Basic stuff

The first thing you should know is that this part has two pages, one to do with clauses and the other, downranking. You are now reading the first page.

The second, which is more important, is that all clauses must have a verb group (VG) -- it is the obligatory constituent of the clause. The following, for instance, are all clauses (the VGs are underlined):

  1. Mickey Mouse is eating laksa.
  2. Stop!
  3. While eating laksa ...

But the following are not:

  1. X-files.
  2. Was gargling.

It's easy to see why (4) isn't a clause ('cos there's no VG), but what about (5)? It has a VG, so doesn't that make it a clause? The answer is no. What you have in (5) is a VG, which only carries the potential of being part of a clause. In fact, if you look at the main verb -- gargling -- you'll agree that it requires someone to do the gargling. So if we had Mickey Mouse was gargling, we would have a clause. But in itself, (5) is only a VG, not a clause.

But whoa ... hang on.

What about (2) then? Well, what we have in (2) is an imperative. Now, imperatives are clauses that can be, and are often, subjectless. The omitted subject is frequently the second-person pronoun you. Hence, when someone yells Stop!, he or she really means You stop!. However, the subject, provided it is explicitly mentioned, need not always be the second-person pronoun. In certain cases, a third person subject is also possible, as in:

  1. Somebody open this door.

Beam me up, Scottie!

Types of clauses

Here, we will only be concerned with the broadest types of clauses, namely, main (a.k.a. independent) clause, and subordinate (a.k.a. dependent) clause. These clauses are all ranking clauses, that is, they form a separate rank on the rank scale. This is, admittedly, a restrictive way of understanding clauses, since some textbooks regard embedded clauses as a type of subordinate clause. We will stick, nevertheless, to Halliday's terminological preference and regard all clauses -- unless otherwise stated (see next paragraph) -- as ranked. In terms of their realisation, ranking clauses do not form part of a larger clause, although some of them may be dependent on another clause (see the difference?).

How then, do we handle clause-like segments that occur as part of a larger clause? Well, such segments are called downranked clauses (also sometimes referred to as rankshifted or embedded clauses). They have the form of a clause, but are really functioning as a participant (for example, Hearing him belch was quite an experience) or part of a circumstantial element (for example, He belched more loudly than he had ever belched before). It is for this reason that such clauses are called downranked -- since participants and circumstantial elements are realised by word groups, which come below the full-fledged clause in terms of Halliday's rank scale. Another important point to note is that downranked clauses can occur only within NGs or adverbial groups, but never within VGs. Downranked clauses will be handled separately on page 2.

Now, let's get back to the business of the day. An independent clause is different from a dependent clause in that the former can stand alone, but not the latter. Compare, for instance, (7) and (8) below:

  1. Snow White picks noses for a living.
  2. *Because she has nothing better to do.
    *To kill time.
    *That she has nothing better to do.

If you need another rule of thumb, try putting the clauses together. When independent clauses are coordinated, they can't switch positions. For example:

  1. Snow White picks noses and Prince Charming picks pimples.
    *And Prince Charming picks pimples Snow White picks noses.

As you can see, when independent clauses are coordinated, linking words are involved. These include coordinators (and, or, but) and conjunctive adverbs (therefore, moreover, however, etc.). Now, whereas coordinators must always be in initial position, conjunctive adverbs can occur in different positions in the clause:

  1. Snow White picks noses; however, she detests hairy ones.
    Snow White picks noses; she, however, detests hairy ones.
    Snow White picks noses; she detests, however, hairy ones.
    Snow White picks noses; she detests hairy ones, however.

The important thing to remember, though, is that the clause containing the coordinator or conjunctive adverb must always come after the first independent clause, not before. For this reason, we say that coordinated independent clauses are immobile.

So much for independent clauses. Subordinate clauses, by comparison, are far more mobile. Some subordinate clauses can also be inserted (or enclosed) within another clause, as in (13) below:

  1. The notebook crashed before he saved his work.
  2. Before he saved his work, the notebook crashed.
  3. The notebook crashed before he, after spending the whole night at it, saved his work.

The only exceptions to this rule of thumb involve a special type of a noun clause (called a projected subordinate clause) and the non-restrictive relative clause. Please don't try to move these two types of clauses around; you'll only get a yucky result:

  1. Linguists say that the clause is not related to Santa.
    *That the clause is not related to Santa, linguists say.
  1. Santa, who is not related to the clause, is now confused.
    *Who is not related to the clause, Santa is now confused.

Beam me up, Scottie!

Complex VGs

Now, get ready for an itsy-bitsy problem. What do we do with a construction like the following?

  1. Alvin happens to be Rowan's twin brother.

It has "happens" and "to be". So, is it one clause or two? The answer is one. Arghhh ... why? That's because "happens to be" is taken as a complex VG. Here are some more examples of complex VGs:

  1. Alvin tends to be grouchy in the morning.
  2. Alvin tries to be less grouchy in the afternoon.
  3. Alvin wants to look normal in the evening.

The following, however, is not an example of a complex VG. It has, instead, two clauses:

  1. Alvin stopped   to admire his rib cage.

You can use two tests to find out whether you have a complex VG. And here they are:

  • Time reference test -- the complex VG represents an activity that occurs over a single (continuous) time frame. In a VG like "tends to be", for instance, there is no time distinction between "tends" and "to be" -- that is, Alvin can't tend yesterday to be grouchy the next morning!
  • "In order" test -- a complex VG does not permit "in order" to be inserted within it. We therefore get a bad result if we try this test in (17) -- *"tends in order to be". But if we try it in (20), we get a perfectly fine result -- "Alvin stopped in order to admire his rib cage". This shows that (17) has a complex VG, but not (20). (Note: This test works well in most cases, though not all, so don't be surprised if it fails at times.)

One reason why (20) comprises two clauses is that the corresponding version -- "To admire his rib cage, Alvin stopped" -- is perfectly acceptable. We can't do the same, however, for (16) to (19) -- *"To be grouchy in the morning, Alvin tends", etc. We therefore see that the VGs in (20) actually carry the meaning "stopped in order to admire".

One other point. Please note that the above test works for "verb to verb" sequences only. If you have any other sequence involving more than one lexical verb, you'd have to resort to other means:

  1. Alvin got up   yawning.
    = Alvin got up [after/while] yawning.
    = Yawning, Alvin got up.
    (Mobility, suggesting "yawning" is a subordinate clause; hence, "got up" and "yawning" are 2 VGs, and we have 2 separate clauses here.)
  2. Alvin got up   having slept for five days.
    = Having slept for five days, Alvin got up.
    (Mobility, suggesting "having slept" is part of a subordinate clause; hence "got up" and "having slept" are 2 VGs, and we have 2 separate clauses here.)

Beam me up, Scottie!

Clause boundaries

OK ... now for the mother of all questions: How do I tell apart one clause from another in a text? My advice to you is practice. And more practice. But for starters, here's what you need to do:

  • Since all clauses must have a VG, search for the verbs first.
  • Once you've located your verbs, you have, technically, your clauses, unless your 'text' is simply a collection of VGs such as (5) and nothing else (in which case there are no clauses whatsoever).
  • Next, apply your expert knowledge on what kinds of clausal elements the VG can and cannot take. You might also want to click here to jump ahead on the SFPCAs of a clause.
  • Look out also for any linking words -- conjunctions, conjunctive adjuncts, subordinators, etc -- and attach them to the appropriate clauses.
  • Once you've done that, next decide whether the clauses are ranking or downranked. Downranked clauses will be more fully discussed on page 2.
  • Mark off the ranking clauses with double backslashes //...// and downranked clauses with double square brackets [[...]]. If the ranking clause is inserted, make an exception and mark it off with double angled brackets «...» instead.

Still with me, everyone? Now, click here to see how you should go about dividing up a text into clauses.

Gimme Page 2, please
Beam me up, Scottie!

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