English Symbols and conventions: English Grammar Lesson 3


The following symbols will be used in the following ways:

(a) Braces (= {...}) will be used to indicate alternative possibilities, separated from each other by a slash. (e.g. If I {was / were} your father, I would be proud of you.)

(b) Square brackets will be used to separate the relevant clause in an example from its context, as in the following example:

[Michael thought things over.] Rose had helped him after he {had left / left} his wife. [Perhaps she would help him again now.] In a case like this we are only interested in the sentence that is not within square brackets. The bracketed sentences are just added to provide the context that is necessary for a correct interpretation of the sentence under discussion.

(c) An asterisk before a sentence or constituent can indicate not only syntactic ungrammaticality but also semantic-pragmatic unacceptability:

*The man died for the next two hours.

(d) A superscript question mark will be used similarly to indicate that a sentence or constituent is questionable for a grammatical or semantic-pragmatic reason. A double superscript question mark indicates an even higher degree of questionability.

I have never {worked /? been working} on a dissertation.

This time tomorrow I {will / ??am going to} be driving to London.

(e) The sign # is put before forms that are not ungrammatical or unacceptable but do not express the meaning that is intended in the clause or sentence under discussion. For example, in 1.46.1, the following example is given to illustrate that a nonbounded representation of a situation is incompatible with an inclusive duration adverbial. (The sentence is grammatical on another reading, viz. ‘It lasted an hour before John was speaking’.)

 # John was speaking in an hour.

(f) Small capitals in an example identify the word receiving the nuclear accent of the clause, or (in most cases) an extra heavy contrastive accent. [“Bill was the one who wrote this note.”  “No.] Pete wrote it.”

(g) In the text, technical terms that are introduced for the first time are printed in small capitals (in blue). An ABSOLUTE TENSE is a tense that relates the time of a situation directly to the temporal zero-point.

(h) Italics will be used for four purposes: (i) for comments added to examples, (ii) in example sentences that are incorporated into the main text, (iii) to emphasize a word in the text, and (iv) to indicate the relevant word(s) in a numbered example.

In John saw the house before I saw it, both past tense forms are arguably absolute past tense forms. (Both situations are interpreted as factual.) We claim that there is a future tense in English, though many linguists argue otherwise. (example sentence) I saw the house before John had seen it. (The past perfect in the before-clause expresses’ not-yet-factuality’: John had not seen the house yet when I saw it.)

(i) Lexical items in a comment (which is italicized) are underlined.

I know that he will do it if you let him. (Will do establishes a post-present domain, while let expresses simultaneity in it.)

(j) Real quotations are placed within double quotation marks. Single quotation marks are used to indicate concepts, paraphrases, word strings, etc. (example sentence) “Bill was the one who wrote this note.” – “No. Pete wrote it.” John staid there for four years is a ‘bounded sentence’, i.e. a sentence which represents the situation referred to as coming to an end at some point.

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