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Minor word classes: Formulaic expressions, Existential there, Uses of IT


9 Minor word classes

 

We have now looked at the seven major word classes in English. Most words can be assigned to at least one of these classes. However, there are some words which will not fit the criteria for any of them. Consider, for example, the word hello. It is clearly not a noun, or an adjective, or a verb, or indeed any of the classes we have looked at. It belongs to a minor word class, which we call formulaic expressions
  

9.1 Formulaic Expressions

To express greetings, farewell, thanks, or apologies, we use a wide range of FORMULAIC EXPRESSIONS. These may consist of a single word or of several words acting as a unit. Here are some examples:  
 

bye 
goodbye 
hello 
farewell 
hi 
so long

excuse me 
thanks 
thank you 
thanks a lot 
sorry 
pardon

 

 

Some formulaic expressions express agreement or disagreement with a previous speaker:

yes, yeah, no, okay, right, sure

INTERJECTIONS generally occur only in spoken English, or in the representation of speech in novels. They include the following:

ah, eh, hmm, oh, ouch, phew, shit, tsk, uhm, yuk

Interjections express a wide range of emotions, including surprise (oh!), exasperation (shit!), and disgust (yuk!).

Formulaic expressions, including interjections, are unvarying in their form, that is, they do not take any inflections.

9.2 Existential there

We have seen that the word there is an adverb, in sentences such as:  

You can't park there 
I went there last year 

Specifically, it is an adverb of place in these examples.  

However, the word there has another use. As EXISTENTIAL THERE, it often comes at the start of a sentence:  

There is a fly in my soup 
There were six errors in your essay 

Existential there is most commonly followed by a form of the verb be. When it is used in a question, it follows the verb:  

Is there a problem with your car? 
Was there a storm last night? 

The two uses of there can occur in the same sentence:  

There is a parking space there 

In this example, the first there is existential there, and the second is an adverb. 

9.3 Uses of It

In the section on pronouns, we saw that the word it is a third person singular pronoun. However, this word also has other roles which are not related to its pronominal use. We look at some of these other uses here.   

When we talk about time or the weather, we use sentences such as:  

What time is it?  
It is four o'clock  
It is snowing  
It's going to rain  

Here, we cannot identify precisely what it refers to. It has a rather vague reference, and we call this DUMMY IT or PROP IT. Dummy it is also used, equally vaguely, in other expressions:  

Hold it!  
Take it easy!  
Can you make it to my party?  

It is sometimes used to "anticipate" something which appears later in the same sentence:  

It's great to see you  
It's a pity you can't come to my party  

In the first example, it "anticipates" to see you. We can remove it from the sentence and replace it with to see you:  

To see you is great  

Because of its role in this type of sentence, we call this ANTICIPATORY IT.  

See also: Cleft Sentences 


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