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English Sentence Structure Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Mar 25th, 2021


In various languages such as English, Greek, and Arabic, complete clauses have two features, which comprise semantic and phonetic. Conversely, in some instances, the phonetic feature of a sentence can be absent, and thus, initiate a concept known as a null constituent or empty category. Empty categories or null constituents take different forms in English, which comprise imperative, truncated, and non-finite.

While imperative null subjects occur due to the silence of auxiliaries in imperative sentences, a truncated type of null subject takes place when individuals shorten a sentence and omit some words making them silent. Consequently, non-finite null occurs when the pronoun demonstrates a dependency on the subject of a sentence, and hence, becomes silent or null. It is within this context that the essay summarises the various aspects of null constituents in chapter three of the book ‘An Introduction to English Sentence Structure’ by Andrew Radford.



Essentially, a sentence requires audible or phonetic features and grammatical features, which are also known as semantic features. By possessing these two features, a sentence fulfills its grammatical requirements. However, some sentences can only have one feature, for instance, a number of sentences used in the English language have semantic features and do not have audible or phonetic features. In these sentences, the phonetic features are usually silent.

The silent phonetic features lead to a concept of null constituents or empty categories. Fundamentally, English has three cases where null subjects are applicable such as imperative null subjects that are practical in imperative sentences and truncated null subjects where the pronoun becomes silent. Consequently, a non-finite null subject transpires when the pronoun is dependent on the antecedent or the subject of the sentence.

Null auxiliaries are evident when the sentences used contain elements that easily lead to silent phonetic features of the subject auxiliary. Principally, the concept of null auxiliaries occasion when sentences introduce an element known as gapping. Gapping is a concept that makes the auxiliary silent by creating an empty space or a gap in a sentence. Another instance where the auxiliary can be silent happens when the sentence employs the issue of cliticization.

Apparently, cliticization occurs when the auxiliary attaches itself onto the antecedent or the subject of the sentence, and hence, becomes silent. Although cliticization is common in several English sentences, it cannot apply in all the sentences used in the English language. Infinite clauses, the auxiliary can be null or silent when it attaches itself onto a verb as an affix. Affix hopping is the procedure through, which an auxiliary attaches, itself onto a verb. Conversely, affix hopping is applicable in cases where the verbs used are regular. Perfect verbs require the use of perfect auxiliaries such as ‘have’, which take causative and perfect forms.

Another situation that characterizes null constituents in a clause concerns infinitive clauses. In infinitive clauses, a null auxiliary is also known as ‘T’ is silent in a sentence since it takes the form of a null spell out. In the case of a null spell out, the auxiliary is not pronounced, and thus, becomes silent. Principally, infinitive clauses do not give room for cliticization because the presence of the infinitive ‘To’ inhibits its incorporation. Just like null auxiliaries or ‘Ts’, in infinitive clauses, finite clauses have a null or silent complementizer, ‘Cs’. Null complementizer takes the form of ‘if’, ‘that’, and ‘for’ where ‘if’ is interrogative, whereas ‘that’ is declarative. Null ‘Cs usually takes place when the complementizers are left out in a sentence.

Unlike the English language where many complementizers introduce embedded clauses, other languages like Arabic employ them in introducing main clauses. As such, the complementizer can easily be null or silent. Significantly, connectors can facilitate the combination of declarative and interrogative clauses in a sentence. The phenomenon of case assigning follows a hypothesis that case assigners commanded by ‘C’ assign a case to pronouns or nouns.

Infinitive clauses that contain complementizers such as ‘for’, take the format of control clauses. Essentially, complementizer such as ‘for’ are not effectively applicable when used in a sentence that has adverbial expressions. For the Cs to be silent or null in these clauses, they should be in a sentence that has a direct connection with the subject-verb such as prefer or want. Imminently, verbs such as prefer or want are commonly referred to as ‘for deletion verbs’ as they orchestrate deletion of ‘for’ in a sentence. As a result, the use of these verbs in a sentence leads to the presence of null complementizers.

On the other hand, defective clauses fall under the classification of Exceptional Case Marking Clauses (ECM Clauses), because it appears as if the CP layer present in several complete clauses is absent in these clauses, which look like TPs. As a result, they are defective and exceptional.

Null determinants and quantifiers follow a concept that some clauses adopt in various languages such as English, Arabic, and Greek. Evidently, determinants can be null if the sentence has a bare nominal or a noun. According to the concept, a bare nominal has a null determinant that is usually silent and precedes the nominal. Additionally, the concept of null determinant and quantifier states that clauses have null or silent quantifiers especially if a quantifier phrase connects them to a bare nominal. Some of the major assumptions that are clear from the chapter include cliticization that concerns ‘have’, case assigning, impenetrability condition, and affix hopping.


The main points that the author highlights in the chapter comprise the issue of null constituents or silent phonetic features in clauses. Fundamentally, the writer’s perspective concerns the fact that English and other languages in the world have unique clauses that demonstrate silent phonetic features. The writer’s ideas portray some kind of similarity with those from writers, who have delved in the same field.

Therefore, the writer’s ideas and contributions are very instrumental in advancing the concept of null constituents. Evidently, the writer demonstrates some kind of bias and puts a lot of emphasis on the English language paying little focus on other languages like Greek and Arabic. With the expertise in the kind of approach demonstrated, it is clear that the writer is qualified in the respective field. The fact that the writer simplifies complex ideas and provides a comprehensive elaboration of ideas, makes me recommend the book to other individuals, who want to advance their fluency in matters that concern languages like English.


Semantic and phonetic features are the main features that make up a complete clause or a sentence in many languages such as English Arabic and Greek. While several clauses and sentences have these two main features, others do not have the phonetic features. The absence of the feature can be due to silence or omission of the feature from the clause or a sentence. When the feature is absent in a clause, the clause demonstrates a concept known as a null constituent or empty category. Null constituent or empty categories transpire from the absence of phonetic features, which leads to silence, or emptiness of some words in the clause or a sentence.

Evidently, some of the major components that can be null in a clause include auxiliaries and complementizers. Teachers, students, and individuals, who want to perfect their languages, will find the book very productive as it has important lessons that can boost their knowledge on issues related to languages.

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1. IvyPanda. "English Sentence Structure." March 25, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/english-sentence-structure/.


IvyPanda. "English Sentence Structure." March 25, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/english-sentence-structure/.


IvyPanda. 2021. "English Sentence Structure." March 25, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/english-sentence-structure/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'English Sentence Structure'. 25 March.

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