Study Questions and Exercises

  1. Grammar Quiz: Take my online grammar quiz, "How Much Do You Know About English Grammar?" If you were wrong about any of the questions, try to identify the reason. 
  2. Morphology: Analyze the morphology of the following words. Label each morpheme as "free" or "bound" and "inflectional" or "derivational." 
    1. anti-intellectualism 
    2. suicide squeeze 
    3. pseudonyms 
    4. neighborly 
    5. unwritten 
    6. nullifies 
  3. Morphemes in Action: Identify and analyze the odd word in each sentence: "They are conversating about the test." "This method is uneffective." "She acts like a pre-Madonna." You may want to break down some words into their morphemes. Although some of these words do not appear in most standard dictionaries, you probably know what the writer intended them to mean. How do you know? 
  4. Patterns of Clauses: Write and diagram an original sentence for each of the clause patterns David Crystal describes on page 221 of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. 
  5. Transformations: Use a phrase structure tree to diagram the following sentence: "The manager ordered the supplies." Next, perform each of the following transformations: 
    1. Yes-no transformation 
    2. Wh- transformation 
    3. Negative transformation 
    4. Cleft sentence 
    5. "It" extraposition 
  6. Syntactic Ambiguity: A syntactically ambiguous sentence has one surface structure and two deep structures. Below is a list of newspaper headlines. Using phrase structure trees, show how each illustrates syntactic ambiguity. 
    1. "Judge to rule on nude beach." 
    2. "Enraged Cow Injures Farmer with Ax." 
    3. "Stolen Painting Found by Tree." 
    4. "Two Sisters Reunited after 18 Years in Checkout Counter." 
    5. "Killer Sentenced to Die for Second Time in 10 Years." 
  7. Paraphrase: Paraphrases are two or more surface structures for the same deep structure. Use a phrase structure tree to diagram each of the following sentences and then paraphrase each. Identify the transformation you used to produce the paraphrase. 
    1. Congress cut funding for national parks. 
    2. The lobbyist has given the senator several gifts. 
    3. The mechanic repaired the car quickly. 
    4. The shortstop leaped over the runner gracefully. 
    5. She looked up the word. 
  8. Rhetorical Grammar: Review the paraphrases you produced in the preceding exercise. In what way can transformations subtly affect the meaning of a deep structure while maintaining the basic message? 
  9. Disjuncts: On page 229 of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, David Crystal points out that disjuncts can contribute to a writer's or speaker's tone. Analyze the role of the disjuncts in the following sentences: 
    1. "Poe, of course, actively sought this 'union of Poetry and Music' in his own work, as any reader of "The Raven," "Annabel Lee," or "The Bells" can attest." 
    2. "In fact, scientists in Poe's own time noted the asymmetry of the cerebral hemispheres." 
    3. "America has many dialects, as you know." 
    4. "The difference, I suppose, is that you knew her and I didn't." 
  10. Language Creation: Using what you have learned about phonology, morphology, and syntax, begin creating an original language. Make a list of vocabulary words, along with some of their inflectional affixes, and write a sentence using these words. Finally, explain the rules governing sound, word formation, and word order. 
  11. Sentence Variety: Write one of the following sentences at the top of a sheet of paper: 
    1. "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark." 
    2. "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." 
    3. "There was an old woman who lived in a shoe." 
    4. First, use a phrase structure tree to diagram each sentence. If necessary, "untransform" the sentence before diagramming it. Then, work together to write at least five new sentences that convey roughly the same information. Comment on the flexibility of English syntax. 
  12. Poetic Syntax: Perhaps the main reason that poetry is so challenging, especially for the inexperienced reader, is that poets generally have a large syntactic vocabulary; that is, they use vocatives, inversions, and other structures more often than other writers. Use what you have learned about syntax to analyze the following lines from poetry: 
    1. "Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears." 
    2. "If ever two were one, then surely we." 
    3. "Something there is that doesn't love a wall . . . " 
    4. "Whose woods these are I think I know." 
    5. "Busy old fool, unruly sun, / Why dost thou thus, / Through windows, and through curtains call on us?" 
    6. "one-night cheap hotels" 
    7. ". . . There lives the dearest freshness deep down things . . ." 
  13. Sentence Problems: Use what you know about syntax to analyze the following phrases and suggest ways to turn them into appropriate sentences: 
    1. Because Picasso was a Cubist. 
    2. The reason being that the house was demolished. 
    3. Such as Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms. 
    4. The idea that James was a realist. 
    5. Newton was a physicist, he developed some important theories about optics. 
  14. What's in a Quotation?: As David Crystal notes on page 214 of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, spoken syntax differs from written syntax. No one appreciates this difference more than print journalists, who often have to transcribe spoken sentences for their stories. For this exercise, pretend that you are a reporter who has recorded the following from an interview: "I think that sports stars Jordan Sanders Mike McGwire all those guys make way too much money I mean you know how much is one guy worth you know cause like you know I just wanna say to 'em how much do you actually work in a year I heard on TV or no it was the radio that some of them make like $3,000 a minute I mean a second that's like I mean it doesn't seem right that they should make so much money when I'm when everybody else is like struggling to you know get by you know" After analyzing this passage, do the following: 
    1. Transcribe it so that it could appear as a written quotation. 
    2. Identify some aspects of spoken English that make it difficult to transcribe. How do you suppose journalists cope with these problems? Try to come up with your own standards. 
    3. Compare your transcription with those of the other groups. What differences do you notice? What syntactic or other phenomena lie beneath the different transcriptions? 
    4. Discuss how this exercise might force us to revise our definition of the word "quotation." What implications do these transcription problems have for the mass media? 


  • Crystal, David. "English Grammar." The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. 188-233.


  • Jonathan Swift 
  • Noam Chomsky


  • grammar 
  • prescriptive grammar 
  • descriptive grammar 
  • morphology 
  • ¸lexical content words 
  • function words 
  • morpheme 
  • derivational morpheme 
  • inflectional morpheme 
  • bound morpheme 
  • free morpheme 
  • root 
  • allomorph 
  • syntax 
  • transformational grammar 
  • ungrammatical 
  • syntactic category 
  • noun phrase 
  • verb phrase 
  • prepositional phrase 
  • phrase structure rule 
  • phrase structure tree 
  • syntactic ambiguity 
  • paraphrase 
  • embedded 
  • subcategorization 
  • transitive 
  • intransitive 
  • transformation 
  • deep structure 
  • surface structure 
  • wh- transformation 
  • there transformation 
  • cleft sentence 
  • inversion 
  • particle 
  • active voice 
  • passive voice 
  • vocative 
  • disjunct

Written by Mark Canada, Professor of English, University of North Carolina at Pembroke

© Mark Canada, 1999

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Updated September 26, 1999 | University of North Carolina at Pembroke
© Mark Canada, 1999 |