Grammar

The transitive verbs we examined above had only one mandatory phrase following them. Some verbs, however, are followed by two noun-phrase objects: one is the object acted upon (the direct object), the other is the recipient of the direct object. The NP that receives the direct object is called the indirect object. It gets this name because it is presumed to be less directly affected by the verb than the direct object. Notice that the indirect object comes before the direct object:
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Some other verbs can be followed by a noun phrase, but this NP bears a different relationship to the subject.

(8a) Lewis remained an obstinate man.

In this case, the NP to the right of the verb does not identify an object that is separate from the subject, as was the case with transitive verbs. Effectively, this NP renames the subject. If we think about what's going on here in terms of predication, the second NP predicates something (that is, it makes an assertion) about the subject. Contrast that with transitive sentences like (4) above, repeated here for convenience:

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Some verb are distinguished by what doesn't appear after them. These verbs are not followed by either a noun phrase or adjective phrase:

(6a) A howl rose.
(6b) *The audience rose a howl
(7a) Margaret slept.
(7b) *Margaret slept her bed.

We call these verbs intransitive and will label them "VI."

Unlike other types of verbs, intransitives can end sentences. Note, however, that intransitive verbs are not required to end the sentence. They can be followed by adverbs, prepositional phrases, and other optional elements:

(8) A howl rose from the audience.

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As the examples in (1) above show, verbs like neglected must be followed immediately by a noun phrase called the direct object.

(4) Bob kicked John.

In (4), John is the direct object. In this case, which is the prototypical situation, the direct object is used to indicate the thing affected by the verb.[1]

Verbs that have direct objects are known as transitive verbs. Note that the direct object is a grammatical function rather than a form. That function is usually filled by a noun phrase.

One useful test for transitive verbs is to see if you can change the sentences in which they appear into passive equivalents. The direct object of the active sentence becomes the subject of the passive version:

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In Chapter 3, we saw that some words shared enough structural principles that they deserved to be grouped into a category: verb. Although the members of this category have certain things in common, they do not all behave identically. In particular, verbs differ with respect to what attributes can appear within their phrase. Different verbs require different attributes. Consider, for example, what attributes can appear after a verb like neglect:

(1a) Reginald neglected his hygiene.
(1b) *Reginald neglected.
(1c) *Reginald neglected hygienic
(1d) Reginald neglected his chores.
(1e) *Reginald neglected his hygiene his chores.

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Two of the most important constituents to identify are the subject and the predicate. In simple sentences, finding the subject is intuitively obvious. In elaborate sentences, we need to be more systematic. We can find the subject of even the most complex sentences by noticing a property of English grammar.

(22a) Samantha was expecting a phone call.
(22b) Was Samantha expecting a phone call?

(23a) He has been cheating on his wife again.
(23b) Has he been cheating on his wife again?

(24a) The senator could retire after the current session.

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William Powell: So I'm a hero ... I was shot twice in the Tribune.
Myrna Loy: I read where you were shot five times in the Tabloids.
Powell: It's not true ... he didn't come anywhere near my Tabloids."
—From "The Thin Man"

Many jokes, such as the banter between William Powell and Myrna Loy above, depend on an ambiguity in the sentence structure. Loy means that she read the story in the Tabloids, but Powell plays on the idea that he was shot in the Tabloids, and therefore that the tabloids are a body part. In effect, Powell reanalyzes the original statement in order to make his joke. Such ambiguities are frequent in all sorts of language, not just jokes.

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Traditional grammar books, especially in their early chapters, often give the definition for the clause that we used in the previous section as the definition for a sentence. That simplification works for simple sentences, which often consist of only a single clause, but will not hold up under scrutiny:

(13a) George seems quite relieved.
(13b) It's obvious George seems quite relieved.
(13c) George seems quite relieved, but his brother remains uneasy.

In each example, George seems quite relieved is a clause. But only in (13a) is the clause equivalent to the sentence. In (13b), the clause is embedded into a larger sentence. It is known as a subordinate clause. In example (13c), the clause is linked by coordination to another clause, but neither one is contained inside the other. In the next few chapters, we will be dealing with simple, one-clause sentences like (13a), but it's important to keep in mind that real sentences frequently contain more than one clause. We will return to multi-clause sentences after developing an understanding of basic clauses.

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A clause is a constituent consisting of two parts: a subject and a predicate. The concepts of subject and predicate are probably already familiar to you from your earlier schooling. In terms of meaning, we can say that the subject is the part of the clause about which something is asserted, and the predicate makes that assertion. These definitions are vague, and eventually we will need to be more precise. We will describe a clause in terms of structure once we're better able to describe how that structure works.

(11) diag_6_2

Subject and predicate are both grammatical functions. The predicate is realized by a verb phrase, and in the most common case, the subject is realized by a noun phrase. Notice that in the diagram above, we indicate both the grammatical form (the phrase type) and the function. The two are separated by a colon. Thus our notation follows the pattern form: function.[1]

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Labels like NP, VP, etc, tell us the structural form of a constituent. Form alone, however, does not tell us everything about how a constituent works in the sentence. We must also consider its function.

(7) Her dog chases rabbits.

For example, her dog and rabbits in (7) are both noun phrases, but they have different functions in the sentence. Although we haven't yet specified these functional roles, we can already see that each noun phrase has a different role in the sentence. The dog is doing the chasing, and the rabbits are being chased. The role of her dog is probably already familiar to you: it serves as the subject of this sentence. Rabbits plays a role known as the direct object, which we will study in the next chapter.

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