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Prepositional Phrases

Students may find interpretation of prepositions difficult (Orr, 1987; Spanos et al., 1988). Languages such as English and Spanish may differ in the ways that motion concepts are encoded using verbs and prepositions (Slobin, 1968).

Sentence and Discourse Structure

Two sentences may have the same number of words, but one sentence may be more difficult than the other because of the syntactic structure or discourse relationships among sentences (Finegan, 1978; Freeman, 1978; Larsen, Parker & Trenholme, 1978). The discourse may lack connectivity, making it difficult to interpret.

Subordinate Clauses

Subordinate clauses may contribute more to complexity than coordinate clauses (Botel & Granowsky, 1974; Hunt, 1977; Lord, 2002; Wang, 1970). Subordinate clauses cannot stand alone as sentences, and therefore can be confusing to readers, as opposed to coordinate clauses, which are linked tightly to one another.

Conditional Clauses

Conditional clauses and initial adverbial clauses have been identified as contributing to difficulty (Shuard & Rothery, 1984; Spanos et al., 1988). The semantics of the various types of conditional clauses in English are subtle and hard to understand even for native speakers (Celce-Murcia & Larsen- Freeman, 1983). Nonnative speakers may omit function words (e.g., if) and may employ separate clauses without function words. Separate sentences, rather than subordinate if-clauses, may be easier for some students to understand (Spanos et al., 1988). In fact, some languages do not allow sentences with the conditional clause at the end of the sentence. Consequently, this positioning may cause difficulty for some nonnative speakers.

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