A Corpus-Based Diachronic Study of a Change in the Use of Non-Finite Clauses in Written English

Marcela Malá 1
  • 1 Senior Lecturer at the English Department of the Faculty of Science, Humanities and Education at the Technical University of Liberec, , Liberec, Czech Republic

Abstract

Occasional notes in secondary literature suggest that there is a growing tendency to use non-finite clauses in written English. It is partly attributed to the fact that during the process of historical development the English finite verb has lost much of its dynamism and the nominal elements of predication, namely infinitives, participles and gerunds have gradually become semantically more important. This paper deals with the occurrences of non-finite clauses in the tagged Brown/Frown and LOB/F-LOB corpora, which are matching corpora of American English and British English respectively. The article looks at 1) the use of noun phrases followed by -ing participles, -ed participles and to-infinitives, 2) the use of -ing/-ed clauses with/without overt subordinators and 3) the occurrences of to-infinitive clauses. When the structural patterns 1), 2) and 3) were taken as wholes there was always an increase in the frequency of occurrence of non-finite clauses demonstrated by hundreds of examples in the Frown and F-LOB corpora. This may be considered significant since there is only a 30-year difference between the Brown/Frown and LOB/F-LOB corpora. The findings thus completely support the premise that when the perspective of the research is diachronic, in written English non-finite clauses are becoming increasingly prominent.

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