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Clause Elements and Structure – Part 1

Unlike parts of speech which assign functions to words and phrases independent of each other, syntax of a clause assigns role to phrases with regard to verb as the central part. Let’s examine the following clause to understand clause structure and its elements. Your mother gave me some moneyto buy bread on my way back from tuition class. Parts of this sentence: 1) your mother, 2) gave me, 3) some money, 4) to buy bread, 5) on my way back from tuition class are called clause elements and sequence of 1,2,3,4,5 define clause structure. Any other sequence will make the sentence grammatically incorrect

a) Who gave you money to buy bread on my way back from tuition class?

b) What did my mother give to buy breads on my way back from tuition class?

c) To whom did mother give money to buy bread?

d) Why did mother give you money?

e) When did you buy bread?

f) How much money did my mother give?


Notice that only (a), (b) and (c) involve ‘verb – give’.

Answer a: your mother – Subject which answers the predicate

Answer b: money – Direct Object which is part of the predicate answering ‘what’ question of the ‘verb’

Answer c: me – Indirect Object which is part of the predicate answering ‘’who’ question of the ‘verb’

Answer d: to buy bread – Adverbial phrase answering ‘why’ question of the ‘verb’

Answer e: on my way back from tuition – Prepositional Adverb answering ‘when’ question of the ‘verb’

Answer f: some –Adjective which modifies the ‘direct object – noun’


It is to be further noted that except for question for the subject, all other questions pertaining to the predicate part contain auxiliary verb ‘did’ along with the subject in the question.


The sentence answers following two questions where, 1: subject, 2: verb. 3: indirect object, 4: direct object, 5: adjective 6: purpose adverb, 7: time adverb.


Who1 gave 2 to whom3 what4 how much5 why6?

When7 will I bring bread?


Direct object also answers ‘who’ or ‘who(m)’ question. Who/Whom does she feed? Ans: She feeds stray dogs.

Similarly Indirect object also answers ‘for/to whom’ question. E.g. He bought his wife a gift.


Following examples elucidate how a clause can be expanded.

Mother1 gave2 money3. Subject(1) – Verb(2) – Direct Object(3)

Your mother gave money. (Possessive Adjective - Subject – Verb – Direct Object)

Your mother gave me money. (Possessive Adjective - Subject – Verb – Indirect Object--Direct Object)

Your mother gave me some money.

(Possessive Adjective - Subject – Verb – Indirect Object- Adjective - Direct Object)

Your mother gave me some money to buy bread.

(Possessive Adjective - Subject – Verb – Indirect Object- Adjective - Direct Object - Adverb)

Your mother gave me some money to buy bread on my way back from tuition class.

(Possessive Adjective - Subject – Verb – Indirect Object- Adjective - Direct Object – Adverb - Adverb)


Notice that the most basic clause consists of a subject (S) and a verb (V). E.g. She dances. This is type – SV. Since there is no object, verb can definitely be intransitive but can also be transitive with silent object. E.g. He is playing (chess). If the object is not silent the type becomes SVO where Object is Direct. Some verbs can also take an Indirect Object. E.g. He gave me a book. Here ‘book’ is direct object - Od (answers WHAT question of Subject) and ‘me’ is the Indirect object – Oi (answers to WHOM) and the clause type is SVOiOd. Notice that Od follows Oi. If an indirect object is to follow a direct object, then it has to take the form of a ‘for’ Prepositional Adverbial. E.g. ‘She bought me a gift’- SVOiOd and ‘She bought a gift for me’- SVOdA. ‘me’ in ‘for me’ is called Beneficiary which is also Personal Object Pronoun and ‘Object of Preposition –for’. Similarly ‘Your mother has given her some money.’ may be rephrased as ‘Your mother has given some money to her.’ Thus to her is an adverbial which is a prepositional phrase with preposition ‘to’.


We can also add an adverb to describe a verb. E.g. She sings well; Children are playing in the park. This type is SVA. In certain cases Adverb particularly adverb of place and time is not a choice but it is compulsory to convey meaning. E.g. Put the vase on the centre table; I arrived late. These are called OBLIGATORY ADVERBS required for certain particular verbs. If a clause can convey meaning in spite of dropping an adverb, then such an adverb is called an ADJUNCT. She speaks French (fluently).


Thus, when verb is intransitive or transitive, we can have SV, SVA. When it is transitive, types can be additionally SVOd or SVOiOd depending upon whether the verb is mono-transitive or di-transitive. E.g PLAY is MONO-TRANSITIVE and it cannot take an Indirect Object whereas GIVE is DI-TRANSITIVE.


Notice that BE (VBE ) verbs such as is/am/are/ was/were and some other verbs like become/ appear called Linking verbs (VL) cannot take objects. We cannot frame questions with ‘do’ E.g. What does she do? What did he do? What are the children doing? Such verbs which are BE verbs and Linking verbs, instead take a SUBJECT COMPLEMENT (Cs) which either renames the subject (equative) or describes the subject qualitatively (ascriptive). E.g. She is a teacher; She is/appears sad. Thus these clause types are SVCs where V is VBE(is/am/was) or VL (become/appear/taste). Notice that equative complement ‘teacher’ is a noun and ascriptive complement ‘sad’ is an adjective.


Finally like subject complement, there is also OBJECT COMPLEMENT (Co) which may either rename or qualitatively describe the resultative object which it becomes (or results in). E.g. They named their child Spandan (SVtOdOc); Fry the onions lightly brown. Here ‘Spandan’ equates the object – child and ‘lightly brown’ ascribes the object – onion. The verbs ‘name’ and ‘fry’ in these examples, are called COMPLEX TRANSITIVE verbs.


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