We have used the word "form" quite often in the Internet Grammar. It was one of the criteria we used to distinguish between word classes -- we saw that the form or "shape" of a word is often a good clue to its word class.
When we looked at phrases, too, we were concerned with their form. We said that phrases may have the basic form (Pre-Head string) - Head - (Post-Head string).
And finally, we classified clauses according to the form (finite or nonfinite) of their main verb.
In all of these cases, we were conducting a FORMAL analysis. Form denotes how something looks -- its shape or appearance, and what its structure is. When we say that the old man is an NP, or that the old man bought a newspaper is a finite clause, we are carrying out a formal analysis.
We can also look at constituents
-- phrases and clauses -- from another angle. We can examine the FUNCTIONs
which they perform in the larger structures which contain them.
copyright The Survey of English Usage 1996-1998
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