Secondary predication constructions

Module 11



1. General remarks

2. The sentence structure

3. Word order

4. The phrase: noun, adjective and verb patterns

5. Secondary predication constructions

6. Conclusions

General remarks

The most obvious difference between OE syntax and the syntax of the ME and NE periods is that the word order became more strict and the use of prepositions more extensive. The growth of the literary forms of the language, the literary flourishing in Late ME and especially in the age of the Renaissance, the differentiation of literary styles and the efforts made by 18th c. scholars to develop a logical, elegant style all contributed to the improvement and perfection of English syntax.

The structure of the sentence and the word phrase became more complicated; on the other hand, it became more stabilized and standard.

The sentence structure

The structure of the sentence in many respects became more orderly and more uniform. Yet, at the same time it grew complicated as the sentence came to include more extended and complex parts: longer attributive groups, diverse subjects and predicates and numerous predicative constructions.

In OE the ties between the words in the sentence were shown mainly by means of government and agreement, with the help of numerous inflections. In ME and Early NE, with most of the inflectional endings levelled or dropped, the relationships between the parts of the sentence were shown by their relative position, environment, semantic ties, prepositions, and by a more rigid syntactic structure.

Every place in the sentence came to be associated with a certain syntactic function: in the new structure of the sentence syntactic functions were determined by position, and no position could remain vacant. This is evidenced by the obligatory use of the subject. For instance, in OE the formal subject, expressed by the pronoun hit, was used only in some types of impersonal sentences, namely those indicating weather phenomena. In ME the subject it occurs in all types of impersonal sentences, e.g. For itreynyd almost euery other day (Brut) For it rained almost every other day. Of his falshede itdulleth me to ryme. (Chaucer) Of his falsehood it annoys me to speak.

The use of the verb-substitute do, as well as the use of auxiliary and modal verbs without the notional verb proves that the position of the predicate could not be vacant either. This can be seen in the following examples with the notional verb left out, e.g.: Helpeth me now, as I dydeyow whileer. (Chaucer) Help me now as I did (help) you formerly.

As compared with OE the subject of the sentence became more varied in meaning, as well as in the forms of expression. Due to the growth of new verb forms the subject could now denote not only the agent or a thing characterized by a certain property, but also the recipient of an action or the passive subject of a state and feeling.

The predicate had likewise become more varied in form and meaning. The simple predicate could be expressed by compound forms which indicated multiple new meanings and subtle semantic distinctions, lacking in OE verb forms or expressed formerly by contextual means.

Though some types of compound predicates had turned into simple as the verb phrases developed into analytical forms the compound predicate could express a variety of meanings with the help of numerous new link-verbs and more extended and complex predicatives. In ME link-verbs remarkably increased in number. In a way the new link-verbs made up for the loss of some OE prefixes and compound verbs which denoted the growth of a quality or the transition into a state, e.g.

And tho it drewenere Cristenesse (Brut) And though it drew near Christmas, Christmas was coming

as me best thinketh(Chaucer) as it seems best to me

The rose looksfair (Shakespeare)

The structure of the predicative became more complex: it could include various prepositional phrases and diverse attributes, e.g. Of twenty yeer of age he was, I gesse. (Chaucer) He was twenty years old, I guess.

One of the peculiar features of the OE sentence was multiple negation. The use of several negative particles and forms continued throughout the ME period, e.g. Ne bring nat every man into thyn hous. (Chaucer) Dont bring every man into your house.

In Shakespeares time the use of negations is variable: the sentence could contain one or more means of expressing negation. Cf.: So it is notwith me as with that Muse Good madam, hear me speak, and let noquarrel, nor nobrawl to come (Shakespeare)

Gradually multiple negation went out of use. In the age of Correctness the normalizing 18th c. when the scholars tried to improve and perfect the language, multiple negation was banned as illogical. These logical restrictions on the use of negations became a strict rule of English grammar.

Word order.

In ME and Early NE the order of words in the sentence underwent noticeable changes: it had become fixed and direct: subject plus predicate plus object (S+P+O) or subject plus the notional part of the predicate (used mainly in questions).

Stabilization of the word order was a slow process, which took many hundreds of years: from Early ME until the 16th or 17th c. the fixation of the word order proceeded together with reduction and loss of inflectional endings, the two developments being intertwined; though syntactic changes were less intensive and less rapid, probably due to the break in the written tradition after the Norman conquest.

Though the word order in Late ME may appear relatively free, several facts testify to its growing stability. The practice of placing the verb-predicate at the end of a subordinate clause had been abandoned, so was the type of word order with the object placed between the subject and the predicate. The place before the predicate belonged to the subject.

In the 17th and 18th c. the order of words in the sentence was generally determined by the same rules as operate in English today. The fixed, direct word order prevailed in statements, unless inversion was required for communicative purposes or for emphasis, e.g.:

Now comes in the sweetest morsel in the night These numbers will I tear and write in prose. (Shakespeare)


4. The phrase: noun, adjective and verb patterns

In OE the dependent components of noun patterns agreed with the noun in case, number and gender, if they were expressed by adjectives, adjective-pronouns or participles. If expressed by nouns, they either agreed with the head noun in case and number (nouns in apposition) or had the form of the genitive case. By Late ME agreement in noun patterns had practically disappeared, except for some instances of agreement in number. Formal markers of number had been preserved in nouns, demonstrative pronouns and some survivals of the strong declension of adjectives; most adjectives and adjectivised participles had lost number inflections by the age of Chaucer; cf. a few phrases from Chaucer:

sg.: this holy maiden thatrequeste

pl.: These wodes eek recoveren grene. These woods become green again.

sg.: A good man was ther of religioun. There was a good man, a priest.

pl.: Goode men, herkneth everych on! Good men, listen!

However, far more often there was no agreement in number:

his woundes newe,the sameship, strangeplace, straungestrondes his new wounds, the same ship, strange place, strange strands.

The last traces of agreement in adjectives were lost in the 15th c. when the inflection ewas dropped; only the demonstrative pronouns, the indefinite article and nouns in apposition indicated the number of the head-word, like in Mod E. When the adjective had lost its forms of agreement, its relationships with the noun were shown by its position; it was placed before the noun, or between the noun and its determiners (articles and pronouns). Sometimes in Late ME the adjective stood in post-position, which can be attributed to the influence of French syntax. Relics of this practice are now found as some modern set phrases such as court martial, time immemorial.

A noun used attributively had the form of the genitive case or was joined to the head-noun by a preposition. In Chaucers time the use of s-genitive was less restricted than in Mod E, so that inanimate nouns commonly occurred as inflectional genitive in a noun pattern: fadres sone fathers son, every shires ende end of every shire. Yet the use of prepositions had become more extensive: the sergeaunts of the toun of Rome the officials of the town of Rome.

In the age of literary Renaissance, the noun patterns became fixed syntactic frames in which every position had a specific functional significance. The attribute in pre-position was enclosed between the determiner and the head-word; hence every word occupying this position was an attribute. The position of the head-noun could not be left vacant it was at that time that the indefinite pronoun one and the demonstrative that began to be used as the so-called prop-words, e.g.

A barren-spirited fellow, onethat feeds

On abject orts and imitations (Shakespeare)

With the growth of the written language noun patterns became more varied and more extended. Attributes to nouns could contain prepositional phrases with other attributes.

The history of the verb pattern embraced a number of important changes and developments.

In some respects verb patterns became more uniform. In OE the verb could take various objects and adverbial modifiers expressed by the oblique cases of nouns. In ME the oblique cases were replaced by the common case (or the objective case of pronouns), with or without prepositions. The use of prepositions in verb patterns grew.

Throughout ME and Early NE the use of prepositions displayed great fluctuation. Many verbs were used with a variety of prepositions until the age of prescriptive grammars and dictionaries, and some verbs a long time after. During the NE period the size and complexity of verb patterns grew, as the verbs came to be extended by noun patterns of more complicated structure, by infinitive phrases and predicative constructions with diverse components.

Secondary predication constructions

One of the peculiarities of the English syntax is a rather wide range of predicative complexes in the function of various parts of the sentence, which are then called complex parts of the sentence: complex subject, complex object, etc. A predicative complex comprises two parts, the first denotes the doer of the action or the bearer of a certain state or quality and the second the action (state or quality) itself.

Predicative complexes with verbals are far more frequent than those with adjectives, statives, adverbs and nouns, e.g. I heard him cry. I think him clever. Your doing nothing wont help anybody. That is not for me to decide.

One of the most important developments in Late ME and Early NE syntax was the growth of predicative constructions. Predicative constructions date from the OE period, when dative absolute was used in translations from Latin and the accusative with the infinitive in original English texts.

OE infinitive phrases

1) Accusative with the infinitive: verb + noun / pronoun + infinitive. This construction was mainly used with verbs of perception: sēon see, hīeran hear, ¥efri¥nan learn and also with verbs expressing order and permission: hātan order, lætan let, etc., e.g. fÿrleoht ¥eseah, blācne lēoman beorhte scīnan He saw a firelight, a glittering flash shine brightly. ne hÿrde ic cymlicor cēol¥e¥yrwan I did not hear a more handsom ship constructed.

2) Accusative with the participle or adjective: noun + adjective / participle, e.g. ¥edeþ him swā ¥ewēaldene(participle II) worolde dælas (noun) he will make parts of the world so subdued to him.

3) Absolute participle construction with the noun and participle being in the dative case, e.g. forlætenre þære ceastre, he cōm the camp having been left, he came.

ME infinitive phrases

1) In Early ME the construction accusative with the infinitive was used much less often than in OE. It is mainly found with the verbs hoten order, leten, maken, sometimes with verbs of perception: sen, heren, e.g. and hehte þane duc stronge: heri¥en in suþ londe and ordered the strong duke to make war in the south country.

Since the 14th c. more verbs are used in this structure, mostly of French origin: causen, compellen, constreynen. E.g. This prison caused me not for to crye This prison did not make me cry. But deeth, that wol not suffre us dwellen heer but Death, who will not suffer us to stay here.

Thus, the construction, whose use had been somewhat reduced in Early ME, rises again in the 14th c.

2) The absolute construction which had existed in OE as an independent dative, is preserved in ME. Now a noun takes the form of the common case, and a personal pronoun, that of the nominative. E.g. High on horse he sat, uppon his heada Flaundrish bever hat (nouns in bold italics are used in the common case).

NE infinitive phrases

In Late ME and Early NE (the 15th -16th c.) the use of the objective + infinitive continues to grow. The accusative with the infinitive and the accusative with the participle came to be used with an increasing number of verbs of various meanings. In the 17th and 18th c. new types of predicative constructions appeared: the nominative with the infinitive and with participles I, II, the nominative absolute construction and the absolute construction with prepositions, and, finally, the for-phrase with the infinitive and the gerundial construction. E.g.:

objective predicative constructions (complex object)

I would desire you to draw your knife and grave your name.

subjective predicative constructions (complex subject)

He was reported to be a very, a very uncontented person.

Absolute constructions

My flesh being troubled, my heart doth hear the spear.


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