Topic 3: Basic Concepts in Grammatical Analysis

outline of lesson


}Required Reading


}Grammatical unit

}Grammatical rank

}Grammatical class

}Grammatical function/element


}Self-Study Questions



}By the end of this lesson, the student will be  able to:

a)Describe key concepts on which  grammatical analysis is based, namely:  grammatical unit, rank, grammatical  class, and grammatical  function/element.

b)Identify the grammatical units,  grammatical classes and grammatical  functions of underlined constructions.

 required reading

Downing, A. (2015). English grammar: university course (3rd Ed). London & New  York: Routledge.

}  NOTE: Focus on the Unit 2


This week’s lesson focuses on the basic  concepts on which our grammatical analysis  is based. These concepts are the grammatical  units which can be arranged by rank, the  grammatical classes into which these units  can be divided, and the grammatical elements  of which they are composed.

                                                Grammatical Unit

}A unit is any sequence that constitutes a  semantic whole and which has a recognised  pattern that is repeated regularly in speech and  writing” (Downing, 2015, p.11)

}A grammatical unit, hence, conveys meaning and  has identifiable grammar.

}As we learnt  in week 1, there are five  (5)  grammatical units in English, namely: Clause,  Group, Phrase, Word, Morpheme. Each of these  have a distinct grammatical pattern. E.g. a group  has the structure: (Premodifier) + Head  (+Postmodifier); and a Phrase has the structure:  minor Predicator + Complement.

See Example below

COVID-19 is an infectious disease.

} The sequence above constitutes a  grammatical unit called the clause, and  realises particular grammatical meanings in  the language. As a clause, it has the  grammatical elements Subject, Predicator and  Complement as shown below:


COVID-19 is an infectious disease
Subject Predicator Complement

Grammatical Rank

the term rank refers to the size of a grammatical unit-i.eits position on the rank scale.

the idea of rank comes from the  understanding that some grammatical units  such as the clause are also composed of  further units.

}A unit that is a constitute of another unit is a  lower rank and a unit consisting of other  units is a higher rank.

See the Figure on the next slide

   units on the rankscale


Rank/Unit Number Example
Clause One clause COVID-19 is an infectious disease.
Group/  phrase Three groups COVID-19 is an infectious disease
Word Four words COVID-19 is an infectious disease
Morpheme Six morphemes COVID-19 is an infect


ious disease

As indicated above, it can be noted that we  can divide  any  meaningful unit at one rank into smaller units of a different  kind at the rank below.

}The group and phrase are of the same rank  because they both get their function and  meaning in the clause, and each has the word  as its immediate constituent.

}In the clause below, the noun group, verbal  group and prepostional phrase perform  equivalent functions of Subject, Predicator  and Adjunt in the clause.

rank COVID-19 has been on the rise
clause Subject Predicator Adjunct
group/phrase noun group verbal group Prepositional  phrase

Grammatical Class

every grammatical unit is made up of a number of classes.we can analyse and assign members of a unit to aparticular class based on the common characteristics of  the items that make up the class. These characteristics  can be identified in four ways: (1) their form, (2) their  function, (3) their grammatical environment (position) in  a construction, and (4) their meaning.

} We can  identify  classes of word (as noun, verb,  adjective, adverb, preposition, pronoun, determiner,  and conjunction); classes of group/phrase (namely,  noun group, verbal group, adverbial group, adjectival  group, and prepositional phrase) and classes of clause

(such as finite versus nonfinite clauses, or  independent versus dependent clauses)

Examples grammatical class

We can analyse the clause The student was very often

quite nervous during the interview into its classes of  group/phrase, and classes of word as follows.

Classes of group/phrase: four classes of groups and a  phrase:

(1)The student  (noun group),  (2)  was  (verbal group),3.very often (adverbial group),quite nervous (Adjectival group), (5)  during  the interview (Prepositional phrase).

Classes of Word: Ten (10) classes of words:

(1)the (determiner), (2) student (noun), (3) was

(verb),  (4) very (adverb),  (5) often (adverb), (6) quite

(adverb), (7) nervous (adjective), (8) during

(preposition), (9) the (determiner),  (10) interview (noun)

Grammatical functions/Elements

English grammar is organized not only in terms of  classes of units, but also in terms of functions  (Subject, Predicator, etc.).

}It is as a group/phrase that each unit functions in  the clause. Grammatical function/element refers to  the role played by a group/phrase in a particular  clause.

}The major grammatical functions/elements in the  clause give the abbreviation SPOCA i.e. Subject,  Predicator, Object, Complement, and Adjunct.

The Predicator (P) is realised by a verbal group.

}The Subject (S) is realised by a noun group, and  is the element we are talking about in the  clause.

}The Object (O) is realised by a noun group, and  denotes the person or thing affected by the  action or state denoted by the P.

}Complement (C) is realised by a noun group or  an adjectival group, and characterises or  identifies the Subject or the Object.

}Adjunct is realised by an adverbial group or a  prepositional phrase, and tells us circumstances  like when, where, how or why the event  happens).

SPOCA are functions within the clause and  they correspond to groups/phrases.

}Compare these two sentences. How do they  differ in meaning?

1.The police attacked the armed robbers.

2.The armed robbers attacked the police.

In sentence (1), the police are the ones doing  the attacking, whereas, in sentence (2), the  police are the ones being attacked.

}It can be noted that the same noun  group, the police, performs a different  grammatical function in each sentence:

The police attacked the armed  robbers. [Subject]

The armed robbers attacked the police.[Object]

consider example 3 below:

  1. The student was very often quite nervous during the interview.

}  Based on each group/phrase in Example 3, we can  distinguish the different grammatical functions/elements of the clause

Types of  group/  phrase

nominagroup  (NG)



Verbal  group (VG)  Was adverbial  group  (AdvG)



adjectival  group  (AdjG)



Prepositionl phrase (Pp)  During the  interview

Identify the grammatical rank/unit,class and functions of underlined constructions

1.They waited outside for ages.

  • Grammatical rank/unit: Phrase
  • Grammatical class: Prepositional phrase
  • Grammatical function: Adjunct

2.I kept a copy of the letter in my desk.

–Grammatical rank/unit: Group

–Grammatical class: Noun group

–Grammatical function: Object


}The grammar of English is organized around four building  blocks called grammatical units/ranks, namely:  morpheme, word, group/phrase, and clause.

}Each grammatical rank/unit can further be divided into its  further classes – e.g. finite clause, non-finite clause; noun  group, verbal group, etc.

}Grammatical function/element refers to what the  group/phrase does in the clause.

}Functions such as Subject, Predicator, Object, Adjunct, etc.  are realised at clause rank.

self study questions

1.Explain each of these concepts

a.Grammatical unit

b.Grammatical rank

c.Grammatical class

d.Grammatical function

2.Tell the grammatical unit/rank, grammatical class  and grammatical function/element of these  underlined constructions

a.In the end, the choice became pretty clear.

b.In the end, the choice became pretty clear.

c.One of  his friends called a doctor.

d.The boss is in his office.

e.They left the country last week.

Label the functional constituents of these  clauses:

a.She quickly realised her mistake.

b.They waited outside for ages.

c.The election campaign has started.

d.Many people are painting their houses white.

e.In the end, the choice became pretty clear.

  1. “SPOCA are functions within the clause and they correspond to groups/phrases.” With  appropriate illustrations, discuss this  statement.


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