Clauses and Sentences
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So far we have been looking at phrases more or less in isolation. In real use, of course, they occur in isolation only in very restricted circumstances. For example, we find isolated NPs in public signs and notices:

[Restricted Area]
[Hyde Park]

We sometimes use isolated phrases in spoken English, especially in responses to questions:

Q: What would you like to drink?
A: [NP Coffee]

Q: How are you today?
A: [AP Fine]

Q: Where did you park the car?
A: [PP Behind the house]

In more general use, however, phrases are integrated into longer units, which we call CLAUSES:

Q: What would you like to drink?
A: [I'd like coffee]

Q: How are you today?
A: [I'm fine]

Q: Where did you park the car?
A: [I parked the car behind the house]


The Clause Hierarchy

The clause I'd like coffee is a SUBORDINATE CLAUSE within the sentence I think I'd like coffee. We refer to this larger clause as the MATRIX CLAUSE:


The matrix clause is not subordinate to any other, so it is, in fact, co-extensive with the sentence.

We say that the matrix clause is SUPERORDINATE to the subordinate clause.

The terms subordinate and superordinate are relative terms. They describe the relationship between clauses in what is called the CLAUSE HIERARCHY. We can illustrate what this means by looking at a slightly more complicated example:

He said I think I'd like coffee

Here the matrix clause is:

He said I think I'd like coffee

This matrix clause contains two subordinate clauses, which we'll refer to as Sub1 and Sub2:


Sub1 is both subordinate and superordinate. It is subordinate in relation to the matrix clause, and it is superordinate in relation to Sub2.

Subordinate and superordinate, then, are not absolute terms. They describe how clauses are arranged hierarchically relative to each other.

We can bracket and label clauses in the same way as phrases. We will use the following abbreviations:

Matrix Clause: MC
Subordinate Clause: SubC

Applying these labels and brackets to our first example, we get:

[MC I think [SubC I'd like coffee]]

Just as we've seen with phrases, we can have embedding in clauses too. Here, the subordinate clause is embedded within the matrix clause.

There is a greater degree of embedding in our second example, where there are two subordinate clauses, one within the other:

[MC He said [SubC I think [SubC I'd like coffee]]]

The following sentence contains three clauses, which we've labelled C1, C2, and C3. Decide whether the statements below are true or false:

[C1 The bank manager suggested [C2 that we should consider [C3 leasing the building]]]

a. C1 is the matrix clause True
b. C2 is superordinate to C1 True
c. C3 is subordinate to C1 True
d. C3 is superordinate to C2 True


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