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Actual Division of the Sentence

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Sentence as the Main Object of Syntax.

General Problems.

1. Sentence as the Main Object of Syntax.

2. Actual Division of the Sentence.

3. Types of Sentences.

4. Simple sentence. Classifications.




The sentence is the main object of syntax as part of the grammatical theory.

There are many definitions of the sentence and these definitions differ from each other because that the scientists approach from different view points to this question. Some of them consider the sentence from the point view of phonetics, others - from the point of view of semantics (the meaning of the sentence) and so on. B.A. Ilyish writes: “The notion of sentence has not so far received a satisfactory definition”.

According to the opinion of many grammarians the definition of the sentence must contain all the peculiar features of the smallest communicative unit.

Some of the definitions of a sentence are given below.

“The sentence is the immediate integral unit of speech built up of words according to a definite syntactic pattern and distinguished by a contextually relevant communicative purpose”

“A sentence is a unit of speech whose grammatical structure conforms to the laws of the language and which serves as the chief means of conveying a thought. A sentence is not only a means of communicating something about reality but also a means of showing the speaker's attitude to it.

We understand by sentence the smallest communicative unit, consisting of one or more syntactically connected words that has primary predication and that has a certain intonation pattern.

It is more preferable to describe a sentence than to define it. The main peculiar features of the sentence are:

- integrity

- syntactic independence

- grammatical completeness

- semantic completeness

- communicative completeness

- communicative functioning

- predicativity

- modality

- intonational completeness.


At the beginning of the 20th century Czech linguist Vilém Mathesius described the informative value of different parts of the sentence in the actual process of communication, making the informative perspective of an utterance and showing which component of the denoted situation is informationally more important from the point of view of the speaker. By analogy with the grammatical, or nominative division of the sentence the idea of the so-called “actual division” of the sentence was put forward. The main components of the actual division of a sentence are the theme and the rheme. The theme (originally called “the basis” by V. Mathesius) is the starting point of communication, a thing or a phenomenon about which something is reported in the sentence; it usually contains some old, “already known” information. The rheme (originally called “the nucleus” by V. Mathesius) is the basic informative part of the sentence, its contextually relevant communicative center, the “peak” of communication, or the information reported about the theme; it usually contains some new information. There may be transitional parts of actual division of various degrees of informative value, neither purely thematic, nor rhematic; they can be treated as a secondary rheme; this part is called “a transition” (this idea was put forward by another scholar of the Prague Linguistic Circle, J. Firbas). For example: Again Charlie is late. – Again (transition) Charlie (theme) is late (rheme). The rheme is the obligatory informative component of a sentence, there may be sentences which include only the rheme; the theme and the transition are optional.

There’s a connection between word order and actual division: direct actual division usually means that the theme coincides with the subject in the syntactic structure of the sentence, while the rheme coincides with the predicate. Inverted word order can indicate inverted actual division, though the correlation is not obligatory. For example: (There was a box.) Inside the box was a microphone; the adverbial modifier of place at the beginning of the sentence expresses the theme, while the subject at the end of the utterance is the rheme; the word order in this sentence is inverted, though its actual division is direct. Reversed order of actual division, i.e. the positioning of the rheme at the beginning of the sentence, is connected with emphatic speech, e.g.: Offyou go! What a nice little girl she is!

Constructions with the introducer ‘there’ identify the subject of the sentence as the rheme, while the theme (usually it is an adverbial modifier of place) is shifted to the end of the utterance, e.g.: There is a book on the table.

Emphatic identification of the rheme expressed by various nominative parts of the sentence (except for the predicate) is achieved by constructions with the anticipatory ‘it’, e.g.: It is Charlie who is late; It was back in 1895 that Popov invented radio.

Articles and other determiners, in accord with their either identifying or generalizing semantics, are used to identify the informative part “already known“, the theme (definite determiners) or the “not yet known” information, the rheme (indefinite determiners). E.g.: The man (theme) appeared unexpectedly. – A man (rheme) appeared. But this correlation is not obligatory, because the theme is not always the information already known; it may be something about which certain information is given, so, the indefinite article may be used with the theme too, e.g.: A voice called Mary.

Various intensifying particles, such as only, just, merely, namely, at least, rather than, even, precisely, etc., identify the nominative part of the sentence before which they are used as the rheme, e.g.: Only Charlie is late today. Similar is the function of the intensifying auxiliary verb ‘do’, which turns the predicate into the rheme of the sentence, while the rest of the predicate group is turned into the transition or even the theme, e.g.: I did help your sister (cf.: I helped your sister).

The major lingual means of actual division of the sentence is intonation, especially the stress which identifies the rheme. In written speech the logical accent is represented by all the other rheme-identifying lingual means, which indicate its position directly or indirectly. They can be technically supported by special graphical means of rheme-identification, such as italics, bold type, underlinings, etc.

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