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2808-Nine-Basic-Sentence-Patterns-inEnglish Nine Basic Sentence Patterns in English

A. Introduction

English native speakers do not speak their language by just combining words in a random way. But they arrange their words into patterns. In English there are nine basic sentence patterns and a large number of subpatterns. We will examine these basic sentence patterns of English. Any sentence produced by a native speaker of English or by anyone who knows the language will probably be based on one of them. In these nine basic sentence patterns there are specific sentence positions. Each of these positions is the place for a particular grammatical meaning. To see what is meant by grammatical meaning let us consider this sentence:

The boy bought a bicycle.

The noun boy means "a young male human being." But by occupying the first position in this sentence it acquires an additional meaning, which is the performer or doer of the action, namely bought. Likewise, the verb has the grammatical meaning of predication or assertion. This means that it predicates or asserts the occurrence of the action or the existence of a condition. The grammatical meaning of the verb is predicator. Grammatical meaning, then, is a meaning that is added to the sentence due to a particular position in a particular pattern. We should also note that grammatical meanings can also be carried by morphological forms, e.g. the italicized suffixes in girls, walked, and happiness. Sometimes a clear distinction between the grammatical and lexical (or dictionary) meaning is not possible. However, the concept of grammatical meaning is a useful one.

B. Patterns with be

The first three of the nine basic sentence patterns have be alone as their verb. As a reminder, be has eight different forms: am, is, are, was, were, be, being, and been. Following is a discussion of each one of the three patterns with be.

1. Pattern 1 : N be Aj

An example of this pattern is:

Milk is healthy.

The symbol N may stand for a single noun like milk, but can also refer to a noun phrase, as in "this milk", "the milk in the refrigerator," or "the cold milk in the refrigerator which we drink everyday at night." N can also stand for a phrase or a clause in the N (or first) position, as in "sitting for exams," "on the seashore," or "what you said." Likewise, the symbol Aj may have a broader reference than adjective. This will be briefly explained below, but will be discussed in some detail in the next chapter. In Pattern 1, as well as in the other eight basic sentence patterns, the subject always occurs in the N position, i.e. the first position. In this pattern the grammatical meaning of the subject is "that which is described." It is to be noted that in each of the first three patterns the verb be has a different meaning. In Pattern 1 the meaning is "that which is described." In this pattern the third item must be an adjective or an adjectival, i.e. a word that occupies the position of an adjective. As we have already said above, you will know more about adjectivals and the other positional classes in the following chapter. In the example Milk is healthy, healthy is an adjectival. We can also use an adjective like good in its place. In grammatical meaning, the Aj is "a modifier of the subject." Sometimes a prepositional phrase occupies the Aj position, as in My brother was in a critical condition. In a pattern 1 sentence like These shoes are the right size, the right size is a phrase modifying shoes.

A Test for Pattern 1:

We can test for Pattern 1 in a simple way. If the sentence can be expanded in certain ways, it belongs to Pattern 1; if not, then it belongs to a pattern other than pattern 1.

Milk is healthy > Milk is very healthy. This milk is cold > This cold milk is very cold.

The expansion in the first sentence took the form of adding the word very (or a similar word) before the Aj. In the second example the Aj was used before the N, and the Aj was preceded by very (or a similar word). In the sentence

My Father is upstairs

we cannot make an expansion like *My Father is very upstairs, or *My upstairs father is very upstairs. As a result, this sentence does not belong to Pattern 1. However, we should bear in mind that this test does not work in all cases. There is a small number of adjectives that occur only in the first or the second slot (or place), but not in both. For example, some adjectives are used only before a noun, e.g. principal and whole, and thus we cannot say

This principal factor is *very principal. or The whole story is *very whole.

Likewise, some other adjectives appear only after be + very, e.g. afraid and content, and hence we cannot say The *afraid man was very afraid. or The *content man was very content. Also not all adjectives can be modified by very, e.g.

* the very main player.

However, despite all the aforementioned difficulties, the test for Pattern 1 remains useful.

2. Pattern 2: N be Av

An example of this pattern is:

The man is outside.

There are three differences between Pattern 2 and Pattern 1. These differences are:

a. The verb be in Pattern 2 usually has the meaning of "be located" or "occur."

b. Pattern 2 does not take the Pattern 1 expansion.

c. The third position is occupied by a word that is called an adverbial, i.e. a word that is used in the adverb position. (You will learn more about adverbials in the next chapter.) An adverbial is also one type of uninflected words, which you previously studied in your morphology course. As a reminder, uninflected words are those words that do not accept any inflectional suffixes, and hence keep the same form. Words of this type include, among other words: here, there, up, down, in, out, inside, outside, upstairs, downstairs, on, off, now, then, tomorrow, yesterday, over, through, above, below, before, and after. It is to be noted, however, that the words up, in, and out are partially or irregularly inflected with the forms upper, uppermost; inner, innermost, inmost; outer, outermost, and outmost. For most words in the Av position one can substitute there (for words denoting place) and then (for words denoting time). Examples are:

The piano is upstairs. > there. The match will be tomorrow. > then.

Often a prepositional phrase with a meaning of there or then occupies the Av position, e.g.

The cat is in the kitchen. > there. The competition will be at six o'clock. > then.

The grammatical meaning of the subject, i.e. the N or first position is "that about which an assertion is made," and that of the Av position is "modifier of the verb."

3. Pattern 3 : N1 be N1

An example of this pattern is:

My sister is a teacher.

The superscript (i.e. the small number above) after the two N's means that these nouns have the same referent, i.e. both sister and teacher refer to the same person. The grammatical meaning of the first N1 is "that which is identified," whereas that of the second N1 is "that which identifies the subject," and hence is called the subjective complement. As for the meaning of be in this pattern, it is "be identified or classified as." Personal pronouns may occupy the second N1 position instead of a noun. In this case, the pronouns, which are in the subjective complement position, take primary stress, e.g.

It's m. That is sh. This is m ne.

C. Patterns with Linking Verbs

1. Pattern 4 : N LV Aj

An example of this pattern is:

The player looks tired.

In Pattern 4 the verb is called a linking verb (acronomized as LV) because it links the adjective (or adjectival) with the subject (in the first slot). Any verb except be that may replace looks in the example sentence, or a sentence like it, is a linking verb. Some of the common linking verbs are: seem, appear, become, grow, remain, taste, look, feel, smell, sound, get, continue, and go, among other verbs. It is to be noted, however, that some of these linking verbs may also be used as intransitive verbs (i.e. verbs that can stand alone with their subject). This is the case when the verb is followed by an adverb or an adverbial, e.g. The actress appeared quickly on the stage, and The scientist grew rapidly in knowledge. When this happens the sentence does not belong to Pattern 4, but rather to Pattern 6, which we will deal with below. In addition to the common linking verbs listed above, other verbs that are not usually

considered linking may occasionally be followed by an adjective (or an adjectival) and hence belong to Pattern 4, e.g.

1. The well ran dry. 2. The woman's face went pale. 3. He proved innocent.

It is to be noted that we can use be or linking verbs (e.g. become and remain) in place of the underlined verbs with no substantial change in meaning, e.g.

The well is dry. The woman's face became pale.

Linking verbs may be preceded by auxiliaries, e.g.

The game may become lively. Your brother must have seemed exhausted.

As in Pattern 1, the grammatical meaning of the adjective (or the adjectival) is "a modifier of the subject."

2. Pattern 5 : N1 LV N1

An example of Pattern 5 is:

My father remained a famous writer.

As we have already pointed out in Pattern 3 above, the two superscripts in the two symbols N show that both nouns have the same referent, i.e. they refer to the same person or thing. Once again, the verb is linking because it links writer and father. There is a small number of linking verbs that can occupy the position of the verb in this pattern. Among these we have remain, become, appear, seem, continue, stay, and

make. Pattern 5 sentences are not to be confused with sentences where the noun following the verb does not have the same referent as the first noun, e.g.

Ayman met my friend at the supermarket. vs. Ayman remained my friend. (Pattern 5) and My son was seeking a lawyer. vs. My son became a lawyer. (Pattern 5)

As in Pattern 3, the second noun in Pattern 5 means "that which identifies the subject," and hence is called a subjective complement.

D. The Pattern with an Intransitive Verb

Pattern 6 : N InV

An example sentence of Pattern 6 is:

Birds Fly.

The verb in Pattern 6 is intransitive, i.e. one that is self-sufficient, in the sense that it can be used alone with its subject, without an object. The intransitive verb may be modified by single words or by word groups, namely adverbs or adverbials, e.g.

Birds fly high. The man fished early. The man was fishing in the stream. He was fishing when we saw him.

An intransitive verb is usually not followed by a noun or a pronoun as a complement. For

example, in the sentence

The teacher finished early.

the verb finished is intransitive, whereas in the sentences

The teacher finished the syllabus early and He finished it early

finished is not intransitive because it is completed by a noun (the syllabus) or a pronoun (it). Rather it is a transitive verb, i.e. one that requires a noun or two nouns as its object (s). If we are in doubt whether a word following the verb is a modifier of an intransitive verb or a completer (i.e. an object) of a transitive verb, a substitution test settles the matter. If we can replace the noun by an object pronoun like him, her, it, or them, the word is a completer (or object) and the verb is transitive. For example, in

The carpenter hammered fast and He hammered the nail

we cannot, in the first sentence, use it instead of fast without changing the meaning, whereas in the second sentence we can use " He hammered it" without changing the meaning. Thus, the verb hammered in the first sentence is intransitive, while in the second sentence it is transitive. Some intransitive verbs do not occur alone but take an adverb or adverbial as a modifier. Examples include: lurk, lurch, sneak, lie, tamper, and live, among other verbs. It may be interesting to note that the verb live takes an adverbial modifier in three meanings:

reside, e.g. He lives in Cairo. stay alive, e.g. He lives on dairy products. be alive, e.g. He lived at the time of Shakespeare.

Another interesting note is that intransitive verbs with a passive meaning that is based on transitive verbs take an adverbial modifier, e.g.

My car rides comfortably Your book is selling well

where rides has the sense of is ridden, and is selling has the meaning of is being sold.

E. Patterns with Transitive Verbs

1. Pattern 7 : N1 TrV N2

An example of this pattern is:

The man bought a car.

In this pattern the verb is completed by a noun (or a pronoun). We can replace the noun by an object pronoun, namely him, her, it, or them, depending on the noun being replaced. This noun, as shown by the superscript 2, does not have the same referent as the subject (N1). The second noun is the direct object of the transitive verb and has the grammatical manning of "undergoes of the action" or "that who or which is affected by the verb." The direct object can be identified by three criteria:

a. It consists of a noun or a word group that is equivalent to a noun.

b. It follows the subject plus the verb (or the verb phrase).

c. It can, in most cases, be made the subject of a passive verb. There are two kinds of pronouns with which the direct object has the same referent as the subject. These pronouns are: a. The group of self / -selves pronouns, which are called the reflexive pronouns, e.g. She saw herself in the mirror, and The boys splashed themselves;

b. The reciprocal pronouns each other and one another, e.g.

They like each other and They stabbed one another.

A transitive verb, i.e. a verb that is completed by a direct object contrasts with an intransitive verb like the one used in Pattern 6 above. For example, in the sentences

The girl sang beautifully. and The girl sang a beautiful song

the verb sang is an intransitive verb in the first sentence, but a transitive verb in the second. Most English verbs are both transitive and intransitive. A relatively small number of verbs are transitive only or intransitive only. For example, in the sentences

The clouds disappeared and Everyone enjoyed the game

the verb disappeared is only intransitive, whereas the verb enjoyed is only transitive. A transitive verb can have two forms, an active form, and a passive one. The active form is the one that is followed by the direct object. From this active form we can make the passive form, as in:

My son poured the coffee. and The coffee was poured (by my son).

There are four things to notice in the process of changing a sentence from the active form into the passive form:

a. The object of the active form (the coffee) becomes the subject of the passive form.

b. The passive form consists of the appropriate form of the verb be plus the past participle of the verb (was poured).

c. The subject of the active verb may be made the object of the preposition by, or it may be overlooked. This is why by my son is enclosed between parentheses to indicate that it is optional.

d. In the passive form, two grammatical meanings replace each other. The performer of the action (my son) becomes the object of the preposition by (by my son), and the undergoer of the action (coffee) is made the subject.

In addition to the passive form with the verb be, English has a passive form with the verb get, e.g.

The teacher punished the student. (active) The student got punished (by the teacher). (passive)

The professor rewarded her. (active) She got rewarded (by the professor).

An interesting point is the fact that the passive form with get avoids the occasional ambiguity of the passive form with be. Let us consider the following examples:

The store was closed at midnight. The store got closed at midnight.

The first sentence is ambiguous because it can mean either: 1. Someone closed the store at midnight, or 2. The gate was not open at moonlight. As for the second sentence, there is no ambiguity since only the first meaning is possible. However, we should note that not all transitive verbs can be made passive using get, e.g.

The audience enjoyed the lecture

cannot be made passive as

* The 1ecture got enjoyed by the audience.

In addition to the verbs that cannot form the passive using get, there is a small group of transitive verbs that do not form the passive at all in either form (be or get). Such verbs are called "middle verbs." Examples include:

* A pair of shoes is contained by the box. * The necessary money is lacked by her. * A new car is afforded by him. * A new car is had by my father. * Five riyals were cost by the apples.

All the sentences above would seem un-English to the great majority of, if not to all, English native speakers.

2. Pattern 8: N1 TrV N2 N3

An example of Pattern 8 is:

The mother brought the boy a toy.

In this pattern there are seven important points to be observed:

a. The superscripts 1, 2, and 3 show that each of the three nouns is a separate entity, i.e. has a different referent.

b. In Pattern 8 sentences there are two grammatical objects after the transitive verb, namely the objects the boy and a toy following the verb brought. These two objects are: (1) The indirect object, which comes first (the boy) and the direct object, which comes second (a toy). This is shown by the fact that if we omit the first object, the pattern becomes number 7, which has now only a toy as the direct object thus: The mother brought a toy.

c. The indirect object may be replaced by a prepositional phrase (i.e. a preposition + a

noun or a noun phrase). The preposition is usually either to or for, but occasionally a different one. Examples are:

1.a. The teacher gave the student a book. 1.b. The teacher gave a book to the student. 2.a. The man built his family a house. 2.b. The man built a house for his family. 3.a. The professor asked the student a question. 3.b. The professor asked a question of the student.

d. A pattern 8 sentence may be changed into the passive in two ways, by making either the direct or the indirect object the subject of the passive verb. Thus we can transform the Pattern 8 example sentence above as:

1. A toy was brought the boy by the mother. 2. The boy was brought a toy by the mother.

In these two sentences, one object becomes the subject and the other is retained after the verb, and hence is called a retained object, namely the boy in sentence 1, and a toy in sentence 2. We should also note that sometimes the passive form does not sound natural to native speakers of English if a preposition is not used before the object, e.g.

The policeman found the woman a taxi. A taxi was found (for) the woman.

e. There is only a small number of verbs that can be used in Pattern 8. Some of the common verbs include: bring, give, build, ask, find, make, tell, buy, write, send, play, teach, assign, feed, offer, throw, hand, pass, sell, and pay, among others. f. Note also that the grammatical meaning of the indirect object is beneficiary of the action of the verb-plus-direct-object.

g. If we use a pronoun instead of the direct object (i.e. N3), it must be the first of the two objects, e.g.

The mother brought it for the boy. *The mother brought the boy it.

Also, if we use pronouns instead of both the indirect and direct objects, i.e. N2 and N3, in order, the direct object must occur first, thus:

The mother brought it for him. *The mother brought him it.

3. Pattern 9: N1 TrV N2 plus One of the Following:

a. N2 b. Aj c. Pronoun d. Av (of place) uninflected e. Verb, present participle f. Verb, past participle g. Prep phrase h. Inf phrase with to be. Pattern 9 has a choice of eight different forms in the last position, i.e. the one indicated by the phrase plus one of the following used in the heading above. Examples of the different manifestations of this pattern are:

a. N1 TrV N2 N2

The football team chose Ayman captain.

b. N1 TrV N2 Aj

The teachers considered Islam brilliant.

c. N1 TrV N2 Pronoun

He thought the caller you.

d. N1 TrV N2 Av (of place), uninflected

The parents supposed their child downstairs.

e. N1 Trv N2 Verb, present participle

I imagined her smiling.

f. N1 TrV N2 Verb, past participle

I believed him drowned.

g. N1 TrV N2 Prep phrase

They considered the book out of print.

h. N1 TrV N2 Inf phrase with to be

The professor thought Aya to be the best student.

The words in the last two positions (i.e. N2 plus one) indicate a sentence with be as its main verb or as an auxiliary before a verb. Thus the example sentences above can be changed to include be while keeping the same meaning. Sometimes we may also use that + sentence. Here are the first two illustrative sentences changed in this way. The remaining six sentences may also be changed likewise.

a. The football team chose Ayman to be captain. b. The teachers considered Islam to be brilliant. Or: The teachers considered that Islam was brilliant.

Although Pattern 9 has eight different possibilities, it is most commonly illustrated by N2 in the final position. And although, like Pattern 8, it has two objects following the verb, it differs from Pattern 8 in three ways:

a. The direct object comes first. In some cases, if we remove the second object,([1]) the result is Pattern 7, which has only the direct object after the verb, e.g.

The football team chose Ayman.

b. In Pattern 9 the two objects have the same referent. Thus both Ayman and captain refer to the same person.

c. Only the first object in Pattern 9, i.e. the direct object, may be made the subject of a passive verb. So, we can change the sentence into

Ayman was chosen captain.([2]) * Captain was chosen Ayman.

As in Pattern 8, only a very small number of verbs can be used for Pattern 9. these verbs include, among a few others, the verbs choose, consider, think, suppose, imagine, believe, name, elect, select, appoint, designate, vote, make, declare, nominate, call, fancy, feel, keep, find, prove, label, and judge.

F. Ambiguity Resulting from Belonging to Two Patterns

It we do not recognize the pattern to which a sentence belongs, we do not understand what the sentence means. A sentence is ambiguous when we do not know which one of two patterns it represents. Here are some examples:

1. The man found his friend a pig. 2. The engineer found the machine a helper.

Each of these two sentences belongs to either Pattern 8 or Pattern 9. When sentence 1 is taken to belong to Pattern 8, the meaning is that the man found a pig for his friend, who was probably looking for or needed one. As belonging to Pattern 8, sentence 2 means that the engineer found a helper or an assistant for the machine or probably for himself. When sentence 1 belongs to Pattern 9, the meaning is that the man found (out) or discovered that his friend was a pig himself, in the sense that he was an unpleasant person and difficult to deal with, or a person who eats too much. Likewise, sentence 2

means that the engineer found that the machine helped him in his work and made it easer for him to do.

3. The referee turned out a player. 4. Our cat made a good friend.

Both sentences may belong to either Pattern 5 or Pattern 7. When belonging to Pattern 5, sentence 3 means that the referee turned out (i.e. forced to leave) a player. Sentence 4 means that the cat was a good friend to us. As belonging to Pattern 7, sentence 3 means that the referee was unexpectedly discovered to be a player rather than a professional referee, whereas sentence 4 means that the cat itself found a friend (most likely another cat) which it took as a friend.

5. The boy in the front seat looked backward. 6. The policeman looked hard.

The two sentences belong to either Pattern 4 or Pattern 6. When belonging to Pattern 4, sentence 5 means that the boy who was sitting in the front seat had the appearance of someone who was not advanced, in the sense that he was unable to learn as much as most other boys in the class, whereas sentence 6 means that the policeman appeared / seemed / had the appearance of a person who was not pleasant or gentle, or in other words severe and tough. When the two sentences are taken to represent Pattern 6, the meaning of sentence 5 is that the boys looked behind himself, and does not have any reference as to his being not advanced or not intelligent enough. As for sentence 6, it means that the boy was gazing questionably, with no reference at all to his being a tough person.

7. They are discouraging transactions.

This sentence may represent either Pattern 3 or Pattern 7. When belonging to Pattern 3 the meaning is that the transactions themselves are discouraging to others, whereas when belonging to Pattern 7 the meaning is that certain people or persons are in the process of discouraging other people from engaging in transitions.

8. I am getting her notebooks. 9. The teacher gave the library books. 10. The woman taught the group singing.

These three sentences may represent either Pattern 7 or Pattern 8. In the former case, the meanings are: 8. I am in the process of having the notenooks that belong to her, or I plan to have them; 9. The teacher returned the books that he had previously borrowed from the library; and 10. The woman gave a course in singeing as a group or in chorus, not individual or solo singing. In the latter case, i.e. when the sentences are taken as representing Pattern 8, the meanings are as follows: 8. I am in the process of getting notebooks for her, or I plan to do so; 9. The teacher gave or donated books to the library, or in other words, he gave the books, which were his own, to the library as a gift; 10. The woman taught singing, regardless of its kind, group or otherwise, to the group.

11. It was a little pasty.

This sentence may be interpreted as belonging to either Pattern 1 or Pattern 3. In the former case, pasty is an adjectival, which means very pale and unhealthy looking, such as pasty skin or pasty face, for example. If taken to represent pattern 3, pasty is a noun, which means a small container made of pastry (i.e. food made from a mixture of flour, fat, and water, which is put over or under other foods and baked) with a filling such as meat, vegetables, or cheese.

12. We accepted Friday. 13. Islam taught himself during his young manhood.

These two sentences may belong to either Pattern 6 or Pattern 7. In case the sentences are taken to represent Pattern 6, the meanings are: 12. They accepted something that is not stated in the sentence, and this act of acceptance took place on a Wednesday; sentence 13 means that Islam himself took up teaching, which took place when he was a young man. In case we take the sentences to represent Pattern 7, the meanings, respectively, are: We accepted the day of Wednesday for whatever we wanted to do, with the exclusion of any other day; and Islam taught himself when he was a young man, i.e. without having a teacher to teach him.

14. The physician made them well. 15. The judges designated the boy winner. 16. Aya called her aunt.

Each of the three sentences above may belong to either Pattern 7 or Pattern 9. If we take them to represent Pattern 7, the meanings are: 14. The physician or doctor made a group of things that are not mentioned in the sentence, and he was skilful in making these; 15. means that the judges announced who the male winner was (as opposed to

the female one); and 16. Aya called a woman who happened to be her aunt. On the other hand, if we take the sentences to represent Pattern 9, the meanings are: 14. The doctor made them / the patients or caused them to be in a good condition / healthy after they had been sick; 15. means that the judges announced the boy to be the winner, which means that there was not necessarily a girl / female winner as his counterpart; and finally 16 means that Aya used to address the specific person the sentence is referring to using the kinship term / the title aunt, which implies that she was not necessarily her real aunt. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------([1]) Because the second object completes the direct object, it is called the objective complement. Its grammatical meaning is completer of the direct object. ([2]) Captain here became the subjective complement, because it tells us more about the new subject, Ayman