Tema 29- Estructura de la oración en inglés: afirmaciones preguntas, negaciones y exclamaciones

Tema 29- Estructura de la oración en inglés: afirmaciones preguntas, negaciones y exclamaciones

Clause structure:

A simple sentence consists of a single independent clause, which may be of 7 types. The types differ according to whether one or more clause elements are obligatory present in addition to the S(ubject) and V(erb).

1. SV: The sun is shining

2. SVO: That lecture bored me

3. SVC: Your dinner seems ready

4. SVA: My office is in the next building

5. SVOO: I must send my parents an anniversary card

6. SVOC: Most students have found her reasonably helpful

7. SVOA: You can put the dish on the table

Syntactic characterization of clause elements:

1. The verb: It is always realized by a verb phrase. It is normally present in all clauses, including imperative clauses. The verb determines what other elements apart from the subject may or must occur in the clause

2. The subject: It normally occurs before the verb in declarative clauses and after the operator in yes-no interrogative clauses. It determines the number and person of the verb.

3. The object: It normally follows the subject and verb and if both objects are present, the indirect object normally comes before the direct object. It may become the subject of the corresponding passive.

4. The complement: It normally follows the subject and verb if subject complement and the direct object if object complement.

5. The adverbial: It is typically capable of occurring in more than one position in the clause, though its mobility depends on the type and form of the adverbial. It is normally optional.

Subject-verb concord:

The most important type of concord in English is concord of 3rd person number between subject and verb. A singular subject requires a singular verb.

– My daughter watches television after supper

A plural subject requires a plural verb.

– My daughters watch television after supper

Clauses as subject count as singular for number concord.

– Smoking cigarettes is dangerous to health

Coordinated subject:

1. Coordination with and: A plural verb is used even if each conjoin is singular

– Tom and Alice are now ready

2. Coordination with or and nor: There is no problem when the conjoins have the same number

– Either the strikers or the bosses have misunderstood the claim

When conjoins differ in number, recourse is generally made to the principle of proximity, the number of the second conjoin determines the number of the verb.

– Either your eyesight or your brakes are at fault.

Concord of person:

In addition to number concord there is concord of person in the present tense

– I am your friend (1st person singular concord)

– He is your friend (3rd person singular concord)

– He knows you

In the past tense only the verb be has distinction of person

– I was your friend (1st person singular concord)

– He was your friend (3rd person singular concord)

– You were my friend (2nd person singular concord)


1. Clause negation through verb negation:

A positive clause can be negated by inserting not between the operator and the predication

– I have finished/ I have not finished

If no operator is present in the positive clause, the dummy operator do is introduced

– She works hard/ She does not work hard

Except in formal English, the negator more usually occurs as an enclitic in the contracted form n´ t.

– I haven´ t finished

2. Syntactic features of clause negation:

Negative clauses differ syntactically from positive clauses:

1. They can be followed by positive tag questions

– They aren´ t ready, are they?

2. They can be followed by negative clauses with additive meaning

– They aren´ t ready and neither are you

3. They can be followed by negative agreement responses

– He doesn´ t know Russian

– No, he doesn´ t.

4. They can be followed by non-assertive items.

– He won´ t notice any change in you, either.

3. Other kinds of clause negation:

1. Words negative in form and meaning: We sometime have a choice between verb negation and negation of some other element.

– An honest man would not lie

– No honest man would lie

In formal style the negative element may often be moved from its usual position to initial position, in which case there is inversion of subject and operator.

– Not a word would he say

2. Words negative in meaning but not inform: seldom, rarely, scarcely, hardly, barely, little, few. They can affect clause negation, inducing the characteristic syntactic features of clause negation.

– I seldom get any help either.

When positioned initially, the adverbs normally cause subject- operator inversion.

– Little did I expect such enthusiasm

Verbs, adjectives and prepositions with negative meaning may be followed by non-assertive items

– He denies I ever told him (verb)

– We were unaware of any hostility (adjective)

– I´ m against going out anywhere (preposition)

3. Non-assertive terms: Clause negation is frequently followed by one or more non-assertive items

Assertive Non-assertive

We´ ve had some lunch We haven´ t had any lunch

I was speaking to somebody I wasn´ t speaking to anybody

In many instances, the negative particle and the non-assertive form can combine to produce a negative form (not ever-never) or can be replaced by a negative form (not anywhere- nowhere)

4. Local negation: Local negation negates a word or a phrase without making the clause negative. One common type involves the combination of not without a morphologically negated gradable adjective or adverb.

– She is a not unintelligent woman (She is a fairly intelligent woman) (Adj.)

– I visit them not infrequently (I visit them rather frequently) (Adv.)

The negative particle partly cancels out the negative prefix.


A. Major classes: Questions can be divided into 3 major classes according to the type of reply they expect

1. Those that expect affirmation or negation are Yes/No questions:

– Have you finished the book?

2. Those that expect a reply from an open range of replies are Wh- questions:

– What is your name?

– How old are you?

3. Those that expect as the reply one of 2 or more options presented in the question are alternative questions:

– Would you like to go for a walk or stay at home?

1. Yes/No questions:

a) Form of Yes/No questions: They are usually formed by placing the operator before the subject and giving the sentence a rising intonation.

– The boat has left

– Has the boat left?

If there is no item in the verb phrase that can function as operator, do is introduced as with negation

– They live in Sydney

– Do they live in Sydney?

As with negation, main verb be functions as operator. In Br.E. main verb have often acts as operator, but informally have…got is more common.

– Patrick was late/ Was Patrick late?

– She has a cold/ Does she have a cold? Am.E.

Has she (got) a cold? Br.E.

b) Positive Yes/No questions: Like negative statements Yes/No questions may contain non-assertive items such as any and ever. The questions containing such forms is generally neutral, with no bias towards a positive or negative response.

– Someone called last night

– Did anyone call last night?

But questions may be conducive, they may indicate that the speaker is predisposed to the kind of answer he has wanted or expected. A positive question may be presented in a form which is biased towards a positive answer.

– Did someone call last night? (Is it true that someone called last night?)

c) Negative Yes/No questions: Negative questions are always conducive. Negative orientation is found in questions which contain a negative form of one kind or another.

– Don´ t you believe me?

If a negative question has assertive items, it is biased towards positive orientation.

– Hasn´ t the boat left already? Surely it has.

d) Tag questions: maximum conduciveness is expressed by a tag question appended to a statement in the form of a declarative

– Joan recognized you, didn´ t she? (Surely Joan recognized you)

For the most common types of tag question, the tag question is negative if the statement is positive or viceversa. The tag question has the form of a Yes/No questions consisting of an operator and a subject pronoun depending on the statement.

Four main types of tag questions:

1. Positive statement + Negative tag + rising tone on tag

– He likes his job, doesn´ t he?

2. Positive statement + Negative tag + falling tone on tag

– He likes his job, doesn´ t he?

3. Negative statement + Positive tag + rising tone on tag

– He doesn´ t like his job, does he?

4. Negative statement + Positive tag + falling tone on tag

– He doesn´ t like his job, does he?

The first one means I assume he likes his job, am I right? And the second one the opposite: I assume he doesn´ t like his job, am I right?. A similar contrast exists between 3 and 4.

The tag with a rising tone invites verification, expecting the hearer to decide the truth of the proposition in the statement, the tag with a falling tone invites confirmation of the statement and has the force of an exclamation rather than a genuine question.

e) Declarative questions: The declarative question has the form of a declarative, except for the final rising intonation.

– You´ ve got the tíckets?

They are conducive and resemble tag questionswith arising tone that they invite the hearer´ s verification.

I. Positive questions: have positive orientation and they can accept only assertive items.

– He wants something to eat?

II. Negative questions: have negative orientation and non-assertive forms may be used following the negative.

– You didn´ t get anything to eat?

2. Wh- questions:

a) Form of Wh-questions: Wh-questions are formed with the aid of one of the following simple interrogative words or who-words: who, whom, whose, what, which, when, where, how and why. Unlike Yes/No questions, Wh-questions have falling intonation. As a rule the wh-element (clause element containing the who-word) comes first in the sentence. The who-word takes first position in the wh-element. The main exception occurs when the wh-word is within a prepositional complement. Here English provides a choice between 2 constructions. In formal style, the preposition precedes the complement, whereas otherwise the complement comes first and the preposition is deferred to the end of the sentence.

– On what did you base your prediction? (formal)

– What did you base your prediction on?

b) Function of the wh-element: There are various clause functions in which the wh-element operates:

Who is coming to the party? (S)

What did you buy for your sister? (Od)

Whose beautiful antiques are these? (Cs)

How wide did they make the bookcase? (Co)

When will you be promoted? (A)

Where shall I put the glasses? (A)

Why didn´ t you tell me? (A)

How did you mend it? (A)

How much does she care? (A)

How long have you been waiting? (A)

How often do you visit New York? (A)

The normal statement order of elements is altered in wh- questions not only by the initial placing of the wh-element, but by the inversion of subject and operator in all cases except when the wh-element is subject, where the rule that the wh-element takes initial position is given precedence. Subject –operator inversion is the same as Yes/No questions. If there is no operator in the equivalent system, do is introduced as operator in the question. The main verbs be and have act as operators:

– Where is she?

– What kind of car they have?

3. Alternative questions: There are 2 types of alternative questions:

a) The first resembles a Yes/No question:

– Would you like chocolate, vanilla or strawberry (ice-cream)?

b) The second a Wh- question:

– Which ice-cream would you like? Chocolate, vanilla or strawberry?

The first type differs from a Yes/No question only in intonation. Instead of the final rising tone, it contains a separate nucleus for each alternative: a rise occurs on each item in the list, except the last, on which there is a fall, indicating that the list is complete

c) The second type of alternative question is really a compound of 2 separate questions: a Wh- question followed by an elliptical alternative question. So it may be taken as a reduced version of:

– Which ice-cream would you like? Would you like chocolate, vanilla or strawberry?

B. Minor types of questions:

1. Exclamatory questions: They are interrogative in structure but has the force of an exclamatory assertion: Typically it is a negative Yes/No question with a final falling instead of rising tone.

– Hasn´ t she grown!

They invite the hearer´ s agreement to something on which the speaker has strong feelings. The meaning, contrary to the appearance of the literal wording, is vigorously positive. In written English an exclamation mark is usual at the end of the sentence of an exclamatory question

2. Rhetorical questions: The rhetorical question is interrogative in structure but has the force of a strong assertion: The speaker does not expect an answer.

a) A positive rhetorical Yes/No question is like a strong negative assertion while a negative question is like a strong positive one.

Positive: Is that a reason for despair? (Surely that is not a reason for despair)

Negative: Isn´ t the answer obvious? (Surely the answer obvious)

Unlike exclamatory questions, these rhetorical questions have the normal rising intonation.

b) There are also rhetorical Wh- questions. The positive question is equivalent to a statement in which the wh-element is replaced by a negative element:

– What difference does it make? (it makes no difference)

The negative question is equivalent to a statement in which the wh-element is replaced by a positive element:

– Who doesn´ t know? (Everybody knows)

Rhetorical Wh- questions generally have a rise-fall tone, less commonly a simple falling tone.

3. Echo questions: They repeat part or all of what has been said.

a) Replicatory echo questions: do so as a way of having their content confirmed

– I will pay for it. You will what?

b) Explicatory echo questions: They ask for clarification. They have a falling tone on the wh-word

– Take a look at this! Take a look at what?


They are introduced by what or how. The wh-word indicates an extreme position on some scale of value and therefore can only appear at points where an expression of degree is possible.

What is the predeterminer in a noun phrase and how as intensifier of an adjective or adverb as a degree adverbial. The wh-element is fronted but in contrast to wh-questions there is no subject-operator inversion. They have a falling intonation.

– How quickly you eat!

– What a time we´ ve had today!

When the wh-element is the complement of a preposition is left in final position.

– What a mess we are in!