The structure of the clause depends on the verb. For example:

  • An intransitive verb has the structure: N(=noun) + V(=verb): (John) + (smiled).
  • A transitive verb has the structure: N + V + N: (We) + (had been playing) + (football)
  • A link verb has the structure: N + V + Adj : (She) + (looked) + (happy)
  • A phrasal verb has the structure: N + V + pa(=particle) + N (She) + (gave) +(back) + (the money)
    or N + V + N + pa (She) + (gave) + (the money) + (back)

Particles can be either adverbs or prepositions. For a more detailed explanation of phrasal verbs, see our two- and three-part word and Multi-word verbs pages.




I saw this sentence on the news today:
"People cannot but ponder - what on earth is up with them"
What is the structure of the clause used in this sentence?

I feel it should be an intransitive verb, where "people" is the subject and "ponder" is the verb. However, I don't quite understand the role of the word "cannot" in that sentence. It feels to me that something is missing (like there should be an extra verb between "cannot" and "but")

thank you.

Hello learning_always,

Yes, this is a somewhat abbreviated phrase that is equivalent to 'cannot (do anything) but ponder'. Words like 'do anything' are often left out in verb phrases and that is the case here - this is called ellipsis.

By the way, 'ponder' can be used both transitively and intransitively - see the dictionary entry for 'ponder' for more.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

This is reply to innocentashish420 question

Verbs in the 'historic present' describe something that happened in the past. The present tense is used because the facts are listed as a summary, and the present tense provides a sense of urgency. This historic present tense is also found in news bulletins. The announcer may say at the start, 'Fire hits a city centre building, the government defends the new minister, and in football City United lose.'"
("Language Notes," BBC World Service)

please help me. I cannot practice the exercises. they do not show in the page.

Hello mithiladw,

Are you by chance using Firefox? We've found that Firefox is not displaying our exercises properly. We're trying to fix this, but in the meantime I'd suggest you try a different browser (e.g. Chrome or Internet Explorer). Sorry for the inconvenience!

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

1)He will be handling this project since he has the vast experience in handling in this business.
plz justify whether article the should be used or not?
2)in newspaper headlines why only simple present tense is used?
3)in newspaper report ,I see sometimes news is introduced with present perfect and then simple past is used to give details. Sometimes only simple past and no present perfect is used.Sir, plzz clarify usage of simple past and present perfect.Does it also depend upon attitude of reporter rather than facts only in view of which tense to be used.
4)can simple present be used to describe a story which happened in past time?
5)a)I missed the train which i usually catch and i had to travel by the next one.
b)I missed the train which i used to catch and i had to travel by the next one.
what is the difference in sense of meaning of these two sentences?

Hello innocentashish420,

I'm sorry, but we are not able to provide such long and in-depth explanations to multiple questions. Our main focus here is to provide help with our materials. When time allows we try to answer some questions about English in general. However, we cannot provide online lessons of the sort that your questions require - this is the job of a teacher where you live.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

would you please help me giving the elaboration of p in the structure N V p N.

Hi, I need some help with this sentence:
I tried to persuade his mother to send him to a school for handicaped children.
What is the structure here? Noun=subject + verb transitive + ??

Hello Irena,

There are a number of online tools which you can use to break sentences up (the name for this is 'parse the sentence'). For example, try going to this page and typing your sentence into the window:

I hope that helps you.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team