Though the difference and the boundary between morphology and syntax seem obvious enough as a matter of principle, drawing a clear-cut line between them in a given language sometimes proves to be a task of some difficulty. Let us consider a few cases of this kind in Modern English.
The usual definition of morphology, which may be accepted as it stands, is this: Morphology is the part of grammar which treats of the forms of words. 1 As for the usual definition of syntax, it may be said to be this: Syntax is the part of grammar which treats of phrases and sentences. 2
These definitions are based on the assumption that we can clearly distinguish between words and phrases. This, however, is far from being the case. Usually the distinction, indeed, is patent enough. E. g., indestructibility is obviously a word, long as it is, whereas came here, short as it is, is a phrase and thus falls under the heading of syntax. But now what are we to make of has been found? This is evidently a phrase since it consists of three words and thus it would seem to fall under syntax, but it is also a form of the verb find and thus it would seem to fall under morphology.
Of course many more examples might be given of a phrase being at the same time a form of a word. It is obvious that we have here a kind of overlapping of syntax and morphology. It seems most advisable to include all such cases under morphology, considering the syntactical side of the formation to have been put, as it were, at the disposal of morphology.
The problem becomes more complicated still if we take into account such formations as has been often found, where one word (often) comes to stand between two elements of the form of another word (find). Such formations will have to be considered both under morphology and under syntax.
There are also other cases of overlapping which will be pointed out in due course. All this bears witness to the fact that in actual research work we do not always find hard-and-fast lines separating phenomena from each other, such lines as would make every single phenomenon or group of phenomena easy to classify. More than once we shall have to deal with more involved groupings which must be treated accordingly. For the present the usual preliminary definition of the borderline between morphology and syntax must suffice.
There is also another way of approach to the problem of distinguishing between morphology and syntax.
Let us take as an example the sentence Could you take me in to town? (GALSWORTHY)
The word take which is used in this sentence can be considered from two different viewpoints.
On the one hand, we can consider it in its surroundings in the sentence, namely in its connection with the word you, which denotes the doer of the action, with the word me, which denotes the object of the action, etc. This would be analysing the syntagmatic connections of the word take.
On the other hand, we can consider take as part of a system including also the forms takes, taking, took, taken; we can observe that this system is analogous, both in sound alternation and in meanings, to the system forsake, forsakes, forsaking, forsook, forsaken, and, in a wider perspective, to the system write, writes, writing, wrote, written; sing, sings, singing, sang, sung, etc., and in a wider perspective still, to the system live, lives, living, lived; stop, stops, stopping, stopped, etc. This would be analysing the paradigmatic connections of take, and this gradually opens up a broad view into the morphological system of the language. It should be emphasised that this view is basically different from any view we might obtain by analysing the syntagmatic connections of the form in the sentence. For instance, the connection between took and wrote is entirely unsyntagmatic, as a sequence took wrote is unthinkable.
It may be said that, in a way, morphology is more abstract than syntax, as it does not study connections between words actually used together in sentences, but connections between forms actually found in different sentences and, as it were, extracted from their natural surroundings.
In another way, however, morphology would appear to be less abstract than syntax, as it studies units of a smaller and, we might say, of a more compact kind, whereas syntax deals with larger units, whose types and varieties are hard to number and exhaust.
The peculiar difficulty inherent in the treatment of analytical verb forms mentioned above, such as have done, will go, etc., lies in the fact that they have both a morphological and a syntactical quality. They are morphological facts in so far as they belong to the
system of the verb in question, as the auxiliary verb adds nothing whatever to the lexical meaning expressed in the infinitive or participle making part of the analytical form. But the same forms are facts of syntax in so far as they consist of two or three or sometimes four elements, and occasionally some other word, which does not in any way make part of the analytical form, may come in between them. It is true that in Modern English possibilities of such insertions are not very great, yet they exist and must be taken into account. We will not go into details here and we will only point out that such words as often, never, such words as perhaps, probably, etc. can and in some cases must come between elements of an analytical verb form: has always come, will probably say, etc. Since it is impossible that a word should be placed within another word, we are bound to admit that the formation has. .. come is something of a syntactical formation. The inevitable conclusion is, then, that has come and other formations of this kind are simultaneously analytical verb forms and syntactical unities, and this obviously means that morphology and syntax overlap here (see above, p. 13). This is perhaps still more emphasised by the possibility of formations in which the auxiliary verb making part of an analytical verb form is co-ordinated with some other verb (usually a modal verb) which does not in any way make part of an analytical form, e. g. can and will go. This would apparently be impossible if the formation will go had nothing syntactical about it. 1
According to a modern view, the relation between morphology and syntax is not so simple as had been generally assumed. In this view, we ought to distinguish between two angles of research:
(1) The elements dealt with; from this point we divide grammatical investigation into two fields: morphology and syntax.
(2) The way these elements are studied; from this viewpoint we distinguish between paradigmatic and syntagmatic study. Thus we get four divisions:
1 a paradigmatic morphology b syntagmatic morphology
2 a paradigmatic syntax b syntagmatic syntax
According to this view, whenever we talk of parts of speech (substantives, adjectives, etc.), we remain within the sphere of morphology. Thus the statement that an adjective is used to modify a substantive, or that an adverb is used to modify a verb, is a statement of syntagmatic morphology. Syntax should have nothing to do with parts of speech: it should only operate with parts of sentence (subject, predicate, etc.).
Of these four items, the first and the last require no special explanation. Paradigmatic morphology is what we used to call morphology, and syntagmatic syntax is what we used to call syntax. The two other items, however, do require some special comment. Syntagmatic morphology is the study of phrases: "substantive + substantive", "adjective + substantive", "verb + substantive", "verb + adverb", etc.
Paradigmatic syntax, on the other hand, is a part of grammatical theory which did not appear as such in traditional systems. Paradigmatic syntax has to deal with such phenomena as
My friend has come.
My friend has not come.
Has my friend come?
My friend will come.
My friend will not come.
Will my friend come?
My friends have come.
My friends have not come, etc.
All these are considered as variation of one and the same sentence.
It would seem that the term sentence is here used in a peculiar sense. As units of communication My friend has come and My friend has not come are certainly two different sentences, as the information they convey is different. To avoid this ambiguity of the term sentence, it would be better to invent another term for "paradigmatic sentence". However, inventing a new term which would be generally acceptable is very difficult. In this book we shall use the term sentence in its old communicative sense.