Section 6: Clause Types

We begin with the assumption that every clause in English requires a nominal subject and a main verb phrase (in that order). And, despite the complexity of our language, we can categorize almost every clause as one of five basic clause types. We use this categorization to recognize that our language occurs in consistent patterns, and that certain functional slots appear in the same places, whether those slots are filled by a word, phrase, or even another clause.

Basically, English has FIVE simple clause types. The structural differences in the main verb phrase and its predicate elements are what distinguish the five types.

Type I – Intransitive

Structurally, there are only two elements required in Clause Type I: nominal subject and main verb phrase [intransitive]. Not uncommonly, an adverbial will serve as a complement for this clause, but it is not required.

Type I = nominal subject + mvp [intransitive] + (optional adverbial)

Type II – Linking verb BE requiring adverb of time/place

Structurally, there are three elements required in Clause Type II: nominal subject, main verb phrase [BE], and an adverbial of time or place.

Type II = nominal subject + mvp [BE] + adverbial of time/place

Type III – Linking verb with adjectival subject complement

Structurally, there are three elements required in Clause Type III: nominal subject, main verb phrase [linking], and an adjectival subject complement.

Type III = nominal subject + mvp [linking] + adjectival subject complement

Type IV – Linking verb with nominal subject complement

Structurally, there are three elements required in Clause Type IV: nominal subject, main verb phrase [linking], and a nominal subject complement (nominal that renames the nominal subject).

Type IV = nominal subject + mvp [linking] + nominal subject complement

Type V – Transitive

Structurally, there are three elements required in Clause Type V: nominal subject, main verb phrase [transitive], and a direct object (nominal that is different from the nominal subject).

Type V = nominal subject + mvp [transitive] + nominal direct object

As you can see, there are basic structural patterns (who is hanging out with who) that you will recognize consistently when you become more comfortable with the concept of clause types. To begin, you can start with this basic strategy for recognizing Clause Types:

First, find the Main Verb Phrase. Everything that you do from here on out will be determined by your ability to find the Main Verb Phrase. If you are having any trouble with this, please talk to your instructor or start a conversation in your work group.

Once you find the main verb phrase, ask yourself this question:

  1. Is the Main Verb Phrase a BE main verb? If yes, then the Clause Type is Type II, Type III, or Type IV. Always.
  2. If the Main Verb Phrase is NOT a BE main verb, then the Clause Type is Type I or Type V.
  • The woman is a doctor. --> BE main verb? YES --> Complement? --> NOMINAL --> Clause Type IV
  • The boy is reading. --> BE main verb? NO --> BE + [-ing] + READ --> Direct Object? --> NO --> Clause Type I

Now there are a few exceptions (as always in the English language!), mostly for Type III or Type IV, when the Main Verb Phrase is an emotive verb or a verb like FEEL (I feel sick), but we'll talk more about each of the Clause Types in upcoming pages. So, for now, keep this strategy in mind as you continue the reading on Clause Types.

To help your understanding, we will offer a separate page for each clause type, and conclude this subsection with a review for "seeing" clause types in sentences: