Literary Stylistics:
Workshop Notes no. 12

What's on this page:
Clause Complexing: Some Preliminary Observations
    Review of Important Considerations
    Further Simplification: Importance of the Predicator
    Independent and Dependent Clauses
    Simple, Compound, Complex

    Paratactic and Hypotactic
    Interchangeable and Non-Interchangeable Positions
Clause Complexing: Some Stylistic Considerations

Clause Complexing: Some Preliminary Observations

Review of Important Considerations

In relation to the study of clause complexing, it may be useful to revise some of the factors considered in the analysis of the clause. We have noted in an earlier workshop

Further Simplification: Importance of the Predicator

To simplify matters even further, we can say here that the PREDICATOR is essential to the clause: it is usually the case that the number of clauses in a sentence depends on the number of predicators found in it.1 We can also say that even if the overt subject or subjects is/are not present, the number of predicators in the sentence is an indicator of the number of clauses in it. For example, there are four clauses in the following sentence, and the missing subjects for three of the clauses is understood to be the 'he' in the first clause:

He shouted, laughed, cried, and finally fell down the stairs
Table 11.1: Importance of the Predicator in the Clause
Clause Subject Predicator Complement Adjunct
1. He shouted - -
2. " laughed - -
3. " cried - -
4. " fell - 1. finally (clause initial)
2. down the stairs (end of clause)

Independent and Dependent Clauses

We have also noted in an earlier workshop that the clauses in a sentence are related to one another according to whether they have

For example, An independent clause is also known as a coordinate clause, and a dependent clause a subordinate clause.

Simple, Compound, Complex

You should also know, from the earlier workshop, that a sentence with only one clause in it is called a simple or simplex sentence. It is also called a clause simplex in Halliday's grammar. There are however, many sentences with two or more clauses in them, and in this connection,

Sentence Type Meaning
Simple / Simplex A sentence with only one clause.
Compound A sentence with two or more independent clauses.
Complex A sentence with one or more dependent clauses.
Mixed or
A sentence which has features of both compound and complex sentences.
Table 11.2: Sentence Types

The term complex sentence should not be confused with clause complexing or the clause complex (cf. clause simplex above). Clause complexing or the clause complex are Halliday's terms for the arrangement in a sentence of clauses (which, unlike the complex sentence, do not necessarily form a dependent relationship to the main clause). In spite of major advances in syntactic analysis in the past few decades, the more traditional grammatical terms tabulated above may prove to be still quite useful in stylistic analysis.

Paratactic and Hypotactic

Table 11.3: In Other Words
Term Also known as:
Independent clause Paratactic clause
Dependent clause Hypotactic clause
Compound sentence Paratactic construction
Complex sentence Hypotactic construction
With regard to terminology, an independent clause is also called a paratactic clause, and a dependent clause a hypotactic clause. Likewise, a compound sentence is known as a paratactic construction, and a complex sentence a hypotactic construction. These are tabulated on the right.

For the sake of comparison between parataxis and hypotaxis, it may be useful to use the term primary clauses for both the initiating clause of a paratactic construction and the main clause of a hypotactic construction; and secondary clauses for both the continuing clause of a paratactic construction and the dependent clause of a hypotactic construction. It should be mentioned here that the main clause of a hypotactic construction is also known as a dominant clause. The relationship of some of the terms mentioned above are usefully indicated in table 11.4 below from p. 195; 219; 376 of Halliday's Introduction.


Table 11.4: Primary and Secondary Clauses

primary secondary
parataxis 1 (initiating) 2 (continuing)
hypotaxis α (dominant) β  (dependent)

Halliday uses Greek letters to represent the clauses in a hypotactic structure, and Arabic numerals to represent those in a paratactic structure. Many of you however, are not familiar with the Greek alphabet. For this reason, the first five letters of the alphabet are given in their proper sequence below. These letters are also the most commonly used in the analysis of hypotaxis.

 α - alpha;  β - beta;  γ - gamma;  δ - delta;  ε - epsilon

Symbolically, the initiating and continuing clauses of a paratactic structure can be written as '1 2'. If there is another clause which is paratactically related to the continuing clause, we write '1 2 3'. The dominant and dependent clauses of a hypotactic structure may also be represented in a similar manner:

'α β' and 'α β γ'

As you may know from the syntax courses you have taken, the clauses in a sentence or what Halliday calls a clause complex may occur at different levels. Examples are given in the tree diagram below.

Clause A can be more economically represented as:

1α 1β 2α 2β

An example of the above construction (which indicates that there are two independent clauses in the sentence, each of which is in turn a hypotactic construction) can be found in the extract from Mary Barton analysed in the previous workshop:

Interchangeable and Non-Interchangeable Positions

From a symbolic perspective, the positions of the primary and secondary clauses of a paratactic structure, unlike those of a hypotactic structure, cannot be interchanged. In other words, it is possible for the secondary clause of a hypotactic structure to precede the primary clause (i.e. 'β α' may be correct), but it is not possible for the secondary clause of a paratactic structure to come before the primary clause (i.e. '2 1' is incorrect).

Students should bear this principle of the non-inversion of paratactic elements in mind, as it is not merely a symbolic nicety, but quite often proves to be a major criterion in the attempt to distinguish paratactic from hypotactic structures; for example, if you cannot make the expanded secondary element (see below) of a particular clause complex precede the primary element, then the structure is probably paratactic.

Table 11.5: The Difference between Circumstantial Adjunct and Subordinate Clause
Subordinate Clause Presence of a predicator
Circumstantial Adjunct Predicator may or may not be present: it may be a phrase, and not a clause
The fronting of the subordinate clause in a hypotactic construction is also known as the β theme. We will deal again with the β theme in our workshops on theme-rheme. Remember, a subordinate clause has a predicator, whereas a circumstantial adjunct need not necessarily have one. So the fronted adjunct may not be a subordinate clause

For an example of fronted subordinate clauses, we see a virtual mirror-image of the sentence construction mentioned above (1β 1α   2β 2α instead of 1α 1β   2α 2β), in the following sentence, which is taken from an essay by Bertrand Russell (the fronted subordinate clauses appear in bold characters):

When Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem, 185,000 of his army died in one night, "and when they arose early in the morning, behold they were all dead corpses" (II Kings xix. 35).

Expansion and Projection

Both the lower-level clauses within the higher-level paratactic construction in the sentence by Bertrand Russell are examples of hypotactic expansion.
Table 11.6: Projection
Definition Secondary clause controlled by a mental or
verbal process in the primary clause
Tactic features May be either paratactic or hypotactic
Significance Essential for the study of speech and
thought presentation
: notes 19 and 20
If the secondary clause in a clause complex is controlled by a verbal or mental process, then we are dealing with projection, which may be either paratactic or hypotactic. As we will see later in the semester, projection is essential for the study of speech and thought presentation. Although the positions of the clauses in paratactic projection may still be interchanged - i.e. '"I will", he said' instead of 'He said, "I will"' - the symbolization for the first example still remains '1 2'. However, the 'β α' construction is not possible for hypotactic projection (i.e. in indirect speech and thought), although this kind of construction occurs quite frequently for hypotactic expansion.2


1. However, this assertion has to be modified when one encounters downranked clauses: see the beginning of workshop 16. In the present workshop, we assume that that the clauses are not downranked. (Back to the earlier position in the text).

2. Arguably, this may be possible, but once the projected clause of a hypotactic construction is fronted, then we are not dealing with a straightforward example of indirect discourse, but of free indirect discourse. This construction, as we will learn later in the semester, is paratactic and not hypotactic.

Clause Complexing: Some Stylistic Considerations

Traditionally, the possible interpretations as regards clause complexing are quite straightforward, and hinge on the terms used for the major types of construction. For example, simple sentences are regarded as indicating simplicity, compound sentences are related to a listing procedure, and complex sentences have to do with complexity of thought. However, you should not take these at face value. Simple sentences, for example, may conceal an underlying complexity or subtlety, and complex sentences may indicate convoluted thinking rather than complexity of thought. It is best to use your own discretion in the analysis of individual literary texts, and not rely too closely on preconceived ideas.

A different set of possible interpretations arise when one deals with projection, as you will discover later in the workshops on speech and thought presentation (workshop notes 19 and 20).

Texts to Analyse

In relation to the topic of clause complexing, we will be dealing with the following poems, all of which have been analysed in the last two workshops (and which are given here again for your convenience). If time permits, we may be analysing another poem which will be distributed during the workshop.

Carl Sandburg's 'A. E. F.'
Emily Dickinson's 'The Soul Selects Her Own Society'
Hart Crane's 'North Labrador'
another poem might be given during the session.

Click here for the notes for the next workshop.

Click here for the notes for the previous workshop.

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Ismail S. Talib 1999-2017.
Last revised: 12 May 2017