Units of language

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This article is part of the grammar course.

You may choose to follow it in a structured way, or read each item separately.

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The unit of language perhaps most readily perceived is the word, and the previous section of this course dealt with word classes. But language can be usefully divided into other building blocks, or units of language, both larger and smaller than the word.

Briefly, the main unit of a language is the Sentence. A sentence contains at least one Clause; a clause contains at least one Phrase; a phrase contains at least one Word; a word contains at least one Syllable; and a syllable contains at least one Letter.

(The paragraph is a stylistic unit, not a grammatical one. It is more connected with the writer's thoughts and their arrangement than it is with the structure of language, and is not covered here.)

At the first, most basic level, written words are made up of letters. (Spoken words are made up of sounds, which correspond only roughly with letters.) These are either vowels or consonants. The letters a, e, i, o, u - and sometimes y - are used, either singly or in combinations, to represent the over 20 vowel sounds of English. All the other letters represent consonant sounds.