The third element in the figure of the clause as representation is the Circumstance. Circumstantial elements are “attendant on the process” (H & M, p.260) by giving more information about such notions as when, where, how or why the process happens. Circumstances are a minor element in the clause,”have not got the potential of becoming Subjects” (H & M, p.260), and are “typically expressed not as nominal groups but as either adverbial groups or prepositional phrases” (H & M, p.261).

There are nine types of Circumstance:

  in the mountains LOCATION
  happily MANNER
  for fresh air CAUSE
  with his wife ACCOMPANIMENT
The movie star went hiking despite the rain CONTINGENCY
  as a refreshing break ROLE
  for four hours EXTENT
  talking about movies MATTER
  according to a website ANGLE


For EFL, I think the important thing to remember is that Circumstances are a minor element in the clause, that is, they are experientially seen as not as important as the Process or Participant. This can be seen if we compare ways of giving opinions – such as I think it’s a pen, if you ask me it’s a pen, and in my opinion it’s a pen – which are often presented in EFL as being somewhat interchangeable. Experientially, I think it’s a pen consists of two clauses in which it’s a pen is projected as an idea whereas, while If you ask me it’s a pen also consists of two clauses, it’s a pen is raised in status to the main clause and if you ask me is dependent. In the case of In my opinion it’s a pen, however, there is only one clause, it’s a pen, and the opinion element is now a minor Circumstance.


About eflfunc

I'm an EFL teacher in Japan and this is a blog to record some thoughts on using Systemic Functional Linguistics in the foreign language classroom.
This entry was posted in Content: lexico-grammar, Ideational function and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Circumstances

  1. Z says:

    Would you be able to check a sentence for me? I’m not sure if I have the circumstance correct.

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