The clause is a central unit of any language. A simple way of thinking about clauses is to regard them as units of language which convey a single message about some event or state, including information about what kind of event or state it is; who is taking part; where, when, why, or how it happened, etc.
Here are some very general examples of the kinds of messages clauses convey:
- Somebody did something at a certain time.
- Somebody did something to someone else.
- Something was the case at a certain time.
- Something happened for a certain reason.
- Something has a certain property.
Clauses are analysed in terms of clause elements, which can be understood as shorthand ways or referring to the parts of the message conveyed by the clause. We use the following clause elements:
- Predicate verb (V)
- Subject (S)
- Direct object (Od)
- Indirect object (Oi)
- Subject predicative (Ps)
- Object predicative (Po)
- Adverbial (A)
The predicate verb (V)
The central part of the clause is the predicate verb, which specifies what kind of event or state we are talking or writing about. In the following clauses, the predicate verb is highlighted.
(1) The boys gathered in the street.
(2) The road had been blocked by a tree.
(3) Several accidents had occurred during the afternoon.
Notice that the predicate verb may consist of more than one word. Thus, the term 'predicate verb' does not denote a special subclass of the word class 'verb', but specifies a role or function that a part of the clause has.
The subject (S)
The subject of a clause identifies an important participant in the event or state described by the predicate verb. Depending on the verb, the subject identifies who does something; who or what has a certain property; who or what is in a particular state, etc. In the following clauses, the subject is highlighted.
(4) Boys gathered in the street.
(5) All the boys gathered in the street.
(6) Water has a higher density than oil.
To identify the subject, it often helps to formulate a question based on what general situation the clause is about. Thus, the first clause above is about someone gathering somewhere. To find the subject, we ask a question like 'Who gathered somewhere?'. The answer is 'boys', which thus functions as the subject of the clause.
Notice that the subject can consist of many words, as in the second example.
A clause may contain one or two objects. In general terms, an object denotes someone or something which is affected by the action described by the verb. In the following clauses, the object is highlighted.
(7) We mixed the two liquids in a test glass.
(8) The increase in immigration indirectly affected the inflation process.
(9) They placed the test tube in a steel container.
To identify the object, we can ask a question of the general type 'What/Who did the subject Verb?' Applied to the first example above, the question would be: 'What did we mix?' The answer is 'the two liquids' which thus functions as the object of the sentence.
The presence or absence of objects is determined by the verb. Thus, some verbs (transitive verbs) require the presence of an object, while others (intransitive verbs) do not.
Some verbs (ditransitive verbs) require two objects. In the following clause the two objects are highlighted.
(10) The new law gave the government full control over the banks.
The first object, the government, is referred to as the indirect object, and the second object is referred to as the direct object.
The indirect object can also be in the form of a prepositional phrase, in which case the direct object precedes the indirect object, as in (11):
(11) She sent some documents to the professor.
Please note that if there is only one object in a clause, this object is always a direct object, unless the verb actually requires two objects, in which case we may have ellipsis, as in (12):
(12) They often give to charity.
Predicatives ascripe properties to the subject or object of a clause. The most typical verb that occurs with a predicative is be, but there are several other verbs that can create a similar link to the subject. Here are a few examples with the predicatives highlighted:
(13) Bill is a mathematician.
(14) The results were somewhat surprising.
(15) Several of the members in the control group seemed surprised.
(16) Over time, the impact of the discovery became more and more obvious.
These examples all involve subject predicatives, i.e. predicatives which ascribe properties to the subject. The following example illustrate cases where the predicative ascribes a property to the object.
(17) Everyone considers James a promising mathematician.
(18) The research team all found the results somewhat surprising.
In the first example, James functions as the object, and the predicative, a promising mathematician, ascribes a property to Bill. Similarly, in the second example, the results functions as the object and somewhat surprising ascribes a property to the results. Predicatives that are linked to the object in this way are referred to as object predicatives.
Adverbials perform a wide range of functions within a clause.
Some adverbials specify circumstances that accompany an event or a state. For example, an adverbial may specify when, where, why or how an event took place. In the following clauses the adverbials are highlighted.
(19) After the war, the manufacture of arms was forbidden.
(20) A sensible savings plan is preferable, because of the financial advantage of saving over borrowing.
(21) The nerve was divided with a pair of scissors.
Other adverbials indicate how a clause is related to a previous one.
(22) However, the government recovered 7 billion of the debt.
(23) Moreover, treatment with digoxin may precipitate digitalis intoxication.
A third group of adverbials provide comments on the content of the clause, e.g. with respect to the speaker's or writer's attitude towards the truth or content of the clause.
(24) Apparently, large groups are perceived as more threatening than small ones.
(25) Admittedly, the old critics did not question progress as such.
A clause may contain more than one adverbial. The following clause has three adverbials.
(26) In general, however, the army would need more funds to purchase more and better weapons.
You can read more about adverbials if you follow this link: