When we examined the structure of verb phrases, we looked at phrases that contained only one verb. This simplification let us understand the basic structure of complements like direct objects, subject complements, and so forth, without unnecessary complications, but many verb phrases are more complex, containing multiple verbs. For example, in a sentence like (1), there are two verbs, has and eaten, in the same phrase (1) Jonathan has eaten my sandwich
The most important phrase types, in that they are the typical constituents at the heart of a sentence, are the noun phrase (NP) and the verb phrase (VP). In this chapter, we will explore the structure of phrases headed by other parts of speech. Of these, prepositional phrases present the most challenges, and we will spend the most time on them. We will also look briefly at the structure of adjective phrases, adverb phrases, and determiner phrases.
We have already looked a bit at what nouns are and at some of their properties. Noun phrases can be extremely complex. In this chapter, we will explore some fundamentals of how noun phrases are structured. We won't cover everything. In particular, we’ll leave certain issues of complex layering, where the NP contains many different elements, to a later chapter.

We will start by looking more closely at nouns themselves. In the previous chapter, we discovered that there are different types of verbs, and that those verb types influenced the structure of the verb phrase. With nouns as well, there are different subtypes, and those types play a role in the structure of the noun phrase.

In the previous chapter, we examined some of the basics of sentence structure. Over the next few chapters, we will deepen our understanding by studying how the most important phrase types are structured. Because every sentence has a predicate, and every predicate is a verb phrase, every sentence is ultimately structured around a verb. We will therefore begin with verb phrases.
Syntax concerns the way that words are arranged into larger units. That is, words are the basic units—the building blocks—of syntactic analysis. The largest unit that syntactic analysis usually considers is the sentence. For this reason, syntax is often equated with the study of sentence structure, even though the things we analyze may not always be complete sentences. Language, of course, rarely consists merely of isolated sentences. We string sentences together into larger units—paragraphs, essays, books. When we spend a great deal of time focused on sentence-level analysis, as we will in the following chapters, it's easy to lose sight of the larger purposes of syntactic study. So before we plunge into the forest, it's worth considering why we should spend so much effort on the task.
If we are going to do more than simply accept the traditional parts of speech uncritically, we need to establish some sort of theory of word categories, a set of principles that will let us decide where the traditional categories work and where they need revision. Armed with this procedure, we will find that traditional grammars describe some categories that have no real existence in Present-day English. They also conflate other categories which are actually distinct.

Our basic procedure will be to look for elements that are grammatically distinct in English. In other words, we must find structural reasons to distinguish one item from another. For example, we can justify distinguishing verbs from nouns based on the relationships they enter into:

Given all this confusion over the concept of parts of speech, it's reasonable to ask if we can't just jettison the concept completely. Why do we really need to know what a noun is? In fact, the problems with traditional parts of speech have prompted some linguists to abandon the term part of speech completely. They have not, however, given up on the idea behind the label. The term part of speech simply means "a word category." In other words, it reflects the important observation that words can be grouped into categories because they behave similarly. For example, consider how we can complete the following sentence frames:
One of the first things that people noticed when they started thinking about language as language was that words tend to fall into categories and that the members of these categories behave in similar ways. The traditional name for those categories is the "parts of speech." In this chapter, we will look at these word categories and see how the traditional account is somewhat misleading, as well as inaccurate. With a more accurate idea of word categories, we will be equipped with the basics that we need to begin studying sentence structure.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the notion was widespread that some languages—generally presumed to be those of peoples with a primitive physical culture—either lacked a grammar completely, or had a very simple grammar. Versions of this story persist today, claiming that there is some tribe in a remote region of the world—the depths of the Amazon, or the highlands of New Guinea—who have a language of only a hundred words and no grammar.
Both prescriptivists and descriptivists often make statements about whether or not a particular utterance is grammatical. For a prescriptivist, deciding that an utterance is ungrammatical is the first step in eliminating error. For a descriptivist, observing what native speakers do not do gives important clues to understanding the tacit rules of the language. But given the difference between descriptive and prescriptive rules, we have to be careful to specify what kind of grammar we have in mind.


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