The Printable KISS Grammar Workbooks

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 why (cause) something happened, and students respond with what (identity) happened. Instructors ask how (manner) something is done, and students explain what (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. 
     Another complication 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 and meaning.
     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"]
Remember the day when we went to the lake? [Adjectival to "day"]
The procedure, therefore, is to:
1. identify the subordinate clause --with what word does it begin, and with what word does it end?
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.
If they use this procedure, most students should have little trouble in identifying the logical functions of most subordinate clauses, particularly the simple ones.

     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 Inclined

     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." (Understanding Grammar, 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." (UG, 325-6)
This is, however, questionable -- does "the advance would continue" explain why 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, 321)