Sketching Grammar Trees [curi Video]

I enjoyed this video. I think I have watched it twice now (once when it came out) but I think I got some really good stuff out of watching it again. After watching ET analyze the following sentence, I tried to figure out how it works for myself.

EDIT: the part of the video discussed starts at 8:22 - Sketching Grammar Trees - YouTube

From ET’s Multi-Factor Decision Making Math article:

It uses arithmetic to help analyze decision making.

Overall, I’m still confused about this sentence. However, I found doing this research interesting and I think that I made some progress in understanding grammar concepts.

I spent a couple hours researching and thinking over the topics related to this sentence. I spent quite a bit a time looking into compound predicates. After a while, I found a page ( that talks about adjectival vs adverbial infinitives. That page gave a lead to look into the ‘in order to’ subordinating conjunction. It seems like that conjunction is implied in this sentence but I can’t see how it would go in a tree diagram. Would ‘in order to’ go as the root node? Or would the root node be ‘in order to help’? Or something else?

The other thing that confused me about this sentence is that ‘analyze’ looks like it’s a verb, so it seems like it should have a subject. Or maybe ‘analyze’ is part of the infinitive?

Alternative 1: It uses arithmetic (in order) to help (itself) analyze decision making.

  • This reformulation seems awkward, but the grammar article is being personified with the verb uses, and the article is self-referential.

Alternative 2: It uses arithmetic (in order) to help (you) analyze decision making.

[uses [It] [arithmetic][“to help” [analyze [(you)] [making [decision]]]]]


Relevant research links:

The below page says that if you can put ‘in order’ in front of the infinitive, then the infinitive is adverbial:


Similar sentences I thought about (brainstormed/found online):

John uses arithmetic to help (himself/John) analyze decision making.

The article uses arithmetic to analyze decision making.

Bob uses water to hydrate.

I sent a picture to show my friends where I went.

  • ‘to show’ is an adverb modifying sent. It explains why you ‘sent a picture’, not a characteristic or attribute of the picture.

The city authorities launched an online survey in order to help identify trouble spots.

While I was researching, I came across the concept of compound predicates. I did find some stuff that seemed potentially interesting. There were several things that looked like good leads (at the time) for understanding the infinitive in this sentence.

Probably dead-end research links:

The types of the Predicate.

38-page long research essay (looks to be from a student learning English in Uzbekistan). The writing itself, in this research paper, has grammatical issues. I only read a few sections. I thought it discussed some interesting stuff related to compound predicates though:

Had an interesting looking break-down of the types of predicate structures.

Looking at it now, I think the object of “uses” needs to be “arithmetic”. The thing the article uses is arithmetic not help. The article provides rather than uses help, or more accurately it uses one thing to help with something else (so the object of “uses” is the one thing – in this case “arithmetic”).

That means “to help” is a modifier. Does it modify “uses” or “arithmetic”? It tells us how (or for what purpose) the arithmetic is used. It’s an adverb modifying “uses”.

I think the implied subject of “analyze” is the article itself. I considered some similar sentences like:

The article does analysis.

The article does analysis and the article uses arithmetic.

The article does analysis and uses arithmetic to help it do that.

The article does analysis and uses arithmetic to help the article do analysis.

The article does analysis and it uses arithmetic to help with that.

“analyze” is a non-finite verb (infinitive playing a noun role). A hint is that it goes where you’d want a noun (object of “help”). Another is that it doesn’t have a subject specified (an implied subject happens with finite verbs sometimes, but that normally has clues like a conjunction, repeating pattern or command).

Another hint is that changing the tense doesn’t appear to work: if you make it “analyzed” for past tense, the sentence just sounds horribly wrong. Finite verbs can normally change tense without a major problem. Similarly you can try conjugating it for different subjects and see if that works. A third person singular subject and present tense sentence example is “Joe analyzes stuff.” But if you try to use “analyzes” in this sentence, it will seem wrong to you, even if you add in “Joe” as an explicit subject, which is because this is actually an infinitive so it has to be in the infinitive form of the word. You can actually say “It uses arithmetic to help Joe analyze decision making.” but not “It uses arithmetic to help Joe analyzes decision making.”

Plus a finite verb can’t be an object of an infinitive (or of anything else). It has to play a (finite) verb role not a noun role. It has to lead a clause. It can be nested under a conjunction but not under a verb, noun, preposition or modifier.

I think claiming that infinitive clauses or non-finite clauses exist as clauses (rather than phrases) is problematic. It leads to problems like claiming that “in order to” is a conjunction, which is a conclusion they reached because they thought the infinitive phrase was a clause, so the thing that joins it to a sentence allegedly needs to be a conjunction. But “in” is a preposition and “order” is its prepositional object. The “to” is a particle that goes with the infinitive, not with the “in order”. (Sometimes infinitives require “to” in front. I don’t have a good conceptual understanding of when to include the “to” particle, but my intuition seems to accurately know it, and I think most fluent speakers intuitively know it.) “In order to” seems like a group just because it’s so typical to put an infinite after “in order” and the “to” will be needed in that scenario. You can also have other words, or no words, after the “in order”, e.g. “Get your book collection in order from oldest to newest.”

The stuff about compound predicates is IMO part of the same school of thought which talks about “auxiliary” or “helper” verbs, which is IMO an unprincipled approximation. I think it’s misleading and bad to take the finite verb, which grammatically leads the clause and would be higher in the tree than any other words in the clause, and call it a non-main helper. Sometimes they even change the tree to put the finite verb lower even though which one is the finite verb is uncontroversial. They want to focus on which verb seems conceptually primary (main verb) over which one is grammatically primary (finite verb). E.g. in “I will eat lunch”, “will” is the finite verb but “eat” is, in various ways, the more important concept that’s more what the sentence is about. “will” feels a bit like a modifier because it tells us about when the eating happens. There’s a clash between how we conceptualize some sentences and how grammar actually works, which has led some people to just kinda declare that grammar works the way people think about things and find intuitive. But it doesn’t. Grammar has a bunch of principles, rules and concepts, including finite verbs, which ought to be respected when doing serious grammar analysis (when doing something else, it sometimes doesn’t especially matter).

I don’t think having an advanced understanding of non-finite verbs is necessary for making useful trees to enable text analysis, debate, etc. But e.g. recognizing “analyze” as non-finite seems important so you don’t try to find/make a finite clause for it in your tree (which you didn’t). If you can recognize non-finite verbs and make trees that make sense, that’d probably be good enough without researching details of exactly how each case works or what everything is called. More advanced stuff has some value but I don’t see it as an approximately-mandatory philosophy prerequisite. I’m more interested in this than necessary (though I shy away from learning fancy terminology and focus more on concepts) and I should not necessarily be copied. I think some other people have taken an interest in obscure grammar details because it’s fancy/impressive or because it seems easier to work on than more conceptual, philosophical thinking.

PS In the future, when talking about a particular part of a video, it’d be good to give a link (or at least non-link text) with a timestamp.

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It’s hard to find non-finite verb info that I’m satisfied with but this vid is reasonably useful despite being pretty non-conceptual and also constituency-grammar-based SYNTAX-22: Clauses (Finite & Non-Finite) - YouTube

I looked at 5 videos and none of them had reasonable conceptual explanations of what this stuff means. It just tries to teach specifics. And I looked at more titles and thumbnails and selectively picked some videos I thought were more likely to have conceptual explanations.

Some of the better info I’ve found is actually from Wikipedia e.g. Nonfinite verb - Wikipedia as well as some academic dependency grammar articles

Writing and Thinking by Foerster and Steadman has:

To summarize my understanding of this post:

You fist recognized that the article “uses” “arithmetic”. And it wouldn’t make sense to say the article “uses” “to help”. I think the idea of “to help” as the object partly doesn’t make sense because “to help” is an infinitive with “to”. If the article were using help, it would make more sense to simply use the word “help”. You also had to recognize conceptually what the article is doing. It is using arithmetic, not using help.

I think your saying that based on eliminating “to help” as the object you can tell that it is a modifier. Is there anything else “to help” could be? There are only two options: noun or modifier. Infinitives can’t be verbs and I don’t think they can be conjunctions either.

I think the implied subject of “analyze” is the article itself.

I can see how this makes sense too. I kind of thought this but I can’t see how to definitively see that is the case. I think reversing the word order and adding a conjunction, as in your brainstorming sentences, is one of the clearest ways for me to see how the article is the implied subject. So, I guess on method I could use it to try breaking sentences down into more clauses, even if some verbs need to be added.

I couldn’t see how this worked the first few times I read it. I think it makes sense to me now. I guess this means that sentence is saying something like this: “(The article) uses arithmetic to help (the article) (to) analyze decision making.”

It’s that second “to”, before “analyze” that I didn’t see implied before.

Finite verb hints (notes from the post):

  1. It goes where you’d want a noun.
  2. No subject is specified for the non-finite verb.
  3. Changing the tense of non-finite verbs causes the sentence to not work.
  4. A finite verb can’t be the object of an infinitive

Additional notes:

  • Infinitives and non-finite verbs exist in phrases not clauses. It takes a finite verb to make a clause.
    • “In order to” was a false lead because it stems from the non-finite verb clause misconception.
    • “In” is a preposition with “order” being the noun governed by “in”.
  • The compound predicates idea comes from the “helper” or “auxiliary” verb approximation
  • Finite verbs (sometimes called helper/auxiliary) are grammatically primary to main verbs, which are (usually? Or always?) conceptually primary.
  • In order to be objective, grammar analysis has to be based on rules, principles, and concepts.
  • Advanced concepts about non-finite verbs are not a mandatory prerequisite to philosophy.

You don’t need to add a preposition and make “analyze” a prepositional object. It can be the object of “to help”.

I don’t understand.

Yeah, I think that stems from a confusion I have about bare infinitives and maybe also prepositions. I thought that the bare infinitive implied the “to”, or that the “to” is optional, or at least that the “to” was valid to throw on the front of a bare infinitive. I don’t think that I thought that you can literally just add “to” to any bare infinitive, but I guess I thought that it was grammatically valid, or something like that.

I could also be confused about the uses of “to” as a preposition. I looked at the article below on “to” as a preposition. I can’t tell if its saying that “to” can be start of a preposition and an infinitive at the same time or if the “to + infinitive” is a special kind of preposition. So, I guess I can’t tell if “to” can serve both roles at the same time. The examples in the article besides the “to + infinitive” were somewhat like what I have been thinking regarding “to” as a preposition.

Another article with a quote about “to” as a preposition:

If to is followed immediately by a simple verb, it is part of an infinitive. If to is followed by a noun construction, it is a preposition

Source for quote:
Content Frame.

I think the things that I may not understand about the about quote are the “simple verb” and “noun construction” aspects. I think that I have been thinking that “to + verb” = infinitive, and therefore cannot be a preposition. Also, “to + verbal” = preposition.

I need some more work with prepositions with verbals, especially infinitives. Even prepositions with participles/gerunds are still sometimes confusing to me.

I think that I meant to title that little list of hints: “Non-finite verb hints”. I think that the hints you gave in your post were about how to find/ascertain non-finite verbs.

Number 1. on the list is meant to mean: “It goes where you’d want a noun” is a hint that the verb is non-finite.

Simplified but generally adequate summary:

For to+infinitive, “to” is a meaningless “particle”. Fluent speakers should use intuition to determine when to include “to” or not.

Note: Infinitives always use the form of the verb where “to [verb]” intuitively sounds right as a standalone phrase. It’s the main/standard/basic form of the verb. E.g. “to look” not “to looks” nor “to looked”. If unsure, consult a dictionary.

For to+noun including to+gerund, “to” is a preposition.