The complex sentence is a polypredicative construction built on the principle of subordination (hypotaxis). In paradigmatic presentation, the derivational history of the complex sentence is as follows: two or more base sentences are clausalized and joined into one construction; one of them performs the role of a matrix in relation to the others, the insert sentences. The matrix base sentence becomes the principal clause of the complex sentence and the insert sentences become its subordinate clauses, e.g.: The team arrived. + It caused a sensation. à When the team arrived, it caused a sensation.
The minimal complex sentence includes two clauses: the principal one and the subordinate one. This is the main type of complex sentences, first, in terms of frequency, and, second, in terms of its paradigmatic status, because a complex sentence of any volume can be analyzed into a combination of two-clause complex sentence units.
The principal clause positionally dominates the subordinate clause, which is embedded into it: even if the principal clause is incomplete and is represented by just one word, the subordinate clauses fill in the open positions, introduced by the principal clause, in the underlying simple sentence pattern, e.g.: What you see is what you get - What you see (the subject) is (the predicate) what you get (the object). Semantically, the two clauses are interconnected and form a semantico-syntactic unity: the existence of either of them is supported by the existence of the other.
The dominant positional status of the principal clause does not mean that it expresses the central informative part of the communication: any clause of a complex sentence can render its rheme or its theme. As in a simple sentence, in a neutral context the preceding part renders the starting point of communication, the theme, and the following part, placed near the end of the sentence, renders the most important information, the rheme, cf.: What he likes most about her is her smile. - Her smile is what he likes most about her. In the first sentence the principal part is rhematic, and in the second sentence the subordinate clause. Besides the clause-order, as with word-order in general, there are other means of expressing the correlative informative value of clauses in complex sentences, such as intonation, special constructions, emphatic particles and others.
The informative value of a principal clause may be reduced to the mere introduction of a subordinate clause; for example, the principal clause can perform the “phatic” function, i.e. the function of keeping up the conversation, of maintaining the immediate communicative connection with the listener, e.g.: I think you are a great parent; in this sentence, the basic information is rendered by the rhematic subordinate clause, while the principal clause is phatic, specifying the speaker’s attitude to the information.
Different types of complex sentences are distinguished, first of all, on the basis of their subordinate clause types. Subordinate clauses are classified on two mutually complementary bases: on the functional principle and on the categorial principle.
According to the functional principle, subordinate clauses are divided on the analogy (though, not identity) of the positional parts of the simple sentence that underlies the structure of the complex sentence. E.g.: What you see is what you get. - What you see (the subject, the subject subordinate clause) is what you get (the object, the object subordinate clause).
According to the categorial principle, subordinate clauses are divided by their inherent nominative properties; there is certain similarity (but, again, not identity) with the part-of-speech classification of words. Subordinate clauses can be divided into three categorial-semantic groups: substantive-nominal, qualification-nominal and adverbial. Substantive-nominal subordinate clauses name an event as a certain fact, e.g.: What you do is very important; cf.: What is very important? Qualification-nominal subordinate clauses name a certain event, which is referred, as a characteristic to some substance, represented either by a word or by another clause, e.g.: Where is the letter that came today?; cf.: What letter? Adverbial subordinate clauses name a certain event, which is referred, as a characteristic to another event, to a process or a quality, e.g.: I won’t leave until you come.
The two principles of subordinate clause classification are mutually complementary: the categorial features of clauses go together with their functional sentence-part features similar to the categorial features of words going together with their functional characteristics. Thus, subordinate clauses are to be classified into three groups: first, clauses of primary nominal positions, including subject, predicative and object clauses; second, clauses of secondary nominal positions, including various attributive clauses; and third, clauses of adverbial positions.
The classification of clauses is sustained by the subdivision of functional connective words, which serve as sentence subordinators (or subordinating clausalizers), transforming the base sentences into subordinate clauses of various types.
Subordinating connectors are subdivided into two basic types: pronominal words and pure conjunctions. Pronominal connective words occupy a notional position in the derived sentence; for example, some of them replace a certain antecedent (i.e. a word or phrase to which the connector refers back) in the principal clause, e.g.: The man whom I met yesterday surprised me. Pure subordinate conjunctions do not occupy a notional position in the derived sentence, e.g.: She said that she would come early. Some connectors are bifunctional, i.e. used both as conjunctions and as conjunctive substitutes, cf.: She said that she would come early; Where is the letter that came today?
Semantically, subordinators (both conjunctions and conjunctive substitutes) are subdivided in correspondence with the categorial type of the subordinate clauses which they introduce: there are substantive-nominal and qualification-nominal clausalizers (conjunctions and pronominal words), which introduce the event-fact, and adverbial clausalizers (conjunctions), showing relational characteristics of events. Some connective words can be used both as nominal connectors and as adverbial connectors, cf.: Do you know when they are coming? (What do you know?) – We’ll meet when the new house is finished (When shall we meet?).
Together with these, the zero subordinator should be named, whose polyfunctional status is similar to the status of the subordinator that, cf.: She said that she would come early. – She said Ø she would come early; This is the issue that I planned to discuss with you. – This is the issue Ø I planned to discuss with you.
Clauses of primary nominal positions, including subject, predicative and object clauses, are interchangeable with each other, cf.: What you see is what you get; What you get is what you see; You’ll be surprised at what you see. The subject clause regularly expresses the theme of a complex sentence, and the predicative clause regularly expresses its rheme. The subject clause may express the rheme of the sentence, if it is introduced by the anticipatory ‘it’, e.g.: It is true that he stole the jewels. The subject clause in such complex sentences is at the same time appositive. The status of the object clause is most obvious in its prepositional introduction (as in the example above). Sometimes it is mixed with other functional semantics, determined by the connectors, in particular, with adverbial relational meanings, e.g.: Do you know when they are coming? A separate group of object clauses are those presenting the chunks of speech and mental activity processes, traditionally discussed under the heading “the rules of reported speech”, e.g.: She said she would come early; Do you mean you like it?
Clauses of secondary nominal positions, including various attributive clauses, fall into two major groups: “descriptive” attributive clauses and “restrictive” (“limiting”) attributive clauses. The descriptive attributive clause exposes some characteristic of the antecedent (i.e. its substantive referent) as such, while the restrictive attributive clause performs a purely identifying role, singling out the referent of the antecedent in the situation, cf.: I know a man who can help us (descriptive attributive clause); This is the man whom I met yesterday (restrictive attributive clause). Some descriptive attributive clauses are attributive only in form, but semantically, they present a new event which somehow continues the chain of events reflected by the sentence as a whole; these complex sentences can be easily transformed into compound sentences, e.g.: We caught a breeze that took us gently up the river. à We caught a breeze and it took us gently up the river. Appositive clauses, a subtype of attributive clauses, define or elucidate the meaning of the substantive antecedent of abstract semantics, represented by such nouns as ability, advice, attempt, decision, desire, impulse, promise, proposal, etc, or by an indefinite or demonstrative pronoun, or by an anticipatory ‘it’, e.g.: I had the impression that she was badly ill; It was all he could do not to cry; It is true that he stole the jewels. The unique role of the subjective anticipatory appositive construction, as has been mentioned, consists in the fact that it is used as a universal means of rheme identification in the actual division of the sentence.
Clauses of adverbial positions make up the most numerous and the most complicated group of subordinate clauses, reflecting the intricacy of various relations between events and processes. The following big groups of adverbial clauses can be distinguished. First, clauses of time and clauses of place render the semantics of temporal and spatial localization. Local identification is primarily determined by subordinators: it may be general, expressed by the conjunctions when and where, or particularizing, expressed by such conjunctions as while, since, before, no sooner than, from where, etc., e.g.: I jumped up when she called; Sit where you like; I won’t leave until you come. Second, clauses of manner and comparison give a qualification to the action or event rendered by the principal clause, e.g.: Profits are higher than they were last year; Her lips moved soundlessly, as if she were rehearsing. The syntactic semantics of manner is expressed by subordinate appositive clauses introduced by phrases with the broad-meaning words way and manner, e.g.: George writes the way his father did. Third, the most numerous group, adverbial clauses of different circumstantial semantics includes “classical” subordinate clauses of attendant event, condition, cause (reason), result (consequence), concession, and purpose. E.g.: I am tired because I have worked all day; He spoke loudly so that all could hear him; If we start off now, we’ll arrive there by dinner; Even if the fault is all his, I must find a way to help him; He was so embarrassed that he could hardly understand her; etc. Cases of various ‘transferred’ and mixed syntactic semantics are also common in this group of clauses; e.g.: Whatever happens, she won’t have it her own way; the subordinate clause expresses circumstantial (concessive) semantics mixed with non-circumstantial (substantive-nominal) semantics. Fourth, a separate group of adverbial clauses is formed by subordinate clauses which function as parenthetical enclosures, inserted into composite syntactic constructions by a loose connection. Parenthetical predicative insertions can be either subordinative or coordinative, exposed by either a subordinating connector or a coordinative connector (cf.: inner cumulative connections in equipotent and dominational phrases; see Unit 19), e.g.: As far as I remember, the man was very much surprised to see me there; They used to be, and this is no longer a secret, very close friends. Semantically, parenthetical clauses may be of two types: “introductory”, expressing different modal meanings (as in the first example above), and “deviational”, expressing commenting insertions of varied semantic character (the second example above).
As the classification shows, the only notional position the subordinate clause can not occupy is the position of the predicate; this fact stresses once again the unique function of the predicate as the organizing centre of the sentence.
The clauses of a complex sentence can be connected with one another more or less closely. The degree (intensity) of syntactic closeness between the clauses reflects the degree of mutual dependence of their proposemic content. For example, the primary subordinate clauses, the subject clause and the predicative clause, are so closely connected with the principal clause that without them the principal clause cannot exist as a syntactic unit. The loose connections between the principal clause and the parenthetical enclosure make it possible to segregate the principal clause as an independent syntactic construction. Thus, all types of subordinative clausal connections are syntactically either obligatory or optional.
This distinction was used by the Russian linguist N. S. Pospelov to introduce another classification of complex sentences: he defined complex sentences with obligatory subordinate clauses as “one-member sentences” and complex sentences with optional subordinate clausesas “two-member sentences”. These two types of complex sentences can also be described as “monolithic” and “segregative” sentence structures correspondingly. The following complex sentences are syntactically monolithic: first, complex sentences with subject and predicative clauses, e.g.: What the telegram said was clear (*… was clear would be semantically and constructionally deficient); The telegram was what I expected from you (*The telegram was…); second, complex sentences in which the subordinate clauses perform the functions of complements, required by the obligatory valency of the predicate (usually, object clauses and adverbial clauses), e.g.: Tell me what you know about it (cf.: *Tell me…); Put the pen where you’ve taken it from; third, complex sentences with correlative connections, for example, with double connectors, e.g.: The more he thought about it, the more he worried; complex sentences with restrictive attributive clauses are monolythic, because they are based on a correlation scheme too, e.g.: It was the kind of book that all children admire; finally, the fourth type of monolithic complex sentences is formed by complex sentences with the subordinate clause in preposition to the principal clause, e.g.: As far as I remember, the man was very much surprised to see me there (cf.: *As far as I remember…); Even if the fault is all his, I must find a way to help him.
Segregative complex sentences are those with most of the adverbial clauses, parenthetical clauses and descriptive attributive clauses in postposition to the principal clause, e.g.: The man was very much surprised to see me there, as far as I remember (cf.: The man was very much surprised to see me); She wore a hat which was decorated with flowers (ñf.: She wore a hat).
More than two clauses may be combined in one complex sentence. Subordinate clauses may be arranged by parallel or consecutive subordination. Subordinate clauses immediately referring to one principal clause are subordinated “in parallel’ or “co-subordinated”. Parallel subordination may be both homogeneous and heterogeneous: in homogeneous parallel constructions, the subordinate clauses perform similar functions, they are connected with each other coordinatively and depend on the same element in the principal clause (or, the principal clause in general), e.g.: He said that it was his business and that I’d better stay off it; in heterogeneous parallel constructions, the subordinate clauses mostly refer to different elements in the principal clause, e.g.: The man whom I saw yesterday said that it was his business. Consecutive subordinative constructions are formed when one clause is subordinated to another in a string of clauses, e.g.: I don’t know why she said that she couldn’t come at the time that I suggested. There are three consecutively subordinated clauses in this sentence; they form a hierarchy of three levels of subordination. This figure shows the so-called depth of subordination perspective, one of the essential syntactic characteristics of the complex sentence. In the previous examples, the depth of subordination perspective can be estimated as 1.