Sentence Parts

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Sentence Parts


words or word groups that perform a specific semantic-syntactic function in a sentence. A dual classification of words—according to morphological features (parts of speech) and syntactic function (sentence parts)—is most often used for languages with a developed morphology. The need for such a classification is determined by the lack of unambiguous correspondence between the morphological class of a word and the syntactic function performed by the word. Some grammatical theories do not use the concept of sentence parts. Some such theories are based on the combinatory capacities of parts of speech, which provide for the transition from word to sentence (the syntax of parts of speech, dependency grammar, and chain syntactic analysis); others make use of distribution classes, which unite all words and word groups that can replace each other in a particular syntactic position.

The theory of sentence parts arose within the framework of logical and semantic approaches to syntax; the former approach associated sentence categories with categories of thought, and the latter associated sentence categories with extralinguistic reality. The origin of the theory determined the diversity of the functions of the sentence parts selected or their universality. The following sentence parts are generally recognized: subject, predicate, complement (direct and indirect, such as agent, instrument, and addressee), adverbial modifiers (of place, time, manner, cause, purpose, concession, condition, and extent), and attributes. The sentence parts correspond to types of information that can be communicated concerning some event or situation. Each sentence part is therefore associated with a specific type of question and is often determined on the basis of this correspondence (Chto ty dal mal’chiku?, “What did you give the boy?” [the question for direct objects]; Ia dal mal’chikumiach, “I gave the boy the ball”).

The functions performed by sentence parts are not consistent. Some sentence parts are more closely associated with the logical-communicative organization of the sentence (subject and predicate); others complete the informational insufficiencies of the governing word (complements); still others have a relatively independent semantic function (attributes).

Two groups are distinguished by the logical-communicative division of a sentence: the subject group and the predicate group, which are joined by the predicative relationship (Malen’kii mal’-chiklotnial u devochki igrushku, ’the small boy/ took from the girl the toy”). The nuclear elements of each group—the subject (mal’chik, “boy”) and predicate (otnial, “took”)—are principal parts of the sentence and determine the sentence’s syntactic organization. They mainly perform logical-communicative functions. The sentence subject (podlezhashchee) corresponds to the formal subject (sub”ekt) of a proposition as well as to the theme of communication (the given). The semantic function of agent or bearer of a quality, property, or state is not obligatory for the sentence subject (as is demonstrated in passive sentences). The sentence predicate corresponds to the predicate of a proposition as well as to the rheme (new information). In an expanded sentence the greatest communicative value is possessed not by the nuclear element of the predicate group but by one of the elements subordinate to it, which usually appears in final position. In this case the central position does not carry communicative significance.

Since the truncation of a sentence to a lone predicate (Deti stuchat, “The children are knocking” → Stuchat, “They are knocking”) does not affect the function of the whole unit, the predicate constitutes a minimum sentence and is considered a constituent. The many instances in which the formal-syntactic and logical-communicative structures of a sentence do not coincide (encountered in various languages, such as Russian) often deprive the principal parts of the sentence of a content function, changing them into elements of the structural arrangement of the sentence. For example, the sentences Mal’chik prishel (”The boy has come”) and Prishel mal’chik (literally, “Came the boy”) have the same structure but different logical-communicative meanings. In the second sentence the subject is the rheme, not the theme.

Secondary sentence parts are distinguished within the subject and the predicate. They are on the level of the word group. Attributes, both in agreement and not in agreement, can combine with any of the nouns in the sentence to form attributive word groups. Complements and adverbial modifiers are distinguished within the predicate. Direct and indirect complements are associated with the verb (less often, with an adjective) in a complementary relationship; that is, they complete the semantic insufficiency of a word, completing its structure of government. If the predicate is expressed by a transitive verb, a direct object, the most strongly governed element of the structure, is semantically necessary, although it is not a primary part of the sentence. It makes concrete that component of the semantics of the verb that can be called the orientation of the action. In describing the same real situation, a verb can be oriented toward different “participants” in the action (vygruzhat’ ugol iz vagona, “to unload the coal from the car”; razgruzhat’ vagon, “to unload the car”). The weaker the government, the more defined the semantics of the complement. For this reason, indirect complements characteristically have clearer semantic functions (for example, the instrumental complement in zabivat’ gvozd’ molotkom, “to drive the nail in with a hammer”).

Adverbial modifiers are sentence parts that govern weakly or not at all. The boundary between adverbial modifiers and complements is not clearly defined. For example, the verb priezzhat’ (”to arrive [by vehicle]”) requires an indication of the destination; that is, it is in complementary relation with the noun following (priekhat’ v gorod, “to arrive in town”). By this characteristic the noun can be considered a complement. At the same time, it has the meaning of location and can be replaced by an adverb of place (priekhat’ tuda. “to arive there”), which makes it similar to an adverbial modifier. The essential difference between an adverbial modifier and a complement is that each type of complement has one corresponding syntactic position, which is opened by verbal government and which permits completion by a number of nominais only if the nomináis can be joined by a coordinating conjunction (Ia prochital eti knigi i zhurnaly, “I read those books and magazines”). Each type of adverbial modifier can occupy several syntactic positions (Letom s kontsa iulia do kontsa avgustaia otdykhalna beregu Chernogo moria v Krymu v dome otdykha, “In summer from the end of July to the end of August I vacationed on the Black Sea Coast in the Crimea at a house of rest”).

The independence of adverbial modifiers from the meaning and the category features of the predicate provides some grounds for considering certain of their forms as expansions of a sentence structure deriving from a word group (V Krymu nastupili kholoda, “In the Crimea it turned cold”; Na dvore liven’, “Outside it’s pouring”). Adverbial modifiers expressing a logical relation between events or situations (adverbial modifiers of cause, purpose, condition, or concession) correspond to a truncated subordinate clause (On ne priekhal iz-za snezhnykh zanosov na dorogakh, “He didn’t come because of the snowdrifts on the roads,” = On ne priekhal, potomu chto na dorogakh byli snezhnye zanosy, “He didn’t come because there were snowdrifts on the roads”). In expressing a feature, or characteristic, adverbial modifiers of manner are functionally similar to attributes (bezhat’ bystro, “to run fast”;bystryi beg, “a fast run”).

Sentence parts are distinguished on the basis of their form and content, as well as by the syntactic relation that inserts them into a sentence. Ambiguity in the interrelations between morphological, syntactic, and semantic features makes it difficult to separate sentence parts. In distinguishing a sentence part, different criteria are given preference in different cases. Thus, in distinguishing the sentence subject, whose semantic and communicative functions are not fixed, only a nominative case form is accepted. The forms of complements, which are established by verbal government, very often do not coincide with their function. For example, in the sentence Direktor rukovodit bol’shim kollektivom (”The director manages a large collective”), the noun complement kollektivom (”collective”) is strongly governed by a verb that requires a complement in the instrumental case, rather than the accusative case, which is characteristic of the direct object. Each type of complement has several forms of expression, one of which is primary; for example, in Russian the accusative case form is the primary form for expressing the direct object. Adverbial modifiers and, to some extent, indirect complements are divided into types mainly on the basis of content features. Thus, a morphological criterion is crucial in determining the sentence subject. The syntactic relation realized by complements and attributes, which is attributive for attributes and complementary for complements, is used in distinguishing complements and attributes. Adverbial modifiers are determined on the basis of their semantic content.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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