Making an Analytical Corpus Essay


This essay is an attempt of the description of English grammar with special focus on syntax and grammar. There is a description of various linguistic items drawn from two texts and the meanings they convey. An analysis is made to on the various sentences and other linguistic items with an objective of arriving at the intended meaning and how various components in a sentence work together to convey that meaning. A text can be defined as a piece of writing or speech which has cohesion.

Data, Hypotheses and research Questions

The sentences that are used as the data items in this research have been taken from the two texts (corpus 1 and corpus 2; appendix 1 and 2). The selection was done by the researcher based on their ability to generate the required information.

Research Questions

1. What types of sentences are used in corpus 1 and corpus 2?

2. What are the constituent parts of the sentences used in corpus 1 and corpus 2?

3. What are the recurring patterns of sentences?

4. What is the meaning of the sentences used in each of the texts?

5. What cohesive devices have been used in the two texts?

Research Hypotheses

1. One of the best ways of determining the meaning of a sentence is to carry out a constituent analysis of the elements and word that make up that sentence.

2. The most common structure of the English language sentence is the subject – verb – object pattern, with the elements appearing in that order respectively (Myers–Shaffer, 2000).

Method of Study

The first step is the text analysis, which entails a thorough reading of the texts with a view to identifying the sentences that they are comprised of, followed by numbering of these sentences. They are then written down and their constituent parts identified. Similarities are noted so that generalizations can be drawn after the study. The constituent test is one of the tests applied to the identified sentences so as to come up with meaningful conclusions. Each of the elements that the researcher is interested in, such as the type of sentences, is looked at in turns, and three to five examples identified from the two texts. A linguistic analysis of the grammar, the constituent parts, the semantics and the morphological forms of the sentences is then made.

Types of sentences: an analysis of the texts reveals that there are three types of sentences used in the texts that are simple, compound, and complex, and examples of each sentence type are provided below:

Simple Sentences

The study found that there was no simple sentence in text 1, but there are quite a number in text 2. Some examples of simple sentences and an analysis of the constituent parts are listed below:

Corpus 2

a). The gaunt man with the scarred lip was the first to speak.

b). “I did my best”, he said.

c). “Do you think I haven’t seen that?” he snarled.

The constituent analysis of this sentence is as follows:

Subject – The gaunt man with the scarred lip

Verb                –           was

Complement   –           the first to speak

The subject ‘The gaunt man with the scarred lip” comprises a number of elements itself

The                              –           modifier

Gaunt                         –           modifier

Man                             –           head

With the scared lip      –           post modifier

In sentence 2: (I did my best)

Subject :                      –           I

Verb                            –           did

Object                         –           my best

Sentence 3:                  –           Do you think I haven’t seen that?

Subject:                       –           you

Verb:                           –           think

Object                         –           I haven’t seen that (In this case, the object is a clause in itself, but is the object of the verb ‘think’.

The subjects and objects are nouns or noun phrases, where nouns are single word nominals, while noun phrases may be nous together with modifiers or pronouns.

Semantic and Morphological analysis and classification of the sentences

Sentences 1 and 2 are declarative sentences, as they simply state a fact. Sentence 3 is interrogative and seeking information from the listener. However, it could also be said to have been used to express disappointment or to emphasize on the fact that the listener thinks the speaker has not heard him. In sentence 1, the use of adjectives is also noted, as there are two adjectives, ‘gaunt’ to describe man and ‘scarred’ to describe lip. Gaunt means lean, thin, and haggard most likely because of hunger, disease or age. Scarred, comes from the word ‘scar’, and in describing lips, means dry and cracked. They are strong adjectives that give the appearance of the man being talked about.  

Compound Sentences and cohesive devices

In corpus 1, there are some compound sentences. A compound sentence is a sentence made up of two or more independent clauses joined by a conjunction (Gentry and McNeel, 2014). Examples of compound sentences in these texts are listed below:

Corpus 1

a). He placed it on the table and gave me some to try

b). The berries were delicious, and I asked him where he had found them.

c). Jack took out some fresh yoghurt from the fridge and now the berries now the fruit tasted even better.

The clauses in sentence 1 are “he placed it on the table” and “gave me some to try”

The clauses in sentence 2 are: “The berries were delicious” and ‘I asked him where he had found them”.

The clauses in sentence 3 are: “Jack took out some fresh yoghurt from the fridge” and “now the berries tasted even better.

Cohesive devices are defined as words or groups of word which are used to enhance cohesion in a text, and include such elements as conjunctions, ellipsis, substitution and lexical cohesion, for example pronouns and demonstratives (Carroll, 2008). The most commonly used items of cohesion in these two texts are conjunctions and pronouns. Examples from the three sentences illustrate this.

In sentence 1 (He placed it on the table and gave me some to try); the most common word class used is the pronoun, defined as a word that replaces a noun (Wilson, 2012). There are four pronouns used: he, it, me, and some.

He – replaces the noun Jack. (3rd person subjective masculine singular pronoun).

It – the detergent cardboard box. (3rd person neutral singular pronoun).

Me – the speaker. (1st person neutral singular pronoun).

Some – replaces the berries.

In sentence 2 (The berries were delicious, and I asked him where he had found them), three pronouns are used: I, him, he, and them.

I – replaces the speaker (1st person singular subjective pronoun)

Him – Jack (3rd person singular masculine objective pronoun)

He –     Jack (3rd person singular masculine subjective pronoun)

Them – the berries. (3rd person neutral plural objective pronoun)

Pronouns are used in English to avoid repetition, and in so doing are always co-referent, meaning they refer to some other element (a noun) which was earlier mentioned. This linkage to another word in the same text is provides cohesion in the sentence, which is the reason pronouns are classified as cohesive devices.

Complex Sentences

A complex sentence is defined as a grammatical construction that expresses a special relationship between two or more clauses, such that one is independent, also called the main clause, and the other is dependent, also known as the subordinate clause; joined by a subordinating conjunction (Diessel, 2004).

Examples of Complex sentences from the two texts are given below

1. I often go out to pick fruit and mushrooms, so I was looking forward to trying this on my next trip.

2. He must have realized my thoughts, as he smiled and said: “Did you want to go find some berries together next weekend?’.

These are the only complex sentences in the two texts, and the analysis of the clauses that make them up is as follows:

Sentence 1:

Main Clause:               I often go out to pick fruit and mushrooms

Subordinate clause:     So I was looking forward to trying this on my next trip.

Sentence 2:

Main clause:                He must have realized my thoughts

Subordinate clause:     as he smiled and said, “Did you want to go find some berries together next weekend?”

The main clause is the clause that is independent, that is, does not depend on the any other element in the sentence to communicate. The subordinate clause, introduced by the subordinating conjunction, depends on the main clause in the sentence, as the very presentation makes it dependent on the main clause, which is only possible because of the main clause. In the first sentence, for example, the speaker is only looking forward to this trip because he often goes out to look for mushrooms and berries, which is his hobby. The implication is that if he did not have this routine of going out to look for berries, he would not have looked forward to this trip. Similarly, in the second sentence, the smiling and what he said after is dependent on the first clause. It is only after seemingly realizing the thoughts of the speaker that he smiles and gives the invitation. If he had not realized the thoughts, he would not have extended the invitation.

Distribution of the types of sentences

The frequency of the distribution of the various types of sentence sin each of the texts is as

    Text 1                                                                                 Text 2

Sentence typefrequencySentence typefrequencyTOTAL
Simple sentences0Simple sentences1313
Compound sentences8Compound Sentences513
Complex Sentences5Complex sentences49

The distribution shows that the most widely used type of sentence in text 1 is the compound sentence, while in the second text, the simple and compound sentences form a bulk of the sentences.

The patterns of the sentences:

The SVO (Subject, Verb Object) pattern is the most frequent pattern in these texts.

For example:

1. I did my best

I – subject

Did – Verb

My best – object.

2. Do you think I haven’t seen that?

You:                            – subject

Think:                          – verb

I haven’t seen that:     -subject

Grammatical Interpretation of the two texts

The two texts show that English is an SVO language, and the order of constituents is the most common. Apart from certain cases where emphasis is being placed on certain elements, this order is the most common one. In fact, for an active sentence, this order of elements is fixed (Tallerman, 2011).

Test 1: How to identify the word class of a word

The gap test for the verb:

Only a verb can fit in the blank space below

For example:

He ……………………….it on the table (it/me/them/fruit) (all these cannot fit in the blank space, only a verb can, thus we can conclude that the word placed is a verb, thus:

He placed it on the table (Corpus 1 a)

Form test for the verb.

Only verbs can take certain inflections such as –s. –ed, -ing. For example

(placed, places, placing)another example:

Other verbs from these texts which can take these inflections are

Like : liked, likes, liking

Smile: smiled, smiles, smiling

Ask : asked, asks, asking

Try: tried, tries, trying]

Other word classes cannot take these inflections, for example

*(Me : mes, meed, meing)this word is therefore not a verb.

Plural test for the noun

Only nouns take plural forms, and the regular way through which the are made plural is the addition of letter –s

Trip – trips

Mushroom – mushrooms

Berry – berries

Though – thoughts

Other word classes cannot take the plural form, and can these be proven not to be nouns, for example:

*Placed – placed

* try – trys

*ask – asks

Wh-  and h-test  to confirm constituents of sentences

Formulating wh- and h questions about constituents of a sentence can be used to identify the constituents of the sentence. A question can be used to test the constituent, and the answer, taken from that sentence, will be the element. An example of a sentence is used to illustrate

I often go out to pick fruit and mushrooms, so I was looking forward to trying this on my next trip. (Corpus 1 a)

Who often goes out? (I)                                   SBJ

How frequent do you go out? (Often)             ADV

What do you often do? (go out)                      V

What do you go out to do? (to pick)               VP

What do you pick? (Mushrooms)                    OBJ

Echo question test to confirm direct object

Dou you think I haven’t seen (what)   that

He must have realized (what)             my thoughts

The component that can replace the word ‘that’ is the direct object of the sentence

When applied to the other sentences, these tests prove the existence of the various components mentioned above.

Sentence analysis

Simple sentence – He placed it on the table

                                                            S 1

                              S                        V               O             A

                           (he)                 placed             it             on the table

Sentence analysis (Corpus 1).

[S[NP[pron[He] [VP[V[placed][O[NP[pron[ it] [[A[Pprep[ on][de[art[the][NP[N table] [CONJ][ and] [VP[V[ gave] [NP[PRON[ me]][NP[PRON[ some][VP[PART[ to] [V[ try]

Compound sentence

I often go out to pick fruit and mushrooms, so I was looking forward to trying this on my next trip.


                          S1                    conj                                                        S2

                                                                       NP                  VP         part          PP   NP

NP               VP       NP    NP                                                                        p         V  det   P

     He            aced     it   on the table       so         I    was looking forward   to trying this on my next rip

Constituent analysis (corpus 1)

[S[NP[PRON[I] [AP[adv[often] [VP[V[go] [prep[out] [prep[ to] [VP[V[ pick][NP[N[ fruit] [CONJ[and] [NP[N[ mushrooms] [CONJ[so][NP[PRON[I] [VP[V[was][V[looking][PREP[forward][PREP[to][VP[V[ trying] [OBJ[NP[PRON[this] [PREP[on] [ADJ[my] [ADJ][next] [NP[N[ trip].  

Corpus 2 example of compound sentence

Sentence: (Simple)

The gaunt man with the scarred lips was the first to speak


                    SBJ                                                                                              PRED

Det         adj      head     prep     det      adj      noun        aux       det       adj      prep     verb

The     gaunt         man     with    the       scarred lips        was        the          first    to        speak

This simple sentence extracted from Corpus 2 contains one subject and one predicate. The predicate contains the verb phrase and its modifiers.

Constituent analysis (Corpus 2)

[S[DET[DET[The][ADJ[ gaunt][N[ man]] [CONJ[ with][DET[art[ the] [ADJ[ scarred][NP[N [lips][V[ was][DET[art[ the][ADJ[ first][ to [VP[V[speak].

Sentence 2: He glanced at the white horse and paused (compound sentence)


  Clause 1                                    conjunction                                                Clause 2

SBJ          v          pre         OBJ                                                                        s              V

   He        glanced      at        the white horse       and                                             (He)      paused

[SUB[NP[PRON[He] [VP[V[ glanced] [PREP[at][OBJ[DET[ART[ the][ADJ[ white][ADJ[ horse][CONJ[and][VP[V[ paused].

NB: Subject 2 omitted to avoid redundancy

The verb

The verb is the most important element in a sentence (Collins and Lear, 1999). It either gives the action or the state of the sentence, and without the verb, a sentence cannot exist. Some of the following verbs are present in the two texts

There are several ways in which verbs can be divided

The Wh – test to test transitivity

In the sentence : “He placed it on the table and gave me some to try” (Corpus 1) a wh – question can be used to test the verb “placed” for transitivity, as shown below:

What was placed on the table?     (Answer : it).

The man with the silver bridle flashed a quick intensity of rage on him (corpus 2)

The verb flashed can be tested for transitivity using the wh test as above, this:

What was flashed?  (Answer: a quick intensity of rage)

The verbs placed and flashed are therefore transitive verbs.

He must have realized my thoughts, as he smiled and said (Corpus 1)

The verb “smiled” can be tested for transitivity, thus:

*What was smiled? (No sensible response)

It helps, anyhow. (Corpus 2)

The verb “helps” can be tested for transitivity using the wh test as below:

What is helped? (No sensible response).

The verbs Smiled and helps are therefore intransitive verbs

Verb classification

i)These verbs can be divided into two groups: main verbs, which give actions, for example came, asked, speak and go, and auxiliary verbs such as was, are and were.

Auxiliary verbs are those verbs that are used to help the main verb achieve certain functions such as expression of tense and emphasis (Steever, 2005). In these two texts, the main verbs are more than the auxiliary verbs. Verbs can also be classified into transitive and intransitive verbs. A transitive verb is defined as a verb that requires a direct object in a sentence, while an intransitive verb is a verb that does not require a direct object in a sentence (Umstatter, 2007). In these two texts, some of the transitive verbs are the ones underlined in the sentences

He placed it on the table – placed is a transitive verb because it requires the direct object “it”.

Jack took out some fresh yoghurt from the fridge – the verb phrase “took out” is transitive as it requires the direct object “some fresh yoghurt.

But after all, they had a full day’s start. Had takes the direct object ‘a full days start”.

Examples of the intransitive verbs from the two texts are:

..as he smiled and said. “Smiled” does not take a direct object and is therefore intransitive.

She should know. The verb “know” does not have a direct object.

I went home, waiting for Saturday to arrive. Both “went” and “arrive” are intransitive verbs as they do not require direct objects to communicate.

There is also a group of verbs known as ‘linking verbs’, which, as the name suggests, link the verb to other aspects in the sentence, but do not show the action (Rouse, 1999). Examples of linking verbs are “was”, “were” and “like”. When used, they always require another word to be complete, thus they link what has already been said to another.


These texts are a good representation of the various elements one studies in English. It is clear that a small number of words can hold much information, especially on the exemplification of the sentence structure of English. It is also clear that the distribution of elements such as types of sentences is not uniform in English, but depends on the style of writing of the author. This could explain why text one has completely stuck to compound and complex sentences while text 2 has a number of simple sentences as well. The author, it emerges, chooses the words and sentence types he feels will communicate his message in the best way possible.


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