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What is a clause? Discuss the Clause Structure in English


We represent our experiences linguistically by packaging information into clauses. As such, clauses can be considered to be the key unit of grammar. They are units of information structured around a verb phrase (VP) and, according to some theories, a basic clause must consist minimally of a Subject and a verb.
For now, we will examine the seven basic clause structures in English that are built around a verb phrase:
  1. SVO
  2. SV
  3. SVA
  4. SVC
  5. SVOC
  6. SVOA
  7. SVOO
SVO structure
English syntax generally follows a Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) order. Consider the following example.
the boy hugged the dog
We see that the Subject of the clause (the thing or person performing the action) is the boy; the Verb, which describes the particular action, is hugged, and the Object (the thing undergoing the action) is the dog. This clause can, therefore, be represented as follows.
Subject
Verb
Object
the boy
hugged
the dog
We have also noted how both the Subject and Object are represented by noun phrases and that the Verb is represented, as it must always be, by a verb phrase. Further examples of the basic SVO structure include the following.
Subject
Verb
Object
my dad
washed
his car
your friend
was opening
the door
Verity
is throwing
a ball
The basic SVO structure of English syntax can be modified in a number of ways but there are two main methods. The first is to remove or replace a functional element and the second is to add another functional element to the three-part structure.

SV structure
The basic Subject-Verb-Object structure can be reduced to produce a clause with the structure Subject-Verb (SV), e.g.
Subject
Verb
Anila
kicked
my mother
is drilling
the girl
laughed
Li Wei
went
A point to note here is that some verbs may take an Object, and thereby be expanded into the basic SVO structure, whereas some may not. Consider the first example Anila kicked. This SV structure could be expanded into an SVO structure as follows.
Subject
Verb
Object
Anila
kicked
the ball
Similarly, the second example my mother is drilling could also be expanded into an SVO clause, e.g.
Subject
Verb
Object
my mother
is drilling
a hole
Verbs such as kick and drill that are capable of taking an Object are referred to as transitive verbs. However, not all verbs are capable of taking an Object. Consider the verb laugh in the third example the girl laughed. It is not possible to expand this utterance into an SVO structure, e.g.
Subject
Verb
Object
the girl
laughed
it
It is evident that this utterance is syntactically incorrect because laugh is incapable of taking an Object. Similarly, the verb go in the fourth example Li Wei went is also not capable of taking an Object. So, for example, the following construction is also syntactically incorrect.
Subject
Verb
Object
Li Wei
went
it
Verbs such as laugh and go that do not take an Object are known as intransitive verbs.
SVA structure
The Object in the basic SVO structure can be substituted by an Adjunct that supplies further detail about actions, events and states. Adjuncts are most often optional elements that provide information related to manner, time, location or cause. Consider the following.
Subject
Verb
Adjunct

the small child
cried
very loudly
[Adjunct of manner]
my friend
left
that evening
[Adjunct of time]
Sarah
lives
in America
[Adjunct of location]
she
has been sad
since you left
[Adjunct of cause]
We noted earlier that Adjuncts may be represented by adverb phrases, noun phrases and prepositional phrases. From the above examples, the Adjunct of manner in the small child cried very loudly is represented by the adverb phrase very loudly. Further examples of Adjuncts represented by adverb phrases include the following.
Subject
Verb
Adjunct (AdvP)
Rooney
played
superbly
my charming son
was hovering
rather sheepishly
she
would behave
so bravely
From the previous examples, the Adjunct of time in my friend left that evening is represented not by an adverb phrase but by a noun phrase, that evening. Further examples of Adjuncts represented by noun phrases include the following.
Subject
Verb
Adjunct (NP)
the boy
ran
two miles
your fourth cousin
sang
this afternoon
Ravi
shouted
that morning
The Adjunct of location in Sarah lives in America from the earlier examples is represented by a prepositional phrase, in America. Further examples of prepositional phrases functioning as Adjuncts include the following.
Subject
Verb
Adjunct (PrepP)
Robert
ran
to the door
Helen’s brother
played
after his dinner
the ball
was bouncing
on the pitch
SVC structure
There is a fundamental difference between an Object and a Complement. The difference is that the Subject and Object refer to different things whereas the Subject and Complement (in a SVC clause) refer to the same thing. Consider the following.
Subject
Verb
Object
Julie
stroked
the cat
In this clause, the Subject refers to one thing (Julie) and the Object refers to another thing (the cat), i.e. they are not the same. In contrast, the Subject and Complement refer to the same thing, e.g.
Subject
Verb
Complement
Dawn
seems
happy
In this clause, the Complement (happy) makes reference to the same thing as the Subject (Dawn), i.e. it is Dawn that is happy. Other examples include the following.
Subject
Verb
Complement (AdjP)
Brian
went
mad
this book
is
rather terrible
my mother
appeared
sad
It should be apparent from all of these examples that the Complement refers to the same thing as the Subject, i.e. Brian is mad, the book is terrible, the mother is sad. In all the examples provided above, the Complement has been represented by an adjective phrase consisting of just a head adjective (mad, terrible, sad). However, we have indicated that Complements may also be represented by noun phrases. For example:
Subject
Verb
Complement (NP)
the witch
changed into
an ant
Adam
was born
a hero
Kathryn
became
the dentist
Again we see that the Subject and Complement refer to the same thing, i.e. the witch is the ant, Adam is the hero, Kathryn is the dentist. In each of these examples, the Complement is represented by a noun phrase made up of an identifier and a head noun (an ant, a hero, the dentist).
SVOC structure
Recall that, as well as removing or replacing an element in the basic SVO structure, we can also add other elements. One possibility is to append a Complement, i.e. SVOC. We have seen that when a Complement fills the same position as the Object in the SVO structure then the Complement refers to the same thing as the Subject. However, the Complement refers to the same thing as the Object when it follows the Object. For example:
Subject
Verb
Object
Complement
Paul
considered
your ideas
rather silly
It is apparent in this example that the Complement (very silly) refers to the same thing as the Object (your ideas), i.e. it is the ideas that are very silly and not Paul that is very silly. Other examples include:
Subject
Verb
Object
Complement
Cole
found
the game
frustrating
the mussels
made
Rupinder
ill
Duncan
designed
the room
rather dark
In each of these examples we see that the Object and the Complement refer to the same thing, i.e. it is the game that is frustrating and not Cole that is frustrating; it is Rupinder who is ill and not the mussels, and it is the room that is dark and not Duncan.
SVOA structure
As well as adding a Complement to the fundamental SVO structure, we can also add an Adjunct. Recall that Adjuncts are discretionary elements that supply extra information related to manner, time, location, and so on. Consider the following.
Subject
Verb
Object
Adjunct
the boy
hugged
the dog
gently
In this utterance the Adjunct function is represented by an adverb phrase that consists of just the head adverb gently. This Adjunct provides additional information regarding the manner in which the Subject, the boy, carried out an action on the Object, the dog. We now realize that this action was carried out gently. Here is a further example.
Subject
Verb
Object
Adjunct
the man
held
the woman
so softly
In this clause, the Adjunct is again represented by an adverb phrase, this time consisting of the head adverb softly that is pre-modified by the intensifying adverb so. Once more, this is an Adjunct of manner that describes how the Subject, the man, performed the action of holding on the Object, the woman. Here are some further examples of SVOA structures.
Subject
Verb
Object
Adjunct

Graeme
wrote
his essay
quickly
[Adjunct of manner]
the therapists
assessed
the children
yesterday
[Adjunct of time]
Daniel
cleaned
his flat
in London
[Adjunct of location]
SVOO structure
The final English clause structure involves the addition of a second Object to the primary SVO structure, i.e. SVOO. When two Objects are included in a clause a distinction is made between the direct object (Od) and the indirect object (Oi). The direct object is the thing or person undergoing an action, being talked about, and so on, and the indirect object is the person who is the recipient or beneficiary of the action. Consider the following example.
Subject
Verb
Indirect Object
Direct Object
Anna
gave
her mother
a beautiful card
In this example, the thing undergoing the action is a beautiful card, i.e. it is the card that is being given. This is, therefore, the direct object. The person who benefits from the action is her mother, i.e. the beautiful card is given to the mother. This is, therefore, the indirect object. Consider a further example.
Subject
Verb
Indirect Object
Direct Object
Graham
sent
Margaret
his love
In this clause the thing undergoing the action of being sent is his love, i.e. it is Graham’s love that is being sent. This is, therefore, the direct object. The recipient of the action is Margaret, i.e. she is the one who receives Graham’s love. This is, therefore, the indirect object. Further examples of SVOO clauses are given below.
Subject
Verb
Indirect Object
Direct Object
Alex
sent
Ryan
his regards
the twins
shipped
their friends
the carved clock
Sheila
tossed
Amerjit
my shuttlecock

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