a hell of a fight.
x They're too big to fight.
narrow x He plans to narrow his focus to certain
x Current review programs are too narrow.
as x This was the beginning of his life as a
x As they watched, a flash of fire
outside x You can open the outside window.
x He's gone outside.
x It's sitting outside your house.

Introduction to phrases
Phrases and their characteristics
Words can be organized into higher units, known as phrases.
The following example consists of three major phrases, as shown by
bracketing [ ] each phrase:

1. [The opposition] [demands] [a more representative government].

A phrase may consist of a single word or a group of words. Phrases can be
identified by substitution - that is, by replacing one expression with another, to see how
it fits into the structure. In particular, a multi-word phrase can often be replaced by a
single-word phrase without changing the basic meaning:

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[It] [demands] [something].
The opposition a more representative government.
We can also identify phrases by movement tests. A phrase can be moved as a unit
to a different position. Compare 1 above with 1a, which has a similar meaning:
1a. [A more representative government] [is demanded] [by [the opposition]].
When we place one set of brackets inside another, as at the end of 1a, this
means that one phrase is embedded (i.e. included) inside another. The
possibility of embedding sometimes means that a given structure can be understood
in two or more different ways. Consider the following example:
2. They passed the table with the two men.
Notice there are two possible meanings of this clause, corresponding to different
ways of grouping the words (i.e. different phrase structures):

2a [They] [passed] [the table [with [the two men]]].

2b [They] [passed] [the table] [with [the two men]].
The meaning of 2a is roughly: “They passed the table where the two men were
sitting”. But in 2b the meaning is 'With (i.e. accompanied by) the two men, they passed
the table'.
In summary:
 Words make up phrases, which behave like units.
 A phrase can consist of either one word or more than one word.
 Phrases can be identified by substitution and movement tests.
 Differences in phrase structure show up in differences of meaning.
 Phrases can be embedded (i.e. one phrase can be part of the structure if another
 Phrase structure can be shown either by bracketing or by tree diagrams.

Phrase structures of 2a


Noun phrase verb phrase noun phrase

Prep phrase

Noun phrase

They passed the table with the two men

Phrase structure of 2b

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Noun phrase verb phrase noun phrase prep phrase

Noun phrase

They passed the table with the two men

Syntactic role of phrases
Phrase types differ in their internal structure and in their syntactic roles – i.e. their
relations to larger structures. Recognizing syntactic roles, like subject and object, can
be crucial for the interpretation of phrases. For example, consider the difference
Subject verb object
1. [Mommy] [loves] [the kitty].
2. [The kitty] [loves] [Mommy]
Here the noun phrases at the beginning and end are interchanged, resulting in a
clearly different meaning. Thus the first phrase in both 1 and 2 is the subject, and the
second phrase is the object. By interchanging the positions of Mommy and the kitty we
have also changed their syntactic roles.

Types of phrases
 noun phrase
 verb phrase
 adjective phrase
 adverb phrase, and
 prepositional phrase

The head is the principal, obligatory word. In fact, each phrase type can often
consist of just one word: the head.
Once more, we need to take account of form/structure, syntactic role, and
meaning. These three factors need to be recognized in describing phrase types:
 Form/structure: Our main test for the classification of phrases is structure,
especially the word class of the head of the phrase and the other elements
contained in the phrase. (This is analogous to the morphological structure of
 Syntactic role: Phrases can be described according to their function or
syntactic role in clauses (e.g. subject, object).
 Meaning: In general, the semantic nature of phrases is to specify and/or

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elaborate the meaning of the head word and its relation to other elements in
the clause.

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