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Sentence elements: initial training sessions


You may not, of course, call this topic by the same name but it's a good bet that almost all introductory courses to the structure of language will have to deal with the key elements of the sentence sooner or later.  Until you have a vocabulary in common, it is almost impossible to talk about language at all.

Do not attempt to use any of the worksheets in this section until you have covered the essentials of word class and personal pronouns.  It is not possible to understand how syntax works at even a superficial level unless you can distinguish between word classes (and, hence, phrase classes) and subjects, objects and possessive forms.


The key ideas

This section makes no attempt to condense the study of syntax into a short set of worksheets and tasks.  What it does try to do is cover the essentials from which people can build a greater understanding.

  • Subject (nominative case)
  • Verb
    • stative uses
    • dynamic uses
  • Complement
    • subject
    • object
  • Object (accusative case)
    • direct
    • indirect
  • Adverbials
    • time
    • place
    • manner
    • (reason)
  • Phrases
    • noun
    • verb
    • adjective
    • adverbial (including prepositional)
      (Adverbials of reason are not focused on but one example appears in the final task.)

The aim of all of this is to give trainees the essential data they need to be able to parse (i.e., analyse for teaching purposes) a range of sentences in English.

There's a good deal here and most initial training courses may need to consign some of the analysis to independent research outside face-to-face sessions.  That's the purpose of some (parts) of the worksheets.


The elements of the sentence

The purpose here is to alert trainees to the seven essential elements of any sentence in English.
These seven are:

  1. Subject phrase (usually a noun phrase but frequently a that-clause)
  2. Verb phrase (in this case excluding adverbials but including two types of auxiliary verbs)
  3. Direct object phrase (usually a noun phrase but frequently a that-clause)
  4. Indirect object phrase (confined here to animate entities although non-animate indirect objects are possible)
  5. Subject complement phrase (the most common type of complement)
  6. Object complement phrase (rarer but here for completeness)
  7. Adverbial phrase (realised as prepositional phrases, subordinate clauses and adverbs)

Adverbial phrases can occur many times in single sentences.  The other elements do not.
Worksheet #1 sets out all seven categories, with short tasks to identify what they are in example sentences.  You may need to do a little presentation before you get to it.
(Beware of the use of everywhere in the last task: it occurs as an adverbial and as a direct object phrase.)
Missing from the worksheet, in the interests of simplicity, are adjectives which may occur in noun phrases acting as subjects, direct objects or indirect objects.
You may wish to insert some at the discussion phase for each task.


The verb and adverbials: stative and dynamic uses

being on stage | dancing with confidence  

Because dynamic and stative uses of verbs are best shown by the forms of adverbials they take, this is a good place to introduce the topic.
Beware, incidentally, of referring to dynamic and stative verbs and prefer dynamic and stative verb uses.  Even verbs which are often considered stative (feel, know, be, have etc.) are often used in dynamic ways.

The worksheet is designed simply to alert trainees to the two uses.  The focus is on progressive aspects but the term need not concern the trainees at this stage unless it is already known.
Task 1 is designed to establish the difference between stative and dynamic verb uses (compare sentences 9 and 10 which are designed to show the difference in use and meaning (Task 2)).
Task 3 is designed to alert people to the facts that:

  1. Adverbials of place can be used with both types of verb uses.
  2. Adverbials of time cannot be used with stative verb uses unless an adverbial of place is also present.
  3. Adverbials of manner can only be used with dynamic verb uses.

If people are tempted to believe that the form of the adverb rather than its meaning is the determining factor, point out the use of frequently compared to loudly.



Related areas

Adverbials are treated at length in the in-service guide to the area but the majority of that is not suitable for initial training course use.

Related guides
For trainees:
sentence grammar this guide gives more practice at parsing sentences but is slightly more complex
modification this guide considers verb modification (and much else)
For you (as a reminder of what you need to know)
the in-service guides for the in-service index of the guides to syntax
verb types and clause structures which considers the use of the sentence elements in some depth
adverbials for the in-service guide from which to construct a dedicated training session
A-Z index where you can find guides to or containing specific concepts and terms