Literary Stylistics:
Workshop Notes no. 10

What's on this page:

Transitivity: Relational Processes
        Relational Processes: Classifications
        Relational Processes: Modes
        Relational Processes: Types
        Relational Processes: Attributive
        Relational Processes: Identifying
Circumstantial Adjuncts
        Table of Circumstantial Adjuncts

Further Notes on Transitivity

The Relational Process

Of all the processes, the relational process is the one which may present you with the greatest difficulty. According to Halliday, there are three types of relational processes:

(1) intensive 'x is a'
(2) circumstantial 'x is at a'
(3) possessive 'x has a'
The above three types come in two modes:
(i) attributive 'a is an attribute of x'
(ii) identifying 'a is the identity of x'
The six possible classifications of relational processes in terms of modes and types are given below:

Table 9.1
mode (i) attributive (ii) identifying
(1) intensive the performance is great Mr Nathan is the President
the President is Mr Nathan
(2) circumstantial the lecture is on a Wednesday today is the eighteenth;
the eighteenth is today
(3) possessive John has two motorcycles the two motorcycles are John's
John's are the two motorcycles

We can note from the above that:

With regard to the types of relational processes, Further examples of the relational process modes and their types are given in tables 9.2 and 9.3 below which are adapted from Halliday's Figures 5-9 and 5-10, found in his first edition. The second and third editions have more examples, and you may find that reading about relational processes from them is generally easier than in the first edition

Table 9.2: Attributive Clauses
attribute of:
quality (intensive) John is / looks great
Prof Halliday
the celebrations
in the lecture theatre
all day
the computer
is / belongs
Ahmad's / to Ahmad
a computer

Carrier Process Attribute

Table 9.3: Identifying Clauses
identification by:
Ah Chong
David Garrick
the teacher
his gold
takes up
the twentieth
the entire box
the piano
the piano

Identified Process Identifier


1 The verb 'to be' may present a problem with regard to passivization. But according to Halliday, passivization of a clause with this verb follows from the reversal of the positions of token and value, which are terms which he applies to all relational process clauses (see table 5(7); 5(6) from last workshop's notes: token being the more specific, whilst value is the more general of the two entities). Passivization however, as I have stated above, can work only in the identifying mode, as token and value in the attributive mode cannot be reversed. Try to see how passivization works in relation to the verb 'is' in Halliday's table of relational process clauses in the identifying mode in his figure 5-10 (second edition) or figure 5-18 (third edition). One must add here however, that Halliday's view that the verb 'to be' can be passivised is not shared by all linguists; many of them, of course, do not work with the same premises: for example, the notions of token and value (or similar notions) are not found in many other linguistic descriptions of the verb to be and other related verbs. Back to the earlier position in the text.

2. Notice that the clause 'the piano is Peter's', which is retained here from Halliday's original can also be analysed as an attributive relational process clause (cf. figures 5-9 and 5-10 in Halliday's first edition). Back to the earlier position in the text.

Circumstantial Adjuncts

Closely associated with transitivity are the circumstantial adjuncts, which together with the processes, and transitivity itself, have to do with the ideational metafunction of language. (You will also realise later, that the circumstantial adjuncts are important in theme-rheme analysis, as they, unlike the other adjuncts, carry topical weight, and a circumstantial adjunct is regarded as the topical theme itself if it is fronted). The following table, which is found only in the second edition of Halliday's Introduction [Table 5(9)], is quite useful in telling us about the types of circumstantial adjuncts available; the third edition has a more elaborate table [Table 5(28)]: you are advised to take a look at it. See pp. 137-44; 149-61; 259-80 of Halliday's Introduction for a further elaboration on the nature of these adjuncts.

Table 9.4: Types of circumstantial element

Type Specific categories (subtypes)
1 Extent distant, duration
2 Location place, time
3 Manner means, quality, comparison
4 Cause reason, purpose, behalf
5 Contingency condition, concession, default
6 Accompaniment comitation, addition
7 Role guise, product
8 Matter
9 Angle

Texts to Analyse

In addition to the four passages in the previous workshop notes, we will also be discussing transitivity in the following:

An extract from Mrs Gaskell's Mary Barton.

Click here for the notes for the next workshop.

Click here for the notes for the previous workshop.

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Last revised: 12 May 2017
Ismail S. Talib 1996-2017.