i love english language

2.1 Words, Phrases & Clauses

When identifying parts of a text you want to manipulate, you will invariably pick one of the three – a word, a phrase or a clause.

1.     Words

Words are the easiest constituents of a text to identify. The key is to consider which words are the most important for how the text works, or the most telling regarding the author’s purpose.

e.g. Look at the following text: Marina And The Diamonds “I Am Not A Robot”

E.g. “You’ve” on line 1

  1. You’ve been acting awful tough lately
  2. Smoking a lot of cigarettes lately
  3. But inside, you’re just a little baby
  4. It’s okay to say you’ve got a weak spot
  5. You don’t always have to be on top
  6. Better to be hated than love, love, loved for what you’re not

 

  1. You’re vulnerable, you’re vulnerable
  2. You are not a robot
  3. You’re loveable, so loveable
  4. But you’re just troubled
  5. Guess what? I’m not a robot, a robot
  6. Guess what? I’m not a robot, a robot
  7. You’ve been hanging with the unloved kids
  8. Who you never really liked and you never trusted
  9. But you are so magnetic, you pick up all the pins
  10. Never committing to anything
  11. You don’t pick up the phone when it ring, ring, rings
  12. Don’t be so pathetic, just open up and sing
  13. I’m vulnerable, I’m vulnerable
  14. I am not a robot
  15. You’re loveable, so loveable
  16. But you’re just troubled
  17. Guess what? I’m not a robot, a robot
  18. Guess what? I’m not a robot, a robot
  19. Can you teach me how to feel real?
  20. Can you turn my power on?
  21. Well, let the drum beat drop
  22. Guess what? I’m not a robot
  23. Guess what? I’m not a robot
  24. Guess what? I’m not a robot, a robot
  25. Guess what? I’m not a robot, a robot
  26. Guess what? I’m not a robot, a robot
  27. Guess what? I’m not a robot, a robot

 

–          This is a rather inconspicuous word, not heavily laden with meaning, but why might it be important?

–          How does this word give us a hint as to the author’s purpose? How is she using this word to manipulate the target audience?

–          What’s more, is it actually a single word?

–          Is the second of these two words in any way important?

–          What is the word class of the first word “You”?

–          It is not just a pronoun; you can be more specific.

–          What is the word class of the second word?

–          Regardless of what a word’s class is, each word can only be replaced by another word of that class.

–          What might you want to replace this pronoun with?

–          What are the most prominent words, the words which most obviously stand out?

–          But are they the most telling as to the author’s underhand machinations? What are these words classes?

–          Nouns are the most obviously meaning laden words, but that doesn’t mean they are not important.

–          Identify 12 words which could viably be changed, what words could take their place whilst ensuring that the text’s strategy is maintained or the text is made more effective

–          Consider for each word:

  1. What could replace it?
  2. Could this word be completely dropped from the sentence? – if so, why has the author included it (if she did not have to)?

–          Always consider the constituents of sentences in this way; considering the alternatives, as though you were the author redrafting the text, is often more telling than considering what the author has given to us and which we often take for granted.

–          Rewrite a few stanzas of the lyric with the alternate words; does it work? If not, why not?

A word can only be replaced in a sentence by another word of that class.

2.    Phrases

–          At their simplest, phrases are groups of words. However, they are less substantial in sentences than clauses. What does this mean?

–          Consider the following series of words:

  1. awful tough lately
  2. you’re just troubled
  3. let the drum beat drop
  4. with the unloved kids
  5. a weak spot
  6.  you pick up all the pins
  7. But you are so magnetic
  8. Smoking a lot of cigarettes
  9. a lot of cigarettes
  10. all the pins

 

–          Some of these series of words are phrases and some are clauses, the key way to distinguish between them is that clauses are centered on verbs, whilst phrases are not.

–          What are the verbs in the above examples? Verbs are doing words, such as run, swimming, kill, as well as being words, such as is, was, am.

–          Why is it important to distinguish between phrases and clauses?

–          Clauses make a connection between one thing or person and another, e.g. between “you” & “trouble”, between “you” (you’re being told) and “the drum beat”, “you” and “the pins”, “you” and “so magnetic”, “a lot of cigarettes” and whoever’s smoking them  (we aren’t told directly, but if you look at the full text, it’s clearly “you” again)

–          On the other hand, phrases just work like words, making no connection, but give us a little more information about the things or people in the clauses, they just tag on (and can very often be omitted), merely featuring in the clauses which contain them

–          For the phrases above, consider:

  1. What other phrase could replace it?
  2. Could this phrase be completely dropped from the sentence? – if so, why has the author included it (if he did not have to)?

–          Phrases come in many different classes too, but first and foremost we have to be able to identify them – the key factor is that they do not contain verbs.

–          Also,  phrases can replace each word in a sentence, e.g.

“John walked home.”

…can become…

The little fat man walked all the way home.”

…conversely, words can replace whole phrases…

The day before Thursday was a bad day for the human race.”

…can become…

“Yesterday was crap.”

–          Identify 12 more phrases from the lyric

–          Which phrases can be omitted (without breaking the rules of grammar)?

–          What does this tell us about the author’s intentions?

–          If we forget about such concerns as metre or rhythm, what words can be replaced by phrases in this lyric, and what phrases by words?

–          Can we construct a subtly different lyric, one which adopts a different approach to achieve similar ends, or which alters the image this artist is trying to put forward?

Any single word can be replaced in a sentence by a phrase, and conversely, any phrase can be replaced in a sentence by a single word.

3.    Clauses

–          Consider the clauses in the above list:

  1. you’re just troubled
  2. let the drum beat drop

 

  1. you pick up all the pins
  2. But you are so magnetic
  3. Smoking a lot of cigarettes

 

–          What can we say about each of them?

–          Clauses, like sentences (many of the above could be given a full stop and called sentences) have essential constituent parts, which cannot be left out:

you are just troubled

…someone, the subject, has to be troubled: a subject is needed.

the verb has requirements

…it must have a subject, and it must have something coming after it: “You are.” is a strange kind of thing to say. “You are what?” our language demands.

…once verbs are involved, certain types of words are demanded.

However, there are still options for the author: each word can be replaced by another of the same class, e.g. “you” can be replaced by “Tom”, “are” by “is”, “troubled” by “disturbed”, and “just” can be left out completely, or replaced by “only” or “almost”.

–          But clauses say something about something, they link two things together, what comes before the verb, the subject, and what comes after it. Sometimes clauses just link the subject and the verb as in:

“Peter swims.”

            …sometimes the subject and a quality, or a “complement”, of that subject:

“Peter is stupid.”

            …and sometimes the “subject” with a completely other “object”:

“Peter kills sheep.”

…and sometimes with two objects:

“Peter gave Mary a kiss.”

…but it’s the verb what does it!

Identify what you consider to be the 2 key clauses in the following text:

Expectations

Monday morning wake up knowing that you’ve got to go to school
Tell your mum what to expect, she said it’s right out of the blue
Do you want to work in Debenhams, because that’s what they expect
Start in lingerie, and Doris is your supervisor

And the head said that you always were a queer one from the start
For careers you say you want to be remembered for your art
Your obsessions get you known throughout the school for being strange
Making life-size models of The Velvet Underground in clay

In the queue for lunch they take the piss, you’ve got no appetite
And the rumor is you never go with boys and you are tight
So they jab you with a fork, you drop the tray and go berserk
While your cleaning up the mess the teacher is looking up your skirt

Hey, you’ve been used
Are you calm? settle down
Write a song, Ill sing along
Soon you will know that you are sane
You’re on top of the world again

Monday morning wake up knowing that you’ve got to go to school
Tell your mum what to expect, she said it’s right out of the blue
Do you want to work in C&A, cause that’s what they expect
Move to lingerie and take a feel off Joe the store man

Tell Veronica the secrets of the boy you never kissed
She’s got everything to gain cause she’s a fat girl with a lisp
She sticks up for you when you get aggravation from the snobs
cause you cant afford a blazer, girl you’re always wearing clogs

At the interval you lock yourself away inside a room
Head of English gets you, asks you, what the hell do you think you’re doing?
Do you think you’re better then the other kids? well get outside.
You’ve got permission, but you’ve got to make the bastard think he’s right

Hey, you’ve been used
Write a song, Ill sing along
Are you calm? settle down
Soon you will know that you are sane
You’re on top of the world again

Are you cool, and you know
You’re a star and you’ll go far
Think of me as a friend
Not just a boy who’s playing guitar
You’re on top of the world again

Belle & Sebastian

  1. Why are these clauses important?
  2. What does each of these clauses tell us about the text’s P (purpose), A (audience), C (context)?
  3. How might these clauses have been altered?
  4. What does the author’s choice of the specific make up of each clause tell us?
  5. Are there any patterns in the texts’ clauses?
  6. What is more often the clauses subject? Are the subjects being described (linked to a complement) or are they the subject of an action, doing something to some other object?

 

–          There are classes of clauses to be learnt also, but first and foremost, you have to be able to identify single clauses (i.e. know when there is one clause or more – which depends on whether there is one verb or more) and whether a collection of words is a phrase or a clause.

–          Sentences are made up of strings of clauses and phrases arranged together in very specific ways. Many sentences are made up of just one clause.

“Peter killed six sheep.”

–          However, all clauses are not sentences:

“Because there are six sheep.”

            …is not a sentence because it cannot stand on its own.

“When I turned eighteen, I went down to the big smoke, in order to uncover something about who I was, who my parents were, and where I had come from, but it was too late, as the city had changed completely, with whole streets turned upside down and backwards, blocks turned to rubble, and every tree from Deansgate to Exchange Square pulled up by the roots to make space for crappy little stalls selling rubbish to idiots.”

…is a sentence made up of a number of different phrases and clauses; can you identify all of them?

 

The verb of a clause determines its shape; apart from having a subject, whether it needs an object, or a complement.

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