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Brx /'pulusi/ ['puluçi]:
Syntax 2: Predicates

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2. Predicates: introduction

Thomas Payne writes: "Every language has clauses that express proper inclusion, equation, attribution, location, existence, and possession (defined below). Sometimes this 'family' of constructions is collectively referred to as predicate nominals. However, in this book we will use this term in a more specific sense, reserving it for those clauses in which the semantic content of the predication is embodied in a noun." [Thomas E. Payne, 1997, "Describing Morphosyntax," Cambridge UK, CUP]

Below we shall be considering this 'family' of constructions to which I shall add 'Simple Verb Phrase (Intransitive verbs)'. I shall follow Thomas Payne in confining the term predicate nominal to the more specific sense of "a noun phrase in predicate position" [L. R. Trask, "A Dictionary of Grammatical terms in Linguistics", 1993, London & New York, Routledge].


3. Predicate Nominal

These typically take the form Noun Phrase (NP) copula NP, where one NP, usually the first one, is the subject and the other the 'complement'. Where the roles are reversed the subject will usually be marked in some way, often by the use of a definite article. Brx has no definite or indefinite article and the subject must come first.

The way the copula is expressed can be: 'zero' (especially in the present tense), a verb ("to be"), a pronoun, an invariant particle or by some derivational operation (see Payne, op. cit., pages 114-118). In Brx we use the morpheme divider - (syllable final /S/), thus e.g.:

  • I am a lawyer: v-bod /miS'puwatu/
  • She/ he is a lawyer/ They are lawyers: t-bod /taS'puwatu/
  • Anne is a lawyer: An-bod /'ʕanaS'puwatu/
  • An ant is an insect: mjr-mux /'majiluS'muwusʲi/

The negative copula is ÷, which may be written !— if preferred. It is pronounced as though written h.= /nuNS/. Examples are:

  • We're not lawyers: c÷bod /cinuNS'puwatu/
  • You're not a lawyer/ You're not lawyers: q÷bod /kunuNS'puwatu/
  • John is not a lawyer: Yan÷bod /'juʕananuNS'puwatu/
  • An spider is not an insect: cuk÷mux /'ciwukanuNS'muwusʲi/


4. Simple Verb Phrase (Intransitive verbs)

By far the most common type of predicate is the verb phrase. On this page we will confine ourselves to intransitive verbs only. We will look at transitive verbs and their objects in a later grammar page.

Suffice it to say that Brx treats these the same way as other predicate constructions, i.e. it uses the copula - (or negative ÷) and, in effect, treats the verb as a participle. Cf. Serbo-Croat past tense:

  • ja sam pevao = I sang (masc.)
  • ja sam pevala = I sang (fem.)
  • mi smo pevali = we sang
  • oni su pevali = they sang

Or the Urdu present tense, where the copula follows the participle (Romanized spelling):

  • məyŋ bəcta huŋ = I escape (masc.)
  • məyŋ bəcti huŋ = I escape (fem.)
  • həm bəcte həyŋ = w escape
  • voh bəcte həyŋ = they escape

We do, of course, form some tenses in English with the copula and present participle, e.g. I was singing; we are escaping. But these denote progressive aspect; the corresponding Serbo-Croat and Urdu forms above do not do so. In this respect, Brx behaves like the Serbo-Croat and Urdu examples, thus:

  • I speak, I am speaking. I spoke, will speak etc.*: v-vlq /miS'milaku/

* For the sake of simplicity, other tenses etc. will not be given in the remaining examples.

  • He speaks/ They speak (etc.): t-vlq /taS'milaku/
  • We do not speak: c÷vlq /cinuNS'milaku/
  • You do not speak: q÷vlq /kunuNS'milaku/
  • John speaks: Yan-vlq /'juʕanaS'milaku/
  • Anne does not speak: An÷ßvlql /'ʕananuNS'milaku/

In Brx verb phrases may be used impersonally with no subject. When initial - is pronounced /jiS/ (initial ÷ is, of course, pronounced /nuNS/ in the normal way. Examples:

  • -vlq /jiS'milaku/ = there's speaking [going on]; some's speaking; it's being spoken etc.
  • ÷vlq /nuNS'milaku/ = there's no speaking [going on]; no one's speaking; it's not being spoken etc.


  • The rules for showing subject, or lack of subject, above are the same for all other predicate types, as we shall see below.


5. Attributive Clause

This type of clause is sometimes called "Predicate Adjective" clauses. But, as we have seen, not all languages have a separate grammatical category of adjectives and Brx makes no formal distinction between different categories of lexical words. It is better, therefore, to use the term "Attributive Clause" in describing Brx. Examples are:

  • The sea is blue: ar-nil /'ʕaluS'najila/
  • Bananas are not red/ A banana is not red: mus÷krc (/'mawusanuNS'kaluci/


  1. It will be seen that these clauses could be analyzed exactly like the predicate nominals in Section 2 above, ie. "The sea is a 'blue-entity'" where nil is taken as a noun meaning 'a blue entity, something blue.' But tnil has also the same construction as at the simple verbal phrase in Section 3 so that nil can, therefore, be taken a stative verb, which is the way some languages treat those words that we call 'adjectives' in English., i.e., nil is taken as a stative verb 'to be blue'. Maybe the answer is that it both, as Brx makes no formal distinction between nouns and verbs.
  2. Words such as nil (blue) and arc (red) can also, of course, be used as attributes in noun phrases (i.e. as descriptive adjectives), thus /'najilaN''ʕalu/ - see Section 1 above (Preliminary: compound words).

6. Predicate Locative

In this construction the predicate is neither nominal nor attributive, but shows location. Some languages use a special locative verb, often translated as "be at", but others, like English, use the normal copular verb. Brx marks them in the same way as the predicates above; for example:

  • I am in the garden: v-w'bsd /miSwiR'pusatu/
  • He is not in the garden: t÷w'bsd /tanuNSwiR'pusatu/
  • The cat is in the garden: muc-w'bsd /'mawuciSwiR'pusatu/


  • No other morpheme order is possible (cf. the version of "There is a cat in the garden" below).

7. Existential Construction

We begin with a very simple structure, the 'existential construction'. This predicates the existence (or, if negative, non-existence) of some entity, either in general terms or in specified location,

In English we give such sentences the dummy, or 'expletive', subject "there", e.g. "There's a cat in the garden". But many languages use no such dummy subject (it is noteworthy that Speedwords also used no such dummy subject, beginning such sentences with just the verb 'to be'). Brx, like many other languages, has no copular verb 'to be'; but it does have an existential marker, namely: h; for example:

  • There are no werewolves/ There aren't any werewolves = hmruqgom [χamuluúkuɲiómu]h + m (not) + ruqgom (wolf-man)
  • There's a cat in the garden = hmwcbcip (or hmwc-bcip) [χamaáwcipiciípa]h + mwc (cat) + b + cip (garden)

The latter example is more typical in that existential constructions usually require a locational or temporal adjunct such as "in the garden" in the example above. Such locational or temporal adjuncts may be fronted (i.e. made the topic of the sentence) ; for example, "There's a cat in the garden" could be rendered as: bciphmwc (or bcip-hmwc) [piciípaχamaáwci]b + cip + h + mwc ,

When a temporal adjunct is used, we may omit the preposition b when the adjunct is fronted as the meaning is clear. It must, however, be retained if it follows the noun (otherwise we would have a compound word such as 'rain-yesterday'); for example:

  • There was rain yesterday/ Yesterday it was raining =
    hxuvbger (or hxuv-bger) [χaçiúpupiɲiélu]h + xuv (rain) + b + ger (yesterday)
    or gerhxuv (or ger-hxuv)[ɲiéluχaçiúpu]ger + h + xuv
  • There will be snow tomorrow/ Tomorrow it will be snowing =
    hxogbmwr (or hxog-bmwr) [χaçióɲipimaáwlu]h + xog (snow) + b + mwr (tomorrow)
    or mwrhxog (or mwr-hxog)[maáwluχaçióɲi]mwr + h + xog


  1. ruqgom "werewolf" is a dvandva compound of ruq ('wolf) and gom ('man' [= Homo sapiens], 'human being').
  2. b is a preposition meaning 'in, at, on, by, near' &c. of place or of time.

8. Possessive Clause

It is important to distinguish possessive clauses (e.g. Michael has a book) from possessive phrases (e.g. Michael's book). According to Thomas Payne (1997, Describing Morphosyntax, Cambridge UK, Cambridge University Press): "Languages usually employ existential and/or locational structures to express the notion of possession. Occasionally possessive clauses use a special verb like 'to have.' This verb often derives from the verb for 'hold' or 'carry.' The more common situation, however, is for the possessive clause to use a copular verb or particle."

Brx follows the more common practice. If what is possessed is indefinite we use the existential construction. However, it will be more usual to front, or topicalize, the possessor; in which case the preposition is dropped as the meaning is clear, i.e. we in effect Mihelhxuk is 'As for Michael, there is a book.' If, however, the possessor is placed after the noun possessed, the preposition d is necessary. Consider the vlqlowing examples:

  • Michael has a book = Mihelhxuk (or Mihel-hxuk)[muíχa.élaχaçiúka]Mihel + h + xuk
    or hxukdMihel (or hxuk-dMihel ) [χaçiúkatumuíχa.éla]h + xuk + d + Mihel
  • I don't have a dog/ I haven't got a dog = ghmcan [ɲiχamuciána] ← g + h + m + can (dog)
    or hmcandg [χamuciánatuɲi]h + m + can + d + g

If, however, what is possessed is definite, then this becomes the subject of the clause and we use the predicative locative construction; for example:

  • Michael has the book =xuktdMihel (xuk-tdMihel ) [çiiúkatatumuíχa.éla] xuk + t + d + Mihel
    (No alternative version is possible)