The Logic of Subordinate Clauses
Notes for Teachers
"Ugh, logic!" So wrote a contributor to the NCTE-Talk discussion list.
I can understand what might have been the reason behind the comment. College
courses often "introduce" students to a field of study by focusing on what
interests the instructor, and not on what the students need. Logic can
become extremely complex. But it need not be, and it should not be for
beginners. Indeed some basic logic was taught for decades in the grammar
books that explained the various types of adverbial clauses--time, space,
cause, purpose, result, manner, etc. I was deeply shocked and saddened
when I heard a member of the NCTE Assembly for the Teaching of Grammar
state that there is no need for students to learn these types of clauses.
There is a need, a very desperate need.
Over the years, I have
heard numerous college instructors complain that students answer every
question as if it were a "What?" question. Instructors ask
something happened, and students respond with what (identity) happened.
Instructors ask how (manner) something is done, and students explain
(identity) is done, but not how. This is not only basic logic, but it is
a fundamental problem for instructors, students, and society as a whole.
There are many ways in
which logic can be integrated into the teaching of grammar. I love Hume's
three primary distinctions (identity, extension in time or space, and cause/effect)
because they are very simple and extremely powerful. Students will probably
be able to look at any modification relationship and intelligently discuss
it in terms of these three categories. The KISS instructional material
includes the traditional types of adverbial clauses within the framework
of Hume's categories.
You may have noted that
KISS introduces some basic logic underlying grammar in Level 1.2 (Adding
Complements). There students are taught to recognize predicate nouns based
on the equal identity of subject and complement. Level 1.3 (Adding
Adjectives and Adverbs) includes two exercises on the logic of adjectives
and adverbs. An exercise on the logic of co-ordinating conjunctions could
be added to Level 1.4 (Compounding). "And," "or," and "but" almost always
involve whole/part logical relationships. "And" joins elements (parts)
to create a whole group -- "men and women," "Democrats and Republicans."
Even the narrative "and" unites the individual events (parts) into the
whole story. "Or," on the other hand, divides an implied whole group into
two parts -- "men or women," "Democrats or Republicans." Finally, "but"
often takes an exception (part) out of a whole group -- "They went shopping,
but Mary didn't go with them." The preceding is a simplification, but the
point is that distinct logical relationships underlie all the syntactic
connections in and between sentences.
The amount of time you
spend on these logical connections is, of course, optional, but I would
strongly suggest that you at least introduce your students to these exercises.
And I emphasize the "introduce." Remember, KISS teaches students to analyze
real, randomly selected texts. With the exception of adverbial clauses
of manner and concession, the logical concepts used in KISS should be easily
understood by most students -- the logical relationships of time, space,
cause, effect, purpose, condition, and comparison are fairly easily perceived.
But to analyze real
texts, students need to expect the unexpected and to think about what sentences
mean. For example, "If he wins, I'll win a bet" includes a clear "if" clause
of condition. But in real texts, you may find this written as "Should he
win, I'll win a bet." In that format, there is no subordinating conjunction,
so some students may have problems even in identifying the subordinate
clause. Fortunately, the "should he win" format is relatively rare. Trying
to introduce students to all of these rarities at this point in their work
will only confuse them, so expect students to have problems.
At this point in the
development of KISS, the logic of clauses (primarily of adverbial clauses)
is limited to just five exercises, and they are spread over what should
be at least three years. In Level 3.1 there is one exercise in "Mixed Subordinate
Clauses," one in the "Focus on Adverbial Clauses," and one each in the
"Practice/Application" sections for Levels 3.1, 3.2, and 4. More exercises
should be added, but they are not easy to make, and at this point it is
a matter of time. Each exercise is designed to include at least one of
the various types of logical connection, but that means, for example, that
most exercises include only one adverbial clause of time, but there are
many subordinating conjunctions that convey the time relationship -- "when,"
"while," "after," "before," "as," "since," etc.
is that subordinating conjunctions are often ellipsed, as in "I'm sure
*that* students will be confused." (Remember that in KISS, we use the asterisks
to indicate words that are ellipsed.) Still another difficulty in KISS
Level 3.1 is that the exercises on logic precede the section on untangling
embedded clauses (Section 3.1.3). (Finding examples in real texts of sentences
that use the various kinds of logical connections, and are not heavily
embedded is not easy.)
Some students will master these complications
quickly, but others will need more practice, more exercises. You can, of
course, find additional exercises on the KISS site, exercises that are
in books for different grade-levels, but perhaps the most important thing
that you can do at this point is, as always, emphasize the procedure
Many students, for example,
will initially try to identify the logical relationship of the clause just
by looking at the conjunction. If they see "when," they will consider the
clause as an adverbial clause of time. But "when" also introduces both
noun and adjectival clauses:
When he will arrive is not known. [Subject
of "is (not) known"]
The procedure, therefore, is to:
Remember the day when we went to the lake? [Adjectival
1. identify the subordinate clause --with
what word does it begin, and with what word does it end?
If they use this procedure, most students should
have little trouble in identifying the logical functions of most subordinate
clauses, particularly the simple ones.
2. determine its type (by syntactic function)
-- noun, adjective, or adverb?
3. then determine (by meaning) the logical connection
between the clause and what it modifies.
As for the more complicated
ones, there often is not one "right" answer. After all, there are philosophers
who claim that there is no such thing as cause/effect. This gets us into
highly philosophical questions that are far beyond what we should expect
students in grades three through twelve to deal with. The point here is
that students (and adults) should be expected to disagree about what is,
and what is not, "condition," "concession," and even "manner." Hume implied
that "manner" is a type of cause/effect relationship. But is it? As you
may see, I've often included comments about such clauses in the analysis
keys. Sometimes I try to explain why a specific clause of manner does imply
a cause/effect relationship. At other times, I've simply admitted that
I do not see it.
If your students do
get frustrated by some of the logical connections, go back to the basic
KISS Approach. Remind them of how much they actually can understand (time,
place, cause, effect, purpose, comparison). Then point out that they themselves
are exploring some basic philosophical ideas of two of the greatest philosophers
in world history -- Aristotle and David Hume. (You might even have them
do some basic research to learn about Aristotle and Hume.)
Additional Notes for the Grammatically
The following describe
some infrequently met cases. These were left out of the students' materials
because they are relatively rare.
On Adverbial Clauses of Cause
Paul Roberts notes that "inasmuch as"
is also used for clauses of cause, and he gives the example, "Inasmuch
as he intended to return, Carruthers didn't bother to tip the servants."
325). Compared to "because," "since," and "as," the word "inasmuch" is
rarely used, so within the KISS Approach it does not represent a problem
especially since "inasmuch" can simply be explained as an adverb and the
following "as" clause as an adverb that modifies it.
On "That" as an Adverbial Conjunction of Cause That Modifies Verbs.
Roberts gives the example --
Wiltshire was confident the advance would continue."
This is, however, questionable -- does "the advance would continue" explain
Wiltshire was confident? Or does it denote what he was confident about?
[There are two points to my question. First, if we try to push every conjunction,
and every subordinate clause, into logical categories, they are not all
going to neatly fit. Second, our attempts to do so help us learn to question
the logic behind what we read (and hear). In context, an attempt to explain
"the advance would continue" as a causal clause should raise the question
of why, then, was Wiltshire so confident? As for "the advance" clause,
its logical function is more one of identity, as it explains the nature,
not the cause, of "confident." ]
On Clauses of Manner
Roberts notes that "Like and how are sometimes used to
introduce clauses of manner, but not in choice English." As examples, he
gives "Do it like I told you." and "He tried to do the job how
the boss wanted it done." (UG,