Rank order

We have seen (Clauses) that each higher order unit of organization in language is constituted from elements of the immediately lower unit of organization. We see that morphemes combine into words, that words combine into phrases and that phrases combine into clauses. There is, therefore, a rank order to the organization of clauses (Table 1).rank

example

clause

my disorganized brothers might decide quickly

phrase

my disorganized brothers

might decide

quickly

word

my

disorganized

brothers

might

decide

quickly

morpheme

my

dis-

-organize-

-ed

brother

-s

might

decide

quick

-ly

Table 1. Rank order of clauses

The clause complex

Of course, clauses may also combine into larger units. Consider the following utterance:

although Joyce played well, the standards were too high

We can see that this utterance is made up of two clauses if we separate it into its ranks, as follows (Table 2).

rank

example

clause

although Joyce played well,

the standards were too high

phrase

although

Joyce played well,

the standards

were

too high

word

although

Joyce

played

well,

the

standards

were

too

high

morpheme

although

Joyce

play

-ed

well,

the

standard

-s

were

too

high

Table 2. Rank order of a clause complex

When two or more clauses combine to form a longer utterance, we refer to the new combination as a clause complex. Note that we are not referring to sentences here, as we are concerned with spoken language. Sentences are a phenomenon of written and not spoken language. In written texts, it is usually easy to identify sentences: they frequently begin with a capital letter and end with a full stop. Even so, there is no universal agreement as to how long or short a sentence may be. Writers, and editors of texts, tend to divide sentences into manageable sizes, usually influenced by the amount of information that they consider the reader will be able to retain whilst reading the sentence. In other words, the sentence is divided into semantic chunks, units of meaning that appear to convey a complete thought. There are, therefore, no commonly accepted rules that govern the structure of a written sentence.

Similarly, there are no rules that prescribe how long a spoken utterance may be. One would suppose that similar cognitive constraints to processing written sentences would apply, i.e. the listener would be able to retain and process only so much information in the auditory memory. We can, nevertheless, identify ways in which various clauses may be combined with others. There are two main ways in which clauses may be combined: (1) coordination, and (2) subordination.

Coordination

Two independent clauses may be linked through the use of coordinating conjunctions such as and, or, but, then, e.g.

Clause complex

Other examples include:

John likes to paint and Kathy likes to cook

you can go first or you can go second

I run fast but I think slowly

Sharon went home then she went to bed

Subordination

“Subordination involves the linking of a potentially independent clause with one or more dependent clauses” (Hewings, 2005:168). Unlike independent clauses, so-called dependent clauses cannot stand alone. They function to supply supportive, background or modifying information for main clauses. They can also elaborate or extend these in various ways. Typically, a subordinate cause begins with a subordinating conjunction (e.g. after, since, whether, though) or a so-called relative pronoun (e.g. that, whoever, whichever). Reconsider the first utterance at the beginning of this Section:

although Joyce played well, the standards weretoo high

We have already noted the two clauses (1) although Joyce played well, and (2) the standards were too high. The first of these is introduced by the subordinating conjunction although. It is also apparent that this clause cannot stand alone – it does not provide a complete thought. Rather, it is dependent upon the main clause the standards were too high and serves to provide background information. Other examples of subordinate clauses (in red) are as follows.

while I was jogging, I noticed the light begin to fade

Robert did poorly in class because he insisted on talking with his mates

so that you’ll think well of me, I’m going to let you off this time

References

Hewings, A. (2005) Describing the Grammar of Speech and Writing Milton Keynes: The Open University.