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These fall under two main heads: (1) agreement or concord, (2) government.

Syntactical Relations between the Components of a Phrase 175


By agreement we mean a method of expressing a syntactical relationship, which consists in making the subordinate word take a form similar to that of the word to which it is subordinate. In Modern English this can refer only to the category of number: a subordinate word agrees in number with its head word if it has different, number forms at all.1 This is practically found in two words only, the pronouns this and that, which agree in number with their head word. Since no other word, to whatever part of speech it may belong, agrees in number with its head word, these two pronouns stand quite apart in the Modern English syntactical system.

As to the problem of agreement of the verb with the noun or pronoun denoting the subject of the action (a child plays, children play), this is a controversial problem. Usually it is treated as agreement of the predicate with the subject, that is, as a phenomenon of sentence structure. However, if we assume (as we have done) that agreement and government belong to the phrase level, rather than to the sentence level, and that phrases of the pattern "noun + + verb" do exist, we have to treat this problem in this chapter devoted to phrases.

The controversy is this. Does the verb stand, say, in the plural number because the noun denoting the subject of the action is plural, so that the verb is in the full sense of the word subordinate to the noun? Or does the verb, in its own right, express by its category of number the singularity or plurality of the doer (or doers)?2

There are some phenomena in Modern English which would seem to show that the verb does not always follow the noun in the category of number. Such examples as, My family are early risers, on the one hand, and The United Nations is an international organisation, on the other, prove that the verb can be independent of the noun in this respect: though the noun is in the singular, the verb may be in the plural, if the doer is understood to be plural; though the noun is plural, the verb may be singular if the doer is understood to be singular. Examples of such usage are arguments in favour of the view that there is no agreement in number of the verb with the noun expressing the doer of the action.

The fact that sentences like My family is small, and My family are early risers exist side by side proves that there is no agreement

1 In some other languages, such as Russian, there is also agreement in case and gender.

2 This question was raised with reference to Indo-European languages in general by A. Meillet in his book Introduction a l'étude comparative des langnes indoenropeennes, 6eme ed., 1924, p. 323, and with reference to the Russian language by A. Peshkovsky (see A. M. Пешковский, Русский синтаксис в научном освещении, изд. 7-е, 1956, стр. 183 сл.).

176 Phrases

of the verb with the noun in either case: the verb shows whether the subject of the action is to be thought of as singular or plural, no matter what the category of number in the noun may be.

Thus, the sphere of agreement in Modern English is extremely small: it is restricted to two pronouns — this and that, which agree with their head word in number when they are used in front of it as the first components of a phrase of which the noun is the centre.


By government we understand the use of a certain form of the subordinate word required by its head word, but not coinciding with the form of the head word itself — that is the difference between agreement and government.

The role of government in Modern English is almost as insignificant as that of agreement. We do not find in English any verbs, or nouns, or adjectives, requiring the subordinate noun to be in one case rather than in another. Nor do we find prepositions requiring anything of the kind.

The only thing that may be termed government in Modern English is the use of the objective case of personal pronouns and of the pronoun who when they are subordinate to a verb or follow a preposition. Thus, for instance, the forms me, him, her, us, them, are required if the pronoun follows a verb (e. g. find or invite) or any preposition whatever. Even this type of government is, however, made somewhat doubtful by the rising tendency, mentioned above (p. 66 ff.), to use the forms me, him, etc., outside their original sphere as forms of the objective case. The notion of government has also become doubtful as applied to the form whom, which is rather often superseded by the form who in such sentences as, Who(m) did yon see? (compare p. 69).

As to nouns, the notion of government may be said to have become quite uncertain in present-day English. Even if we stick to the view that father and father's are forms of the common and the genitive case, respectively, we could not assert that a preposition always requires the form of the common case. For instance, the preposition at can be combined with both case forms: compare I looked at my father and I spent the summer at my father's, or, with the preposition to: I wrote to the chemist, and I went to the chemist's, etc. It seems to follow that the notion of government does not apply to forms of nouns.

Other Ways

In Russian linguistic theory, there is a third way of expressing syntactical relations between components of a phrase, which is termed примыкание. No exact definition of this notion is given:

Syntactical Relations between the Components of a Phrase 177

its characteristic feature is usually described in a negative way, as absence both of agreement and of government. The most usual example of this type of connection is the relation between an adverb and its bead word, whether this is an adjective or a verb (or another adverb, for that matter). An adverb is subordinate to its head word, without either agreeing with or being governed by it. This negative characteristic cannot, however, be said to be sufficient as a definition of a concrete syntactical means of expression. It is evident that the subject requires some more exact investigation. For instance, if we take such a simple case as the sentence, .. . lashes of rain striped the great windows almost horizontally (R. WEST) and inquire what it is that shows the adverb horizontally to be subordinate to the verb striped, we shall have to conclude that this is achieved by a certain combination of factors, some of which are grammatical, while others are not. The grammatical factor is the fact that an adverb can be subordinate to a verb. That, however, is not sufficient in a number of cases. There may be several verbs in the sentence, and the question has to be answered, how does the reader (or hearer) know to which of them the adverb is actually subordinated. Here a lexicological factor intervenes: the adverb must be semantically compatible with its head word. Examples may be found where the connection between an adverb and its head word is preserved even at a considerable distance, owing to the grammatical and semantic compatibility of the adverb. Compare, for instance, the following sentences: Nobly, nobly Cape Saint Vincent to the North-West died away. (BROWNING) Swiftly he thought of the different things she had told him. (DREISER)

An adverb can only be connected with its head word in this manner, since it has no grammatical categories which would allow it to agree with another word or to be governed by it. With other parts of speech things stand differently in different languages. In inflected languages an adjective will agree with its head word, and even in French and Italian, though they are analytical languages, adjectives agree with their head words both in number and gender. In Modern English no agreement is possible. The same can be said about many other types of phrases.

However, there is another means of expressing syntactical connection which plays a significant part in Modern English. It may be called "enclosure" (Russian замыкание) and its essence is this. Some element of a phrase is, as it were, enclosed between two parts of another element. The most widely known case of "enclosure" is the putting of a word between an article and the noun to which the article belongs. Any word or phrase thus enclosed is shown to be an attribute to the noun. As is well known, many other words than adjectives and nouns can be found in that position, and many phrases, too. It seems unnecessary to give examples of adjectives

178 Phrases

and nouns in that position, as they are familiar to everybody. However, examples of other parts of speech, and also of phrases enclosed will not be out of place here. The then government — here the adverb then, being enclosed between the article and the noun it belongs to, is in this way shown to be an attribute to the noun. 1 In the phrase an on-the-spot investigation the phrase on-the-spot is enclosed between the article and the noun to which the article belongs, and this characterises the syntactic connections of the phrase.

The unity of a phrase is quite clear if the phrase as a whole is modified by an adverb. It is a rather common phenomenon for an adverb to modify a phrase, usually one consisting of a preposition and a noun (with possible words serving as attributes to the noun). Here, first, is an example where the phrase so modified is a phraseological unit: . . . that little thimbleful of brandy ... went sorely against the grain with her. (TROLLOPE) The adverb sorely cannot possibly be said to modify the preposition against alone. So it is bound to belong to the phrase against the grain as a whole.

An adverb modifying a prepositional phrase is also found in the following example: The funeral was well under way. (HUXLEY) The adverb well can only modify the phrase under way, as a phrase well under is unthinkable. This is possible because the phrase under way, which is a phraseological unit, has much the same meaning as going on, developing, etc.

A phrase may also be modified by a pronoun (it should be noted, though, that in our example the whole phrase, including the pronoun, is a phraseological unit): Every now and again she would slop and move her mouth as though to speak, but nothing was said. (A. WILSON) It is clear that a phrase every now would not be possible. A similar case is the following: Every three or four months Mr Bodiharn preached a sermon on the subject. (HUXLEY) It is quite evident that the whole phrase three or four months is here modified by the pronoun every. This may be to some extent connected with the tendency to take phrases consisting of a numeral and a noun in the plural indicating some measure of time or space as denoting a higher unit (compare p. 38).

The phrase "noun + after + the same noun" may be a syntactic unit introduced as a whole by a preposition, thus: She spent the Christmas holidays with her parents in the northern part of the State, where her father owned a drug-store, even though in letter after letter Eve Grayson had urged and begged her to come to New Orleans for the holidays, promising that she would meet many interesting men while she was there. (E. CALDWELL) That the preposition in introduces the whole phrase letter after letter is evident

1 Another view is that then is an adjective here.

Equivalent to Prepositions and Conjunctions 179

from the fact that it would not be possible to use the noun letter (alone) after the preposition without either an article or some other determinative, such as, for example, her.

In the following example the preposition with introduces, not a noun, but a phrase consisting of a noun, a preposition (upon) and the same noun repeated. Brown varnished bookshelves lined the walls, filled with row upon row of those thick, heavy theological works which the second-hand booksellers generally sell by weight. (HUXLEY) That the preposition with introduces the phrase row upon row rather than the noun row alone, is evident from the fact that it would not be possible to say . .. filled with row of those . .. works .. . The noun row could not be used without the article, to say nothing of the fact that one row of books was not enough to fill the walls of a room.

Sometimes a phrase of the pattern "adverb + preposition + + noun" may be introduced by another preposition. Compare this sentence from Prof. D. Jones's Preface to his "English Pronouncing Dictionary": For help in the preparation of this new edition I am particularly indebted to Mr P. A. D. MacCarthy, who supplied me with upwards of 500 notes and suggestions. The phrase upwards of 500 notes and suggestions means the same as more than 500 notes and suggestions, and this may explain its use after the preposition with. But the fact remains that a preposition (with) is immediately followed by a prepositional phrase (upwards of).


Under this heading wo will treat such formations as apart from, with reference to, as soon as, so long as, etc., which quite obviously are phrases rather than words, and which quite definitely perform the same function in a sentence as prepositions and conjunctions respectively.

The treatment of these units in grammatical theory has been vague and often contradictory. Most usually they are treated as prepositions or conjunctions of a special type, variously described as compound, analytical, etc. This view ignores the basic difference between a word and a phrase and is therefore unacceptable. We will stick to the principle that a phrase (as different from a word) cannot be a part of speech and that phrases should be studied in Syntax.

An obstacle to this treatment was the view that a phrase must include at least two notional words (see above, p. 170). As we have rejected this limitation, we can include under phrases any groups, whether consisting of a form word and a notional word, or of two form words, etc.

180 Phrases

Among phrases equivalent to prepositions we note the pattern "adverb + preposition", represented, for instance, by out of, apart from, down to, as in the sentences, "I love you so," she answered, "but apart from that, you were right." (R. WEST) As the cool of the evening now came on, Lester proposed to Aram to enjoy it without, previous to returning to the parlour. (LYTTON) All within was the same, down to the sea-weed in the blue mug in my bedroom. (DICKENS) The phrases equivalent to prepositions (we may accept the term "prepositional phrases") perform the very functions that are typical of prepositions, and some of them have synonyms among prepositions. Thus, the phrase apart from is a synonym of the preposition besides, the phrase previous to a synonym of the preposition before, etc.

Another pattern of prepositional phrases is "preposition + + noun + preposition", e. g. in front of, on behalf of, with reference to, in accordance with, as in the sentences, His friend was seated in front of the fire. (BLACK) Caesar crossed in spite of this. (JEROME K. JEROME) It must be admitted that there may be doubts whether a group of this type has or has not become a prepositional phrase. Special methods can then be used to find this out. For instance, it may prove important whether the noun within such a phrase can or cannot be modified by an adjective, whether it can or cannot be changed into the plural, and so forth. Opinions may differ on whether a given phrase should or should not be included in this group. On the whole, however, the existence of such prepositional phrases is beyond doubt.

Other types of phrases ought to be carefully studied in a similar way, for example the phrase of course, which is the equivalent of a modal word, etc.

The number of phrases equivalent to conjunctions is rather considerable. Some of the more specialised time relations are expressed by phrases, e. g. as soon as, as long as. Phrases with other meanings also belong here, e. g. in order that, notwithstanding that. These phrases may be conveniently termed "conjunctional phrases", though this term is not so usual as the term "prepositional phrases".

There are several patterns of conjunctional phrases. One of them is "adverb + adverb + conjunction" (as soon as, as long as, so long as). The first component of the two former phrases is probably an adverb, though it might also be argued that it is a conjunction. We may say that the distinction between the two is here neutralised.

There is also the pattern "preposition + noun + conjunction", as in the phrase in order that, which is used to introduce adverbial clauses of purpose, or in the phrase for fear that, which tends to become a kind of conjunctional phrase introducing a special kind of clause of cause: For fear that his voice might betray more of his feel-

Phrases Equivalent to Preposition and Conjunction 181

ings, which would embarrass the old lady so involved still with her voyage and getting away to where it would be quiet again, so without such sudden, sick floods of sentiment herself, he simply repeated again how good, good it was to see her... (BUECHNER)1

It would appear that the treatment of such phrases attempted here does better justice both to their structure and function than a treatment which includes them under prepositions and conjunctions proper and thus obliterates the essential difference between words (parts of speech) and phrases (groups of words).

In passing now from a study of phrases to that of the sentence we are, it should be remembered, proceeding to a different level of language structure. Notions referring to the phrase level should be carefully kept apart from those referring to the sentence and its members. An indiscriminate use of terms belonging to the two levels (as, for instance, in the familiar expression "subject, verb and object") leads to a hopeless muddle and makes all serious syntactic investigation impossible. It must, however, be pointed out that in some cases distinction between the two levels proves to be a very difficult task indeed. 2 We will try in such cases to point out whatever can be urged in favour of each of the diverging views and to suggest a solution of the problem.

1 From the lexicological viewpoint some of these phrases functioning as equivalents ofprepositions and conjunctions must certainly be described as phraseological units. This, however, is irrelevant for their grammatical characteristic.

2 We shall see this when we come to the problem of the attribute, (p. 222 ff).

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