Basics of  Functional Grammar for Discourse Analysis


Note that this is a highly simplified inventory of key ideas and terms, not a complete model.





= Ideational content, presentation of states of affairs, “representation of the world”


Process Types



Participants in processes:








Circumstances of the Process:


Time, Place, Extent, Manner, Cause, Accompaniment


= When, where, how much/far, how, why, with whom/what?







= interpersonal and social interaction, speech act, mood and modality, evaluative stance


Speech roles: Speaker, Addressee, secondary addressee, overhearer, etc.


Basic speech functions:



Goods & services









The basic speech functions can be elaborated into many more specific types, e.g. elaborating, insisting, hypothesizing, criticizing, refusing, responding, etc. Some are general and can occur in any text; others may be specific to a particular genre (e.g. Nominating, in classroom discourse).


Grammar elements: 


Subject, Predicate        Predicate contains a Finite element


Mood Tag  = a tag question that identifies the arguable finite element and subject

                        E.g. He does, doesn’t he?  It is, isn’t it?  They went, didn’t they? Do it, won’t you?


The Subject is the one responsible for what happens or is said in the predicate. The Finite is the part of the verb in the clause that can have a specific tense (or Person, or Number), e.g. is, was, will; has, have, had; do, does, did; go, goes, went; OR which marks the Modality: can, could, would, should, must, may, might, etc. A simple verb is its own Finite, but complex verbs have a separate finite: he could have gone, couldn’t he?


Modalities: Probability, Frequency; Inclination, Obligation; Possibility/Ability



Evaluative stances: Warrantability, Usuality, Desirability, Normativity, Importance, Comprehensibility, Seriousness [extends modalities to matters other than actions and relationships; see Course Topic 6]







Structural: parts in wholes, wholes in bigger wholes [multivariate], e.g. triadic dialogue, conventional rhetorical structures


Textural: chains of similarity and reference [univariate, covariate], e.g. cohesion, and their semantic linkages through a text (e.g. thematic formation patterns)


Structural organization is based on having elements of different kinds or functions (multi-variate) that are sequenced together to make a larger unit of meaning. Textural organization complements it by tying units at the same level together through chains or sequences of elements of the same kind (e.g. words with the same or similar meanings).


Clause structures:  Theme, Rheme; Given, New


The Theme is the element that usually comes first in a clause and gives the “starting point” for the development of what it has to say. The Rheme is the remainder of the sentence. This is most significant when something that you expect to come later in the sentence is moved up to the front: e.g. It’s Mars // that he’s pointing to.


The Given is the information that the speaker assumes the addressee already knows something about, and the New is the new information being provided by the clause. The New element usually goes to the end of the clause or sentence in standard English.


Cohesion: Lexical cohesion, cross-chain links (cohesive harmony), thematic patterns


A cohesive text differs from a set of unrelated sentences that happen to share the same vocabulary because each sentence somehow links to those preceding and following it. One kind of link is structural (see above). The other kind consists of the ways in which sentences refers back (anaphoric) and forward (cataphoric) to other sentences through pronouns, deictics, and other means.


One of these other means is “lexical cohesion”: the use of similar words (synonyms, antonyms, members of the same class, parts of the same whole, etc.) across different sentences in ways that produce a consistent pattern of meanings from one sentence to the next. This is stronger when several such chains of similar words are linked to each other again and again in the same way. For example, if words abouts “orbitals” form a chain, and words about “electrons” form another chain through the text, the two chains can be linked in the same way if they often occur together again and again in a pattern such as: “electrons [located in] orbitals”. If the pattern repeats and is expanded to include other terms or chains of similar terms, and especially if this is a familiar pattern from other texts (intertexts), it can be recognized as a “thematic formation”. Thematic formations are similar to concept webs, except they are defined in terms of the use of language rather than in terms of mental concepts.


Note: Organizational meaning is realized through what are called the "Textual" or text-organizing resources of the language in the terminology of Systemic-Functional Grammar. In place of my terms: Presentational, Orientational, & Organizational, which are meant to apply to all semiotic resources, not just language, Halliday uses the terms Ideational, Interpersonal, and Textual for the most general kinds of meaning that can be made with a language. In his model, the grammar of a language can be described by telling how it can be used to make each of these kinds of meanings, and all the more specialized meanings that fall under these large categories (e.g. meanings about actions and abstract relationships, meanings about speech roles and attitudes, meanings about what is important new information, etc.)