What is a clause?

GeneD

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In the grammar book I'm using at the moment (Advanced Grammar in Use by Martin Hewings), was said the following: "If the subject is a clause, we usually use a singular verb". It's the underlined part that interests me there. Maybe I'm thinking in terms of my mother tongue and don't understand the actual meaning of the word "clause", but I always thought that a clause must have the subject+verb structure. The latter is true for Russian, but in the light of the quoted explanation from the grammar book, it looks as if in the English gammar the situation is different. I'll quote the examples from that book and underline the "clauses":
To keep these young people in prison is inhuman.
Having overall responsibility for the course means that I have a lot of meetings.
Whoever took them remains a mystery.

Are these really clauses? Or was it only an imprecise way to express that idea?
 

GeneD

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Thanks for the explanation and for the classification, Piscean.

There is one thing which confuses me now. Isn't the clause in the second sentence a 'gerund clause'? (Having overall responsibility for the course means that I have a lot of meetings.) 'Having' is a gerund there, isn't it?
 

jutfrank

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There is one thing which confuses me now. Isn't the clause in the second sentence a 'gerund clause'? (Having overall responsibility for the course means that I have a lot of meetings.) 'Having' is a gerund there, isn't it?

Yes. As the post above notes, you can call it a 'gerund' or a 'participle'. The point here is that it is functioning as the subject, so it is seen as one conceptual 'thing'.
 

GeneD

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So it is true! I heard (somewhere) that some grammarians questioned the very existence of the gerund, but it was hard for me to believe it, since these two -ing forms have completely different functions in the sentence (one is a noun, the other an adjective). I wonder how those grammarians back up the denial of the existence of gerund. It's really interesting.
 

jutfrank

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They don't really 'deny the existence', as you put it. They simply don't have a need to distinguish. The distinction is left for others (such as English language teachers!)

There comes a point of analysis beyond which nouns, verbs, adjectives all become one.
 

GeneD

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The distinction is left for others (such as English language teachers!)
Or learners. :-D Speaking for myself, take from me this distinction, and I'm lost.
 

GeneD

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There is not a clear distinction between one and the other.
Thanks for the quote. It's not easy for me to analyze all the examples, but in those I did I do see the distinction. Let's take the first one (Some paintings of Brown's). The word 'paintings' clearly functions here as a noun (gerund) and even has the plural ending which adjectives (traditional participles) don't have.
 

jutfrank

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Yes, Quirk et al agree that in 1, paintings is a noun. But they want to call it a 'deverbal', not a 'gerund'.

Translated into reality, that means that paintings are objects in the physical world, made of wood and canvas and paint. 3 and 4 are also nouns but do not refer to any physical object. Instead they relate to an action, or a way, to paint. Thus, Quirk labels them as 'verbal'.
 

GeneD

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Yes, Quirk et al agree that in 1, paintings is a noun. But they want to call it a 'deverbal', not a 'gerund'.

Translated into reality, that means that paintings are objects in the physical world, made of wood and canvas and paint. 3 and 4 are also nouns but do not refer to any physical object. Instead they relate to an action, or a way, to paint. Thus, Quirk labels them as 'verbal'.

What I still can't understand is why they call all the -ing forms participles.

'Smile' (as a noun) is also something abstract and derived from action. Is it 'verbal'? And most important, is it a participle?
 
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jutfrank

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What I still can't understand is why they call all the -ing forms participles.

'Smile' (as a noun) is also something abstract and derived from action. Is it a 'verbal'? And most important, is it a participle?

The label 'participle' just means the -ing verb form. So smile is not a participle. The participle forms are smiling (present form) and smiled (past form).

Whether Quirk et al would consider smile as a verbal, I don't know. Since there's no morphological difference (that means the spelling is the same) between smile as a verb and smile as a noun, I suspect they would say it is not. That's just my guess, though. Piscean?

[Written before I saw post #13]
 

GeneD

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'Smile' is completely noun-like. It is also concrete - one can see a smile (and feel one's own). It's a deverbal noun. It bears no resemblance to anything like a participle as both traditional and modern grammarians use that word.
What about 'knowledge'? Is it also concrete and deverbal?

You really don't need to worry about these labels unless you are studying grammar in its own right. You can learn to communicate in English without knowing these words. Very few native speakers know much about them. Some members of this forum do, because we have a deep interest in grammar.
I'm not an ardent grammar fan, but must confess the relations between these words-twins caught me. :) On one hand, they are almost identical and there must have been some historical reasons for this. On the other, they function so differently that, from a purely practical point, I find it very important to separate them, at least, when learning the language. Hence my perplexity: why to mix them up?
 

GeneD

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I had to check. It is a deverbal noun for them. Incidentally, Quirk et al use 'verbal' only as an adjective,.
So 'painting' (a gerund) as a process, Jutfrank was talking about in post #11, is seen to them as an adjective?!
 

jutfrank

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What about 'knowledge'? Is it also concrete and deverbal?

No, knowledge is a clear example of a non-concrete (abstract) noun. (I also disagree with Piscean that smile is concrete.)

I find it very important to separate them, at least, when learning the language. Hence my perplexity: why to mix them up?

If separating them works for you, then that's good.

So 'painting' (a gerund) as a process, Jutfrank was talking about in post #11, is seen to them as an adjective?!

No. The description 'verbal' is used only as an adjective by Quirk. I used it as a noun ('a verbal'), meaning 'a word which is verbal'.
 

PaulMatthews

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In the grammar book I'm using at the moment (Advanced Grammar in Use by Martin Hewings), was said the following: "If the subject is a clause, we usually use a singular verb". It's the underlined part that interests me there. Maybe I'm thinking in terms of my mother tongue and don't understand the actual meaning of the word "clause", but I always thought that a clause must have the subject+verb structure. The latter is true for Russian, but in the light of the quoted explanation from the grammar book, it looks as if in the English gammar the situation is different. I'll quote the examples from that book and underline the "clauses":
To keep these young people in prison is inhuman.
Having overall responsibility for the course means that I have a lot of meetings.
Whoever took them remains a mystery.

Are these really clauses? Or was it only an imprecise way to express that idea?

The first two are clauses, but the third one is a noun phrase in a 'fused' relative construction.

Clauses functioning as subject are non-finite, and most non-finite clauses are subjectless, though in a sense we understand them as having subjects. Often the missing subject can be determined syntactically from some antecedent. But in your first example, the subject cannot be determined that way, and the meaning thus depends heavily on inference. The salient interpretation is: "For society to keep these people in prison is inhuman".

In your second example, the subject is clearly understood as the speaker (i.e. "I").

In your third example, "Whoever took them" is not a clause but a descriptive noun phrase, where we understand "the person x satisfying the description 'x took them'", with the implicature that no one knows who it was.
 

GeneD

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Thanks for the explanation. I think I'm beginning to see the light but am not sure I do it from the right perspective, though. :) (I'm not sure my heels aren't over my head, that is.)

The funny thing is, the third example was, from the very beginning, the only candidate I thought was suitable to be called a 'clause'. 'Whoever' (which can be changed to 'John', 'Peter', whoever :)) looks similar to a 'normal' subject, and 'took' is a 'normal' verb. What I've learned from your explanation (though I might understand you wrongly) is that in the first two examples it's possible to find a subject even in those, it would seem, subjectless clauses looking at the semantic of the clause rather than it's 'real' form. In the third, there is, in my view, the most 'real' subject of the others. What do you think of this?
 

jutfrank

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In the third, there is, in my view, the most 'real' subject of the others. What do you think of this?

Look at it this way. Which of the following is the sentence saying? What exactly remains a mystery?

Peter remains a mystery.
The identity of the person who took them remains a mystery.

 

PaulMatthews

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Thanks for the explanation. I think I'm beginning to see the light but am not sure I do it from the right perspective, though. :) (I'm not sure my heels aren't over my head, that is.)

The funny thing is, the third example was, from the very beginning, the only candidate I thought was suitable to be called a 'clause'. 'Whoever' (which can be changed to 'John', 'Peter', whoever :)) looks similar to a 'normal' subject, and 'took' is a 'normal' verb. What I've learned from your explanation (though I might understand you wrongly) is that in the first two examples it's possible to find a subject even in those, it would seem, subjectless clauses looking at the semantic of the clause rather than it's 'real' form. In the third, there is, in my view, the most 'real' subject of the others. What do you think of this?

Whoever took them remains a mystery.

I have already explained that "whoever took them" a noun phrase headed by the pronoun (a subclass of noun) "whoever". It's a special kind of construction called a 'fused' relative, where the noun "whoever" is head of the noun phrase as well as being the relative word in the embedded relative clause.

If it helps, you could paraphrase it as "the person who took them remains a mystery", where "person" is clearly a noun modified by the relative clause "who took them".
 

GeneD

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Is it correct to change 'whoever' (which I'm uncomfortable with, frankly speaking, because I've never used it myself :oops:) to 'who'?
Who took them remains a mystery.
If so, in the following question, is 'who' a subject?
Who took them?
 

GeneD

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Then, in the following sentence, the underlined part is a clause, right? (Taking into consideration that, in the question 'Who took them', the word 'who' is a subject.)
Who took them remains a mystery.
 
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jutfrank

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Is it correct to change 'whoever' (which I'm uncomfortable with, frankly speaking, because I've never used it myself :oops:) to 'who'?
Who took them remains a mystery.

It depends what you mean by 'correct'. I don't think there's any chance that anybody would misunderstand what you mean, so in that sense, yes.
 
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