Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 20

3. Surface organization.

analysis of the clause.
3.1. Theme, focus, and information
Surface organization: the different ways in which the
message is arranged in the sentence.
There exist several constructions in English which depart
from the canonical syntactic structures in order to
package the information in special ways:
(1a) The police arrested her son.
(1b) Her son was arrested by the police .

From an informational point of view, the sentence is divided

into two units:
- Theme or topic: the given information, information that is
known by both speaker and hearer or information that can be
recovered from what has been said before, from the linguistic
context, or from the extralinguistic context.
- Focus or comment: either the new information or known
information we want to emphasize or contrast with another
piece of information.

(2) We went to London



The focus in English is usually placed at the end: it is

called end-focus.

3.2. Fronting: Inversion, left dislocation.

Fronting: Movement of a constituent to initial
position in order to give it a special prominence.
Thus, it becomes a marked theme:

(3) Most of these problems a computer could

(4) Humble, Mr. Brown is not.
(5) When I was at school, I wasnt allowed to
watch TV.

Fronting is very frequent as a device to link the

sentence with what has been said before.

Fronting may involve two different types of inversion:

1) Subject-auxiliary inversion: it is mainly triggered by
negative elements and expressions containing the items
so, only or such:
(6) Never had I felt so alone.
(7) Only later did I realise my mistake.
2) Subject-dependent inversion: It involves the inversion
of the subject and another dependent of the verb, usually
a locative adverbial or a subject complement (CS):
(8) On her desk was a bowl of fruit.
(9) Even better is the view from the top.
The verb is usually be, but appear, lie or sit are also

Left dislocation: it also locates a constituent in initial

position (it is moved to the left) but, in addition, a
pronominal element coreferential with the moved element
is placed in its original position and no subject-operator
inversion takes place:

(10) Johns knife, I accidentally cut myself with it.

(11) One of my cousins, she has triplets.
Left dislocation is used as a cohesion device but also
to express a contrast or to give the dislocated element
a special emphasis.

3.3. Clefting: It-cleft and pseudo-cleft

By clefting a clause we divide it into a structure of two
components in order to identify a particular element as the
focus. There are two types of cleft sentences:
1) It-cleft: It starts with the empty subject pronoun it
followed by some form of the verb be and the element that
is emphasized or foregrounded . The second part of the
clause, the backgrounded material, is expressed as a
relative clause with the foregrounded element as
antecedent. It contains information presented as a
presupposition, ie., information that is taken for granted, its
truth not being at issue. :

(12) Mary phoned me last night

[It was Mary] [who phoned me last night].


The clause elements which are more usually clefted are

subject, direct object, indirect objects and adverbials:

(13) It was Ann who bought a jacket for me in Oslo.

(14) It was a jacket that Ann bought for me in Oslo.
(15) It was for me that Ann bought a jacket in Oslo.
(16) It was in Oslo that Ann bought a jacket for me.
Subordinate clauses of time, reason, manner and
condition can also be clefted:

(17) It is when he is on guard duty that she feels most

(18) It was in order to pay for her sons training that
took a job as secretary.

2) Pseudo-cleft: The canonical clause is also divided into a

foregrounded and a backgrounded constituent, but the
backgrounded one is placed in a fused relative construction:
(19) He said that the machine was broken down
[What he said] was [that the machine had broken


The pseudo-cleft sentence identifies a particular element

exclusively. In this it differs from the basic clause structure
and from the ordinary cleft:

(20) We all need a holiday. [Neutral: we need other things too]

(21) It is a holiday what we all need. [Implied contrast with
something else]
(22) What we all need is a holiday. [The only thing focused on)

3.4. Postponement: Extraposition,

postposing, right dislocation.
Because of the informational relevance end-focus,
English has many resources for shifting information
towards the end of the clause. This is called
postponement. Several types can be distinguished:
1) Extraposition: It involves the shifting of a
sentential subject to the end of the main
sentence. The subject position is then occupied
by an empty it, which is called anticipatory it.
Both finite and infinitive subject clauses can be

(23) It was obvious that he was angry.

(24) It had caused many of us great distress to

Non-finite -ing clauses are much more restricted and

the result is better when the it is short:
(25) *It had caused many of us great distress seeing
treat her like that.
(26) Its being nice meeting you.
Occasionally extraposition also applies to direct
objects. This is usually obligatory with finite clauses
and to infinitive clauses; with -ing clauses it is optional:

(27a) We find it strange that the lawyers have not

(27b) *We find that the lawyers have not appealed
(28a) I consider it essential to know the conditions of

(29a) You must find it exciting working here.

(29b) You must find working here exciting.
2) Postposing: In SVOC and SVOA constructions when the object is a
long and complex phrase, it can be postponed. This does not
involved an it-substitution, so it cannot be classified as

(30) They pronounce guilty every one of the accused.

(31) We heard from his own lips the story of how he
been stranded for days without food.


Another elements which are usually postponed are modifiers in

NPs and AdjPs, PPs, reflexive pronouns, finite and non-finite clauses,
and clauses of comparison:

(32) The time will come when no one will write by

hand any more.
(cf. The time when no one will write )
(33) A man appeared carrying a puppy.
(cf. A man carrying a puppy appeared.)
(34) You did it yourself.
(cf. You yourself did it.)
(35) Everyone arrived on time except the prima donna.
(cf. Everyone except the prima donna arrived )
(36) More people are buying a second car than used to
twenty years ago.
(cf. More people than used to twenty years ago

3) Right dislocation: it locates a constituent in final position (it is

moved to the right) and a pronominal element coreferential with
the moved element is placed in its original position:
(37) He is very nice, her father.
(38) I leave it to Ben, my collection of stamps.
The right-dislocated NP usually clarifies the reference of the
(39) Tom didnt dare tell her father. He can be very
judgemental, her father.
(He refers to her father, not to Tom).

3.5. The active-passive alternative.

The active-passive alternative allows the speaker to
present a situation which involve two or more participants
from two different perspectives, depending on which
participant is chosen as the starting point, ie., the theme, of
the message:
Active: theme agent subject
focus patient DO
Passive: theme patient subject
focus agent (by-agent)
Active is the default in the voice system but there are
several factors which favour the choice of the passive voice
over the active:

A) The agent is new information, so it will be placed


(40) Where did you get that silver bangle?

It was given to me by my boy-friend.

B) The agent is long. By putting it at the end we follow

the principle of end-weight, that is, shortest first,
longest last:

(41) The front seats were filled by members of the

families of the victims.
C) The agent is not new and is silenced. The passive
gives us the choice of not stating who carried out the
action. This is an important factor since in the active
this information cannot be omitted. There are several
reasons for silencing the agent:

1- It is unknown, although implied by the nature of the verb:

(42) He was killed in the Second World War.

2- It has already been referred to:

(43) Ive finished compiling the catalogue and it has
3- It may be understood from the context:
(44) Prisoners are allowed visitors only once a month.

4- The implied agent has a general meaning:

(45) It is hoped that war can be avoided.

been sent to the printer.

5- To avoid blaming someone else, or to avoid

taking the blame oneself, the speaker wishes to
mask the origin of the action:

(46) Im afraid the fax hasnt been sent.

D) An element which is not the agent is desired
as theme. Apart from the usual patient subject in
passive constructions, we can also find
(47) The retiring chairman was presented with
a gold

3.6. Existential constructions.

Existential clauses are introduced by the empty subject there followed by
a verb, typically be. There are two types:
1) Bare existential clauses: the verb is followed by a noun phrase.
They have no corresponding basic version:
(48) There are many species of spiders.
(*Many species of spiders are).
2) Extended existential clauses: the NP is followed by an adverbial of
place or time, a predicative AdjP, a passive phrase, or a hollow infinitival:

(49) There is a fly on my soup.

(50) There was a storm last night.

(51) There are still some seats available.

(52) There was a purse found at the library.
(53) There is poor old Albert to consider.
3) Presentational clauses: This construction can
also be found with a small number of verbs,
mainly those denoting existence or motion, like
exist, remain, rise, emerge, arrive, come, go:

(54) There exist two solutions to that problem.

(55) There came a man from Tennessee.
The noun phrases in this type of sentences are
indefinite NPs, plural or mass nouns, and NPs
introduced by quantifier elements such as some,
many, a lot of, several and numerals.

Definite NPs and NPs introduced by universal

quantifiers are not acceptable:

(56) *There are the tomatoes in the basket.

(57) *There is every chair in the kitchen.