Consider the following sentence -

She was working.

[Function] Subject: She [Category: Noun Phrase] and
[Function] Predicate: was working [Category: Verb Phrase]

Now consider the verb phrase - was working. It has an auxiliary verb - was - and a lexical verb - work. So here also, as far as my understanding (which is based on The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language page no 1209), we can analyze it like the following -

[[Vaux WAS] [Catenative Clause [WORKING]]

1. Now is my understanding correct?
2. If it is, then it consists of a subordinate clause (I am referring to the Catenative clause). Then how can this sentence be a Canonical Clause?
[The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language on page no 46, markes this sentence as Canonical Clause]

  • A canonical clause has to be positive, active, and main. "He was working" is a main clause, so it's a canonical clause. The non-canonical clause is the gerund-participial clause "working". Correct me if I'm wrong. Apr 20, 2019 at 16:24
  • Yes: CGEL treats "was working" as aux + catenative complement. It meets CGEL's criteria for a canonical clause by virtue of being a declarative, positive, non-coordinate, main clause not belonging to any of the information-packaging constructions (passive, it-cleft etc)
    – BillJ
    Apr 20, 2019 at 16:39
  • @BillJ And subordinate, too. Apr 20, 2019 at 16:43
  • 1
    @Araucaria CGEL are saying it's just the underlined subordinate clause in that example that is non-canonical. See ex [1] ii a. for what MFI is asking about.
    – BillJ
    Apr 20, 2019 at 17:12
  • 1
    @Araucaria please give me some time. I will. Apr 22, 2019 at 10:56

1 Answer 1


She was working.

[Function] Subject: She [Category: Noun Phrase] and
[Function] Predicate: was working [Category: Verb Phrase]

Inside this Verb Phrase, was is the auxiliary verb and it takes a Catenative clause as complement. The Cetenative Clause is realized by the Gerand-Participle form of the lexical verb - work. This clause has no explicit subject but it is implied. This Catenative Clause is subordinate to the matrix clause - she was working.

This answers question no. 1

Whether a clause is Canonical or not depends on a number of syntactic features, namely -

  • Polarity (Whether the clause is positive or negative - if the clause is positive, it is Canonical and if it is negative, it is non-canonical.)
  • Clause Type (Whether the clause is declarative or anything else for example Interrogative or imperative or anything else - if the clause is declarative, it is canonical. Else it is non-canonical)
  • Subordination (Whether the clause is subordinate or main clause - if the clause is main clause, it is canonical. And if it is subordinate clause, it is non-canonical.)
  • Coordination (Whether a clause is marked by a coordinator or not - Canonical clauses are non-coordinate but non-canonical clauses are coordinate. Ex: That is Bill or I'm blind. Here That is Bill and I'm blind is Canonical but the whole sentence is non-canonical.)
  • Information Packaging (Information can be packaged in a variety of ways like PASSIVE, PREPOSING, EXPTRAPOSING etc - Canonical clauses expresses are most elementary ones. If the clause is passive, preposed or extraposed etc, they are non-canonical)

These features can be combined in case of non-canonical clauses.

Ex: Jim says that he is not well.

The canonical clause is Jim says that he is not well, but that he is not well is non-canonical due to two features mentioned above - Polarity and Subordination.

Now in our case

She was working.

It is a canonical clause, but the subjectless Gerund-Participle clause - working - is a non-canonical clause.

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