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Basic stuff

Clause complexing comes under the logical metafunction of language, which in turn belongs to the broader ideational metafunction of language. It refers to the relationships that exist between clauses in a sentence. These relationships are of two types, taxis and logico-semantics. This is what Halliday has to say:

"We shall assume, therefore, that the notion of 'clause complex' enables us to account in full for the functional organization of sentences. A sentence will be defined, in fact, as a clause complex. The clause complex will be the only grammatical unit which we shall recognize above the clause. Hence there will be no need to bring in the term 'sentence' as a distinct grammatical category. We can use it simply to refer to the orthographic unit that is contained between full stops. This will avoid ambiguity: a sentence is a constituent of writing, while a clause complex is a constituent of grammar." (Halliday 1994: 216)

Before we proceed further, here's a little intrusion on the analytical convention to be used for clause complexes. Please note that clause complexes are indicated differently from ranking clauses. Ranking clauses, as you know, are marked off by //...//. A clause complex, on the other hand, is marked off this way: |||...|||. We will use this convention throughout this webbie.

Also, please note that if a clause complex contains one and only one ranking clause, it is called a simplex.

Hokie. Now, why do we need clause complexing? Here are two good reasons:

Reason 1: Clauses are interrelated in specific ways, and the mere division of a sentence into its constituent clauses may obscure these relationships. Consider, for instance, the following:

  1. He signed the papers after the lawyer had read them and verified the facts.

There are altogether three ranking clauses in (1). Hence:

  1. ||| He signed the papers // after the lawyer had read them // and verified the facts. |||

You'll agree that the clausal division above obscures the fact that the second and third clauses -- "after the lawyer had read them and verified the facts" -- are closely related (both of them are dependent clauses and are subordinate to the main clause). We therefore need some way to signal this relationship. And that's the general idea behind clause complexing.

Reason 2: Patterns of distribution in a text may be stylistically significant. A text that contains many clause simplexes, for example, would have a very different effect on the reader vis-à-vis a text with many clause complexes.

We'll now take a look at the two types of inter-clausal relationships in a clause complex, beginning with the system of taxis and, if we're still conscious, logico-semantics.

Beam me up, Scottie!


Also known as taxis or the tactic system. The tactic system tells us whether the clauses are of equal or unequal status:

  • Parataxis -- relation between two elements of equal status. Arabic numerals are used to signal parataxis. Since clauses in paratactic relation are equal in status, the clauses are numbered sequentially, that is, "1" is used for the first clause, followed by "2" for the second clause, and so on.
  1. He saw the lecturer and groaned.

In (2), we have two clauses. Since both are main clauses, they are equal in status and are therefore in paratactic relation. Hence:

  1. ||| 1 He saw the lecturer // 2 and groaned. |||

Now consider the first two clauses in (3) below:

  1. ||| When Rowan came near // and looked, // he was amazed at Alvin's ribcage. |||

Both these clauses are dependent clauses, and are therefore of equal status. For this reason, they are also in paratactic relation. Hence:

  1. ||| 1 When Rowan came near // 2 and looked, // he was amazed at Alvin's ribcage. |||
  • Hypotaxis -- relation between two elements of unequal status. Greek letters are used to signal hypotaxis. The symbol α is always reserved for the main or dominant clause. All other symbols, from β onwards are used for clauses dependent on the main/dominant clause. Here's a simple example:
  1. ||| β If you can't convince them, // α confuse them. |||

But ... arghhh ... I'm not familiar with the Greek alphabet!!!

Relax ... I've prepared a reference list for you. Turn to the right margin of this page to have a look-see at the scientific- (scientistic?) looking letters. You don't need to memorise the entire table, mind you. You just need to be familiar with the first three or four letters. (No clause complex analysis will ever require you to use the full 24 letters of the Greek alphabet!)

Now, let's return to the business of the day. In reality, as you might have guessed, a mixture of parataxis and hypotaxis is far more common. This is exemplified in our earlier example (3):

  1. ||| β1 When Rowan came near // β2 and looked // α he was amazed at Alvin's ribcage. |||

Here's a run-down of the steps taken in the analysis of (3):

  • Always use a top-down approach in your analysis. The sentence in (3) can be segmented into two parts -- the first being "When Rowan came near and looked", and the second, "he was amazed at Alvin's ribcage". Since the first segment is subordinate to the second, the two segments are hypotactically related.
  • We therefore use the symbol β for the first segment, and the symbol α for the second. Since there are two clauses in the first segment, the symbol β is repeated for both clauses. (There is only one clause in the second segment, so, thankfully, we do not need to do the same for α.)
  • Now, within the first segment, we still need to account for how the two clauses are related to each other. Since both of them are dependent clauses, they are in paratactic relation. We therefore use "1" and "2" to signal this relation.
  • All this confusing mumbo-jumbo eventually gives us the analysis you see above. It can also be rewritten as follows: β1^β2^α where the caret symbol (^) simply indicates sequence.

On a note of caution, please do not get the wrong idea that a clustering of dependent clauses must mean that they are in paratactic relation. You must first make sure that no clause is dominant over another before concluding so. Have a look at the following:

  1. ||| If you can't confuse them // after failing to convince them, // clobber them. |||

Using the top-down approach, it is easy enough to see that the first two clauses are dependent on the main clause "clobber them". However, if you look carefully at the dependent clauses, you'll realise that they are not in paratactic relation. Specifically, "if you can't confuse them" is the dominant clause, and "after failing to convince them" is dependent on it. Hence:

  1. ||| βα If you can't confuse them // ββ after failing to convince them, // α clobber them. |||

Beam me up, Scottie!


And now for logico-semantics. This basically refers to the nature of the relation between clauses. This relation is both logical and semantic, which explains why we have this irritating term. The logico-semantic relationships are of two broad kinds -- Expansion (comprising Extension, Enhancement, and Elaboration), and Projection (comprising Locution and Idea).


  • Extension -- where the extending clause adds something new, provides an exception, or offers an alternative. The symbol "+" is used to signal Extension, as shown below for both paratactic and hypotactic constructions:
  1. ||| 1 Boney-I-Am sang poorly, // +2 and was booed off the stage. |||
  1. ||| α Boney-I-Am sang poorly, // +β being booed all the way. |||
  • Enhancement -- the enhancing clause provides circumstantial features of time, place, cause/reason, condition, result, etc. The symbol "x" is used to signal Enhancement:
  1. ||| 1 Alvin wanted a band, // x2 so he formed Boney-I-Am. |||
  2. ||| α Alvin formed Boney-I-Am, // xβ because he wanted a band. |||
  • Elaboration -- the elaborating clause restates, comments, exemplifies, or specifies in greater detail. In the case of hypotaxis, elaboration is typically realised by non-restrictive relative clauses. The symbol "=" is used to signal Elaboration:
  1. ||| 1 The group Boney-I-Am recorded their first song 'Got Kut' in January 2002; // =2 it sold 13 copies world-wide. |||
  2. ||| α The group Boney-I-Am recorded their first song 'Got Kut' in January 2002, // =β which sold 13 copies world-wide. |||


  • Locution -- quoted or reported speech. The symbol (") is used to signal Locution. The quoted or reported speech must be projected from a verbal process [please also note from the examples below that the (") symbol goes with the projected clause, not the projecting clause]:
  1. ||| "1 "Let's record 'Got Kut'!"// 2 Alvin declared. |||
  2. ||| α Alvin declared // "β that we should record 'Got Kut'. |||
  • Idea -- quoted or reported thought. The symbol (') is used to signal Idea. The quoted or reported thought must be projected from a mental process [again, note that (') is used only for the projected clause, not the projecting clause]:
  1. ||| '1 "When will we win the coveted Plastic Lizard Award?" // 2 Alvin wondered. |||
  2. ||| α Alvin wondered // 'β when they would win the coveted Plastic Lizard Award. |||

Beam me up, Scottie!

Page-internal links


Halliday, M.A.K. (1994). An Introduction to Functional Grammar, 2nd ed. London: Arnold.

These Greeks, I tell you ...

  α alpha ν nu
  β beta ξ xi
  γ gamma ο omicron
  δ delta π pi
  ε epsilon ρ rho
  ζ zeta σ sigma
  η eta τ tau
  θ theta υ upsilon
  ι iota φ phi
  κ kappa χ chi
  λ lambda ψ psi
  μ mu ω omega