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Word Functions

Now that you've re-familiarized yourself with the various parts of speech, we need to discuss
the ways in which these parts are put together to make meaningful sentences.

When we speak or write, we don't just put the words down on the page at random:

dog cat towards ran quickly brown black.

We organize them in certain ways to convey meaning:

The brown dog ran quickly towards the black cat.

The rules by which we arrange words to convey meaning are called syntax.

Different words, depending on where they are in the sentence, or what endings we attach to
them, perform different functions in a sentence. Simplified for the purpose of this grammar,
these functions are:

 Subjects: The subject is the "doer" or "actor." In the sentence "Alfred ate the cakes,"
"Alfred" is the subject.
 Verbs: The verb is the action being done. In the sentence "Alfred ate the cakes," "ate"
is the verb.
 Direct Objects: The direct object the receiver of the action. In the sentence "Alfred at
the cakes," "cakes" is the direct object."
 Indirect Objects: The indirect object is the secondary receiver of the action. In the
sentence "Alfred carried the sword to the battle," "battle" is the indirect object (and
"sword," which is receiving the action, is the direct object). Indirect objects are often
called "objects of prepositions" because in Modern English we use prepositions to
indicate the sort of action being secondarily received: in the phrases "to the battle,"
"with the sword," "under the thorn tree," "by the river" "battle," "sword," "tree," and
"river" are the objects of their respective prepositions.
 Modifiers: Modifiers describe subjects, verbs and objects. Adjectives describe
subjects and objects; adverbs describe verbs. In the sentence "With his old sword,
Alfred quickly killed the viking," "old" is an adjective that modifies "sword," (it
describes the condition of the sword), and "quickly" is an adverb that modifies
"killed" (it explains how the killing was done). Adjectives describe subjects and
objects; adverbs describe verbs and adjectives.

In Old English certain pronouns (demonstratives) are used as modifiers: In the


sentence "this sword belongs to that man," "this" describes the sword and "that"
describes the man. Likewise "a," "an," and "the," which we call articles in Modern
English, are, in Old Englsh grammar, special pronouns (demonstratives) that are used
as modifiers: "The sword" is different from "a sword" because the modifiers "the" and
"a" are providing different descriptions.

Genitives are an important sub-set of modifiers in Old English. Genitives are


possessives: they indicate ownership. A noun with a genitive ending, like the Modern
English 's, is used as an adjective to modify another noun. In the sentence "Alfred's
sword was old," "Alfred's" is a genitive: a noun (Alfred) has had the genitive ending
('s) added to it. A good rule of thumb for dealing with the genitive is to translate it as
"of X" where "X" is the noun that has the genitive ending. Thus "Alfred's sword"
could be translated as "the sword of Alfred."

 Function Words: What we are calling "function words" are prepositions and
conjunctions that don't mean anything in themselves but serve to indicate the ways
other words relate to each other. Prepositions indicate relationships, and conjunctions
join things together. In the sentences "Alfred fought with the vikings and won the
battle by the thorn tree," "with" and "by" are prepositions that indicate relationships
(where the battle was fought and whom it was fought against) and "and" indicates that
two parts of the sentence are joined together.

The above description of word functions is radically simplified, but it should be


enough to explain the concepts in the grammar and get you translating Old English as
soon as possible. The important point to remember is that we will need to use certain
orders of words or put certain endings on words in order to indicate what roles they
are playing in a sentence. We will go over these concepts in more detail in the
following sections, but first take a few moments to practice identifying the word
functions in the exercises.

What Is the Subject of a Sentence? (with Examples)


The subject of a sentence is the person or thing doing the action or being described. For example
(subjects shaded):

 Lee ate the pie.

(Lee is the subject of the sentence. Lee is the subject of the main verb ate; i.e., Lee is doing
the action.)

 Lee is putting on weight.

(Lee is the subject of the sentence. Lee is the subject of the main verb is; i.e., Lee is being
described.)
The subject of a sentence is one of the basic parts of a sentence. The other basic part is the
predicate. The predicate tells us something about the subject (i.e., it tells us what action the subject
is performing, or it describes the subject). Every sentence must have a verb, and every verb must
have a subject.
Simple Subject, Complete Subject, and Compound Subject
The subject of a sentence will be a noun or a pronoun (including all the modifiers that go with it). For
example:

 Pierre puts a lot of garlic in his food.

(Pierre is the subject, and puts a lot of garlic in his food is the predicate. This is an example of
a simple subject. A simple subject is just one word without any modifiers.)

 That boy puts a lot of garlic in his food.

(That boy is an example of a complete subject. It is the simple subject (in this case, boy plus
all modifiers.)

 That new boy from Paris puts a lot of garlic in his food.

(That new boy from Paris is a complete subject. It is the simple subject (boy) plus all
modifiers.)

 Pierre and Claudette put a lot of garlic in their food.

(Pierre and Claudette is a compound subject. That just means it is made up of more than one
element.)

 That new boy from Paris and the tall girl with the long hair put a lot of garlic in their food.

(That new boy from Paris and the tall girl with the long hair is a compound subject made up
of two complete subjects.)
A complete subject will be a noun phrase or a noun clause.

Subjects in Different Sentence Structures


The typical sentence structures are:

The subject performs an action:

 My dog bit the postman.

The subject is described:

 My dog is boisterous.

(When the subject is being described, the verb (in this case, is) will be a linking verb.)
The subject is identified:
 My dog is the one in the middle.

(When the subject is being identified (which is just another way of being described), the verb
will be a linking verb.)
The subject has an action done to it:

 My dog was taken to the vet.

(When the subject has an action done to it, the sentence is called a passive sentence.)

What Is the Predicate of a Sentence? (with Examples)


The predicate is the part of a sentence (or clause) which tells us what the subject does or is. To put it
another way, the predicate is everything that is not the subject.

At the heart of the predicate is a verb. In addition to the verb, a predicate can contain direct objects,
indirect objects, and various kinds of phrases.

A sentence has two parts: the subject and the predicate. The subject is what the sentence is about,
and the predicate is a comment about the subject.

Examples of Predicates of Sentences


Here are some examples of predicates. In each example, the predicate of the sentence is shaded and
the verb in the predicate is in bold.

 Elvis lives.
 Adam lives in Bangor.
 The telegram contained exciting news.
 The girls in our office are experienced instructors.
 They are experienced instructors, who acquired their experience in France.

Predicates in Clauses
A clause contains a subject and predicate too. The examples below are all clauses not sentences. The
predicate is shaded and the verb of the clause is in bold.

 who lives with her mother

(The subject is the relative pronoun who.)

 which was somewhat unexpected

(The subject is the relative pronoun which.)

 that points to the North Pole

(The subject is the relative pronoun that.)

Predicates within Predicates


It is common for a clause to feature within a sentence predicate. For example:

 Jane is my youngest sister, who lives with our mother.

(Notice how the clause who lives with our mother (which has its own subject and predicate)
is part of the longer sentence predicate.)

What Is an Object? (with Examples)


An object is a noun (or pronoun) that is governed by a verb or a preposition. There are 3 kinds of
objects: a direct object, an indirect object, and an object of a preposition.

Examples of a Direct Object


The direct object of a verb is the thing being acted upon (i.e., the receiver of the action). You can find
the direct object by finding the verb and asking "what?" or "whom?". For example:

 Please pass the butter.

(Q: pass what? A: the butter)

 I don't have a bank account, because I don't know my mother's maiden name.

(Q: don't have what? A: a bank account)


(Q: don't know what? A: my mother's maiden name)
Examples of an Indirect Object
The indirect object is the recipient of the direct object. You can find the indirect object by finding the
direct object (see above) and then asking who or what received it. In the examples below, the
indirect objects are shaded, and the direct objects are in bold.

 Please pass Simon the butter.

(Q: pass what? A: the butter)


(Q: Who (or what) received the butter? A: Simon)

 Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with
their ingenuity.

(Q: tell what? A: how to do things)


(Q: Who (or what) received it? A: people)
(Q: tell what? A: what to do)
(Q: Who (or what) received it? A: them)
In the last example, the direct objects were noun clauses. An object can be a single word, a pronoun,
a noun phrase, or a noun clause.

Examples of an Object of a Preposition

The noun or pronoun after a preposition is known as the object of a preposition. In the examples
below, the objects of prepositions are shaded, and prepositions are in bold.

 She lives near Brighton.


 She lives with him.
 You can tell a lot about a fellow's character by his way of eating jellybeans.

Objects Are in the Objective Case


Objects are always in the objective case. In English, this only affects pronouns (but not all pronouns).
For example:

 She saw him.

(The pronoun him is the objective case version of he (which is the subjective case).)

 Give them the money.

(The pronoun them is the objective case version of they.)

 Dance with her.


(The pronoun her is the objective case version of she.)

Here is a list of subjective pronouns and objective pronouns:

Subjective Pronoun Objective Pronoun Comment

I me

you you No change

he him

she her

it it No change

we us

they them

who whom

whoever whomever