Author Topic: What are substantive clauses and attributive clauses?  (Read 17442 times)

Joe Carillo

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What are substantive clauses and attributive clauses?
« on: December 24, 2010, 10:36:12 AM »
Question from Sky, Forum member (December 19, 2010):

What are substantive and attributive clauses? Thanks.

My reply to Sky:

Yours is a tough but very important grammar question that has never been asked in this Forum. There’s therefore no doubt in my mind that English learners and teachers alike will benefit from a discussion of the subject, so I’m making sure that my answer to your question is as instructive and comprehensive as I can make it.   

Substantive clauses

A substantive clause is an entire clause that serves as the subject or object of a verb. Such clauses are introduced by the relative pronouns “that” and “who” or by the interrogative words “why,” “where,” and “when.”

Here are some examples of substantive clauses:

(1) Substantive clause in a statement: “Despite his acquittal, many believe that the accused is guilty.” Here, “that the accused is guilty” is the substantive clause, functioning as direct object of the verb “believe.”
(2) Substantive clause in a command: “King Herod decreed that all first-born males be killed.” Here, “that all first-born males be killed” is the substantive clause, functioning as direct object of the verb “decreed.”
(3) Substantive clause in indirect questions: “She inquired where the residence of the village chief might be.” Here, the question “where the residence of the village chief might be” is the substantive clause, functioning as direct object of the verb “inquired.”
(4) Substantive clause as subject in a sentence:That the accused is guilty is a foregone conclusion.” Here, “that the accused is guilty” is the substantive clause, functioning as subject of the sentence.

Attributive clauses

On the other hand, an attributive clause is an entire clause that adds more information about a noun; in other words, the clause serves as a modifier of that noun. An attributive clause can either be restrictive or nonrestrictive.

Restrictive attributive clauses serve to specify precisely which noun is being referred to. For restrictive attributive clauses, the relative pronoun “that” is used, never “which” (at least in American English); when the antecedent noun is a person, the relative pronoun “who” is used.

Here are examples of attributive clauses:

(1) Restrictive attributive clause: “She liked the laptop that she saw in the computer shop last night.” Here, “that she saw in the computer shop last night” is the restrictive attributive clause and it modifies the noun “laptop.”

(2) Restrictive attributive clause (for a person as antecedent noun): “The writing contest winner was the young girl who wrote about a thin, beardless Santa Claus.” Here, “who wrote about a thin, beardless Santa Claus” is the restrictive attributive clause and it modifies the noun “girl.”

Nonrestrictive attributive clauses provide more information about the antecedent noun, but it’s presumed that the specific noun being referred to is already known by the reader either by context or logic. For nonrestrictive attributive clauses, the relative pronoun “which” (never “that”) preceded by a comma is used; when the antecedent noun is a person, the relative pronoun “who” is used. A nonrestrictive attributive clause is optional to the sentence; the sentence will remain grammatically and structurally sound without it.

Here are examples of nonrestrictive attributive clauses:

(1) Nonrestrictive attributive clause: “Many people from the provinces flock to Manila, which is the capital of the Philippines.” Here, “which is the capital of the Philippines” is the nonrestrictive attributive clause, modifying the antecedent noun “Manila.”

(2) Nonrestrictive attributive clause (for a person as antecedent noun): “Let us all congratulate Mr. Roberto Cruz, who as we all know has topped the medical licensure exam.” Here, “who as we all know has topped the medical licensure exam” is the nonrestrictive attributive clause, modifying the antecedent noun “Mr. Roberto Cruz.” 

I hope that this discussion has adequately clarified the distinction between substantive clauses and attributive clauses for you.

kassyopeia

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Re: What are substantive clauses and attributive clauses?
« Reply #1 on: January 09, 2011, 06:51:00 AM »

Hi Jose,

I was going to start a new thread, but your latest column topic seems so closely related to what I wanted to talk about that I'm replying here instead. Feel free to split this off if you don't agree, of course. :)

I came across several discussions concerning the use of the singular "has" in the sentence "Many people discover to their dismay that their many years of formal study of English has not given them the proficiency level demanded [...]", and was confused and intrigued by the manner in which you broke it down at one point, namely in this post (slightly modified by me):

  • 1) "Many people" - subject
  • 2) "discover" - verb
  • 3) "to their dismay" - ?
  • 4) "that their many years of formal study of English" - direct object of (2)
  • 5) "has not given them the proficiency level demanded [...]" - predicate complement of (4)

The argument, as I understood it, was then that the verb in (5) should agree with the phrase (4), which is singular. However, this analysis (and, thence, the argument based upon it) does not look valid to me, though I'm not entirely sure if that's because it is flawed, or merely because my understanding of it is.

Either way, this is how I would deconstruct the sentence in question:

  • 1) "Many people" - subject
  • 2) "discover" - verb
  • 3) "to their dismay" - ?
  • 4) "that their many years of formal study of English has not given them the proficiency level demanded [...]" - substantive clause, acting as direct object of (2) (cf. example #1 in your post above)
  • 4.1) "their many years of formal study of English" - noun phrase, acting as subject of (4)
  • 4.2) "has not given them the proficiency level demanded [...]" - verb phrase, acting as predicate of (4)
  • 4.2.1) "has not given" - negated compound verb
  • 4.2.2) "them" - pronoun, acting as indirect object of (4.2.1)
  • 4.2.3) "the proficiency level demanded [...]" - noun phrase, acting as direct object of (4.2.1)

"Predicate complement", as far as I could discover, is rather loosely defined as a phrase that is necessary to complete a predicate, in addition to the "predicator" (the verb). So there are several items in the list to which the term could be applied, but the original usage, which refers to an entire predicate, is not one of them.

Finally, I'd like to offer a possible explanation for the cause of the confusion, using another of the examples (#4) from your post above: "That the accused is guilty is a foregone conclusion." This construction, as stated, can be broken down into the subject "that the accused is guilty" and the predicate "is a foregone conclusion" - which is superficially quite similar to the attempted breakdown of the "many people" sentence. The reason that it works for the former and fails for the latter rests in the fact that such a subject must be a clause, not a phrase; that is, it must in turn consist of a subject ("the accused") and a predicate ("is guilty"). For "many people" to allow this analysis, there would have to be at least two predicators in the fragment subordinate to "that", but there is only one, namely "has not given".

Am I on to something, or did I just misinterpret your earlier post?

ps: All this being said, I have no quarrel with the usage of "his" instead of "have", per se. The other line of reasoning you gave, concerning the semantically singular nature of the noun phrase "their many years of formal study of English", definitely has merit. And that battle has been fought and re-fought often enough, in any case. :P

Joe Carillo

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Re: What are substantive clauses and attributive clauses?
« Reply #2 on: January 09, 2011, 09:39:51 AM »
You’ve stated your case very clearly regarding my use of the singular “has” in the sentence “Many people discover to their dismay that their many years of formal study of English has not given them the proficiency level demanded by the job market, by the various professions, or by higher academic studies.” I have done the same for my position on the matter in several posts in the Forum, particularly in the discussion thread for “On the subject-verb agreement question” that started in May 17, 2009.

Several academics and grammarians have agreed with my position regarding that sentence and my analysis of its construction, but I must acknowledge that several others—like you—disagree with my analysis. At this point, I think it’s best for us just to agree to disagree on this matter. Of course, the Forum will continue to welcome arguments pro and con until this issue is resolved to the satisfaction of all concerned.
« Last Edit: January 09, 2011, 03:15:02 PM by Joe Carillo »

kassyopeia

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Re: What are substantive clauses and attributive clauses?
« Reply #3 on: January 09, 2011, 09:04:42 PM »

Thanks for the quick reply. As I said, I don't disagree with your conclusion at all. But I do think that your usage of the terms "clause" and "complement" in the thread we are referring to was faulty, or, at least, highly non-standard. And I think that this is unfortunate, since it somewhat detracts from the entirely valid lines of reasoning that, at first sight, appear to be based upon that usage - when in fact the two approaches are quite independent of each other, as far as I can tell.

Incidentally, I also came across this document during my google-binge which led me to your site. It contrasts traditional prescriptivism and modern common-usage descriptivism for what they call "persistently troublesome cases" of subject-verb agreement, and clearly supports your recent claim that such cases often come down to one's point of view at the end of the day, rather than being an absolute matter of right-and-wrong. What sets it apart from most publications of this sort is that they employ actual statistically relevant samples of native speakers to figure out what "common usage" is, rather than rely on their own intuition. It might give you some extra ammunition. ;)