Analysing sentences

Analysing sentences: An introduction to English syntax. 3rd edn. By Noel Burton-Roberts. New York: Pearson Longman, 2010. Pp. 296. ISBN 9781408233740. $33.

Reviewed by Sabina Halupka-Rešetar, University of Novi Sad

The third, revised edition of the coursebook entitled Analysing sentences offers an excellent introduction to English syntax. Writing in a very accessible and concise manner, Noel Burton-Roberts leads the reader through the essential concepts in syntax, illustrating the points explained in the book with many examples and tree diagrams. The book contains a multitude of exercises designed to check the reader’s acquisition of the concepts and structures discussed.

Chs. 1–3 examine phrase structure in English. Ch. 1, ‘Sentence structure: Constituents’ (1–23), introduces the reader to key concepts such as structure, constituent, and phrase. The terms category and function are presented in Ch. 2, ‘Sentence structure: Functions’ (24–45), in order to show how function (e.g. subject, predicate) relates to the phrasal category (e.g. NP, VP) and constituency (e.g. functional relations like subject-predicate, modifier-head). Ch. 3, ‘Sentence structure: Categories’ (46–66), introduces some lexical categories (e.g. N, A, and P) and, very briefly, the phrasal categories associated with them.

Chs. 4–7 introduce English phrase structure. In Ch. 4, ‘The basic verb phrase’ (67–86), B discusses the general structure of the verb phrase, emphasizing the functional relations between lexical verbs and their complements. B classifies lexical verbs in English into six classes. Ch. 5, ‘Adverbials and other matters’ (87–110), takes a closer look at the distinction between complements and modifiers in the VP and identifies two types of VP-modifiers: VP-adjuncts (e.g. He spotted the wildcats quite accidentally) and VP-adverbials (e.g. Buster admitted everything frankly). Ch. 6, ‘More on verbs: Auxiliary VPs’ (111–40), is divided into two parts: in the first part, the author explores the distinction between lexical and auxiliary verbs, while in the second part he examines constructions that depend on auxiliaries (e.g. passives, negative sentences, and do-support). Ch. 7, ‘The structure of noun phrases’ (141–70), focuses on the internal structure of NPs, taking into account the wide variety of categories that may precede or follow the head noun (e.g. determiners, adjectives, participles), as well as PPs and APs. An appendix to this chapter is devoted to the pro-form one.

Chs. 8–10 focus on more complex structures in English syntax. In Ch. 8, ‘Sentences within sentences’ (171–95), B introduces complex sentences and considers sentential recursion, paying due attention to the types and functions of complementizers (e.g. that, whether, unless, because). and introducing adverbial clauses. Ch. 9, ‘Wh-clauses’ (196–223), explores main and subordinate wh-interrogative clauses as well as relative clauses, pointing out the conditions under which the wh-phrase may be ellipted or replaced in the latter. Ch. 10, ‘Non-finite clauses’ (224–53), offers an account of both the form of non-finite clauses (infinitival and participial) and their function (subject, complement, adverbial).

B concludes this book with a general discussion of the background to and purpose of the analysis presented. The last chapter, ‘Languages, sentences and grammars’ (254–68), sets the analysis in the context of generative grammar by asking and attempting to answer the key question of what language really is and how we can gain new insights into what it is a speaker knows in knowing a language.

B’s clear, reader-friendly style, the numerous in-text exercises and their discussions, the further exercises sections, chapter summaries, and suggested reading list make this textbook interesting and available to anyone interested in exploring the syntactic structure of English.

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