Activity: Finite as negotiation

Here’s an activity adapted from Jones’ ‘Functional Grammar in the ESL classroom’ but one I’ve used especially for Junior High young learners (or possibly false beginner adults). It features the Finite as a resource for arguing a proposition, and some basic grammatical metaphor. The activity is a conversation:
A: Do you want a sandwich?
B: No, I don’t. Thanks.
A: What do you want then?
B: I want a hotdog.
A: You don’t want a sandwich?
B: No, I want a hotdog.
A: You don’t want a hotdog!
B: Yes, I do. I do want a hotdog!
A: No, you don’t.
B: Yes, I do!
A: Do not!
B: Do too!
A: Don’t!
B: Do!

The activity is then to gradually scaffold the conversation. First, go through the conversation together bit by bit, focusing especially on intonation and stress to emphasize the marked Finite and polarity Then, blank out all of the ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s on a separate sheet and have the students write them back in. As a kind of game, the students then role-play the conversation and the winner can be whoever is loudest at the end. The students enjoy it as they get the shout but it also highlights the Finite as the nub of negotiation.


Activity: true/false

I’d never really paid much attention to true/false activities before, where the students read a statement about a reading or listening passage and then decide if it’s true or false, and usually just whip through the answers without really spending too much time on them. But recently I’ve found them to be useful practice for focusing on two main points that are often overlooked.

The first is the use of the Finite. The difference between “He rides his bike” and “He does ride his bike” is, I think, that the second example is asserting the Predicate to be true. I don’t think students, especially lower levels, are often made aware of this distinction and I’ve found true/false activities a good way to do it. This is after all, as Halliday pointed out somewhere, how children argue: You smell! Do not! Do too! Do not! by asserting the truth or otherwise of a statement. For the activity, introduce the reading/listening as usual with the statements, e.g.:

  1. He rides his bike everyday     T/F
  2. He doesn’t goes to the park   T/F
  3. He is 12 years old                     T/F
  4. He can ride a motorbike         T/F

Rather than just “Number one is true, number two is false, etc.”, the students here have to assert the answer:

  1. For number one, he does ride his bike every day
  2. As for number two, he does go to the park

For more advanced students, the true/false difference between the two above can be made more explicit by isolating the Finite with the use of conjunctions:

  1. Number 1 says he rides his bike and he does
  2. Number 2 says he doesn’t go to the park but he does

The second point highlights the role of the Expression strata in indicating true/false through the use of tonic prominence. While examples 1 and 2 can be split into Finite and Predicate (rides → does ride), the examples 3 and 4 cannot so easily be highlighted. It is by giving them tonic prominence that this is achieved:

  1. .
  2. .
  3. He is 12 years old
  4. He can’t/can not ride a motorbike

I think, then, that true/false activities can be, in fact, a useful way to introduce or highlight the role of the Finite and that of tonic prominence.


The Residue is those parts of the clause as exchange that are not contained within the Mood block and “consists of functional elements of three kinds: Predicator [one], Complement [one or two] and Adjunct [up to about seven]” (H & M, p.121). For example:

Sister Susie ‘s sewing shirts for soldiers
Subject Finite Predicator Complement Adjunct
Mood Residue


The Finite is the element that “brings the proposition down to earth, so that it is something that can be argued about” (H & M, p.115). This can be done in one of two ways: (i) tense and (ii) modality. Tense allows a proposition to “become arguable through being located in time by reference to the speech event” (p116). Modality allows a proposition to become “arguable through being assessed in terms of the degree of probability or obligation that is associated with it” (p116). The negative sometimes belongs functionally with the Finite. Compare:

You may not stay (are not allowed to)
You may not stay (are allowed to)
Subject Finite Residue  

Tense and modality allow the Finite to “locate the exchange within the semiotic space that is opened up between the speaker and the listener” (p.116). This, I think, is an important point for EFL. Tense is not necessarily just related to the real-world time in which the exchange takes place. If we compare, for example, two questions that take place in the same real-world time:

  1. Do you want me to copy the report?
  2. Did you want me to copy the report?

The second of the two examples creates a greater space between the real-world time of the participants and tense in the clause and it is this greater “semantic space” that allows it to be perceived as more ‘polite’.

I think it’s also a good point to remember that within the interactive event, the primary element is the Finite – this is what makes it arguable – and the Predicator is secondary. This helps explain the difference between, for example, will and going to. When we say I will play tennis the event is being construed as taking place in a primary future that is, as such, unaccessable to the speakers now. It cannot change. In the case of I am going to play tennis, however, the primary element is the present am which locates the event as being still accessable to the speakers. The Predicator going to play is thus still within the present (future in present) and, as such, may be changed, altered or cancelled.



For the clause as exchange, dialogue consists of four fundamental functions: statement, question, command and offer. The difference between them lies in the relationship of the Subject to the Finite. The Finite is the element that indicates either tense (is/was, do/did) or modality (can/must) and is often “fused into a single word” (H & M, p.111). He plays tennis, for example, can be expanded to He does play tennis. The Subject and the Finite can be identified through the Mood tag: He plays tennis, does he?
For statements, the relationship is Subject + Finite. This is called the declarative Mood:

I play tennis
Subject Finite Residue
For questions, the relationship is reversed. This is called the interrogative Mood. The interrogative Mood may either indicate polarity or content:

Do you play tennis?
What sports do you play?
Residue Finite Subject Residue
For commands, however, both the Subject and the Finite may be omitted. This is called the imperative Mood:

Play tennis!
We may, however, mark the imperative Mood to make it more emphatic or inclusive:

Do play tennis!
Let’s play tennis!
Subject Finite Residue

Offers, however, have no particular realization, although they often employ modal verbs.