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


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.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Francis, Nelson W. and Henry Kučera. A Standard Corpus of Present-Day Edited American English (“Brown”), tagged version 1979. CD. Freiburg: Albert- Ludwigs-Universitat Freiburg.

  • Mair, Christian, Geoff rey Leech and Nicholas Smith. The Freiburg-Brown Corpus (“Frown”), tagged version 2007. CD. Freiburg: Albert-Ludwigs-Universitat Freiburg.

  • Leech, Geoff rey, et al. The Lancaster-Oslo/Bergen Corpus (“LOB Corpus”), tagged version. 1986. CD. Freiburg: Albert-Ludwigs-Universitat Freiburg.

  • Mair, Christian, Geoff rey Leech and Nicholas Smith. The Freiburg-LOB Corpus (“F-LOB”), tagged version 2007. CD. Freiburg: Albert-Ludwigs-Universitat Freiburg.

  • Biber, Douglas. et al. Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English. London: Longman, 1999. Print.

  • Dušková, Libuše. Studies in the English Language, Part 2. Prague: Karolinum - Charles University Press, 1999. Print.

  • Hladký, Josef. “Remarks on Complex Condensation Phenomena in Some English and Czech Contexts”. Brno Studies in English 3. 1961: 105-118. Print.

  • Leech, Geoff rey. et al. Change in Contemporary English. A Grammatical Study. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Print.

  • Malá, Marcela. “Changing Clause Types in Written English.” From Theory to Practice 2013 Proceedings of the FiThh International Conference on Anglophone tudies. Eds. Roman Trušnik, Gregory J. Bell and Katarina Němčokova. Zlin: Tomas Bata University in Zlin, 2015. 107-117. Print.

  • ---. “Notes on Norms and Usage of Finite/Non-Finite Predication in Written English.” Brno Studies in English 39.1. 2013: 27-40. Print.

  • Mair, Christian. Infi nitival Complement Clauses in English. A Study of Syntax in Discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Print.

  • ---. “Three Changing Patterns of Verb Complementation in Late Modern English: a Real-Time Study Based on Matching Text Corpora.” English Language and Linguistics 6.1. 2002: 105-131. Print.

  • Mair, Christian and Geoff rey Leech. “Current Changes in English Syntax.” The Handbook of English Linguistics. Eds. Bas Aarts and April MacMahon. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006. 318-342. Print.

  • Meyer, Charles F. English Corpus Linguistics - An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print

  • Quirk, Randolph. et al. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. London: Longman, 1985. Print.

  • Vachek, Josef. “Some Less Familiar Aspects of the Analytical Trend of English.” Brno Studies in English 3. 1961: 9-74. Print


Journal + Issues