Grammar and its place among other sciences


Иностранные языки, филология и лингвистика

The following course of theoretical grammar serves to describe the grammatical structure of the English language as a system where all parts are interconnected. The difference between theoretical and practical grammar lies in the fact that practical grammar prescribes certain rules...



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1. Grammar and its place among other sciences

1.1. The subject of theoretical grammar

The following course of theoretical grammar serves to describe the grammatical structure of the English language as a system where all parts are interconnected. The difference between theoretical and practical grammar lies in the fact that practical grammar prescribes certain rules of usage and teaches to speak (or write) correctly whereas theoretical grammar presents facts of language, while analyzing them, and gives no prescriptions.

Unlike school grammar, theoretical grammar does not always produce a ready-made decision. In language there are a number of phenomena interpreted differently by different linguists. To a great extent, these differences are due to the fact that there exist various directions in linguistics, each having its own method of analysis and, therefore, its own approach to the matter. But sometimes these differences arise because some facts of language are difficult to analyze, and in this case the only thing to offer is a possible way to solve the problem, instead of giving a final solution. It is due to this circumstance that there are different theories of the same language phenomenon, which is not the case with practical grammar.


Language is a means of forming and storing ideas as reflections of reality and exchanging them in the process of human intercourse. Language is social by nature; it is inseparably connected with the people who are its creators and users; it grows and develops together with the development of society.*

Language incorporates the three constituent parts ("sides"), each being inherent in it by virtue of its social nature. These parts are the phonological system, the lexical system, the grammatical system. Only the unity of these three elements forms a language; without any one of them there is no human language in the above sense.

The phonological system is the subfoundation of language; it determines the material (phonetical) appearance of its significative units. The lexical system is the whole set of naming means of language, that is, words and stable word-groups. The grammatical system is the whole set of regularities determining the combination of naming means in the formation of utterances as the embodiment of thinking process.

Each of the three constituent parts of language is studied by a particular linguistic discipline. These disciplines, presenting a series of approaches to their particular objects of analysis, give the corresponding "descriptions" of language consisting in ordered expositions of the constituent parts in question. Thus, the phonological description of language is effected by the science of phonology; the lexical description of language is effected by the science of lexicology; the grammatical description of language is effected by the science of grammar.

Any linguistic description may have a practical or theoretical purpose. A practical description is aimed at providing the student with a manual of practical mastery of the corresponding part of language (within the limits determined by various factors of educational destination and scientific possibilities). Since the practice of lingual intercourse, however, can only be realized by employing language as a unity of all its constituent parts, practical linguistic manuals more often than not comprise the three types of description presented in a complex. As for theoretical linguistic descriptions, they pursue analytical aims and therefore present the studied parts of language in relative isolation, so as to gain insights into their inner structure and expose the intrinsic mechanisms of their functioning. Hence, the aim of theoretical grammar of a language is to present a theoretical description of its grammatical system, i.e. to scientifically analyze and define its grammatical categories and study the mechanisms of grammatical formation of utterances out of words in the process of speech making.

In earlier periods of the development of linguistic knowledge, grammatical scholars believed that the only purpose of grammar was to give strict rules of writing and speaking correctly. The rigid regulations for the correct ways of expression, for want of the profound understanding of the social nature of language, were often based on purely subjective and arbitrary judgments of individual grammar compilers. The result of this "prescriptive" approach was, that alongside of quite essential and useful information, non-existent "rules" were formulated that stood in sheer contradiction with the existing language usage, i.e. lingual reality. Traces of this arbitrary prescriptive approach to the grammatical teaching may easily be found even in to-date's school practice.

Modern linguistics lays a special stress on the systemic character of language and all its constituent parts. It accentuates the idea that language is a system of signs (meaningful units) which are closely interconnected and interdependent. Units of immediate interdependences (such as classes and subclasses of words, various subtypes of syntactic constructions, etc.) form different microsystems (subsystems) within the framework of the global macrosystem (supersys-tem) of the whole of language.

Each system is a structured set of elements related to one another by a common function. The common function of all the lingual signs is to give expression to human thoughts.

Morphology is the study of word structure, that is, the study of the way words are formed, how the parts of words relate to each other, and how words themselves relate to each other. It is also the study of the way that word structure relates to other areas of grammar, for instance, pronunciation (phonology) and sentence structure (syntax). Finally, an important aspect of morphology which is becoming increasingly important is the study of how the structure of words is related to the meanings of words.

2. Words in the system of language

2.1 Words as meaningful building-blocks of language

We think of words as the basic units of language. When a baby begins to speak, the way the excited mother reports what has happened is: ‘Sally (or Tommy) has said her (or his) first word!’ We would be surprised at a mother who described little Tommy’s or Sally’s first utterance as a sentence. Sentences come later, we are inclined to feel, when words are strung together meaningfully. That is not to say that a sentence must always consist of more than one word. One-word commands such as ‘Go!’ or ‘Sit!’, although they crop up relatively seldom in everyday conversation or reading, are not in any way odd or un-English. Nevertheless, learning to talk in early childhood seems to be a matter of putting words together, not of taking sentences apart. There is a clear sense, then, in which words seem to be the building blocks of language. Even as adults, there are quite a few circumstances in which we use single words outside the context of any actual or reconstructable sentence. Here are some examples:

• warning shouts, such as ‘Fire!’

• conventional commands, such as ‘Lights!’, Camera!’, ‘Action!’

• items on shopping lists, such as ‘carrots’, ‘cheese’, ‘eggs’.

It is clear also that words on their own, outside sentences, can be sorted and classified in various ways. A comprehensive classification of English words according to meaning is a thesaurus, such as Roget’s Thesaurus. But the kind of conventional classification that we are likely to refer to most often is a dictionary, in which words are listed according to their spelling in alphabetical order.

Given that English spelling is so erratic, a common reason for looking up a word in an English dictionary is to check how to spell it. But another very common reason is to check what it means. In fact, that is what a dictionary entry basically consists of: an association of a word, alphabetically listed, with a definition of what it means, and perhaps also some information about grammar (the word class or part of speech that the word belongs to) and its pronunciation. Here, for example, is a specimen dictionary entry for the word month, based on the entry given in the Concise Oxford Dictionary (6th edition):

month noun. Any of twelve portions into which the year is divided.

It seems, then, that a word is not just a building-block of sentences: it is a building-block with a meaning that is unpredictable, or at least sufficiently unpredictable that learners of English, and even sometimes

native speakers, may need to consult a dictionary in order to discover it. We may be tempted to think that this constitutes everything that needs to be said about words: they are units of language which are basic

in two senses, both 

1. in that they have meanings that are unpredictable and so must be

listed in dictionaries and

2. in that they are the building-blocks out of which phrases and

sentences are formed.

However, if that were all that needed to be said, this would be a very short book – much shorter than it actually is! So in what respects do 1. and 2. jointly fall short as a characterisation of words and their behaviour?

A large part of the answer lies in the fact that there are units of language that have characteristic 1. but not 2., and vice versa.

2.2 Words as types and words as tokens

How many words are there in the following sentence?

(1) Mary goes to Edinburgh next week, and she intends going to Washington next month.

If we take as a guide the English spelling convention of placing a space between each word, the answer seems clearly to be fourteen. But there is also a sense in which there are fewer than fourteen words in the sentence, because two of them (the words to and next) are repeated. In this sense, the third word is the same as the eleventh, and the fifth word is the same as the thirteenth, so there are only twelve words in the sentence. Let us say that the third and the eleventh word of the sentence at (1) are distinct tokens of a single type, and likewise the fifth and thirteenth word. (In much the same way, one can say that two performances of the same tune, or two copies of the same book, are distinct tokens of one type.)

The type–token distinction is relevant to the notion ‘word’ in this way. Sentences (spoken or written) may be said to be composed of wordtokens, but it is clearly not word-tokens that are listed in dictionaries. It would be absurd to suggest that each occurrence of the word next in (1) merits a separate dictionary entry. Words as listed in dictionaries entries are, at one level, types, not tokens – even though, at another level, one may talk of distinct tokens of the same dictionary entry, inasmuch as the entry for month in one copy of the Concise Oxford Dictionary is a different token from the entry for month in another copy.

Is it enough, then, to say that characterisation 2. (words as buildingblocks) relates to word-tokens and characterisation 1. (words as meaningful units) relates to word-types? Again, if that were all there was to it, this book could be quite short. The term word would be ambiguous between a ‘type’ interpretation and a ‘token’ interpretation; but the ambiguity would be just the same as is exhibited by many other terms

not specifically related to language, such as tune: a tune I heard this morning may be ‘the same’ as one I heard yesterday (i.e. they may be instances of the same type), but the two tokens that I have heard of it are distinct. However, the relationship between words as building-blocks and as meaningful units is not so simple as that, as we shall see. So, while it is important to be alert to type–token ambiguity when talking about words, recognising this sort of ambiguity is by no means all there is to sorting out how characteristics 1. and 2. diverge.

2.3. The lexeme concept

How many words are listed in (1)?

(1) {cat, dog}

Clearly two. How many are listed in (2)?

(2) {cat, cats}

In a sense there are also two words here, but in another sense there is only one word, ‘cat’, with two forms, cat and cats. If you look in a dictionary under ‘cat’, you’ll only find the one form, cat. The plural, cats, is formed by a completely general rule of English and there is no need to list it separately. We can describe cat as ‘the singular form of the word “cat”’ and cats as ‘the plural form of the word “cat”’. It is rather useful to have different terms for the two different senses of the word ‘word’ here. We will therefore say that there is a lexeme ‘cat’ which has two word forms, cat and cats. We will write the names of lexemes in small capitals from now on. Thus, we speak of the lexeme CAT. For the present we will think of a lexeme as a single meaning associated with a set of word forms.

The lexeme concept is also valuable for analysing verbs. Consider the examples in (3):

(3) a. Tom will walk to work

b. Tom walks to work

c. Tom is walking to work

d. Tom walked to work

Here we see various forms of the lexeme WALK: {walk, walks, walking, walked}. Again, these forms can all be produced by perfectly regular rules of English grammar. The form walking has a variety of uses and this will be discussed in more detail in Chapter Two. The form walked expresses a tense form (past tense), indicating the time of the event relative to the time of speaking (i.e. some time in the past). The form walks is used just when the subject is of the type Tom, Harriet, the girl, she, i.e. when the subject is third person (not I or you) and singular (ruling out they or the boys). We say that the form walks agrees with the subject for the grammatical properties of person (third) and number (singular).

3. Morpheme concept

3.1. Morpheme – is the 2d main unit of the language structure. The shortest structural unit which carried a definite gr. meaning. The smallest dependent meaningful unit. Has gr. form and meaning, i.e. is bilateral

Let us look in more detail at two characteristics of morphemes, in the light of how the notion has been introduced. To allow the meanings of some complex words to be predictable, morphemes must

1. be identifiable from one word to another


2. contribute in some way to the meaning of the whole word.

Now, what permits the same morpheme to be identified in a variety of different words? A morpheme cannot, after all, be just any recurring word-part. To see this, consider the words attack, stack, tackle and taxi.

These all contain a syllable pronounced like the word tack; but it would be absurd to say that the same morpheme -tack- is identifiable in each, because the meaning of tack has nothing to do with the meanings of the other words, and all of them must surely be listed separately in any dictionary. So it may seem natural to link characteristic 1. tightly to 2., making the identification of morphemes dependent on their meaning.

Indeed, in introductory linguistics textbooks, one often encounters statements to the effect that morphemes are not merely the smallest units of grammatical structure but also the smallest meaningful units.

This view is widespread precisely because it fits many complex words very well – not only brand new words like un-Clintonish but also established words like helpfulness, which is divisible into the morphemes help,

-ful (identifiable also in cheerful and doleful, for example) and -ness (identifiable also in happiness and sadness). It seems reasonable to say that the meaning of both un-Clintonish and helpfulness is entirely determined by the meanings of the morphemes that they contain. Even the meaning

of a word such as readable, which is idiosyncratic enough to require mention in a dictionary, is clearly

related to the normal meanings or functions of read and -able. In the face of such examples, it is important to remember that there is no necessary or logical connection between characteristics 1. and 2.

Another general point to be made about morphemes is that, although they are the parts out of which words are composed, they do not have to be of any particular length. Some relatively long words, such as

catamaran and knickerbocker, may consist of just one morpheme; on the other hand, a single-syllable word, such as tenths, may contain as many as three morphemes (ten, -th, -s). What this shows is that the morphological structure of words is largely independent of their phonological structure (their division into sounds, syllables and rhythmic units). This reflects a striking difference between human speech and all animal communication systems: only speech (so far as we know) is analysable in two parallel ways, into units that contribute to meaning (morphemes, words, phrases etc.) and units that are individually meaningless (sounds, syllables etc.). What matters here is just that you should avoid a mistake that beginners

sometimes make, that of confusing morphemes with phonological units such as syllables.

3.2 Kinds of morpheme: bound versus free

The morphemes in the word helpfulness, just discussed, do not all have the same status. Help, -ful and -ness are not simply strung together like beads on a string. Rather, the core, or starting-point, for the formation of this word is help; the morpheme -ful is then added to form helpful, which in turn is the basis for the formation of helpfulness. In using the word ‘then’ here, I am not referring to the historical sequence in which the words help, helpful and helpfulness came into use; I am talking rather about the structure of the word in contemporary English – a structure that is part of the implicit linguistic knowledge of all English speakers, whether or not they know anything about the history of the English language.

There are two reasons for calling help the core of this word. One is that help supplies the most precise and concrete element in its meaning, shared by a family of related words like helper, helpless, helplessness and unhelpful that differ from one another in more abstract ways. Another reason is that, of the three morphemes in helpfulness, only help can stand on its own – that is, only help can, in an appropriate context, constitute an utterance by itself. That is clearly not true of -ness, nor is it true of -ful. (Historically -ful is indeed related to the word full, but their divergence in modern English is evident if one compares words like helpful and cheerful with other words that really do contain full, such as half-full and chock-full.) In self-explanatory fashion, morphemes that can stand on their own are called free, and ones that cannot are bound. A salient characteristic of English – a respect in which English differs from many other languages – is that a high proportion of complex words are like helpfulness and un-Clintonish in that they have a free morpheme (like help and Clinton) at their core. Compare the two column of words listed at (1), all of which consist uncontroversially of two morphemes, separated by a hyphen:

(1) a. read-able b. leg-ible

hear-ing audi-ence

en-large magn-ify

perform-ance rend-ition

white-ness clar-ity

dark-en obfusc-ate

seek-er applic-ant

The rationale for the division is that the words in column a. all contain a free morpheme, respectively read, hear, large, perform, white and dark. By contrast, in the words in column b., though they are similar in meaning to their counterparts in a., both the morphemes are bound. If you know something about the history of the English language, or if you know some French, Spanish or Latin, you may know already that most of the free morphemes in (1a) belong to that part of the vocabulary of English that has been inherited directly through the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family to which English belongs, whereas all the morphemes in (1b) have been introduced, or borrowed, from Latin, either directly or via French. Even without such historical knowledge, it may strike you that the words in (1b) are on the whole somewhat less common, or more bookish, than those in (1a). This reflects the fact that, among the most widely used words, the Germanic element still predominates. It is thus fair to say that, in English, there is still a strong tendency for complex words to contain a free morpheme at their core.

Is it possible for a bound morpheme to be so limited in its distribution that it occurs in just one complex word? The answer is yes. This is almost true, for example, of the morpheme leg- ‘read’ in legible at (1b): at least in everyday vocabulary, it is found in only one other word, namely illegible, the negative counterpart of legible. And it is absolutely true of the morphemes cran-, huckle- and gorm- in cranberry, huckleberry and gormless. Cranberry and huckleberry are compounds whose second element is clearly the free morpheme berry, occurring in several other compounds such as strawberry, blackberry and blueberry; however, cran- and huckle- occur nowhere outside these compounds. A name commonly given to such bound morphemes is cranberry morpheme. Cranberry morphemes are more than just a curiosity, because they reinforce the difficulty of tying morphemes tightly to meaning. What does cran- mean? Arguably, nothing at all; it is only the entire word cranberry that can be said to be meaningful, and it is certainly the entire word, not cran- by itself, that is in any dictionary. (You may have noticed, too, that although blackberries are indeed blackish, strawberries have nothing obvious to do with straw; so, even if straw- in strawberry is not a cranberry morpheme, it does not by itself make any predictable semantic contribution in this word.)

3.3 Kinds of morpheme: It is time now to bring those two terms into the discussion, and also introduce the term root for what I have been calling the ‘core’. It can be emerged from previous studies that, in the native Germanic portion of the vocabulary, the root of a complex word is usually free. Of the non-root morphemes in the words that we have looked at so far, those that precede the root (like en- in enlarge) are called prefixes, while those that follow it are called suffixes (like -ance in performance, -ness in whiteness, and -able in readable). We have encountered far more suffixes than prefixes, and that is not an accident: there are indeed more suffixes than prefixes in English. An umbrella term for prefixes and suffixes (broadly speaking, for all morphemes that are not roots) is affix.

Only root morphemes can be free, so affixes are necessarily bound. We have already noticed that the morphemes -ful and -ness of helpfulness cannot stand on their own. It is easy for anyone who is a native speaker of English to check that the same is true of all the morphemes that I have identified as prefixes and suffixes in (1a) – that is, all the morphemes in these words other than the roots.

At this point, it may seem to some readers that terminology is proliferating unnecessarily. If affixes are always bound, do not ‘bound morpheme’ and ‘affix’ mean essentially the same thing? Likewise, if roots are usually free, do we really need both the terms ‘root’ and ‘free morpheme’? The answer lies in the word ‘usually’ in the previous sentence. Affixes are indeed always bound, but it is not the case that roots are always free. In fact, all the words in (1b) have roots that are bound. The fact of being bound may make a bound root harder to identify and isolate as a morpheme than a free root is; but for most of the examples in (1b) it is possible to find other words in which the same roots appear, such as

audible, auditory and audition alongside audience. A cranberry morpheme can be thought of as a bound root that occurs in only one word. We have so far encountered two main kinds of complex word: ones with a single free root, as in (1a), and ones with a single bound root, as in (1b). Is it the case, then, that a word can contain no more than one root? Certainly not – indeed, such words are very common; they are compounds, already mentioned in connection with cranberry morphemes. Examples are bookcase, motorbike, penknife, truck-driver. The point of mentioning compounds again now is that, if a complex word can be formed out of two (or more) free roots, it is natural to ask whether a word can contain two or more bound roots. The answer is yes – although, in the light of the English language’s preference for free roots, they are not nearly so common as ordinary compounds. Examples of words with two bound roots are electrolysis, electroscopy, microscopy, microcosm, pachyderm, echinoderm. Other words which, like cranberry, contain one bound and one free root are microfilm, electrometer and Sino-Japanese (assuming that Japanese contains the free root Japan). It will be evident straight away that these are mostly not words in common use; in fact, I would expect few readers of this book to be familiar with all of them. Unlike ordinary compounds, these words are nearly all technical terms of scientific vocabulary, coined self-consciously out of non-English elements, mostly from Latin and Greek. Because of the big difference between ordinary compounds and these learned words, and because of the non-English character of the bound morphemes that compose them, many linguists and dictionary-makers classify these bound morphemes as neither affixes nor bound roots (such as we encountered in (1b)) but place them in a special category of combining forms.Given that native English words generally contain free roots, we might expect that, if a word made up of combining forms is in common use, the morphemes within it should tend to acquire the status of free morphemes.

This expectation turns out to be correct. For example, the word photograph existed, as a learned technical term composed of combining forms, before the word photo; but photo must now be classified as a free morpheme. Other combining forms that have more recently ‘acquired their freedom’ are micro- and macro- (as in at a micro level or on a macro scale) and retro-, as applied to music or fashion.

3.4 Morphemes and their allomorphs

Is every morpheme pronounced the same in all contexts? If it were, most phonology texts could be considerably shorter than they are! In fact, many morphemes have two or more different pronunciations, called allomorphs, the choice between them being determined by the context.

These include some of the commonest morphemes in the language, as I will illustrate directly. I will then discuss in more detail what aspects of the context can influence the choice of allomorph.

How are the plurals of most English nouns formed? If one compares cats, dogs and horses with cat, dog and horse respectively, the obvious answer is: ‘by adding -s’. But English spelling is notoriously unreliable as a guide to pronunciation. In fact, this -s suffix has three allomorphs: [s] (as in cats or lamps), [z] (as in dogs or days), and [z] or [əz] (as in horses or judges). Is it, then, that everyone learning English, whether natively or as a second language, must learn individually for each noun which of the three allomorphs is used in its plural form? That would seem extremely laborious.

In fact, it is easy to show that the three allomorphs are distributed in an entirely regular fashion, based on the sound immediately preceding the suffix, thus:

• when the preceding sound is a sibilant (the kind of ‘hissing’ or ‘hushing’ sound heard at the end of horse, rose, bush, church and judge), the [z] allomorph occurs

• otherwise, when the preceding sound is voiceless, i.e. produced with no vibration of the vocal folds in the larynx (as in cat, rock, cup or cliff ), the [s] allomorph occurs

• otherwise (i.e. after a vowel or a voiced consonant, as in dog or day), the [z] allomorph occurs.

In effect, without realising it, we pay attention to these phonological characteristics of the noun when deciding which allomorph to use – though ‘decide’ is hardly the right word here, because our ‘decision’ is quite unconscious. Another very common suffix with phonologically determined allomorphs is the one spelled -ed, used in the past tense form of most verbs. Its allomorphs are [t], [d] and [d] or [əd]; determining their distribution is left as an exercise, whose solution is provided at the end of the book.

One may be tempted to think that the allomorphy involved here (i.e. the choice of allomorphs), because it depends so much on phonology, is not really a morphological matter at all. But that is not quite correct.

Consider the noun lie meaning ‘untruth’. Its plural form is lies, with [z] –just as predicted, given that lie ends in a vowel sound. But this is not because either [s] or [əz] would be unpronounceable here, or would break some rule of English phonology. If we experiment by replacing the [z] of lies with [s], we get an actual word (lice, the plural of louse), and replacing it with [əz] we get what is at least a possible word (it might be the plural of an imaginary noun ‘lia’) – and is an actual word (liars) in those dialects of English where liar is pronounced without an r-sound. So phonologically determined allomorphy need not just be a matter of avoiding what is phonologically prohibited.

It is not only phonology that may influence the choice of allomorphs of a morpheme. Instances where grammar or vocabulary play a part in the choice are extremely numerous in English. In this book we will do no more than skim the surface of this huge topic. We will look first at a set of examples that involve both grammar and vocabulary.

The words laugh and cliff both end in the same voiceless consonant (despite what the spelling may suggest!). Therefore, according to the formula given above, the allomorph of the plural suffix that appears on them should be [s]. And this is correct. But what about wife and loaf ?

These end in the same voiceless consonant as laugh and cliff; yet their plurals are not *wifes and *loafs but wives and loaves. (The asterisk is a conventional symbol to indicate that a linguistic expression (a word, phrase or sentence) is unacceptable for some reason to do with grammar or with the structure of the language generally, rather than for reasons such as truthfulness or politeness.) In fact, there are quite a few nouns which, in the singular, end in a voiceless f, s or th sound but which change this in the plural to the voiced counterpart (not always reflected in the spelling). Nouns that behave like this in most varieties of English are knives, lives, hooves, houses, paths and baths. However, there are also exceptions to this ‘rule’: apart from laugh and cliff, already mentioned, one can think of fife and oaf, which both form their plural with [s]. What’s more, wife, knife and the rest do not use their voiced allomorph (wiveetc.) before any morpheme except plural -s – not even before the ‘apostrophe s’ morpheme that indicates possession, as in my wife’s job. So the allomorphy here is determined both lexically (it is restricted to certain nouns only) and grammatically (it occurs before the plural suffix -s but not before other morphemes). This state of affairs suggests a refinement to the bound-free distinction: as a morpheme, wife is clearly free, but, of its two allomorphs wife (with final [f ]) and wive (with final

[v]), only the former is free, while the latter is bound.

3.5 Identifying morphemes independently of meaning

A somewhat different kind of lexical conditioning can be introduced by means of the prefix re- and its possible allomorphs. This prefix can be added to verbs quite freely, contributing the meaning ‘again’, as in rewrite, reread, repaint, revisit. In these words the prefix has a vowel rather like that of see, and can be represented phonetically as [ri]. But something that looks very much like the same prefix occurs also in verbs such as revive, return, restore, revise, reverse, this time pronounced with a so-called ‘reduced vowel’, [r] or [rə]. What’s more, many of these words have a meaning in which it is possible to discern an element such as ‘again’ or ‘backward movement’: for example, revive means ‘bring back to life’, return means ‘come back’ or ‘give back’, restore means ‘bring back to a former condition’, and revise means ‘look at again, with a view to changing’.

It may therefore seem natural to treat [ri] and [rə] as allomorphs of the same morpheme.

A snag, however, is that there are some roots with which both [ri] and [rə] can occur, yielding different meanings: for example, the meanings just given for restore and return are distinct from those for re-store ‘store again’ and re-turn ‘turn again’ (as in I turned the steaks on the barbecue a minute ago, and I’ll re-turn them soon). The [ri] prefix can be added to almost any verb, with the consistent meaning ‘again’ (it is productive in all the senses to be discussed in Chapter 8), whereas the [rə] prefix is lexically much more restricted as well as harder to pin down semantically. One must conclude that the two prefixes pronounced [ri] and [rə] belong to distinct morphemes in modern English, their phonetic and semantic similarities being due to their having the same historical source in that part of English vocabulary that has been borrowed from Latin via French.

As an alternative to that conclusion, one might consider rejecting the analysis of revive, return, restore, revise and reverse as consisting of a prefix plus a root, and instead treat them as monomorphemic. But this has unwelcome consequences too. If revive and revise are single morphemes, that amounts to saying that they have no parts in common (except phonologically) with survive and supervise. But that is unwelcome, because it inhibits us from recognising sur- and super- as morphemes that recur in surpass and superimpose. In fact, many English words (mainly verbs and words related to them) form a complex network, with what looks like a prefix–root structure (the root being usually bound), but without any clear consistent meaning being ascribable to either the prefix or the root. Here is just a small part of that network:

(2) refer prefer confer defer transfer infer

reduce conduce deduce induce

revoke convoke invoke

reserve preserve conserve deserve

relate collate translate

remit commit transmit

pretend contend intend

revolve devolve involve

If we adhere strictly to the view that individual morphemes must be meaningful, then all these words must seemingly be treated as monomorphemic; for no consistent meaning can be identified in modern English for any of the purported morphemes that they contain (for example, no element such as ‘backward movement’ or ‘again’ can be plausibly discerned within the meaning of reserve). But a consideration of allomorphy shows that that would be unsatisfactory. If reduce, conduce, deduce and induce have no morpheme in common, then the fact that for all of them there is a corresponding noun in which -duce is replace with -duct- (reduction, conduction etc.) seems to be a pure accident. However, this shared pattern of allomorphy is just what we expect if -duce is a root morpheme that they all share (one of its allomorphs being -duct-), while they differ prefixally. A similar point can be made about the nouns revolution, devolution and involution related to revolve, devolve and involve: again, an unusual pattern of allomorphy makes sense if the same root morpheme is contained in all these words (-volve, with allomorph -volu-), but it makes no sense if these words have no more in common than e.g. loaf and oaf, discussed in previous point.

Some of the nouns and verbs that I have just claimed to be related do not have much to do with each other semantically, one must admit. For example, the meaning of conduce (a rather rare verb) has nothing to do with that of conduction, and the noun that seems most closely related to involve is not involution (another rarity) but involvement. However, that just confirms a central characteristic of these prefix–root combinations: the prefixes and roots that they comprise are identifiable without reference to meaning. Because of this, all these complex words must clearly be lexical items. Thus the lexical conditioning to which these morphemes are subject is of a particularly strong kind: none of them ever occurs except in complex words that require dictionary listing. The idea that these morphemes occur only in words that are lexical items fits nicely a salient characteristic of the table at (2), namely its ‘gappiness’. A list of lexical items is essentially arbitrary; therefore one will not expect to be able to predict confidently that any one conceivable prefix–root combination will be present in the list. For example, nothing guarantees that there should be a word such as ‘transvoke’ or ‘premit ’ – and indeed there is not (at least in the ordinary vocabulary of modern English speakers). Two of the gaps in (2) might be filled if we allowed as fillers not just verbs but other words related to them: for, even though ‘transduce’ and ‘convolve’ do not exist, we can find transducer, convolutionand convoluted in any dictionary. It may seem at first paradoxical that these other words should exist while the verbs from which they are formed, in some sense (the sense in which e.g. helpful is ‘formed from’ help), do not exist. Again, however, this ceases to be surprising if the Latin-derived prefixes and roots that we have been considering have so extensively lost any clearly identifiable meanings as to enforce lexical listing for all words formed with them.

So building blocks, in which a root or affix is paired with its meaning, are called morphemes. A standard definition of morpheme is ‘the smallest indivisible meaningful unit of a word’.

4. Ways of forming words

4.1. Inflection

Inflection vs. word formation

Given the notion of a lexeme, it is possible to distinguish two kinds of morphological rules. Some morphological rules relate to different forms of the same lexeme; while other rules relate to different lexemes. Rules of the first kind are called inflectional rules, while those of the second kind are called word formation. The English plural, as illustrated by dog and dogs, is an inflectional rule; compounds like dog catcher or dishwasher provide an example of a word formation rule. Informally, word formation rules form "new words" (that is, new lexemes), while inflection rules yield variant forms of the "same" word (lexeme).

There is a further distinction between two kinds of word formation: derivation and compounding. Compounding is a process of word formation that involves combining complete word forms into a single compound form; dog catcher is therefore a compound, because both dog and catcher are complete word forms in their own right before the compounding process has been applied, and are subsequently treated as one form. Derivation involves affixing bound (non-independent) forms to existing lexemes, whereby the addition of the affix derives a new lexeme. One example of derivation is clear in this case: the word independent is derived from the word dependent by prefixing it with the derivational prefix in-, while dependent itself is derived from the verb depend.

A derivational suffix usually applies to words of one syntactic category and changes them into words of another syntactic category. For example, the English derivational suffix -ly changes adjectives into adverbs (slow → slowly).

Examples of English derivational patterns and their suffixes:

adjective-to-noun: -ness (slow → slowness)

adjective-to-verb: -ise (modern → modernise) in British English or -ize (archaic → archaicize) in American English and Oxford spelling

adjective-to-adjective: -ish (red → reddish)

adjective-to-adverb: -ly (personal → personally)

noun-to-adjective: -al (recreation → recreational)

noun-to-verb: -fy (glory → glorify)

verb-to-adjective: -able (drink → drinkable)

verb-to-noun (abstract): -ance (deliver → deliverance)

verb-to-noun (concrete): -er (write → writer)

Although derivational affixes do not necessarily alter the syntactic category, they do change the meaning of the base. In many cases, derivational affixes change both the syntactic category and the meaning: modern → modernize ("to make modern"). The change of meaning is sometimes predictable: Adjective + ness → the state of being (Adjective); (white→ whiteness).

A prefix (write → re-write; lord → over-lord) will rarely change syntactic category in English. The inflectional prefix un- applies to adjectives (healthy → unhealthy)and some verbs (do → undo), but rarely to nouns. A few exceptions are the derivational prefixes en- and be-. En- (em- before labials) is usually used as a transitive marker on verbs, but can also be applied to adjectives and nouns to form transitive verbs: circle (verb) → encircle (verb); but rich (adj) → enrich (verb), large (adj) → enlarge (verb), rapture (noun) → enrapture (verb), slave (noun) → enslave (verb).

Note that derivational affixes are bound morphemes. In that respect, derivation differs from compounding by which free morphemes are combined (lawsuit, Latin professor). It also differs from inflection in that inflection does not create new lexemes but new word forms (table → tables; open → opened).

Derivation can occur without any change of form, for example telephone (noun) and to telephone. This is known as conversion or zero derivation.

Examples of compounding from different languages

  1.  Anishinaabemowin/Ojibwe:

mashkikiwaaboo 'tonic': mashkiki 'medicine' + waaboo 'liquid'

dibik-giizis 'moon': dibik 'night' + giizis 'sun'

gichi-mookomaan 'white person/American': gichi 'big' + mookomaan 'knife'

  1.  Finnish:

sanakirja 'dictionary': sana 'word', + kirja 'book'

tietokone 'computer': tieto 'knowledge, data', + kone 'machine'

keskiviikko 'Wednesday': keski 'middle', + viikko 'week'

maailma 'world': maa 'land', + ilma 'air'

rautatieasema 'railway station': rauta 'iron' + tie 'road' + asema 'station'

  1.  German:

Wolkenkratzer 'skyscraper': wolken 'clouds', + kratzer 'scraper'

Eisenbahn 'railway': Eisen 'iron', + bahn 'track'

Kraftfahrzeug 'automobile': Kraft 'power', + fahren/fahr 'drive', + zeug 'machinery'

  1.  Italian:

Millepiedi 'centipede': mille 'thousand', + piedi 'feet'

Ferrovia 'railway': ferro 'iron', + via 'way'

  1.  Spanish:

Ciencia-ficción 'science fiction': ciencia, 'science', + ficción, 'fiction'

Ciempiés 'centipede': cien 'hundred', + pies 'feet'

Ferrocarril 'railway': ferro 'iron', + carril 'lane'

Paraguas 'umbrella': para 'to stop, stops' + aguas '(the) water'


Very bad teenager joke:

Q: How do you make a cat drink?

A: Put it in a blender.

What are the verbal tricks here?

Derivation is the process of creating separate but morphologically related words. Typically, but not always, it involves one or more changes in form. It can involve prefixing, as in resaw, and suffixing, as in sawing, sawer, sawable. Another type of derivation, while not visible, is at least audible. It involves a change in the position of the primary stress in a word. Compare:

Examples of derivation in the English language:

  1.  Change of stress

‘permit (noun) - per’mit (verb)

‘contact (noun)- con’tact (verb)

‘perfect (adj.)-per’fect (verb)

‘convert (noun)-con’vert (verb)

  1.  Consonant changes:

Advice- advise

belief -believe

mouth -mouthe

breath- breathe

  1.  Change in a stressed vowel:

divine -divinity

profane -profanity

serene -serenity

  1.  Change in the final consonant of the root:

Part- partial

face -facial

seize -seizure

remit -remission

  1.  Palatalization ,  accompanied by a laxing of the vowel:

collide collision

elide elision

  1.  Change in the stress pattern, with consequential changes in the pronunciations of the vowels.

‘telegraph- te’legraphy

‘regal –re’galia

‘tutor -tu’torial

Other cases:

Ap’prove- appro’bation

The distinction between inflection and word formation is not at all clear cut. There are many examples where linguists fail to agree whether a given rule is inflection or word formation. The next section will attempt to clarify this distinction.

Word formation is a process, as we have said, where you combine two complete words, whereas with inflection you can combine a suffix with some verb to change its form to subject of the sentence. For example: in the present indefinite, we use ‘go’ with subject I/we/you/they and plural nouns, whereas for third person singular pronouns (he/she/it) and singular nouns we use ‘goes’. So this ‘-es’ is an inflectional marker and is used to match with its subject. A further difference is that in word formation, the resultant word may differ from its source word’s grammatical category whereas in the process of inflection the word never changes its grammatical category.

A linguistic paradigm is the complete set of related word forms associated with a given lexeme. The familiar examples of paradigms are the conjugations of verbs, and the declensions of nouns. Accordingly, the word forms of a lexeme may be arranged conveniently into tables, by classifying them according to shared inflectional categories such as tense, aspect, mood, number, gender or case. For example, the personal pronouns in English can be organized into tables, using the categories of person (1st., 2nd., 3rd.), number (singular vs. plural), gender (masculine, feminine, neuter), and case (subjective, objective, and possessive).

The inflectional categories used to group word forms into paradigms cannot be chosen arbitrarily; they must be categories that are relevant to stating the syntactic rules of the language. For example, person and number are categories that can be used to define paradigms in English, because English has grammatical agreement rules that require the verb in a sentence to appear in an inflectional form that matches the person and number of the subject. In other words, the syntactic rules of English care about the difference between dog and dogs, because the choice between these two forms determines which form of the verb is to be used. In contrast, however, no syntactic rule of English cares about the difference between dog and dog catcher, or dependent and independent. The first two are just nouns, and the second two just adjectives, and they generally behave like any other noun or adjective behaves.

An important difference between inflection and word formation is that inflected word forms of lexemes are organized into paradigms, which are defined by the requirements of syntactic rules, whereas the rules of word formation are not restricted by any corresponding requirements of syntax. Inflection is therefore said to be relevant to syntax, and word formation is not. The part of morphology that covers the relationship between syntax and morphology is called morphosyntax, and it concerns itself with inflection and paradigms, but not with word formation or compounding.

To avoid confusion between "morpheme" and "lexemes" it is very important to remember that morphemes are structural units while lexemes are communicative units: morpheme are built of phonemes and they are used to build words - lexemes. Lexemes take an immediate part in shaping the thoughts, that is, in building sentences. Besides, lexemes may consist of one or more morphemes. The lexeme "tree" consists of one morpheme while the lexeme "ungentlemanly" consists of four morphemes: un - gentle - man - ly.

Modern English nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and verbs are inflected. Adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections are invariable.

Most English nouns have plural inflection in (-e)s, but this form shows variations in pronunciation in the words cats (with a final s sound), dogs (with a final z sound), and horses (with a final iz sound), as also in the 3rd person singular present-tense forms of verbs: cuts (s), jogs (z), and forces (iz).

Seven nouns have mutated (umlauted) plurals: man, men; woman, women; tooth, teeth; foot, feet; goose, geese; mouse, mice; louse, lice. Three have plurals in -en: ox, oxen; child, children; brother, brethren. Some remain unchanged; e.g., deer, sheep, moose, grouse. Five of the seven personal pronouns have distinctive forms for subject and object (e.g., he/him, she/her). Adjectives have distinctive endings for comparison (e.g., comparative bigger, superlative biggest), with several irregular forms (e.g., good, better, best).

The forms of verbs are not complex. Only the substantive verb (to be) has eight forms: be, am, is, are, was, were, being, been. Strong verbs have five forms: ride, rides, rode, riding, ridden. Regular or weak verbs customarily have four: walk, walks, walked, walking. Some that end in t or d have three forms only: cut, cuts, cutting.

In addition to the above inflections, English employs two other main morphological (structural) processes—affixation and composition—and two subsidiary ones—back-formation and blend.

4.2. Affixation

Affixes, word elements attached to words, may either precede, as prefixes (do, undo; way, subway), or follow, as suffixes (do, doer; way, wayward). They may be native (overdo, waywardness), Greek (hyperbole, thesis), or Latin (supersede, pediment). Modern technologists greatly favour the neo-Hellenic prefixes macro-“long, large,” micro- “small,” para- “alongside,” poly- “many,” and the Latin mini- “small,” with its antonym maxi-. The Internet era has popularized cyber- “of computers or computer networks” and mega- “vast.” Greek and Latin affixes have become so fully acclimatized that they can occur together in one and the same word, as, indeed, in ac-climat-ize-d, just used, consisting of a Latin prefix plus a Greek stem plus a Greek suffix plus an English inflection. Suffixes are bound more closely than prefixes to the stems or root elements of words. Consider, for instance, the wide variety of agent suffixes in the nouns actor, artisan, dotard, engineer, financier, hireling, magistrate, merchant, scientist, secretary, songster, student, and worker. Suffixes may come to be attached to stems quite fortuitously, but, once attached, they are likely to be permanent. At the same time, one suffix can perform many functions. The suffix -er denotes the doer of the action in the words worker, driver, and hunter; the instrument in chopper, harvester, and roller; and the dweller in Icelander, Londoner, and Trobriander. It refers to things or actions associated with the basic concept in the words breather, “pause to take breath”; diner, “dining car on a train”; and fiver, “five-pound note.” In the terms disclaimer, misnomer, and rejoinder (all from French) the suffix denotes one single instance of the action expressed by the verb. Usage may prove capricious. Whereas a writer is a person, a typewriter is a machine. For some time a computer was both, but now, with the invention and extensive use of electronic apparatus, the word is no longer used of persons.

4.3.Back-formations, blends, and other types of word-formation

Back-formations and blends are becoming increasingly popular. Back-formation is the reverse of affixation, being the analogical creation of a new word from an existing word falsely assumed to be its derivative. For example, the verb to edit has been formed from the noun editor on the reverse analogy of the noun actor from to act, and similarly the verbs automate, bulldoze, commute, escalate, liaise, loaf, sightsee, and televise are backformed from the nouns automation, bulldozer, commuter, escalation, liaison, loafer, sightseer, and television. From the single noun procession are backformed two verbs with different stresses and meanings: procéss, “to walk in procession,” and prócess, “to subject food (and other material) to a special operation.”

Blends fall into two groups: (1) coalescences, such as bash from bang and smash; and (2) telescoped forms, called portmanteau words, such as motorcade from motor cavalcade. In the first group are the words clash, from clack and crash, and geep, offspring of goat and sheep. To the second group belong dormobiles, or dormitory automobiles, and slurbs, or slum suburbs. A travel monologue becomes a travelogue and a telegram sent by cable a cablegram. Aviation electronics becomes avionics; biology electronics, bionics; and nuclear electronics, nucleonics. In cablese a question mark is a quark; in computerese a binary unit is a bit. In astrophysics a quasistellar source of radio energy becomes a quasar, and a pulsating star becomes a pulsar.

Simple shortenings, such as ad for advertisement, have risen in status. They are listed in dictionaries side by side with their full forms. Among such fashionable abbreviations are exam, gym, lab, lib, op, spec, sub, tech, veg, and vet. Compound shortenings, after the pattern of Russian agitprop for agitatsiya propaganda, are also becoming fashionable. Initial syllables are joined as in the words Fortran, for formula (computer) translation; mascon, for massive (lunar) concentration; and Tacomsat, for Tactical Communications Satellite.


Though the difference and the boundary between morphology and syntax seem obvious enough as a matter of principle, drawing a clear-cut line between them in a given language sometimes proves to be a task of some difficulty. Let us consider a few cases of this kind in Modern English.

The usual definition of morphology, which may be accepted as it stands, is this: Morphology is the part of grammar which treats of the forms of words. 1 As for the usual definition of syntax, it may be said to be this: Syntax is the part of grammar which treats of phrases and sentences. 2

These definitions are based on the assumption that we can clearly distinguish between words and phrases. This, however, is far from being the case. Usually the distinction, indeed, is patent enough. E. g., indestructibility is obviously a word, long as it is, whereas came here, short as it is, is a phrase and thus falls under the heading of syntax. But now what are we to make of has been found? This is evidently a phrase since it consists of three words and thus it would seem to fall under syntax, but it is also a form of the verb find and thus it would seem to fall under morphology.

Of course many more examples might be given of a phrase being at the same time a form of a word. It is obvious that we have here a kind of overlapping of syntax and morphology. It seems most advisable to include all such cases under morphology, considering the syntactical side of the formation to have been put, as it were, at the disposal of morphology.

The problem becomes more complicated still if we take into account such formations as has been often found, where one word (often) comes to stand between two elements of the form of another word (find). Such formations will have to be considered both under morphology and under syntax.

There are also other cases of overlapping which will be pointed out in due course. All this bears witness to the fact that in actual research work we do not always find hard-and-fast lines separating phenomena from each other, such lines as would make every single phenomenon or group of phenomena easy to classify. More than once we shall have to deal with more involved groupings which must be treated accordingly. For the present the usual preliminary definition of the borderline between morphology and syntax must suffice.

There is also another way of approach to the problem of distinguishing between morphology and syntax.

Let us take as an example the sentence Could you take me in to town? (GALSWORTHY)

The word take which is used in this sentence can be considered from two different viewpoints.

On the one hand, we can consider it in its surroundings in the sentence, namely in its connection with the word you, which denotes the doer of the action, with the word me, which denotes the object of the action, etc. This would be analysing the syntagmatic connections of the word take.

On the other hand, we can consider take as part of a system including also the forms takes, taking, took, taken; we can observe that this system is analogous, both in sound alternation and in meanings, to the system forsake, forsakes, forsaking, forsook, forsaken, and, in a wider perspective, to the system write, writes, writing, wrote, written; sing, sings, singing, sang, sung, etc., and in a wider perspective still, to the system live, lives, living, lived; stop, stops, stopping, stopped, etc. This would be analysing the paradigmatic connections of take, and this gradually opens up a broad view into the morphological system of the language. It should be emphasised that this view is basically different from any view we might obtain by analysing the syntagmatic connections of the form in the sentence. For instance, the connection between took and wrote is entirely unsyntagmatic, as a sequence took wrote is unthinkable.

It may be said that, in a way, morphology is more abstract than syntax, as it does not study connections between words actually used together in sentences, but connections between forms actually found in different sentences and, as it were, extracted from their natural surroundings.

In another way, however, morphology would appear to be less abstract than syntax, as it studies units of a smaller and, we might say, of a more compact kind, whereas syntax deals with larger units, whose types and varieties are hard to number and exhaust.

The peculiar difficulty inherent in the treatment of analytical verb forms mentioned above, such as have done, will go, etc., lies in the fact that they have both a morphological and a syntactical quality. They are morphological facts in so far as they belong to the

system of the verb in question, as the auxiliary verb adds nothing whatever to the lexical meaning expressed in the infinitive or participle making part of the analytical form. But the same forms are facts of syntax in so far as they consist of two or three or sometimes four elements, and occasionally some other word, which does not in any way make part of the analytical form, may come in between them. It is true that in Modern English possibilities of such insertions are not very great, yet they exist and must be taken into account. We will not go into details here and we will only point out that such words as often, never, such words as perhaps, probably, etc. can and in some cases must come between elements of an analytical verb form: has always come, will probably say, etc. Since it is impossible that a word should be placed within another word, we are bound to admit that the formation has. .. come is something of a syntactical formation. The inevitable conclusion is, then, that has come and other formations of this kind are simultaneously analytical verb forms and syntactical unities, and this obviously means that morphology and syntax overlap here (see above, p. 13). This is perhaps still more emphasised by the possibility of formations in which the auxiliary verb making part of an analytical verb form is co-ordinated with some other verb (usually a modal verb) which does not in any way make part of an analytical form, e. g. can and will go. This would apparently be impossible if the formation will go had nothing syntactical about it. 1

According to a modern view, the relation between morphology and syntax is not so simple as had been generally assumed. In this view, we ought to distinguish between two angles of research:

  1.  The elements dealt with; from this point we divide grammatical investigation into two fields: morphology and syntax.
  2.  The way these elements are studied; from this viewpoint we distinguish between paradigmatic and syntagmatic study. Thus we get four divisions:

  1.  a paradigmatic morphology b syntagmatic morphology
  2.  a paradigmatic syntax b syntagmatic syntax

According to this view, whenever we talk of parts of speech (substantives, adjectives, etc.), we remain within the sphere of morphology. Thus the statement that an adjective is used to modify a substantive, or that an adverb is used to modify a verb, is a statement of syntagmatic morphology. Syntax should have nothing to do with parts of speech: it should only operate with parts of sentence (subject, predicate, etc.).

Of these four items, the first and the last require no special explanation. Paradigmatic morphology is what we used to call morphology, and syntagmatic syntax is what we used to call syntax. The two other items, however, do require some special comment. Syntagmatic morphology is the study of phrases: "substantive + substantive", "adjective + substantive", "verb + substantive", "verb + adverb", etc.

Paradigmatic syntax, on the other hand, is a part of grammatical theory which did not appear as such in traditional systems. Paradigmatic syntax has to deal with such phenomena as

My friend has come.

My friend has not come.

Has my friend come?

My friend will come.

My friend will not come.

Will my friend come?

My friends have come.

My friends have not come, etc.

All these are considered as variation of one and the same sentence.

It would seem that the term sentence is here used in a peculiar sense. As units of communication My friend has come and My friend has not come are certainly two different sentences, as the information they convey is different. To avoid this ambiguity of the term sentence, it would be better to invent another term for "paradigmatic sentence". However, inventing a new term which would be generally acceptable is very difficult. In this book we shall use the term sentence in its old communicative sense.


Make sure you know the meaning and significance of each of the following terms:









bound morpheme


category change






derivational affix

free morpheme


inflectional affix










tree structures



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