English grammar

English grammar

English grammar is a body of rules (grammar) specifying how phrases and sentences are constructed in the English language. Accounts of English grammar tend to fall into two groups: the "descriptivist", which describes the grammatical system of English; and the "prescriptivist", which does not describe English grammar but rather sets out a small list of social regulations that attempt to govern the linguistic behaviour of native speakers (see Linguistic prescription and Descriptive linguistics). Prescriptive grammar concerns itself with several open disputes in English grammar, often representing changes in usage over time.

This article "describes" a generalized Standard English, which is the form of speech found in types of public discourse including broadcasting, education, entertainment, government, and news reporting. Standard English includes both formal and informal speech. The many dialects of English have divergences from the grammar described here, which are only cursorily mentioned.

Lexical categories and phrasal syntax


Noun phrases and pronouns both can have a referential function where they "point" (i.e. "refer") to some person or object in the real world (or a possible world). Additionally, they share many of the same grammatical functions in that they can both act as subjects, objects, and complements within clauses.

Noun phrases may consist of only a single noun, or they may be complex consisting of a noun (which functions as the head of the noun phrase) that is modified by different types of elements (such as adjectives, prepositional phrases, etc.). [Other more recent analyses of noun phrases posit that they are instead determiner phrases with a determiner acting as the phrasal head and the noun (and its modifiers) acting as a complement to the determiner. This article will follow the older, traditional view of noun phrases being headed by nouns and determiners acting as modifiers of the noun head.]

Pronouns are words that can act as substitutions for noun phrases. For instance, in the following sentence

: "Professor Plum kicked the very large ball with red spots over the fence."

the noun phrase "the very large ball with red spots" can be substituted with the pronoun "it" as in

: "Professor Plum kicked it over the fence."

In spite of the name "pronoun", pronouns cannot substitute for nouns — they only substitute for noun phrases. This can be shown with the same sentence above: the noun "ball" cannot be substituted with the pronoun "it" (or any other pronoun) as in the ungrammatical [Ungrammatical example sentences are generally indicated with a preceding asterisk "*" in linguistic literature. This convention will be used in this article.] sentence

: "*Professor Plum kicked the very large it with red spots over the fence."

The sections below describe English nouns (their morphology and syntax), the structure of noun phrases, and pronouns.


Nouns are defined notionally (i.e. semantically) as generally describing persons, places, things, or ideas. This notional definition does account for what are the central members of the noun lexical category. However, the notional definition fails to account for several nouns, such as deverbal nouns like "jump" or "destruction" (which are notionally more like actions). For this reason, many grammatical descriptions of English define nouns in terms of grammar (i.e. according to their morphological and syntactic behavior). Nonetheless, traditional English grammars and some pedagogical grammars define nouns with a notional definition.

Non-proper nouns, in general, are not marked for case or gender, but are marked for number and definiteness (when referential).

Non-inflectional morphology

English nouns may be of a few morphological types:

* simple nouns
* nouns with derivational affixes
* compound nouns
* compound nouns with derivational affixes

Simple nouns consist of a single root which also acts as the stem which may be inflected. For example, the word (or, more precisely, the lexeme) "boy" is a simple noun consisting of a single root (also "boy"). The root "boy" also acts as the stem "boy", which can have the inflectional plural suffix "-s" added to it producing the inflectional word-form "boys".

More complex nouns can have derivational prefixes or suffixes in addition to a noun stem. For example, the noun "archenemy" consists of a derivational prefix "arch-" and a root "enemy". Here the derived form "archenemy" acts as the stem which can be used to form the inflected word-form "archenemies". An example with a derivational suffix is "kingdom" which is composed of root "king" and suffix "-dom". Some English nouns can be complex with several derivational prefixes and suffixes. A considerably complex example is "antidisestablishmentarianism" which has the root "establish" and the affixes "anti-", "dis-", "-ment", "-ary", "-an", and "-ism".

English compound nouns are nouns that consist of more than one stem. For example, the compound "paperclip" is composed of the stem "paper" and the stem "clip". Compounds in English can be usefully subdivided (following Bauer 1983) into different classes according to the lexical category of the individual stems and according to a semantic classification into endocentric, exocentric, copulative, and appositional subtypes.


English nouns are typically inflected for number, having distinct "singular" and "plural" forms. The plural form usually consists of the singular form plus "-s" or "-es", but there are many irregular nouns. Ordinarily, the singular form is used when discussing one instance of the noun's referent, and the plural form is used when discussing any other number of instances, but there are many exceptions to this rule. Here are some examples:

These derivational suffixes can also be added to (compound) phrasal bases like in the noun "stick-it-to-itiveness", which is derived from the phrase [ "stick it to it" ] + "-ive" + "-ness".

Besides derivational suffixation, words from other lexical categories can be converted straight to nouns (without any overt morphological indication) by a conversion process (also known as "zero derivation"). For example, the word "run" is a verb but it can be converted to a noun "run" "point scored in a baseball game (by running around the bases)" as in the sentence:

: "The team won with five runs in the ninth inning."

Here it is evident that "run" is a noun because it is pluralized with the inflectional plural suffix "-s", it is modified by the preceding quantifier "five", and it occurs as the head of the noun phrase "five runs" which acts as the complement of the preposition "with" in the prepositional phrase "with five runs". Other lexical categories can also be converted:

: "if" (subordinator) > "if" (noun) as in "no ifs, ands, or buts about it" [idiomatic] : "daily" (adjective) > "daily" (noun) [= "newspaper"] as in "did you buy a daily for me?": "down" (preposition) > "down" (noun) [in American football] as in "they made a new first down"

Additionally, there are phrases which can be converted into nouns, such as "jack-in-the-box", "love-lies-bleeding" (type of flower). These may be viewed as compounds (see noun morphology section). There are also conversion processes that convert from one noun subclass to another subclass (see the noun subclass conversion section).


Three basic noun classes in English can be distinguished according to syntactic criteria:

* proper nouns (proper name)
* countable nouns (count nouns)
* uncountable nouns (noncount nouns)

These syntactic subclasses also correspond fairly well to semantic categories (as indicated by their names and explained below).

Countable and uncountable nouns — such as "dog" (countable), "rice" (uncountable) — show article contrast: "a dog", "the dog", "dogs", "the dogs" are all possible just as "rice", "the rice" are both possible.

Countable nouns differ from uncountable nouns in that they cannot stand alone ["Standing alone" (or "bare") refers to a syntactic context like the following:
# "I want *book." ("book" = countable)
# "I want rice." ("rice" = uncountable)Sentence (2) with uncountable "rice" without a preceding article is grammatical, but sentence (1) is ungrammatical because "book" in the singular cannot occur without a preceding article. In other words, "rice" can standalone in sentence (2) without an article but "book" cannot standalone.
] , cannot be modified by "some" unless they are in plural forms, can be modified by "a", and can be pluralized. Semantically, they generally refer to easily individuated objects. Examples of countable nouns include the following: "remark", "book", "bottle", "chair", "forest", "idea", "bun", "pig", "toy", "difficulty", "bracelet", "mountain", etc.

Uncountable nouns, in contrast, can stand alone, can be modified by "some", cannot be modified by "a", and cannot be pluralized. Semantically, uncountable nouns refer to an undifferentiated mass. Examples of uncountable nouns include: "rice", "furniture", "jewelry", "scenery", "gold", "bread", "grass", "warmth", "music", "butter", "homework", "baggage", "sugar", "coffee", "luck", "sunshine", "water", "air", "Chinese" (language), "soccer", "literature", "rain", "walking", etc.

The morphosyntactic differences between countable and uncountable nouns are displayed in the table below.


Examples follow:


The distinctness of the determiner and adjective positions relative to each other and the noun head is demonstrable in that adjectives may never precede determiners. Thus, the following are ungrammatical English nouns phrases: "*big the red balloon", "*big red the balloon" (as well as "*big many red balloons", "*big red many balloons", "*big all red balloons", "*big red all balloons").

Determiners can be divided into three subclasses according to their position with respect to each other:

* predeteminers
* central determiners
* postdeterminers

Predeterminers may precede central determiners but may not follow central determiners. Postdeterminers follow central determiners but may not precede them. Central determiners must occur after predeterminers and before postdeterminers. Thus, a central determiner like "the" as in


A sequence of predeterminer + central determiner + postdeterminer is also possible as in


"Ourself" is used instead of "ourselves" for any semantically singular version of "we", such as the royal "we".

In some dialects, the 3rd person male and 3rd person plural reflexives are formed with the genitive determiner "his" > "hisself" and "their" > "theirself". Thus, these dialects have regularized the entire paradigm to genitive forms.


Verb classes

English verbs fall into two main types:

* main verbs (also "full verbs")
* auxiliaries (also "auxiliary verbs", "helping verbs")

Main verbs are verbs like "jump", "take", "catch", and "hit". They are lexical in nature, carry the main semantic information within the verb complex, and are an open class (i.e. main verbs can be freely and productively created anew via word-formation processes). In the sentence

: "Halil is helping his brother."

the verb "helping" is the main verb.

Auxiliaries are verbs that typically precede the main verb in sentences. They are of limited number, contribute grammatical information to the verb complex, and are a closed class. In the sentence

: "Halil is helping his brother."

the verb "is" is the auxiliary.

Three verbs in English — "be", "have", and "do" — may function as both main verbs and as auxiliaries. [As an auxiliary, "do" has a mostly empty semantic component. However, it is required in certain syntactic constructions that are referred to as "do-support".] Quirk et al. (1985) refer to these verbs as "primary" verbs. The following examples demonstrate their dual functionality:

: "Halil will be a student." ("be" as a main verb): "Halil is helping a student." ("be" as an auxiliary)

: "The girls have many books." ("have" as a main verb): "The girls have helped many students." ("have" as an auxiliary)

: "The girls may do their homework." ("do" as a main verb): "The girls do not help many students." ("do" as an auxiliary)

Besides the three primary verbs, the other auxiliaries are modals which include "can", "could", "may", "might", "must", "shall", "should", "will", and "would". In addition to their restriction to functioning only as auxiliaries, modals can only occur in finite clauses and cannot be inflected for tense, number, or person.

More marginal to the class of modals are verbs like "ought" and in British varieties also "need" and "dare". These display many but not all properties of modals and are thus termed marginal modals by Quirk et al. (1985).

Finally, the verb "used" (as in "She used to called me everyday") is considered to be marginal modal by Quirk et al. (1985), but Huddleston & Pullum (2002) find several differences between it and the other modals and marginal modals, concluding that it is an auxiliary of the most marginal type. Semantically, "used" has reference to time, which distinguishes it from modals, which have modality as their main semantic component.

Inflectional morphology

English verbs only have eight possible inflectional forms:

* non-finite [Strictly speaking, the term "non-finite" refers to verbs (and their associated clauses) that are limited in their inflection according to person, number, and tense. Since the "base" form of the verb is used in imperative sentences, the base form is not strictly non-finite as imperative sentences have a second person subject (usually not present in the surface sentence). Thus, the terminology of "non-tensed" and "tensed" is more appropriate to a characterization of Modern English. However, this article will use the traditional terminology "non-finite" with the caveat that base form is finite in imperative sentences and truly non-finite in other constructions.] (or non-tensed) forms:: (1) base form (also called plain form) [In traditional grammar terminology, the base form is often split into three forms: "infinitive", "imperative", "present subjunctive". However, these forms are always identical morphologically in Modern English.] : (2) "-ing" [The "-ing" form is called by two terms in traditional grammar: "present participle" or "gerund". However, since these forms are never distinct morphologically, they have been referred to with the term "participle-gerund". Despite its name "present participle" in traditional grammar, the "-ing" does not express tense and, in fact, is used in verbal constructions that indicate present, future, and past time frames. In finite clauses, its main function is aspectual.] form: (3) "-en" form [Despite the name "past participle" from traditional grammar, the "-en" form does not express tense or a past time frame. In finite clauses, it indicates either aspect or passive voice. The "-en" form is named after the "-en~-n" suffix that appears on several irregular verbs like "beat : beaten (beat + -en)", "sew : sewn (sew + -n)", "give : given (give + -n)".]
* finite (or tensed) forms:: nonpast forms::: (4) general nonpast form :: (5) 1st person singular nonpast form:: (6) 3rd person singular nonpast form: past forms::: (7) general past form :: (8) 1st/3rd person singular past form

The copula "be" has eight distinct inflectional forms as seen in the example sentences below:

:] The copula and a regular "jump" can be compared with each other and three types of irregular verbs in the table below.

* Replacing of vowel and final consonant(s) in base form with IPA| [ɔːt] in past/"-en" form::
* Vowel changes in base, past, & "-en" forms::

The copula paradigm also has suffixation and vowel ablaut, but it is additionally marked by suppletion. [The reason for the suppletion is due to the historical development of the copula, which is a merging of the inflectional paradigms of three different verbs: "am", "are", "is" (and archaic "art") are from one verb; "be", "been", "being" are from a second verb; "was", "were" are from a third Old English verb.] (See the table above for its eight inflected forms.)

Defective verbs

A final thing to mention is that a few verbs are "defective" in that they are not inflected or are missing some inflectional forms. The verb "beware" has only the base form "beware". It is usually found in imperative sentences:

: "Beware of the dog."

The forms "bewaring", "bewares", "bewared" are not present in Modern English.

The verb "used" only occurs in past form, as in

: "We used to go to the beach every day when I was young."

or in the base form only following "do", as in

: "We didn't use to go the beach every day."

This "used" verb indicates habitual action or states in the past and should not be confused with the other verb "use" which is a regular verb.

The verb "stride" is missing a past participle form in its inflectional paradigm for many speakers (for some speakers who do have a past participle form, the form may variously be "stridden", "strid", or "strode").

The verbs "rumored" and "reputed" only occur in the "-en" form in passive sentences:

: "Halil is rumored to have participated in the scandal.": "Halil is reputed to have connections with the scandal."

All modals ("can", "could", "should", "might", etc.) are defective.

Auxiliary inflection

Of the auxiliaries, only "be", "have", and "do" are inflected for tense, number, and person. The auxiliary "be" has the same eight inflectional forms as a main verb (the copula) and "have" and "do" likewise have the same five inflectional forms as when functioning as main verbs. In contrast, modals are uninflected auxiliaries with respect to these grammatical parameters (and are thus defective).

However, most auxiliaries share the additional inflection of negation. Negative inflection consists of a "-n't" suffix that is attached to the auxiliary. Thus, there are the following inflected auxiliary forms:

: be [There is also the dialectal form "amn't" ("am" + "n't") which is uncommon in standard varieties.] : "aren't" ("are" + "-n't"): "isn't" ("is" + "-n't"): "weren't" ("were" + "-n't"): "wasn't" ("was" + "-n't"): "ain't" [dialectal, prescriptively "incorrect"]

: have: "haven't" ("have" + "-n't"): "hasn't" ("has" + "-n't"): "hadn't" ("had" + "-n't")

: do: "don't" ("do" + "-n't"): "doesn't" ("does" + "-n't"): "didn't" ("did" + "-n't")modals
"can't" ("can" + "-n't")
"couldn't" ("could" + "-n't")
"mayn't" ("may" + "-n't") [very rare]
"mightn't" ("might" + "-n't")
"mustn't" ("must" + "-n't")
"shan't" ("shall" + "-n't")
"won't" ("will" + "-n't")
"wouldn't" ("would" + "-n't")

marginal auxiliaries
"daren't" ("dare" + "-n't") [rare, mostly British]
"needn't" ("need" + "-n't") [rare, mostly British]
"oughtn't" ("ought" + "-n't") [ungrammatical in some varieties]
"usedn't" ("used" + "-n't") [ungrammatical in some dialects, mostly British]

The negative forms "don't" IPA| [doʊnt] (and not the expected IPA| [dunt] ) and "won't" IPA| [woʊnt] (and not the expected IPA| [wɪlnt] ) are irregular in their changes in internal vowel, and "shan't" IPA| [ʃænt, ʃɑːnt] is irregular in its deletion of the final consonant (and in RP its vowel has shifted from IPA| [æ] to IPA| [ɑː] ). The forms "mayn't" and "shan't" are now rare (particularly so with "mayn't") and are virtually absent in standard varieties of American English.

Traditional grammar views "-n't" not as an inflectional suffix but as simply a phonologically reduced form (in traditional terms "contracted") of the grammatical word "not". According to this view, "haven't" is equivalent to non-contracted "have + not", "doesn't" = "does + not", etc. These contracted negative forms are, thus, equated with the reduced (contracted) forms of some of the other auxiliaries, namely "are" > "’re", "is" > "’s", "am" > "’m", "have" > "’ve", "has" > "’s", "had" > "’d", "does" > "’s", "will" > "’ll", "would" > "’d". Although this is the historical origin of the negative forms, clearly in the modern language the "-n't" in these words are suffixes forming a single indivisible word as the negative auxiliaries display different syntactic behavior compared with constructions consisting of auxiliary + "not":

: "Didn't Halil bring the coffee?": "*Did not Halil bring the coffee?": "*Did Haliln't bring the coffee?": "Did Halil not bring the coffee?"

: "Sadaf brought the coffee, didn't she?": "*Sadaf brought the coffee, did not she?": "*Sadaf brought the coffee, did shen't?": "Sadaf brought the coffee, did she not?"

Additionally, it can also be shown that the reduced forms of the other auxiliaries do not behave similarly to the negative auxiliaries:

: "Shouldn’t Halil go to the store?" (cf. "Halil shouldn’t go to the store."): "*Should’ve Halil gone to the store?" (cf. "Halil should’ve gone to the store.")

: "*He’dn’t go to the store if she asked him.": "He’d’ve gone to the store if she had asked him." [Note that sequences of reduced forms like "’d’ve" (= "would have") are often not found in written language. Nevertheless, they are frequently attested in the spoken language.]

Finally, the negative inflection property applies generally to auxiliaries but not to main verbs. There are two exceptions to this, however, involving the "primary" verbs. The verb "be" as a main verb may also be inflected in the negative as the following examples show:

: "The student wasn't being considered fairly." (negative inflection as auxiliary): "The student wasn't a sophomore." (negative inflection as main verb)

In British varieties, "have" may also have negative forms as a main verb while are ungrammatical for most American varieties:

: "The student hasn't been treated fairly." (negative inflection as auxiliary): "The student hasn't enough time." (negative inflection as main verb — British)

The other "primary" verb, however, cannot have negative forms when acting as a main verb.

This case of properties of auxiliaries applying to "be" and "have" is also seen in other syntactic behavior, such as in the inversion of subject and auxiliary operator. (See the operator section.)

Thus, "’ve", "’m", "’s", etc. are phonologically reduced (i.e. contracted) forms of separate words whereas the negative "-n’t" is not a contracted separate word but rather a (inflectional) suffix. [Albeit in extremely formal writing (where "not" would be preferable), the "-n’t" is acceptable in most writing.]


Most English verbs mark number (in agreement with their subjects) only in the non-past tense, indicative mood. In this context, there is a contrast between the 3rd person and all other persons (i.e., 1st and 2nd): the 3rd person is marked with a "-(e)s" suffix while all other persons are unmarked (i.e. without overt marking). Furthermore, the inflectional suffix "-(e)s" also indicates singular number, i.e. "-(e)s" indicates a 3rd person singular subject. Similarly, singular number is only indicated in the 3rd person — number in the other persons are unmarked. The plural in the 3rd person is unmarked. The 3rd person singular suffix is added to the general present tense form while the unmarked form is general present tense form. There is, thus, only a distinction between a general present form and 3rd person singular form.


Pronoun subject-verb combinations:


Furthermore, the agent and patient switch grammatical roles between active and passive voices so that in passive the patient is the subject, and the agent is noted in an optional prepositional phrase using "by", for example:

#active: "I heard the music."
#passive: "The music was heard (by me)." (Note: "me", not "I")

The passive form of the verb is formed by replacing the verb with "to be" in the same tense and aspect, and appending the "-en" form of the original verb. Thus:

This pattern continues through all the composite tenses as well.The semantic effect of the change from active to passive is the depersonalisation of an action. It is also occasionally used to topicalize the direct object of a sentence, or when the agent is either unknown or unimportant even when included, thus:

#The plane was shot down.
#Dozens were killed.
#Bill was run over by a bus.

Many writing style guides including Strunk and White recommend minimizing use of the passive voice in English; however, many others do not.

There is a third 'voice' in English, related to the classic "middle" voice. In this, the patient becomes the subject, as in passive, but the verb remains in apparently active voice, no agent can plausibly be supplied, and generally, an adverbial modifies the entire construction. Thus:

#She does not frighten easily.
#This bread slices poorly.
#His novels sell well.

Modals and modality

English has "moods" of verb. These always include the declarative/indicative and the subjunctive moods, and normally the imperative is included as a mood. Some people include conditional or interrogative forms as verbal moods.

Indicative, or declarative, mood

*The "declarative mood" or "indicative mood" is the simplest and most basic mood. The overwhelming majority of verb use is in the indicative, which may be considered the "normal" form of verbs, with the subjunctive as an "exceptional" form of verbs. (If any other forms are considered a mood (e.g. imperative), they may also be considered other "exceptional" verb forms.)

Examples are most commonly used verb forms, e.g.::* I think:* I thought:* He was seen:* I am walking home.:* They are singing.:* He is not a dancer.:* We are very happy.

ubjunctive mood

*The "subjunctive mood" is used to express counterfactual (or conditional) statements, and is often found in if-then statements, and certain formulaic expressions. It is typically marked in the present tense by the auxiliary "were" plus the "-ing" form of the verb.
*#Were I eating, I would sit.
*#If they were eating, they would sit.
*#Truth be told...
*#If I were you... I would do that.The conjugation of these moods becomes a significantly more complex matter when they are used with different tenses. However, casual spoken English rarely uses the subjunctive, and generally restricts the conditional mood to the simple present and simple past. A notable exception to this is the use of the present subjunctive in clauses of wish or command which is marked in one or two ways: (1) if third person singular, the "-s" conjugation called for by the declarative mood is absent, and (2) past tense is not used. For example, "They insisted that he go to chapel every morning" means that they were requiring or demanding him to go to chapel. However, "They insisted that he went to chapel every morning" means they are reasserting the statement that, in the past, he did attend chapel every morning. The underlying grammar of this distinction has been called the "American subjunctive".On the other hand, other constructions for expressing wishes and commands, which do not use the subjunctive, are equally common, such as "They required him to go..."

Imperative mood

*The "imperative mood" is used for commands or instructions. It is not always considered a verbal mood "per se". Using the verb in its simplest, unconjugated form forms it: "Listen! Sit! Eat!" The imperative mood in English occurs only in the second person, and the subject ("you") is generally not expressly stated, because it is implied. When the speaker gives a command regarding anyone else, it is still directed at the second person as though it were a request for permission, although it may be a rhetorical statement.
*# Let me do the talking.
*# Come here.
*# Give him an allowance.
*# Let sleeping dogs lie.

Modal forms

Conditional forms of verb are used to express if-then statements, or in response to counterfactual propositions (see subjunctive mood, above), denoting or implying an indeterminate future action. Conditionals may be considered tense forms but are sometimes considered a verbal mood, the "conditional mood".

Conditionals are expressed through the use of the verbal auxiliaries "could", "would", "should", "may" and "might" in combination with the stem form of the verb.
#He could go to the store.
#You should be more careful.
#I may try something else.
#He might be heading north.Note that for many speakers "may" and "might" have merged into a single meaning (that of "might") that implies the outcome of the statement is contingent. The implication of permission in "may" seems to remain only in certain uses with the second person, e.g. "You may leave the dinner table."

Two main conditional tenses can be identified in English::"I would think" = Present Conditional:"I would have thought" = Conditional Perfect


#In English, a long-standing prescriptive rule holds that "shall" denotes simple futurity in the first person, and "will" denotes simple futurity in the second and third persons. In American English, this distinction has largely vanished; "will" is normally used for both cases, and "shall" is rare. In British English, adherence to the rule has declined during the 20th century ("see Shall and will for a more detailed discussion"), although use of "shall" remains for expressing the simple future in the first person.
#The distinction between tense, aspect, and mood is not clear-cut or universally agreed-upon. For example, many analysts would not accept that English has twelve tenses. The six "continuous" (also called "progressive") forms in the list above are often treated under the heading of "aspect" rather than tense: the simple past and the past continuous are examples of the same tense, under this view. In addition, many modern grammars of English agree that English does not have a future tense (or a future perfect). These include two large recent grammars:

:#Biber, D., S. Johansson, G. Leech, S. Conrad & E. Finegan. 1999. "Longman grammar of spoken and written English". Harlow, Longman.:#Huddleston, R. & G. Pullum. 2002. "The Cambridge grammar of the English language". Cambridge, CUP.

The main argument given by Huddleston and Pullum (pp 209-10) that English does not have a future tense is that "will" is a modal verb, both in its grammar and in its meaning. Biber et al. go further and say that English has only two tenses, past and present: they treat the perfect forms with "have" under "aspect". Huddleston & Pullum, on the other hand, regard the forms with "have" as "secondary tenses".

Verb phrases


Adjectives are words that can be used attributively within noun phrases where they (pre-)modify noun heads and predicatively within verb phrase where they are the complement of copular verbs. For example, in the sentence below the adjective "tall" occurs within the noun phrase "the tall man" modifying the noun head "man". The adjective "nice" occurs within the verb phrase "is nice" as the complement of the (copular) verb head "is".

: [ "The tall man" ] [ "is nice" ]

The adjectives also act as the head of adjective phrases as in the following:

: "The" [ "very tall" ] "man is" [ "rather nice" ]

Here the adjectives "tall" and "nice" are the heads of the adjective phrases "very tall" and "rather nice".

Semantically, adjectives provide more information about them. Adjectives are used to describe and identify their associated nouns.

A further morphological characteristic of adjectives, which is also shared with adverbs, is their ability to be inflected in comparison: "tall-er", "tall-est". See also the comparison section.

Adjective phrases

emantic ordering


The term "adverb" originating from traditional grammar refers to a wide range of words that have different functions and different syntactic behaviors. Therefore, it is best to separate adverbs into different subclasses and discuss the grammar of each subclass separately.

See also the comparison section.

Degree adverbs

Adverbs of degree (or intensifiers) roughly qualify a point on a gradable semantic property. Below are some degree adverbs:

* "very" [Note that the degree adverb "very" is to be distinguished from the adjective "very" meaning "actual, precise" as in the sentence "That is the very woman I was speaking of".]
* "extremely"
* etc.

Syntactically, degree adverbs pre-modify either adjectives or adverbs:

: "The very fast car is running smoothly." ("very" modifying adjective "fast"): "The very kindly gentleman fixed my car." ("very" modifying adjective "kindly")

: "The fast car is running very smoothly." ("very" modifying adverb "smoothly"): "The kindly gentleman is driving my car very fast." ("very" modifying adverb "fast")


Prepositional phrases

: PP = (Modifier + ) P + NP : "(right) on" [ "the bus" ]

Clausal syntax

Word order

English is a subject verb object (SVO) language: it prefers a sequence of subject–verb–object in its simplest, unmarked declarative statements. Thus, "Tom [subject] eats [verb] cheese [object] " and "Mary sees the cat."

However, beyond these simple examples, word order is a complicated matter in English. In particular, the speaker or writer's point of departure in each clause is a key factor in the organization of the message. Thus, the elements in a message can be ordered in a way that signals to the reader or listener what the message concerns.
*"The duke" has given my aunt that teapot. (i.e., I am going to tell you about the duke).
*"My aunt" has been given that teapot by the duke. (i.e., I am going to tell you about my aunt).
*"That teapot" has been given to my aunt by the duke. (i.e., I am going to tell you about that teapot).

The point of departure can also be set up as an equation, known as a thematic equative. In this way, virtually any element in a clause can be put first.
*"What the duke gave my aunt" was a teapot" (i.e., I am going to tell you what the duke gave my aunt).
*"What happened" was that the duke gave my aunt a teapot" (i.e., I am going to tell you what happened).

Usually, the point of departure is the subject of a declarative clause; this is the "unmarked" form. A point of departure is "marked" when it is not the subject — thus, occasionally it is the object ("You" I blame for this dilemma") and more often an adverbial phrase ("This morning" I got up late").

In questions, point of departure is treated slightly differently. English questions come in two types: wh-questions and yes-no questions. Ordinary (unmarked) questions of either type start with the word that indicates what the speaker wants to know.
*"Where" is my little dog?" (I want you to tell me where.) [wh-question]
*"Is" John Smith inside?" (I want you to tell me whether he is or is not). [yes-no question]

Special (marked) questions displace this key "what I want to know" word with some other element.
*"After tea, "will you" tell me a story?" (Still "will you or will not you?")
*"In your house, "who" does the cooking?" (Still "who?")

Either imperative clauses are of the type "I want you to do something" or "I want you and me to do something." The second type usually starts with "let us"; in the unmarked form of the first type, "you" is implied and not made explicit ("Improve your grammar!"), and included in the marked form ("You improve your grammar!"); another marked form is "Do improve your grammar." In the negative, "Do not argue with me" is unmarked, and "Do not you argue with me" is marked.

In spoken English, the point of departure is frequently marked off by intonation.

Generally, English is a "head-initial" language, meaning that the "anchor" of a phrase (segment of a sentence) occurs at the beginning of the phrase.
*Ran quickly (verb phrase)
*To the store (prepositional phrase)

The main exception is that simple modifiers precede the noun phrases:
*A dog (article + noun)
*Blue house (adjective + noun)
*Fred's cat (possessive + noun) "but" man of the house (noun + prepositional phrase)

This leads to a sentence like: "Fred's sister ran quickly to the store." As can be inferred from this example, the sequence of a basic sentence (ignoring articles and other determiners as well as prepositional phrases) is: Adjective1 - Subject - Verb - Adverb - Adjective2 - Indirect Object - Adjective3 - Direct Object.

Interrogative sentences invert word order ("Did you go to the store?"). Changing a given sentence from active to passive grammatical voice changes the word order, moving the new subject to the front ("John bought the car" becomes "The car was bought by John"), and lexical or grammatical emphasis (topicalization) changes it in many cases as well (see duke-aunt-teapot examples above).

English also sees some use of the OSV (object-subject-verb) word order, especially when making comparisons using pronouns that are marked for case. For example, "I hate oranges, but apples I will eat." Far more rare, but still sometimes used is OVS, "If it is apples you like, then apples like I," although this last usage can sound contrived and anachronistic to a native speaker.

Interrogative sentences

Interrogative word order is used to pose questions, with or without an expected answer. Most of the time, it is formed by switching the order of the subject and the auxiliary (or "helping") verb in a declarative sentence, as in the following:
#Are you going to the party?
#Is he supposed to do that?
#How much do I owe you?
#Where is the parking lot?However, when the information being requested would be the subject of the answer, the word order is not inverted, and the interrogative pronoun takes the place of the subject, as in the following:
#Who helped you with your homework?
#What happened here?When spoken, an intonation change is often used to emphasize this switch, or can entirely reflect interrogation in some cases (e.g. "John ran?"). The interrogative phrase can further be formed in this manner by moving the predicate of a declarative sentence in front of the helping verb and changing it to a demonstrative, relative pronoun, quantifier, etc. Ending the sentence with a question mark denotes the interrogative phrase .

Rhetorical questions can be formed by moving the helping verb-subject pair to the end of the question, e.g. "You would not really do that, would you?"

Types of Interrogative Sentences

There are three types of interrogative sentences (questions) in English:

# Yes/no questions require “Yes/No” answers. For example: Do you like modern music? Is he a driver?
#*Alternative questions express opposition and can be asked to any part of the sentence (like special questions). For example: Do you prefer tea or coffee? Did you or your mum tell him the truth?
# Information questions (or "Wh"-questions) require special information while answering them. They are characterized by the presence of an interrogative pronoun in the first place (Why? When? How much? etc.) and can be asked to any part of the sentence. For example: Where did you spend last summer? Why have you done it?
#* Questions to the subject require mentioning the doer of the action in the answer. For example: Who has broken the window? Who was talking to you when I saw you?
# Tag questions (disjunctive questions) represent statements with tags separated by a comma. For example: You were at home yesterday, weren't you? He won't come tomorrow, will he?

Yes/No questions

Yes/No questions require an answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’. If there is a modal verb ("can, must, should, may"), an auxiliary verb ("will, shall, have") or a form of the verb ‘to be’ in the sentence, put it in front of the subject.
*"Mary is drinking tea. – Is Mary drinking tea?
*"The friends have come. – Have the friends come?
*"The houses were built last year. – Were the houses built last year?
*"You must do it. – Must you do it?
*"She'll come in ten minutes. – Will she come in ten minutes?
*"They are from Canada. - Are they from Canada?

If there is no modal verb, auxiliary verb or the verb ‘to be’ in the sentence, yes/no questions are formed with the help of the auxiliary verb ‘do’. The auxiliary verb ‘do’ has no meaning. It just takes the form according to the main verb in the sentence.

‘do’ – in the present tense: if the subject of the sentence is the noun in the 1st person singular or plural ("I or we"), the 2nd person singular or plural ("you"), and the 3rd person plural ("they").
*"We go to the country every weekend. – Do we go the country every weekend?
*"You like swimming. – Do you like swimming?
*"They play football. – Do they play football?‘does’ – in the present tense: if the subject of the sentence is the noun in the 3rd person singular (he, she, it).
*"She cooks well. – Does she cook well? ‘did’ - in the past tense
*"They arrived yesterday. – Did they arrive yesterday?

Note: the main verb in yes/no questions comes without any endings ("-es, -s, ed") or in case of the past tense – in its first form ("arrived – arrive, came – come").

To form negative yes/no questions you have to put the negative modal verb, negative auxiliary verb or negative form of the verb ‘to be’ in front of the subject.

*"Can’t you help him?
*"Aren’t you waiting for me? If you need to form the negative yes/no question with the help of the auxiliary verb ‘do’, you have to use ‘don’t’ (do not), doesn’t (does not), or didn’t (did not) instead of ‘do’ does, or did.

*"Don’t you know him?
*"Didn’t you tell him the truth?

The peraphrastic negative is used in more formal English:

*"Can you not help him?
*"Are you not waiting for me?
*"Do you not know him?
*"Did you not tell him the truth?

Information questions

Information or "Wh"- questions require additional information for the answer (as opposed to simply "yes" or "no" as with yes/no-questions). To form such questions you have to put the question word (why? when? where? what? how? who? whom?) together with all of the words in the same phrase at the front of the sentence. If the question word is part of the subject you do not have to change the word order. The word order remains as in the statement.
*"Who is playing the piano in the room now?
*"Which car is hers?

If the question word is not part of the subject you have to use a modal verb ("can, must, should, may"), an auxiliary verb ("will, shall, have") or a form of the verb ‘to be’ after the question word and in front of the subject.
*"Where is Tommy?
*"Where will you be waiting for me tomorrow?

If there is no modal verb, auxiliary verb or the verb ‘to be’ in the sentence, you have to use the auxiliary verb ‘do’ after the question word and in front of the subject.
*"Where do your parents live?
*"Why did he do it?

Note: the main verb in information questions comes without any endings ("goes – go, plays – play, talked - talk") or in case of the past tense – in its first form ("arrived – arrive, came – come").


see also: #Negation, negative polarity, and assertion.

Reversed polarity tags

Disjunctive questions (tag questions)Tag questions are statements with tags at the end. The tag consists of two or three parts.

1st part: a modal verb, an auxiliary verb, or a form of the verb ‘to be’ (if they are in the sentence) in the form required by the pronoun in the 3rd part.

2nd part: the particle ‘not’ if the statement is positive. If the statement is negative, the particle is omitted.

3rd part: the subject of the statement expressed by a noun.
*"She is having a shower now, isn’t she?
*"You can’t swim, can you?

If there is no modal verb, auxiliary verb or the verb ‘to be’ in the statement, you have to use the auxiliary verb ‘do’ in the tag.
*"Henry played tennis well, didn’t he?
*"We go to work by bus, don’t we?


(a) In BrE the main verb ‘to have’ behaves as an auxiliary.

*"You have a brother and a sister, haven’t you? (BrE)
*"You have a brother and a sister, don’t you? (AmE) (b) If the subject of the statement is the indefinite pronoun ‘somebody’ in the tag it is replaced by the pronoun ‘they’.

*"Someone’s knocking at the door, aren’t they?

(c) Such words like ‘nothing’, ‘never’, ‘hardly’ make the statements negative, so the tag should be positive.

*"You never listen to me, do you?

(d) If the statement starts with ‘there’, this word counts as a pronoun, so it is placed on the 3rd place in the tag.

*’’There's nothing here, is there?

(e) If the statement is an imperative, the tag will be ‘will you’ or ‘won’t you’.

*"Be attentive, won’t you?
*"Don’t be lazy, will you?

(f) If the statement contains ‘Let's’, the tag will be ‘shall we’.

*’’Let's go to the cinema, shall we?

(g) More formal English uses peraphrastic negation in the tags to positive sentences:

*"She is having a shower now, is she not?
*"You cannot swim, can you?
*"Henry played tennis well, did he not?
*"We go to work by bus, do we not?
*"You have a brother and a sister, have you not? (BrE)
*"You have a brother and a sister, do you not? (AmE)
*"Someone is knocking at the door, are they not?
*"Be attentive, will you not?

Meaning of tags

The tag question requires the person to respond to the statement. Negative tags require a ‘Yes’ answer. Positive tags require a ‘No’ answer.

*’’We've done the project, haven't we? – Yes, we have.
*"We haven't done the project, have we? – No, we haven't.

Constant polarity tags

: "So, they read my article, did they?"


* Topicalization

: "The book, I like. The movie, I don't." (cf. "I like the book. I don't like the movie."): "To John, I gave the book." (cf. "I gave the book to John.")

non-tensed VP topicaliztion:

: "Throw the ball, I will." (cf. "I will throw the ball.")

but not

: "*Threw the ball, I."

instead non-tensed VP movement with do-support

: "*Throw the ball, I did." (cf. "I threw the ball.")

* left dislocation

: "The book, I like it." (cf. "I like the book."): "Jim, he is here." (cf. "Jim is here.")

* cleft

: "It is the book (that) I like." (cf. "I like the book.")

* pseudo-cleft

: "The book is what I like." (cf. "I like the book.")

Negation, negative polarity, and assertion

* Grammatical polarity
* Polarity item

: "Halil is going with them.": "Halil isn’t going with them." (inflectional "contraction" negation): "Halil is not going with them." (periphrastic negation)

: "Halil went with them": "Halil didn't go with them." ("do"-support, inflectional "contraction" negation): "Halil did not go with them." ("do"-support, periphrastic negation)

: "Halil was receiving some help from his friends.": "*Halil was receiving any help from his friends.": "Halil was receiving no help from his friends."

: "*Halil wasn't receiving some help from his friends.": "Halil wasn't receiving any help from his friends.": "Halil wasn't receiving no help from his friends." (dialectal, prescriptively "incorrect")

: "Halil can drive a motorcycle and so can Cherif.": "*Halil can drive a motorcycle and neither can Cherif.": "*Halil can't drive a motorcycle and so can Cherif.": "Halil can't drive a motorcycle and neither can Cherif."

: "Halil almost touched the bomb and so did Cherif.": "*Halil almost touched the bomb and neither did Cherif.": "*Halil hardly touched the bomb and so did Cherif.": "Halil hardly touched the bomb and neither did Cherif."

* syntactic negation vs. lexical negation (clausal vs. subclausal)

: "Halil was unable to go and so was Cherif.": "*Halil was unable to go and neither was Cherif.": "*Halil wasn't able to go and so was Cherif.": "Halil wasn't able to go and neither was Cherif."

* VP negation vs. non-VP negation

: "Do not ever accept this job position!" (negation inside of VP): "Never ever accept this job position!" (negation outside of VP)

restrictions on "not":

: "He did not accept the position." (negation inside of VP): *"He not accepted the position." (negation outside of VP)

: "It is imperative" [ "that he not accept the position" ] "." (negation outside of VP in subjunctive)

* scope of negation and ambiguity

: "The streets are not" [ "safe because of the flood" ] : interpretation #1 = the flood is not the reason for the unsafe streets (there is another cause)

: "The streets are not" [ "safe" ] "because of the flood" : interpretation #2 = the flood is causing the unsafe streets

: "All of the streets are not flooded" : interpretation #1 = "None of the streets are flooded": interpretation #2 = "Not all of the streets are flooded"


[The word "anymore" is similar to "any" in being grammatical only in sentences suggesting doubt, or questions. However, in some United States dialects it can be heard used with the approximate meaning "nowadays". However, in such contexts there is often still an implication of negation or cessation. For example, in the utterance,

: Anymore, people just wear jeans and t-shirts when they travel on a plane

it may be implicit that

: People no longer dress up to fly.]


emantic gradability

Adjectives and adverbs typically have the semantic feature of being gradable, that is the quality or state that they describe exists on a gradual scale between two opposite poles. For example, there is a gradable scale between the antonyms "cold" and "hot". Gradable words of this type can have several modifiers that qualify where on the scale a particular quality or state rests as in the following left ( intensifier ight ) + egin{Bmatrix} adjective \ adverbend{Bmatrix} combinations:

: "very quick": "rather quick": "quite quick": "too quick": "quick""very quickly"
"rather quickly"
"quite quickly"
"too quickly"

Most adjectives [All dynamic and most stative adjectives are gradable. However, many nongradable adjectives can be used in a gradable sense often with an accompanying change in meaning. For instance, the stative adjective "dead" is usually not gradable since generally "dead" and its complementary "alive" are considered to be mutually exclusive states. But, in sentences like "I felt very dead today" the adjective being used as a gradable adjective.] are gradable but some adjectives are not. For example, the adjective "infinite" is not gradable making the adjective phrases "very infinite", "rather infinite" and "more infinite" semantically odd.

Types of comparison

Gradable adjective and adverbs can also be involved in comparison where to the positions of two or more entities on a gradable scale are compared with each other. Semantically, three types of comparison can be distinguished:

* higher degree (superior)
* same degree
* lower degree (inferior)

Comparisons of the same degree use only the general base adjective form.

In higher degree comparisons, the comparison is indicated either by inflectional suffixation, using "-er", "-est" (morphological marking) or by periphrastic constructions involving "more", "most" modifiers preceding the adjective (syntactic marking). The three inflectional forms are known as

* "absolute" (or "positive")
* "comparative"
* "superlative"

Lower degree comparisons only use periphrastic constructions involving "less" and "least" adjectival modifiers.



Comparative constructions

: She is taller than Halil.: She is more tall than short. (note: "*She is taller than short" is ungrammatical): She is as tall as Halil.: etc.


The phenomenon of ellipsis refers to omission of parts of sentences when those parts are readily recoverable in the context of an utterance. Some types of ellipsis are obligatory while other types of ellipsis are optional. Still other types are optional in certain grammatical environment but obligatory in other grammatical environments. For example, in the following sentences the underlined words can optionally be omitted:

: "The red sock and red shoe are in the hamper.": "The red sock and shoe are in the hamper." ("red" is omitted)

: "Halil can drink coffee and John can drink coffee, too.": "Halil can drink coffee and John can, too." ("drink coffee" is omitted)

: "Halil borrowed one of my CDs but I can't remember which CD.": "Halil borrowed one of my CDs but I can't remember which." ("CD" is omitted)

: "This boy always has done bad things and always will do bad things.": "This boy always has and always will do bad things." ("done bad things" is omitted)

: "Halil is drinking coffee at the table and John is drinking coffee at the bar.": "Halil is drinking coffee at the table and John at the bar." ("is drinking coffee" is omitted)

The above examples involve ellipsis in the second component of a coordinated constituent. This type of ellipsis is very common. Other types of non-coordinated optional ellipsis are the following:

: "Do you want a drink?": "Want a drink?" ("do you" omitted)

: "Do you want a drink?": "You want a drink?" ("do" omitted)

: "It looks fine to me.": "Looks fine to me." ("it" omitted)

: "Is the machine still broken?": "Machine still broken?" ("is the" omitted)

: "We meet on Wednesday mornings.": "We meet Wednesday mornings." ("on" omitted)

Certain kinds of ellipsis indicate a more informal or familiar style of language while other types are neutral in the aspect.

A type of ellipsis that is always obligatory involves control constructions. [Control structures are also referred to as "equi-NP-deletion" in earlier transformational grammar.] These sentences are usually analyzed as consisting of a main clause with the verb of the main clause taking a non-finite clause as a complement.

: "Halil tried" [ "to paint his house" ] "."

In the sentence above "Halil tried" [ "X" ] is the main clause and the embedded (i.e. subordinate) non-finite clause is "to paint his house". The non-finite clause is analyzed as having a subject which is obligatorily omitted in the surface sentence. In this case, the omitted subject is "Halil" (since it is Halil who making the painting attempt). Thus, the underlying structure is

: "Halil tried" [ "Halil paint his house" ] "." (underlying "Halil" in the embedded clause is ungrammatical)

which has a subject that must be omitted (along with an infinitive marker "to" that must be added) to give:

: "Halil tried to paint his house." ("Halil" is omitted)

Types of ellipsis that are obligatory in certain constructions but optional in others include the "that" complementizer:

: Post-nominal modification:: "The man that I love will be there." ("that" is optionally present): "The man I love will be there." ("that" is optionally omitted)

: Object:: "He knows that I love him." ("that" is optionally present): "He knows I love him." ("that" is optionally present)

: Extraposition:: "It is obvious that I love him." ("that" is optionally present): "It is obvious I love him." ("that" is optionally omitted)

: Subject:: "That I love him is obvious." ("that" is obligatorily present): "*I love him is obvious." (omitting "that" is ungrammatical when the clause is in subject position)


Diagrams like this were used in English grammar education:

"The teacher punished Johnny"

ee also

* Disputes in English grammar
* Capitalization
* English prefixes
* Nominal group
* Thematic equative
* Grammar checker

Notes and references


* Adams, Valerie. (1973). "An introduction to modern English word-formation". London: Longman.
* Bauer, Laurie. (1983). "English word-formation". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
* Biber, Douglas; Johansson, Stig; Leech, Geoffrey; Conrad, Susan; & Finegan, Edward. (1999). "Longman grammar of spoken and written English". Pearson Education Limited.
* Celce-Murcia, M.; & Larsen-Freeman, D. "The grammar book: An ESL/EFL teacher's course" (2nd ed.). ISBN 0838447252
* Curme, George O. (1931). "Syntax". Boston: Heath.
* Curme, George O. (1935). "Parts of speech and accidence". Boston: Heath.
* Halliday, M. A. K. (2004). "Introduction to functional grammar" (3rd. ed.). London: Hodder Arnold.
* Halliday, M. A. K. (1985/94). "Spoken and written language". Deakin University Press.
* Huddleston, Rodney D. (1976). "An introduction to English transformational syntax". Longman.
* Huddleston, Rodney D. (1984). "Introduction to the grammar of English". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
* Huddleston, Rodney D. (1988). "English grammar: An outline". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
* Huddleston, Rodney D.; & Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2005). "A student's introduction to English grammar". Cambridge University Press.
* Huddleston, Rodney D.; & Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2002). "The Cambridge grammar of the English language". Cambridge University Press.
* Jespersen, Otto. (1909-1949). "A modern English grammar on historical principles" (Vols. 1-7). Heidelberg: C. Winter.
* Kruisinga, E. (1925). "A handbook of present-day English". Utrecht: Kemink en Zoon.
* Leech, Geoffrey N. (1971). "Meaning and the English verb". London: Longman.
* Marchand, Hans. (1969). "The categories and types of present-day English word-formation" (2nd ed.). München: C. H. Beck.
* McCawley, James D. (1998). "The syntactic phenomena of English" (2nd ed.). "Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
* Palmer, F. R. (1974). "The English verb". London: Longman.
* Palmer, F. R. (1979). "Modality and the English modals". London: Longman.
* Plag, Ingo. (2003). "Word-formation in English". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
* Quirk, Randolph; Greenbaum, Sidney; Leech, Geoffrey; & Svartvik, Jan. (1972). "A grammar of contemporary English". Harlow: Longman.
* Quirk, Randolph; Greenbaum, Sidney; Leech, Geoffrey; & Svartvik, Jan. (1985). "A comprehensive grammar of the English language". Harlow: Longman.
* Scheurweghs, Gustave. (1959). "Present-day English syntax: A survey of sentence patterns". London: Longmans.
* Strang, Barbara M. H. (1968). "Modern English structure" (2nd ed.). London: Arnold.
* Zandvoort, R. W. (1972). "A handbook of English grammar" (2nd ed.). London: Longmans.

External links

* , wikibook in English
* [http://www.beaugrande.com/UPLOADGRAMMARHEADER.htm A Friendly Grammar of English] by Robert de Beaugrande
* [http://papyr.com/hypertextbooks/grammar/ Modern English Grammar] by Daniel Kies
* [http://www.bartleby.com/64/ The American Heritage Book of English Usage.] Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996. [Date of Printout] .
* [http://www.ucl.ac.uk/internet-grammar/home.htm The Internet Grammar of English] .
* [http://lanzbom.org An easy to understand guide to grammar and writing with active community college classroom site and links to other writing, grammar sites.] by Word Rouges, Leon Lanzbom.
* [http://www.victoria.ac.nz/lals/staff/laurie-bauer/Bauer-adj-compound.pdf Adjectives, Compounds and Words] (Laurie Bauer)

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