Author Topic: Subordinate clauses don't always play second fiddle to main clauses  (Read 15277 times)

Joe Carillo

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4653
  • Karma: +206/-2
    • View Profile
    • Email
E-mail sent to me by Mr. Roy Kagle from Annapolis, Maryland (January 16, 2011):

Dear Mr. Carillo:
 
In your recent discussion with Dr. A about the relationship between subordinate and main clauses, you carefully distinguished a syntactic relationship from a semantic one. If I understood this discussion correctly, you seemed to say that although the main clause always plays the more important role syntactically, it does not always do so semantically. Can you provide clear examples of sentences in which the more important message syntactically appears in the subordinate clause?
 
I found your articles on adjective clause/phrase reduction absolutely fascinating. I wish that you would provide another article, this time dealing with the circumstance of very different tenses appearing in the original subordinate and main clauses. When can the reduction be made; when can't it?
 
If you will give me a snail-mail address or a FAX number, I will send you a copy of the old Harbrace College Handbook’s page 285 with the “Exceptions” to dangling modifiers. These so-called “exceptions” may well be clear to the handbook’s author, Dr. John C. Hodges, but they are not clear to me. I was hoping that you could help clear things up for me here.
 
Many thanks! I cannot exaggerate my indebtedness to you for the tuition your articles have provided to me in the past month or so. I would like to purchase your latest book, Give Your English the Winning Edge, but I cannot find it in any Annapolis bookstore.  Does your book have an ISBN number? Could you send me a copy of the book’s Table of Contents, perhaps as an e-mail attachment?
 
Again, many thanks.
 
Roy Kagle

My reply to Mr. Kagle (January 19, 2011):

Dear Mr. Kagle:

You got my point right that although the main clause always plays the more important role syntactically in the sentence, it doesn’t always do so semantically. Here are a few examples of this state of affairs where the idea in the main clause is semantically subordinate to the idea found in the subordinate clause:

(1) “A storm was brewing when the woman came to town.” Here, it’s clear that although "a storm was brewing” is the main clause, it’s obviously less important semantically than the subordinate clause “when the woman came to town.” In such “when” constructions, in fact, the main clause often only serves to provide context or atmosphere to the idea in the subordinate clause.


(2) “Right before he announced a major restructuring of the company, the CEO took a week-long cruise in his yacht.” Here, it’s clear that although “the CEO took a week-long cruise in his yacht” is the main clause, it’s less important semantically than the subordinate clause “right before he announced a major restructuring of the company.” In this particular case, the main clause just serves give context to the subordinate clause.

(3) “Because the soldier had sustained a fatal wound, the troopers agreed with his decision to stay and hold off the enemy.” Here, although “the troopers agreed with his decision to stay and hold off the enemy” is the main clause, it’s less important semantically than the subordinate clause “because the soldier had sustained a fatal wound.”

(4) “The king decreed that all farmers pay a 15 percent royal levy on farm produce.” Here, although “the king decreed” is the main clause, it’s clear that the more important idea resides in the relative subordinate clause “all farmers pay a 15 percent royal levy on farm produce.” Indeed, relative clauses are the strongest proof of my argument that subordinate clauses, while syntactically inferior to main clauses, need not be semantically inferior to them.       

As for my articles on adjective clause/phrase reduction, thanks for the compliment! I’m glad that you found them useful. I’ll definitely look into and write about the matter of grammatical situations where the subordinate and main clauses are in different tenses. I’ll let you know once I come up with something about the subject. 
 
I don’t use a FAX so just send me a photocopy of page 285 of the old Harbrace College Handbook. I look forward keenly to being able to comment on Dr. Hodges’s supposed exceptions to dangling modifiers—something that I must reiterate at this point absolutely intrigues me.

My English-usage books are being sold only through Philippine retail outlets. In the case of Give Your English the Winning Edge (ISBN 978-971-928239-6, Manila Times Publishing, 486 pages, cover price 565 Philippine pesos), you can go over the Table of Contents by clicking this link to the Bookshop of Jose Carillo’s English Forum. You can use my publisher’s ordering facility in the site.

Do let me hear from you soon.

Sincerely yours,
Joe Carillo

A rejoinder from Mr. Roy Kagle (January 19, 2011):

Dear Mr. Carillo:
 
You are a magnificent teacher! Your examples of main ideas in subordinate clauses are right on the mark. I will check the table of contents of your latest book because I want to be sure (before investing in the book) that the book does not duplicate material I already have in my library (and/or already know well).
 
The Harbrace College Handbook (3rd edition) from 1953 was one I used in college. It has probably gone through many editions since the 3rd. However, I will photocopy a few pages from the 4th ed (1956) [w/r dangling modifier , especially page 285 discussing the "exceptions," ] and snail-mail them to you today.
 
Despite my great respect for you, I do not always agree with your teachings. For instance, I learned from my old English teacher in junior high school that "NONE" is ALWAYS singular and that “objects of prepositions can “NEVER” be subjects of sentences. For 50 + years (and through 3 other languages), this teaching has held me in good stead.
 
I do not respect the distinction you make between “none” and “not any.” I believe that you occasionally use objects of prepositions as subjects of sentences, in determining verb/subject agreement. That is mistaken, in my judgment. Objects of prepositions take objective case forms, not substantive ones, as real "subjects" do.
 
There are other areas of disagreement, but these are almost trifling. This difference, however, is a mere trifle compared with the splendid enlightenment I have gotten from you and your articles.  You have a real genius for communicating and for teaching.
 
Many thanks.
Roy Kagle
« Last Edit: February 22, 2023, 05:12:13 PM by Joe Carillo »