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Analyzing The Grammar In Sivergent, A Teenage Novel By Veronica Roth

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Young adult literature creates a scene that appeals to a young audience in a way that captivates their attention enough to dedicate time in their youthful years to the art of reading. In this day and age, the focus that reading a novel requires proves difficult to motivate young people to prioritize reading in their spare time. Writing for any audience in today’s society of technology, in which culture enforces finding the fastest solution to any problem thus the reading material needs to provide the most information in the smallest amount of characters, extended works of writing need to contain unique settings. Thus young adult authors face the challenge of providing outstanding opening scenes to grab the attention of readers in a way that gets them to continue reading the rest of the novel. The setting is the first picture the reader creates in their minds about the overall plot of the novel, bringing light to the importance of providing an interesting and alluring setting in the first couple of chapters of the novel. In the case of Young Adult Literature, vast creativity is imperative to a novel’s success in gaining significant attention from the young adult age range.

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Undergoing this grammatical analysis with curiosity about the success of popular young adult literature, the question as to how writers utilize the opening setting to lure their audience into being hooked to their novel fascinated me. Thus my research question is as follows: How do Young Adult authors set the opening setting for their novels? Observing how the author sets up the novel, my will analysis will provide substantiated claims as to how such setups of young adult novels captures the attention of its readers.

My analysis counteracts the common misconception about grammar that the most interesting context will be presented in the most common grammatical tense found in the novel. In fact, much of the conflict within novels originates from a change in grammatical tense within a novel. Deviations from the normal grammatical conditions of a novel contribute significantly to the reader’s interest in a novel. This analysis examines the deviation from the norm of grammatical tense and how this deviation intrigues young adult readers to continue reading beyond the opening chapter of a novel.


In the young adult novel, Divergent, by American author Veronica Roth, a dystopian society turns upside down due to the non-conformity of a young girl to the norm of their social system. Being split into factions of society based on attributes of character such as selflessness, honesty, or bravery. The protagonist, Beatrice Prior, grows up in the Abnegation faction which favors selflessness. However, all youth are given the opportunity to choose which faction to belong to for the duration of their lives once they reach a certain point in their adolescence. The opening scene of the novel brings into conflict this choice that Beatrice is soon faced with. She is torn between staying with her family in the faction that she does not fit into and leaving her family behind by choosing the Dauntless faction which has intrigued her for as long as she can imagine. In this first chapter of the novel, grammatical analysis aids this study in discovering how Roth intrigues her readers to follow Beatrice’s conflict through the duration of the novel.

The novel I chose to analyze belongs to the genre of Young Adult Fiction; it is an American, dystopian novel, originally written in English. For the scope of my research question, I chose to analyze a popular Young Adult Fiction work for the purpose of observing the preferred sentence structure of young adults in American society. Being a dystopian novel, Divergent appeals to a young audience due to recent popular trends in American youth. It is important to acknowledge here that it is a dystopian novel, given the fact that I intend to analyze how the author accomplishes setting the scene of the novel, which happens to be based in a dystopian setting. The fact that this novel is originally written in English provides me with the necessary qualifications to properly analyze it for my purposes given the fact that I am an English speaker and am analyzing it for the intent of identifying the original sentence structure’s purpose. If the novel were written in any language other than English originally, I could not properly identify Veronica Roth’s sentence construction; it is pertinent that I, as the analyzer, understand the original language of the text on a grammatical level in order to analyze the author’s original objective.

Within the text, I chose to analyze the very first chapter of the novel, given my research question is to determine how Young Adult Fiction operates in introducing the setting of the novel. The first chapter of the novel provides the best place to analyze the setting due to the fact that it is the first place that the reader encounters any part of the dystopian world, thus the author would most likely provide the beginning details of the setting so that the reader can immediately begin engaging in the created world. This being said, I chose to only observe the narration portions of the text, since I am strictly observing the setting of the novel. I have no purpose in analyzing the sentence structures within quotations, or conversations between characters, since they are not observing the introduction of the novel, but the introduction of the characters.

In the beginning process of my analysis, there are various steps that need to be taken in order to get started in engaging with the text. My first step of analyzing a text was to choose what text I would analyze. I chose a popular, Young Adult fiction novel because I figured it would have high credibility as to how a successful young adult fiction writer introduces the setting of their novel. My next step was to choose the pages in which to analyze; I previously described my chosen pages to be the first chapter of the novel. After choosing this chapter, I made copies of the pages that I would be analyzing so that I could mark up those pages with the necessary information as I observed and analyzed the text. I proceed to highlight all of the main verbs in the independent clauses (excluding the quotations, subordinate clauses, questions and commands) and identify the verb tenses and aspects of each of the verbs. This process of highlighting and identifying verbs continues until I have approximately 150 verb tenses to sample. A large sample ensures that I have a reasonable range of analysis to make credible interpretations of the overall text; it also reduces the potential to have bias findings. Next, I strip down the sentences of any extraneous information such as adverbs, embedded clauses, etc. that are secondary to any sentence’s main clause.

Following this, I separated the different verb tense in order to make a concrete count of how many of each verb tenses are present in the text. I organized every different type of verb tense found in a table for the purpose of easily seeing the count of each verb tense. My next step was to identify the default text, meaning the text that occurs most often and acts as a base for the story line. In doing this, I gained the ability to find the less frequent verb tenses, thus I am able to compare the default tense to the less frequent, abnormal verb tenses. This accomplishes my analysis of how the abnormalities function within the text in order to influence the way that the setting is presented and built upon from the very start of the novel. Being that there are many different abnormal verb tenses present in the text, I chose two of the abnormalities that stood out as being most interesting to me. I chose a sample sentence from each of the verb tenses – the default tense and the two abnormal verb tenses – to analyze; I created tree diagrams for each of them in order to dissect the parts of the sentence and come up with the base output (the very basic form) of the sentence. From this dissected form of each sentence, I am able to extract a meaning and purpose behind the sentence and why it was written in the form that it was. In order to better understand the upcoming sections in which I will describe in more depth each of my findings, I will now introduce the relevant core meanings to my analysis.

Core meanings are what different parts of the sentence can be interpreted to mean. Being that they are interpretational, core meanings are abstract and only apply to the perception of the reader; thus it is not a concrete meaning that can be applied to a word in any context. The meaning is unique to each sentence. This being said, distinguishing a core meaning within a sentence requires the observation of the structural formation, as well as the functional formation of a sentence.

While in the process of interpretation, identifying relevant parts of the auxiliary and verb phrase consists of first observing where patterns in the text can be found. For example, sentences with present tense that are in the simple aspect possess the core meaning of being a complete whole. This means that the way that the sentence of perceived is to be an absolute fact of truth according to the narrator’s perspective. The way that one might find the tense and aspect of any sentence is by utilizing tree diagrams, in which the sentence is broken down into various parts including but not limited to subject, predicate, and adverbials. Most of the information for the overall sentence will be found in the portion of the tree diagram labeled “auxiliary” which refers to the aspects that influence the verb and change it to fit the desired grammatical tense for the sentence. The auxiliary has the ability to change the aspect of the whole sentence; thus when the sentence is already constructed, dissecting the sentence to see each aspect of the auxiliary and how the sentence structure can be identified based on that dissection.

Aspects containing core meanings that are within the auxiliary include the tense, modals, and simple aspect of sentences. There are two tenses in the English language – past and present tense – and both are being observed in this study. The core meaning associated with the past tense is “remote,” meaning that there is a distance in either time or location present in the meaning of the sentence. Contrarily, a present tense sentence contains the core meaning of “non-remote,” in which there is no sense of distance in the sentence; the time or location is current in relation to the sentence.

Present and past tense are the only options for tenses in the English grammar, thus the future is encompassed within the present tense with the use of modals. Modals are parts of the auxiliary, which provide a sense of probability, or possibility, within a sentence, suggesting that the action has not yet occurred. Thus their core meaning being “non-factual,” the meaning taken from modals implies that whatever the event being spoken of in the sentence has not yet occurred, and it implies how likely it is that the event will actually occur. The simple aspect can be found within a sentence that does not contain certain auxiliary elements that are irrelevant to this study. The core meaning of the simple aspect is “complete whole,” implying that the sentence contains factual information that is not in question as to whether or not it is true. There is no question as to whether or not it is abstract or able to be argued. These conclude all of the terms necessary to understand within the auxiliary; however, there are meanings found in other areas of the sentence that contribute to the overall meaning of a sentence.

Another aspect that influences the overall sentence output is the subject information. The subject of the sentence impacts the verb tense by moving to be combined with the tense of the subject. It is made possible by the definition of being a behavior in which the subject of the sentence contains grammatical information that has relevancy to another part of the sentence, thus it’s information moves to be in congruence with the said other part of the sentence. The general rule to grammatical structure in any given sentence is that the word immediately to the right of a word is impacted by the aspect of the previous word, thus word order is crucial to understanding the organization of a sentence and interpreting the findings to come up with the overall meaning of the sentence. That being said, the movement of subject information to be in combination with the tense aspect immediately following the subject is commonly known as the “copy s/t” function, ultimately influencing the tense of the word and the overall tense of the sentence.

The final place within a sentence that contains meaning to the whole sentence is the verb phrase. For the purpose of this study, the necessary core meaning to understand about verbs are durative verbs, which contain the conceptual meaning of “duration.” The expanded explanation of this meaning is that there is a set amount of time in which the verb takes place.

With the explanation of all of these meanings of the individual pieces of a sentence, the core meanings found will construct my interpretation of my chosen text.


Verb Tense Frequency Percentage

Present Simple 101 71.1%

Past Simple 10 7%

Future Simple 3 2.1%

Present Passive 4 2.8%

Present Progressive 2 1.4%

Present Perfect Progressive 2 1.4%

Present Perfect 1 0.7%

Past Perfect Progressive 1 0.7%

Past Perfect 1 0.7%

Negation 9 6.3%

Cannot Identify 8 5.6%

Total 142

Figure 1. Table of total verb count broken down into each verb tense (percentages are rounded to the nearest tenth).

In the above table, I identify all of the found verb tenses within the chapter that I looked at for this study. Constructing this table helped identify the relevant auxiliary in my particular text for the purpose of seeing how many of each kind of sentence I am sampling from. The top three verb tenses in this table are the ones that I analyze for this study. I will not go into any depth on the other findings in this chapter; however, the information is placed here to show that there were various verb tenses that were found and have the potential to be analyzed in more depth. That being said, the primary relevance of this table to my study is to show the contrast between the default verb tense and the amount of every other verb tense present in the text. This sharp contrast in frequency shows the simplicity of the text, and yet within the small amount of variance in verb tenses the findings contributed greatly to the interpretation of the overall chapter.

The less frequent verb tenses that I chose to analyze include the next highest frequency and also one of the lowest frequency verb tenses. This shows that tenses that are infrequent can impact the overall text and be seen as a significant shift in the way that the text is perceived and interpreted.

I had difficulty in identifying a few verbs, all for similar reasons. An example of one of the sentences is as follows: “It is not safe to drive on them.” Apart from the negation, I was unable to identify where to place the “to drive” in the tree diagram, thus ultimately unable to identify the grammatical meaning of the sentence. In other sentences, I experienced similar struggles with verbs that are preceded by the word “to.” Upon further research, I have found that the phrase functions as an infinitive clause in this sentence; an infinitive clause is defined as being a subordinate clause to the verb of the sentence. My confusion stemmed from the fact that the word “drive” is a verb, thus my brain assumed that it was connected to the main verb in the sentence; however, it is in subordination to the sentence as a whole. This is indicated in Figure 2 by being directly connected to the predicate as opposed to my original assumption that it would stem from the verb phrase (VP). Notice that there are triangles within the diagram, indicating that more analysis can be done to dissect the sentence structure, but was unnecessary in this study. With this discovery, I come to the conclusion that these statements belong to the “present simple” category; however, this particular sentence would ultimately end up in the “negation” category do to its containing the word “not” in the main verb.

Figure 2. Tree Diagram of present-simple sentence, emphasizing the infinitive clause.

Other than this struggle, most of the verb tenses were fairly straightforward and able to be accurately recognized after diagramming if I was unsure.


The findings of the default text and two interesting verb tenses contribute to the interpretation of the text with the help of the core meanings referenced in the Methodology. Being that my chosen abnormal verb tenses are past simple and future simple, the Bull Framework will work to help interpret the findings in the text. The Bull Framework is a system of identifying the perceived point of reference that an event is taking place in. It is a perspective shift of the reader in the case of this text, thus in order to first begin analyzing a verb tense, a point of reference to where the event is taking place is necessary (Larsen-Freeman, 2002, p. 7). Each of the verb tenses being analyzed take place in various reference points; in each examined sentence, there is interpretation to be made utilizing the aspects and core meanings in order to place them on an “axis” of reference in which they are perceived to occur. To start the analysis, the default, present-simple tense will be analyzed.

The default tense-aspect description will contribute to the study’s ability to comprehend the shift from the default to the less frequent tense. In order to understand the shift between tenses, having a full understanding of the default tense is crucial. Observed in a sample sentence from the present-simple tense, we break down every aspect of the default, showing how the default acts in itself. Being a “complete whole,” “non-remote” sentence, it can be concluded that the narrative sentence functions to describe the present situation as it is occurring, without any potential of non-factual aspects being applied. The sample sentence from the default tense is diagrammed as follows:

Figure 3. Tree Diagram of present-simple sentence.

This figure demonstrates the most common tense broken down into its most basic form. From it, we can see that the default acts has a “non-remote” characteristic, implying that the narration is occurring as the narrator observes the setting around her. Along with this aspect, the diagram observes the aspect as being “simple,” applying the meaning of being a “complete whole,” thus it is an absolute fact according to the narrator’s observation of her surroundings. She observes that in the present moment without any distance from the bus, she currently experiences a foul odor of exhaust being expelled from the automobile. There is no contemplation as to whether or not this is actually occurring; the stench of the bus is a factual, non-negotiable aspect of the experience. In this diagrammed analysis, the conclusion can be made that the present-simple tense serves to create the setting as the narrator literally observes and experiences it in that moment.

Present-simple tense occurs most frequently and also in consecutive ordering, meaning immediately next to each other for a significant amount of sentences. This can be observed surrounding the present-simple sentence that I will analyze independent of the rest of the text:

“The bus stinks of exhaust. Every time it hits a patch of uneven pavement, it jostles me from side to side, even though I am gripping the seat to keep myself still. My older brother, Caleb, stands in the aisle, holding a railing above his head to keep himself steady. We don’t look alike. He has my father’s dark hair and hooked nose and my mother’s green eyes and dimpled cheeks” (Roth 3).

In this block quote, the main clause of each sentence resides in the present tense, simple aspect category, retaining the core meaning of “complete whole” for the duration of the section. This serves the purpose in the novel of stating factually, without questioning the accuracy of what is presently occurring in the scene. The interpreted meaning associated with the present simple tense-aspect combination in this example is that the event does not allow for further progression beyond what is currently happening. In that moment, the narrator only experiences that specific smell of the bus and the movement of being jostled; she only observes in that specific moment where her brother stands and what his appearance is. In that moment, she could not go back and observe something other than what was said; there is no opportunity presented to go back in time and observe something else in that exact moment, thus the moment is a complete whole that cannot be changed. Comprehending the meaning behind all of the sentences in this block quote together is important (Larsen-Freeman, 2002, p. 4) because of the fact that understanding an individual sentence does not contribute to the overall meaning of the novel; having an understanding of how the sentences work together to form a meaning in the larger context is crucial to understanding how grammar works in a larger context.

Understanding how different verb tenses show the different uses of sentences also contributes to the overall understanding of the text. In comparison, the past-simple tense displays aspects of the setting of the novel in differentiation to the present-tense description in this chapter. Figure 4 examines the difference between a present-simple and a past-simple sentence within the text.

Verb Tense Grammatical Tense Grammatical Aspect Lexical Aspect

Present Simple non-remote Complete Whole durative

Past Simple remote Complete whole durative

Figure 4. Core meaning contrast between present-simple and past-simple table.

Present Simple Sample Sentence: “The bus stinks of exhaust.”

Past Simple Sample Sentence: “Volunteer construction workers repaved some of the roads.”

In contrast, the only difference seen between these two sentences is the grammatical tense. The core meaning found in each of these tenses brings light to the interpretive difference between the two sentences. While the present-simple sentence retains the core meaning of being “non-remote,” the past-simple sentence retains the core meaning of being “remote.” Each of these grammatical tense meanings display a difference in distance from the action being described in the text. The insinuated purpose of the past-simple sentence can be that the roads are being repaved by the volunteer construction workers in a distant time; the roads are not currently being repaved. Thus if there is nothing currently being done to the roads, a distance can be seen due to the grammatically past-tense sentence. This can be contrasted with the present tense setting it is compared to, in that the bus currently “stinks.” It is not insinuating a past event of the setting. In both of these sentences, the author achieves the distance desired to show what is currently happening and what has already occurred. Readers are able to create the setting in terms of what is currently happening in this dystopian society in contrast to events that have previously occurred in the society.

The author similarly utilizes future-simple tense within the chapter. Observed in a comparison chart, all but the lexical aspect of the two sentences are the same.

Verb Tense Grammatical Tense Grammatical Aspect Lexical Aspect

Present Simple non-remote Complete whole duration

Future Simple non-remote Complete whole stative

Figure 5. Core meaning contrast between present-simple and future-simple table

Present Simple Sample Sentence: “I sneak a look at my reflection…”

Future Simple Sample Sentence: “I will decide the rest of my life.”

That being said, the lexical aspect must be what differentiates the two sentence’s meanings and functions. Lexical aspects function to give meaning to a word, no matter what the context consists of. The lexical aspect applied to the default tense is durative, meaning that the verb “sneak” has a set, establish duration in any context. Specifically in this context, it functions to have the consistent duration of the amount of time that the narrator snuck a look at herself in the mirror. This is compared to the less frequent tense-aspect being observed, future-simple, which has the lexical aspect of stative. The stative aspect means that any given word in said category has a steady state of time, meaning that there is no end to the verb tense. In the example from the text, it can be concluded that decide has no end, thus she does not discontinue deciding her future; she will have always made that decision, and it will continually be a decision that she has to make and uphold throughout her life. Throughout the course of her life, the lexical aspect of stative will hold the narrator to her decision in that her decision will never cease to exist. Observing the difference between the two verb tenses, the shift from the default tense to the future-simple tense implies the aspect of a time in the future being applied to the setting of the story.

The meaning of future is also held within the modal will that is shown in the auxiliary of the dissected sentence below.

Figure 6. Tree Diagram of a future-simple sentence.

As stated in the methodology section, the modal “will” holds the meaning of probability of an event occurring in the future, thus the present-tense verb “decide” is altered to serve in the future tense since English does not have a future tense aspect aside from being a modification of the present tense (Larsen-Freeman, 2002, p. 3). Thus the sentence, “I will decide the rest of my life” interprets to mean that the future setting of the novel is being set up in a way that shows that a future event will affect the narrator, but it has not yet occurred.

The future tense can be explained by utilizing the Bull Framework model for placement within a span of time. The narrator is able to effectively reference a point in the future that she is anticipating because of her usage of tense and aspect. The Bull Framework sets up her perspective in a way that shows where she is in relation to the context of what she is anticipating.

Figure 7. Bull Framework demonstrating a future simple sentence.

This figure demonstrates the position of the narrator, which is in the present tense, “non-remote” position in the text. She is currently pondering the future. Thus the representation of the narrator is observing an event that has probability of occurring at a distant, future time. In this illustration, the future event is easily compared to the default, present-tense. We see both the present tense that the story is primarily narrated through in relation to the future, thus it demonstrates the comparison all in itself. In a linear format, future-simple tense is seen as a likelihood that the narrator will experience making a decision that will affect the rest of her life. In this way, anticipation for the reader builds from the present setting up of the scene to be looking forward to what will happen in the future, along with the narrator of the novel.


Through the course of this study, the analysis of different grammatical tenses displayed the differences in effect that past, present, and future contexts contribute to a novel’s overall enticement to its readers. Specifically appealing to a young adult audience, the present tense usage in the beginning of the novel Divergent provide factual information about the scene of the novel and allows the reader to visually and easily imagine the society within their own minds based on the descriptive scene that addresses at least a majority of the five senses that contribute to the current occurrences in the opening scene. This allows for the audience to be present in the happenings of the novel.

In contrast to the default present-tense, the past tense and future tenses show where the story deviates from the norm. Conflict does not occur without deviation of the norm; as shown through this study, past tense displays the setting of the dystopian society as one of an old city that has had its roads repaved. This allows for the readers of the novel to get a sense of the run down area that the factions live in, as well as the work that the society does in order to upkeep their society. In the future tense of the novel, conflict is set up in that Beatrice will be faced with a choice in the following chapters; with the potential of this choice being a defining moment in deciding her path for the rest of her life, pressure is applied to her circumstance.

Readers can relate to these deviations from the default text in various ways. For example, most readers will have experienced roadwork in their cities and know that maintenance is a regular part of most societies. Thus the reader gains the ability to create in their minds a society based, not only on the author’s description of the setting, but upon their own personal experience with construction work. Similarly, most readers will relate to Beatrice being faced with the tough decision of choosing between family and their desire to follow their own path in life. Particular appealing to the young adult age range, much of the anxiety that comes with that age range is the pressure of making life decisions that come into conflict with the way they are raised. Authors that cater to a young audience take into account how to relate their novel’s themes to their audience’s life experiences. Through this, grammar shows each of the different aspects of life described in the opening scenes of a novel in ways that appeal to young audiences.

Past, present, and future tense usage contributes to a reader’s overall experience in picking up a novel to read for enjoyment by providing depth to the story. Without a variation in time, the story remains two dimensional and inapplicable to readers. People live in current moments based on their application that they have learned from past experiences and also based on where their futures will lead them. Only focusing on the current does not allow for readers to fully captivate the setting and future conflict that is experienced in this dystopian society. The grammatical usage of tenses adds depth to the novel’s setup from the very first chapter, thus allowing the reader to find interest in continuing to read the novel through to the end.

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