8

Traditionally, a clause is defined as consisting of a subject and predicate. In Oxford Dictionary, it is defined as:

A unit of grammatical organization next below the sentence in rank and in traditional grammar said to consist of a subject and predicate.

But recent linguistics says you don't need a subject to qualify as a clause. For example, an imperative clause normally can get away with no subject:

Come on in.

Except for the imperatives, subjectless clauses are essentially non-finite clauses having an infinitive or participle form of a verb.

He wanted [to change his name]. [infinitive]

She was [locking the door]. [participle]

His father got [charged with manslaughter]. [participle]

These bracketed portions all have a verb as its head. That is, they're all verb phrases, which still holds water even in recent linguistics and outside traditional grammar.

Now, what's the merit of reclassifying these verb phrases as non-finite clauses? To me, it merely seems to make the already confusing phrase-clause distinction even more confusing.'

  • 3
    Wouldn’t this be a better fit for Linguistics? The same considerations apply to many other languages, not just English, and I think you’d be more likely to get answers with a thorough theoretical base over there as well. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 27 '18 at 8:09
  • 1
    Just flag for moderator attention and ask them to migrate it. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 27 '18 at 8:12
  • 1
    I'll close-vote unless you remove the grouse 'Now, what's the merit of calling these verb phrases as non-finite clauses other than making the already confusing whole phrase-clause distinction even more confusing? ' // 'Now, what's the merit of reclassifying these verb phrases as non-finite clauses? To me, it merely seems to make the already confusing phrase-clause distinction even more confusing.' de-grouses and retains valid content. //// You've not mentioned verbless clauses. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 27 '18 at 10:28
  • 1
    I'm just saying I would like to know the answer to your Q and, for me, the question is on topic. You have to make that call, it's your question, not anyone else's. You know both sites well enough to make an informed decision. – Mari-Lou A Feb 27 '18 at 10:48
  • 1
    ' ... what's the merit of calling these verb phrases as non-finite clauses other than making the already confusing whole phrase-clause distinction even more confusing?' is unwarranted sarcasm (or perhaps merely poor writing, I'll concede): how can 'making the already confusing whole phrase-clause distinction even more confusing' be included as a 'merit'? I've edited. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 27 '18 at 11:05
1

The merit behind this non-finite redefinition is to better acknowledge that verb usage can apply in those situations with context, and those without, of which both work by modern linguistics and must require an adjoining subject target to form a complete conclusion. Non-finite meaning without an end or conclusion, as without the adjoining subject target, there is none.

Scenarios:

  1. One which must contain a contextual definition of the subject target in a prior sentence or phrase. (participle, subject-less, adjoining phrase)
  2. One which must contain a contextual definition of the subject target in the current sentence or phrase. (participle, subject-less, compacted adjoining phrase)

Both of these scenarios are non-finite situations requiring additional phrases to offer a conclusion by the use of non-finite clauses.


Examples from yours meeting the subject-less clause rule of verb usage:

She was [locking the door]. [participle]

This fits into a subject-less clause adjacent to a contextual subject inquiry.

("What is [she] doing?") he asked. [contextual target] (inquiry)

("[Locking] the door.") [subject-less verb] (Subject-less clause)

It requires the first phrase prior to the non-finite subject-less verb usage to offer a conclusion.


His father got [charged] with manslaughter. [participle]

This fits into a non-committal subject-less clause adjacent to a contextual subject inquiry, with the addition of the ellipsis '...', implying non-committal or detached demeanor in the reply.

("What happened to [his father]?") [contextual target] (inquiry)

("...[charged] with manslaughter.") [subject-less verb] (non-committal reply)

It requires the first phrase prior to the non-finite subject-less verb usage to offer a conclusion, and provides emotional implications with the addition of the ellipsis.


So in other words, non-finite is describing the fact a subject-less clause must contain an adjoining phrase to become a finite body of words offering a conclusion. It is indeed difficult to comprehend as it deals with bodies of words, not entirely one sentence in many cases, and requires context.

Simply remembering "my non-finite verb-clause needs a finite conclusion to work" is a general mental rule that works.

  • Sorry, but I don't know what the heck you're talking about. What do you even mean by 'conclusion' or 'end'? – JK2 Mar 19 '18 at 1:03
0

The recent linguists are wrong.

A phrase is defined as (thefreedictionary):

phrases do not contain both a subject and a predicate

and a clause:

Clauses are groups of words that contain both a subject and a predicate.

These two definitions are mutually incompatible, and so a verb phrase cannot be a non-finite clause.

  • So, you're trusting "thefreedictionary" more than "recent linguists"?? Contrary to your belief, an imperative clause doesn't contain a subject. – JK2 Mar 20 '18 at 7:14
  • 'imperative clause' is an idiom - i know a school of thought that says idioms aren't valid language constructs. – JonMark Perry Mar 21 '18 at 3:20
  • Are you out of your mind? Who says an 'imperative clause' is an idiom?? Do you even know what an imperative clause is? – JK2 Mar 21 '18 at 4:01

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.