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Ranez.Ru > Помощь в учебе абитуриентам и студентам > Студенту > Английский язык > Теоретическая грамматика >

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The term ''word order” is a singularly unhappy one, as it is based on a confusion of two distinct levels of language structure: the level of phrases and that of the sentence. To approach this problem from a viewpoint doing justice to modern linguistic theory, we should carefully distinguish between two sets of phenomena: the order of words within' a phrase and the order of parts of the sentence within a sentence. Here we are again confronted with the problem of the attribute: if the attribute is a secondary part of the sentence, its place falls under the heading "order of the parts of the sentence”; if, on the other hand the attribute is part, not of a sentence, but of a phrase, its place with reference to its head word must be considered within" the theory of the phrase and its parts. Since this question has not been settled yet, we may consider the place of the attribute in this chapter.

All other questions ought to be discussed under the heading "order of sentence parts", but as it is hardly possible to introduce-a change and to dismiss a term so firmly established, we will keep the term "word order", bearing in mind that it is quite conventional: what we shall discuss is the order of the parts of the sentence.


The first question in this sphere is that of the relative position of subject and predicate. Although there are obviously only two possible variants of their mutual position ("subject + predicate", "predicate + subject"), this question has given rise to many discussions and different opinions have been expressed in the matter.

In the light of these discussions we can now state that the main problem is this- should one of the two possible orders be taken to be the general norm of a Modern English sentence, so that all cases" of the opposite order come to be regarded as deviations from it or should the normal order be stated for every type of sentence- in particular ?.

If we take the first view, we shall say that the normal order in English is "subject -f- predicate", and every case of the order_ "predicate 4-subject" is to be considered as a deviation, that is, as an inversion. This has been the common view put forward in most grammars until recently.

If we take the second view we will, in the first place, distinguish between declarative and interrogative sentences. The normal order in declarative sentences with of course be "subject + predicate", but the normal order in interrogative sentences will be “predicate + subject”. Speaking of interrogative sentences, therefore, we will not say that there is any inversion in these sentences!

We will take the second view, which has recently been very convincingly advanced in several special papers. This is justified by the following simple considerations. If we take, for instance. The sentence Only at sunset did I leave the house. (GISSING, quoted by Poutsma), in which part of the predicate (the auxiliary verb do) comes before the subject, we have "every reason to say that this, order in a declarative sentence is due to the particle only coming at its beginning. If it were not for the particle, there would be the order ''subject + predicate", which is the normal one in a declarative sentence: At set I left "the house) The use of the particle, which gives special prominence to the adverbial modifier at sunset, to which it belongs, has caused the change of the usual declarative order, that is, it has caused an inversion. On the other hand we take an interrogative sentence like the following: When did he leave the house? We cannot say that the order "predicate + subject" (to be more exact, "part of the predicate + subject") is due to any special word being used in it. Even if we exclude the adverbial modifier when, which is essential for the meaning of the sentence, we shall get the sentence: Did he leave the house? The order cannot be changed without the sentence ceasing to be interrogative and becoming declarative. The order "predicate + subject" is essential for the interrogative character of the sentence.

Accordingly it is preferable to distinguish between two sets of phenomena: (1) normal order, which may be either the order "subject + predicate", as in most declarative sentences, or "predicate + subject» as in most interrogative and in some declarative sentences, and (2) inverted order, or inversion, which may be the order "predicate + subject" in a special type of declarative sentence, or "subject -j- predicate" in a special type of sentence characterized in general by the order "predicate -I- subject" (the latter is a very rare phenomenon indeed!

Up to now we have to some extent simplified the actual facts of the Modern English language. It is time now to point out the special cases which do not come under the general headings so far mentioned.

For one thing, there is a type of declarative sentence in which the order "predicate + subject" is normal. These are sentences stating the existence or the appearance of something in a certain place. The most widely known type of such sentences is the one beginning with the words There is ... (we take the two words there and is as constituting together the predicate of the sentence). Examples of such sentences are too well known to need illustration here. Besides the type There is ..., there are also sentences beginning with the words There came ..., as There came a thunderstorm; There appeared ..., and others of the same kind, and also sentences without there, beginning with an adverbial modifier, mostly denoting place, and followed by the predicate and the subject. The verbs most usually found in such sentences are, sit, stand, that is verbs indicating the position of a body in space. For instance: On the terrace stood a knot of distinguished visitors. (HUXLEY) In one corner sat the band and, obedient to its scraping and blowing, two or three hundred dancers trampled across the dry ground, wearing away the ground with their booted feet. (Idem) Something of the same kind is found in the following sentence, where the predicate verb is come: From below, in the house, came the thin wasp-like buzzing of an alarum-clock. (Idem) Cf. also the following sentence: On the corner, waiting for a bus, had stood a young woman, and just as he was about to pass she had dropped a coin, which rolled on the sidewalk before him. (BUECHNER) This example differs from the preceding ones in two points: in the first place, the predicate verb is in the past perfect, and secondly, between the adverbial modifier of place (on the corner) there is a participle phrase (waiting for a bus), which is probably best taken as an adverbial modifier of attendant circumstances, and which is in any case a secondary part of the sentence.

In the following sentence the order "predicate + subject" is sufficiently accounted for by the fact that there are two adverbial modifiers of place at the opening of the sentence. However, there is an additional factor here which is working in the same direction, namely the particle only singling out the adverbial modifiers and making them represent, partly at least, the rheme of the sentence.

Only here and there among the neo-gothic buildings was there a lighted window, the sound of a voice, a shout or, in the distance, the noise of lonely .footsteps on a stone path. (BUECHNER) Thus’ it appears that we have here normal order for this type of sentence, reinforced by the influence of only, which would have caused the order "predicate + subject" in any case.

Word order is influenced by an initial only even if the rest of the main clause is separated from it by a considerable amount of intervening words, as in the following sentence: Only when, after a few minutes, he (the monkey) ceased spinning and simply crouched in the pale light, bouncing softly up and down, his fingers digging into the carpet, his tail curled out stiff, did he start to speak to them. (BUECHNER) The particle only here serves to single out the adverbial clause of time beginning with the words when, after a few minutes, and, with the dependent participle constructions, running down to the words 'curled out stiff. In the sentence we also find the characteristic feature of many absolute constructions (compare p. 270): the subject of the absolute construction is a noun denoting a part of the body of the being whose name is the subject of the sentence (in this particular case it is not the actual name of the being but the pronoun he replacing it).

A much rarer type of inversion is found in the following sentence: Many were the inquiries she was eager to make of Miss Tilney: but so active were her thoughts, that when these inquiries were answered, she was hardly more assured than before of Northanger Abbey having been a richly endowed convent at the time of the Reformation... (J. AUSTE N) The position of the predicative in each of the two first clauses is distinctly emphatic, and the inversion is here a sign of an emotional colouring, which, in a larger context, appears to be ironic.

Among interrogative sentences a well-known special type are sentences having an interrogative pronoun either as subject or as attribute to the subject; we might say, in a generalizing way, having an interrogative pronoun within the subject group, as in the following examples: What is your business with me this morning? (SHAW) Who in this house would dare be seen speaking to you ever again? (Idem) Oh, who would be likely to see us anyhow at this time of night? (DREISER) In the way of word order, then, such sentences correspond to declarative sentences. Inversion, that is, the order "predicate + subject", in such sentences appears to be entirely out of the question.


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