12 The synthetic grammar of English – assessing the conventional wisdom with objects, complements, verbs and adverbials

Here, for ease of reference, is the set of criteria we are using in assessing the conventional wisdom, on the synthetic grammar of English, for its values and demerits. A successful classificatory system needs to have:

  1. absolute clarity as to what falls within the domain of a particular class or category and what does not;
  2. no overlap between classes, so that nothing can readily fall within two or more classes;
  3. no equivalence of terminology between distinct but related classification systems;
  4. a superordinate classification of structural types when classes in a classification system only occur in one or another structural type;
  5. transparency in the terminology used for individual classes, to facilitate the achievement of needs (i) and (ii) above;
  6. completeness of coverage, so that no item within the area of study hovers potentially unclassifiable in that it does not fit readily within any of the classification classes;
  7. no ‘overlumping’ where two or more distinct entities are included together within one category;
  8. no ‘oversplitting’, where two entities of marginal difference are unnecessarily separated from each other;
  9. a coherent explanatory value for each class or category within the system.

Now, let’s have a look, first, at objects.

Object

In these examples, the object is highlighted in these sentences:

Action or process: He created the machine some years ago.

State: Tom liked his ideas.

Event: She made a decision. She decided what to do.

As shown here, in each case, the object is either the focus of an action, or of a state or of an event and, as far as I can see, the notion of the object passes all the criteria for a successful classification tool, listed above. Particularly, as a term, it has the right degree of transparency without being too specific semantically. No issues here.

Complement

Subject complement

The core way in which the term complement is used, in synthetic-grammar descriptions, is to describe what completes the meaning after a verb (usually a form of be) in an expression that describes the subject. The complements are highlighted here in these sentences:

A) The professor is very clever. He isn’t very wise, though.

B) He is an expert in physics and maths.

As a term, ‘complement’ rather fails on criterion v (transparency). In these sentences, the complements are giving information about the subject, but the term ‘complement’ does not express this in any way at all; ‘complement’ focuses on the idea that it is completing the verb, which feels, conceptually, somewhat irrelevant. It’d be good to have a term that suggests more directly what the item in question does within the sentence; it describes the subject, so maybe it can be more effectively called a ‘describer’?

Object complement

In the examples above, the complements are subject complements, in that they complete the verb with information about the subject; but, we can of course also have object complements. These add information about the object:

C) This made her angry.

D) They elected her Chair.

The use of the term complement here does not explain anything about the underlying synthetic relationship between the object (her x 2) and the complement (angry, Chair). As such, the use of the term complement fails to deliver on criterion ix.

Other types of complement

The term complement is, often, very vaguely defined as something that completes something within a sentence. I have read grammarians explaining that the highlighted parts in these kinds of sentences are complements, in that they complete the meaning of what precedes them:

E) [completing the meaning of the verb] I’d like a coffee and, then, I’d like to go to the cinema.

F) [completing the meaning of the verb] I empathise with her.

G) [completing the meaning of the noun] There is a need for patience here.

H) [completing the meaning of the noun] Tom’s dislike of the plan was evident.

I) [completing the meaning of the adjective] I’m unhappy about his attitude.

Complement review

As is evidenced by the examples above, the term ‘complement’ is failing in relation to criterion vii in that it is being used as a term within the synthetic grammar and within the analytic grammar, in much the same breath.

In (E), a coffee and to go to the cinema are objects, as well as complements, and fulfil a full role as such in the synthetic grammar of the sentence. (By the by, the fact that the highlighted phrases in (E) are readily seen as both objects and complements means that we are getting an overlap of classes here because of the very broad use of the term complement – this breaks criterion ii.)

Similarly, in (A) and (B), the complements (very clever; very wise; an expert in maths …) are fulfilling a full role as complements in the synthetic structure and are called complements because there is no other available term for them.

But, in (F) to (I), the complements, so-called, are not parts of the synthetic grammar but part of the analytic grammar.

So, for example, in I empathise with her, the synthetic structure is, in fact, this:

Isubject empathise withverb herobject.

Similarly with the other sentences, the synthetic structures are these:

Theresubject isverb a need for patiencecomplement here.

Tom’s dislike of the plansubject wasverb evidentcomplement.

Isubject’mverb unhappy about his attitudecomplement.

It is confusing to have the one term, complement, available for use within both synthetic and analytic grammar explanations, and so there is, here alone, a good reason to dispense with the term, quite apart from the fact that it is not particularly useful or explanatory within either level of the grammar system.

Adverbial complement

Some grammarians refer to such things as adverbial complements, where the term ‘complement’ has taken on an extra meaning of referring to something that necessarily completes something. Compare:

J) He put the flowers in the vase.

K) He arranged the flowers in the vase.

In (J), we can’t lose the adverbial in the vase, while, in (K), we can; so; in (J), but not in (K), we have an adverbial complement. This specialisation of the use of the term complement further confuses the exact meaning of the term, rendering it further suspect in its reliability for use and reflects a contrast (between necessary and unnecessary completion) that isn’t significant in terms of the effective modelling of the synthetic grammar of the language. It is physical reality, and the semantics derived from that, that makes the adverbial in (J) necessary and the adverbial in (K) not necessary; it’s not the grammar that determines this.

Verb

Look at these sentences:

She really likes that little black number of a dress.

I empathise with his feelings of frustration a lot.

It may have taken him ages to wire in the fire-alarm system, you know.

Working is not my most favourite activity.

He wants to be a pilot.

In order to be sure to arrive on time for the interview, he left home early.

In these examples, all the individual highlighted words are verbs. But, here, they are only verbs within the analytic grammar, they are not verbs within the synthetic grammar. Within the analytic grammar, each of these words in bold are recognised as verbs in contrast to being nouns, or adjectives or prepositions etc. (It could be argued that working has become a noun in this context, but I would counter that it is a verb that is only ‘operating’ as a noun as a consequence of its position in the synthetic structure of the sentence it is in here.)

Let’s now look at these same sentences in terms of the functional category of ‘verb, as part of the synthetic grammar, in contradistinction to subjects, objects etc.

She really likes that little black number of a dress.

I empathise with his feelings of frustration a lot.

It may have taken him ages to wire in the fire-alarm system, you know.

Working is not my most favourite activity.

He wants to be a pilot.

In order to be sure to arrive on time for the interview, he left home early.

As we can see, in terms of the functional category of ‘verb’, within the synthetic grammar, really and likes have come together to form a ‘verb’, empathise and with have come together to form a ‘verb’; the three individual verbs may, have and taken have come together to perform the single function of a ‘verb’; working has lost the category of ‘verb’ and is now a subject; the be in to be a pilot is not any part of the synthetic category of ‘verb’, it has become part of the object after wants; etc.

Do you see the problem? We have the same term, verb, for two completely different types of entity – one analytic and one synthetic in its frame of cross-reference. This breaks criterion iii, determining that there should be no equivalence of terminology across distinct levels of a system, and is potentially very confusing. By using the one term verb in these two very different ways, we can readily cause people to wonder what type of item we are referring to: an analytic-structure item or a synthetic-structure item. We need to distinguish the two. My proposal is that we have an analytic-entity item of the ‘verb’ and a synthetic-entity item of the ‘verbal part’, or perhaps just the ‘verbal’.

Adverbial

And, finally, the adverbial comes under the spotlight. If we take the adverbial as a word or a group of words in a sentence that operates like an adverb in terms of semantics, whether or not they are an adverb or contain an adverb, then it can be difficult to know what falls within the category of adverbial and what does not and that means we can fall foul of criterion i (clarity of exclusion or inclusion). Let’s look again at this sentence example:

In order to be sure to arrive on time for the interview, he left home early.

Should we say that the highlighted part is an ‘adverbial’? Well, it’s clearly not a subject, nor a verb/verbal, nor an object, and it doesn’t complete what is before it as it starts the sentence, so it’s hard to call it a complement. But, is it then an adverbial? Well, semantically it does not really fit in with the normal semantic territory of an adverb, as adverbs aren’t really used to describe purpose, and this is clearly describing purpose. Well, okay, so, what if an adverbial is anything that does not fit in any of the other functional categories? Okay, theoretically and practically, I don’t think I have a problem with that; it may bring into focus interesting things about the parts of sentences that can readily appear in different positions within a sentence. But, a lot of things that don’t fit in any of the other functional categories are not semantically like adverbs, so why call these ‘adverbials’? Calling things that don’t fit anywhere else ‘adverbials’ could be seen to be violating criteria v (the value of transparency) and ix (coherent explanatory value). So, it looks like we need to find a general catch-all term, something less specific than ‘adverbial’, for those synthetic-structure items that don’t fit within any of the other traditional synthetic-structure categories of subject, verb, object and complement (if the last is reasonably tightly, and thus effectively, and not very loosely defined).

David Lott

4 Comments

  1. I apologise in advance for my very silly question, but: when you speak about verbs being different in analytic and synthetic grammar, isn’t it the same like differentiating between a verb (parts of speech) and a predicate (parts of a sentence), therefore predicate is a [verb]+[other elements developing the verb]. Or am I just completely missing something?

    In relation to complement, it has helped me in my studies of language to simplify it immensely and say that ‘without a complement the subject is nothing’. Therefore, in a sentence “She is hot” – we know nothing about the “she” without the “hot”, other than she is, which is not good enough and therefore “hot” is a complement since it completes the meaning/being of her. I think this works well in line with your (synthetic) view of the sentences, only sentence F (I empathise with her) proves to be difficult, because following my logic I could say that “I empathise” is the same like “He is” and therefore “with her” would be a complement, which I agree it is not. I suppose it is the “with” which causes the confusion – does it belong to “empathise” or to “her”? In Czech, where the structure of the sentence is the same in this case, that is [verb]+[preposition]+[pronoun], it would probably be: empathise [predicate] + with her [object], but I wouldn’t bet my life on this.
    When thinking of an example sentence, the first thing that came to my mind was “some like it hot” – what is hot here? A complement to the object-it?

    As for adverbials – what is your view on adverbial adjuncts? In Czech, adverbials are called adverbial-determiner (of time, place, manner and cause {the “in order to” … is an adverbial-determiner of cause}). I feel “determiner” could work well for your purposes instead of “adverbial” but then, of course, you run into the problem of having two types of determiners – in adverbial and articles 😀 Oh, what a pickle!

  2. I kept thinking that there must be a way of explaining your example of an adverbial as having a connection to an adverb – and I am thinking that philosophically, a cause or a reason to do something falls into the category of adverb – because adverb is a part of speech that provides more informaiton including time, space, …, and other circumstances (!), so “in order to” is other circumstances for the activity. Does that make any sense? But then, reading wiki (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adverb), I found that even adverbs seem to be a “trash” category in themselves. So maybe it is necessary to start the revolution already at this level 🙂

    • No silly questions here and, actually, I thank you for them. They have led me on a considerable course of reflection as to whether what I have said so far in these articles is misguided in its questioning of the conventional wisdom in relation to grammatical terminology and analytical constructs; rightly or wrongly, I have returned to the conclusion that it is not. I want to make that my theme, if I can, in responding to your questions here. I do feel (and think, for that matter) that the current conventionally acceptable grammatical terminology and the related conceptual constructs are something of a mess, frequently incomprehensible, very vague and often ambiguous or polysemous, often only making clear the pretty obvious or the explanatorily useless and not explaining, nor giving the tools to explain, what is the most subtle and the most clever in the language. I remember once looking at a web-based linguistics discussion forum some time ago and noticing that, in the debates, the collocutors seemed to get quite ‘ratty’ with each other; I wondered at the time if that was because of a lack of clarity in the terminology and that they couldn’t understand how each other were using terms in subtly/significantly different ways and thus constantly misunderstanding each other and getting frustrated by, and with, each other; it seemed like it wasn’t their social and communication skills that were at fault so much as the conceptual terms that they were trying to work collaboratively with; they had no effective grammatical ‘lingua franca’. I sense also that, for some (though, not, I think, for yourself), the grammar that they were taught by serious and committed teachers feels almost biblical in its status and to question that lore, or law, in any way can feel almost sacrilegious. But, I can’t help that; where one feels there to be need for development and improvement, I feel one must respond or, to put it another way, ‘needs must’. Well, after this rather long intro, I will now seek to respond effectively to each of your questions in turn; I plan, for now, to use traditional terminology in this particular reply as best I can and to distinguish between the synthetic grammar-related use of terms and the analytic grammar-related use of terms by using your contrast, above, of a bracketed clarification of ‘parts of a sentence’ (= synthetic grammar) and ‘parts of speech’ (= analytic grammar).

      1) Re. When you speak about verbs being different in the analytic and the synthetic grammar, isn’t it the same as differentiating between a verb (parts of speech) and a predicate (parts of a sentence) and therefore the predicate is a [verb] + [other elements developing the verb]?
      Okay, first off, I am not sure what you mean by ‘other elements developing the verb’ – it seems to me it’s possible that, by this expression:
      (a) you are referring to what is immediately after the verb, such as a complement after a copula verb as in he was a solicitor for many years and/or that you are referring to an object after the verb, which is seen by some as a form of complement (as shown in the article above), as in I saw him yesterday; so, here, the predicates are was a solicitor and saw him;
      or (b) you are seeing this element of other elements as also including other things such as adverbials as in I saw him yesterday, where yesterday (adverb + adverbial) is also an element developing the verb, and as in he was a solicitor for many years, where for many years (prepositional phrase + adverbial) is also an element developing the verb; and so, here, the the predicates are was a solicitor for many years and saw him yesterday;
      or (c) you are only referring to elements within the verb (parts of a sentence) that are not verbs (parts of speech), as in she really likes it and I empathise with her, where really (adverb) and with (preposition) are elements within the verb (parts of a sentence) but are not verbs (parts of speech); and so, here, the predicates are really likes and empathise with.

      I think my uncertainty between interpretations (a) and (b) and (c) reflects disparate views generally on the meaning of the term ‘predicate’, and therefore of its range of reference, as I sought to show in the previous article noting that traditional views of the predicate were like that of (b), but that, in Valency and Dependency grammar theories, the predicate is seen in the same way as in (c).
      So, then, I thought: ‘Is there a generally accepted view on the meaning of the term predicate?’ I had a look in my favourite dictionary for its definition of predicate as a grammatical term and it defined it as “the word or words by which something is said about something”. Well, that’s so vague as to be almost meaningless; in the sentence she really likes it, for example, every word in these terms could be said to be a predicate, in that she is a word that says something about her in that she is clearly female, really is a word that says something about the degree of liking, and so on. This is my less favourite dictionary now.
      So, I thought: ‘Let’s have a look at the OED* and see what it says.’ Well, in sub-section 3a, with the heading Grammar, of the section on the word ‘predicate’, it seems to favour meaning (b), above, but also allows for meaning (a) above as a meaning of predicate, as it allows that the predicate does not necessarily include the ‘adjunct’, which I take here to be being used in the dictionary as synonymous with ‘adverbial’. I checked the OED’s definition of ‘adjunct’ and, in another section 3a, with the heading Grammar, it defines the adjunct as a word or words that amplify or modify another word or set of words, adding that it has a later special use as something that is non-essential or adverbial. In passing, it seems odd that the OED sees the adverbial as somehow not particularly distinct from the non-essential. Anyway, this definition of adjunct does seem to indicate that, in the definition of predicate, the OED is using the term adjunct as being more or less similar to adverbial. Going back to the OED’s grammatical definition of predicate, the second sentence there talks about a ‘grammatical predicate’. By the by, it seems odd for the dictionary to have a grammatical definition of the meaning of predicate and then, within that, to introduce the notion of a ‘grammatical predicate’ – is the grammatical predicate more deeply grammatical than the predicate alone as a grammar term? One wonders. So, anyway, this grammatical predicate is defined as being “either a simple verb” (what makes a verb simple in this context? – I’m not sure) or “a verb of incomplete predication with its complement”. So, now it looks like the OED is describing a meaning of predicate that is like meaning (c) above, with its “simple verb”, or like meaning (a) with its “verb of incomplete predication”. I think what the latter means is that the predicate can be defined as being composed of a verb and a complement (which may be either a complement after a copula verb or an object). But it could be that, by complement here, they are not including the notion of object.
      As I say in the article above, the term of ‘complement’ is often used in different ways by different people and does not generally have a clearly defined range of reference. Ah, the ‘muddly-fuddly’ world of conventional linguistics! Before OUP set their lawyers onto me :), I should explain that I don’t blame their lexicographers for the confusion in their grammatical definitions. What can the lexicographers do when the subject whose terminology they are seeking to define is (a bit) confused and confusing?
      Having said all that, my hunch is that, in your question, meaning (c) is what is in your mind and that you are suggesting that predicate can be used for the verb (parts of a sentence) rather than there being any need to create a new word for this part of the sentence. I think that this is not going to be an effective solution, however, to the nomenclature problem here, given that different people have differing views on what a predicate is and that the confusion that currently exists within the field will just continue. Predicate, if proposed to be used in this way, will fall foul of criterion i (clarity) listed at the top of the article here. I think there is another problem here too, in that predicate also falls foul of criterion v (transparency), in that the term does not have transparency as to what it is describing and, in fact, it’s downright confusing. One can look at it this way: the word predicate derives from the Latin form ‘praedicatum’ where ‘prae’ means ‘forth’ or ‘before’ and ‘dicare’ means ‘proclaim/make known/say’, so what the word says about itself is that it is a ‘before-said’. But, in the context of an English sentence, the ‘before-said’ is usually the subject. The predicate is what is said about the ‘before-said’. It would be more etymologically accurate to have a contrast of terms where there is a predicate (= the subject!) and a post-predicate (an ‘after-before-said’) for what follows the subject.

      2) Re. … sentence F (I empathise with her) proves to be difficult because, following my logic, I could say that I empathise is the same as He is and, therefore, with her would be a complement, which I agree it is not. I suppose it is the with which causes the confusion – does it belong to empathise or to her?
      I would say that, in conventional grammar theory, there is no problem in calling with her a complement in that these two words add to the verb. But, as I have said above and in the article, I feel that complement, as a term, is too vague and too variously used to be a viable synthetic-grammar term. What people feel is a complement and what they feel is not does not matter to me, as I don’t see a use for the term in a new/revised approach to the terminology within synthetic grammar. I guess that sounds a bit arrogant of me, but I see it as a case of ‘needs must’. Coming on now to your question about with and whether it coheres with empathise or with her, I think, in this case, and as I’ve indicated above, it coheres with the verb empathise and that empathise with is a verb (parts of a sentence). Prepositions in English can be somewhat ‘fickle’ as in, some of the time, they seem to team up with the verb (parts of speech) and, some of the time, they team up with a noun phrase, for example, to create an adverbial – compare:
      X) He waited for the bus.
      Y) He waited for a while.
      In X, the preposition for looks to be clearly part of the verb (parts of a sentence) with the bus as its object while, in Y, the for seems clearly to be part of the adverbial, linking with the noun phrase a while to create a bigger preposition phrase of for a while, where a while does not seem to be the object of waited for. Just my view, though; many may disagree.

      3) Re. … the first thing that came to my mind was some like it hot – what is hot here? A complement to the object it?
      Yes, in conventional terms, I think it would be called an object complement, but as I say I feel the term complement is flawed as a grammatical-category term and I would probably prefer to call it something slightly different … ‘work in progress’.

      4) Re. What is your view on adverbial adjuncts … or ‘determiner’ instead of ‘adverbial’?
      I think I find the term ‘adverbial adjunct’ confusing. As I have said above in the article, I think adverbial is a confusing and unclear term in itself and I think the same applies to adjunct. On the latter, as we saw above, the OED reckons that adverbial and adjunct are capable of being largely interchangeable but then it has a broader definition of adjunct, within grammar, as indicated above, as anything that modifies or amplifies the meaning of another word or set of words. So, in this meaning, an adverbial is a subset of the set of adjuncts. But, some, such as Quirk et al**, explore the idea of the adjunct as a subset of the category of adverbial in contradistinction to the other posited subsets of ‘disjunct’ and ‘conjunct’. Once again, conventional strands of thought are in tension and tumult with each other. My own sense is that the adjunct-disjunct -conjunct contrast is not a useful set of contrasts and not of any explanatory value (criterion ix).
      Interestingly, the syntax of noun phrases in English frequently is such that there is often a potential ambiguity or polysemy of potential meaning within them – particularly with noun phrases containing an attributive noun (such as adverbial) and a head noun (such as adjunct): for example, here, an ‘adverbial adjunct’ could be seen as meaning an adjunct (general category) of an adverbial nature (sub-category) or as meaning an adverbial (general category) of an adjunctive nature (sub-category). Noun phrases are tricky, and perhaps dangerous, things to use in systems of classification given this, their inherent potential for dual or multiple interpretations.
      Moving on, I think the idea of renaming the adverbial with a name from within the analytic grammar (namely ‘determiner’) would create a situation fraught with problems and would break criterion iii above (no equivalence of terminology between distinct but related classification systems). I actually have my doubts about the term determiner, as it somehow, for me, doesn’t really indicate what words like a and an and any actually do and I am wondering about replacing it with the term ‘specifier’ – again, a ‘work in progress’.

      5) Re. I found that even adverbs seem to be a ‘trash’ category in themselves. So maybe it is necessary to start the revolution at this level …
      I agree that adverbs (parts of speech) are a bit of a ‘trash’ category. But, I don’t think it is necessary to rethink the analytic-grammar terminology before the synthetic-grammar terminology. It seems to me that it is best to rethink the superordinate level of analysis before the subordinate, because systems only make sense in their detail when we can make sense of them on a broader level. However, yes, I think there may be a case for rethinking the term adverb as well, if there is energy and time to do so. It could be that such a relatively ‘catch-all’ term could be replaced by categories such as ‘qualifiers’ (quickly, very) and ‘contextualisers’ (yesterday, however). Just a thought, for now.

      Thanks for ‘listening’!

      * Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd edition, Oxford University Press, 2007
      ** A Comprehensive Grammar of English, Quirk et al, Pearson, 1985

      • Since posting the above response, I have been doing some more thinking, as follows:
        1) When saying that one should focus on refining and developing the superordinate level (in this case the synthetic-grammar description) before working in detail on the subordinate level (the analytic-grammar description), I didn’t mean to imply that one should not constantly be cross-checking between the two when working on either level. One, of course, should or one might find oneself building up problems of conceptual disharmony between the two levels when one shifts focus from the superordinate to the subordinate.
        2) I agree that the notion of adverbial is something of a ‘trash’/’rubbish-bin’ repository for any part of a sentence that we can’t readily classify as a sentence part such as a subject, an object, a complement etc. But, what that means is that having the term of ‘adverbial’ for all these seeming unclassifiables is something of a deceit; by having the term, it appears that there is a clear class of a particular kind of sentence part. And, in fact, as this is clearly not the case, dictionaries either avoid offering a definition (e.g. Cambridge Dictionary online) or use expressions like ‘adverbials typically express place, time etc.’ or ‘adverbials function as an adverb’ or ‘adverbials fulfill the grammatical role of an adverb’. Well, lots of things can typically express something, but that does not define what they are in any rigorous way. And in fact, adverbials don’t always function as adverbs or play the role of adverbs. Adverbs can directly qualify adjectives as in very hot or modify adverbs as in really late, but adverbials don’t do those things.
        3) Being a bit more specific in relation to point (1) directly above, I have been worrying about whether one should re-name the term ‘adverb’ (in the analytic grammar/parts of speech area) whilst I have been thinking about the ‘adverbial’ (in the synthetic grammar/parts of the sentence area), because the adverb is so often defined as something that modifies or qualifies the verb and given that so many adverbs don’t do that but, rather, qualify or modify an adjective (very hot) or just make an assertion (as in yes/no) or indicate a co-textual relationship as in (however or moreover). The logic then ran that, if adverb is the wrong term, then the term adverbial deriving from it is wrong as so many adverbials don’t just qualify or modify the verb. Also, it worried me that many grammar authors, particularly on the Internet and so many dictionaries don’t seem to have an explicit awareness of the fact that the adverb is part of the analytic grammar and the adverbial part of the synthetic grammar but just seem to see the two, adverbial and adverb, as working at the same level of the system, where adverbials are just a superordinate category within which adverbs can sit as a part within the same level of the grammar system. These people then go on to make statements sometimes such as that ‘not all adverbials are adverbs, but all adverbs are adverbials’. A statement like that is clearly wrong in its second part. It’s true that not all adverbials are composed of adverbs, in that you can have an adverbial part composed of a prepositional phrase as in she phoned me from her office. But, not all adverbs necessarily act as adverbials in sentences, so, for example, in the sentence she really likes it, really is an adverb but it forms part of the verb (parts of the sentence) really likes, it is not acting in any way as an adverbial. There is, of course, actually no adverbial in that sentence example. It kind of makes me weep that so many people and organisations pronounce about grammar with no understanding on their part that they don’t actually understand the ambi-system nature of grammar between the analytic and the synthetic, and it makes me weep to think of so many people reading what they write and trying to understand it and thinking, if they don’t understand (quite rightly), that it’s their fault. This is abuse of the people on a grand scale by people with perceptions of their own ‘authority’ of knowledge that are entirely unfounded.
        Thinking further, beyond the emotional, and though I do believe the term adverbial needs to be removed from the synthetic-grammar lexicon, neither of these two arguments directly above are, of course, good reasons in themselves for rejecting the term adverbial. Firstly, this is because the fact that people often see the adverb as, by definition, something that modifies the verb and that this, thus, potentially distorts our understanding of the term adverbial is simply something that derives from a false understanding that prevails of the etymology of adverb; an adverb is composed of the parts ‘ad’ and ‘verb’ and so there is something here that seems to be saying that it is something that is added to the verb. But, of course, ‘adverb’ actually derives from the Latin word ‘adverbum’ where ‘ad’ means to and ‘verbum’ means word, not ‘verb’. So, we can see that adverb was originally intended to define something that can be added to another word or words or is, in some sense, an ‘add-word’. So, by extension an adverbial is an ‘add-part’; any sentence constituent that is an ‘add-part’ can be an adverbial. Secondly, the fact that adverbial and adverb are so similar in name is not in itself necessarily a good reason for rejecting the term adverbial, though the term should be ejected from the synthetic-grammar lexicon for other reasons. The fact that grammar authors often don’t understand that adverb and adverbial are completely distinct as to the systems they operate within, despite their similarity of name, may derive in part from the formal similarity of the two words. But, I feel that, if words and terms have to be rethought simply to get around what is essentially intellectual laziness on the part of many a jobbing grammar author, then that’s an unnecessary leap in response to a prevailing trend of ‘dumbing-down’ ideas into being simple and seemingly convincing and yet, actually, unexplanatory.
        I think the term adverbial needs to be replaced because it does not transparently express what needs to be defined here which is the notion of an add-part or add-parts within a sentence that is composed of more than just a subject, a verb, an object or a complement, to use the old parlance. I guess it could look a bit illogical that I think ‘adverb’ is salvageable as a term within the analytic grammar and adverbial is not within the synthetic grammar. However, my view might change, because of this seeming illogicality, and, by the time I get to focusing on the analytic grammar, I may decide to ‘ditch’ the term adverb and replace it with … umm … ‘additive’?? 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

two × one =