Chapter One: Introduction

Draft of February 26, 1997

1.1 Constituent Structure

In this warm-up first chapter we present, in an informal way, a sample of some of the central phenomena that need to be treated in a theory of grammar, together with the basic terminology for talking about such phenomena. The chapter can be read slowly and carefully, if the reader has little experience in thinking and talking about grammar; or it can be skimmed through just to find out what we call things and what sorts of decisions we've made by way of basic assumptions.

Our initial observations will largely emerge from a careful consideration of a single English sentence. That sentence is:

(1) Does she realize how heavy the big ones are?

We will limit our attention here to morphosyntactic aspects of linguistic structure. While such phonological matters as the features of phonemes, syllable structure, foot structure, intonation, and the like have important interfaces with the non-phonological parts of grammar, they will be largely ignored in these pages.

The first thing we need to realize is that sentence (1) is more than a simple string of nine words, one following the other: the sentence has a structured organization. The ultimate syntactic constituents of sentence (1) are its words, but these words are grouped into phrases, and some of these phrases are grouped into still larger phrases, each of these in its turn being a constituent of the sentence, the largest being the sentence itself. The full segmentation of a sentence in terms of such grouping and regrouping is what we refer to as its phrase structure or constituent structure.

If a sequence of three linguistic entities, call them A, B, and C, are grouped in such a way that the A and the B "belong together" in the sense that they jointly form a unit of linguistic structure, we can represent such a grouping by the bracketing shown in (2).

(2) [A B] C

To say that the constituents A and B "belong together" means that the sequence formed by an A followed by a B constitutes a unit of grammatical structure. If we also wish to show that the whole A B C sequence is itself a grammatically relevant unit, then we can add that information by augmenting the diagram as shown in (3), where the whole thing is surrounded by a pair of brackets:

(3) [[A B] C]

The bracketing in (3) can be read as claiming that the sequence A B C is itself a grammatical unit and that it has a substructure in which a unit with the form A B is one of its component parts. Examples of English phrases having the constituent structure representable by (3) are very talented children, my cat died, and three inches taller. (These are very different kinds of phrases, but they all have the same constituent structure.

The linguist can approach the constituent structure segmentation of a phrase or sentence by starting at the top and working downward, asking first what the largest constituents are and then asking whether these constituents can themselves be further segmented, continuing until reaching the individual words, or by working from the bottom up, looking for groupings of adjacent words or phrases. The results will be the same either way.

1.1.1 Adjective Phrase (how heavy)

We might begin by suggesting that the sequence how heavy in sentence (1) deserves to be regarded as a unit of some sort. That is, the words how heavy are felt to belong with each other in a certain way, and we have no such "feeling" for either of the word sequences realize how or heavy the in that same sentence. (Compare the phrasing suggested by (4)a with that shown in (4)b-c.)


Of course if we had only our FEELINGS about how things fit together, that would not be very satisfactory. If you were to challenge us by claiming that the analysis suggested in (4)c seems more reasonable than that of (4)a, we owe you better reasons for claiming the correctness of the analysis in (4)a than our feelings. What we really mean when we say that how heavy makes up a constituent in this sentence, whereas realize how and heavy the do not, is that the grammar of English that we are assuming - which we take as incorporating (part of) the knowledge that speakers of English have of their language - licenses the formation of a phrase like how heavy but does not license the putative phrases realize how or heavy the. More precisely, we say that the grammar of English is a collection of grammatical constructions, such that each grammatical or grammatically well-formed English word or phrase is licensed by one or more such constructions. A sentence or other linguistic expression is ungrammatical, or grammatically ill-formed, if there is no combination of grammatical constructions capable of licensing a phrase consisting of this sequence of words.

For the present case, we would say that in a properly drawn up grammar of English there is a principle, or rule, or construction, which defines phrases of a particular type by specifying that they can contain a constituent of the kind exemplified by how placed before a constituent of the kind exemplified by heavy to form the kind of phrase we find in how heavy. Such a construction has an internal part which specifies what kinds of constituents can combine with each other in the way that how combines with heavy, and an external part which specifies what kind of constituent results from this combination.

How do we know that how is the kind of word that can occur first in this phrase, and that heavy is the kind that can occur second? It is up to the rest of the grammar -- including, in this case, the lexicon -- to guarantee that words or phrases capable of occurring in phrases defined by this construction have been given the necessary descriptions. In other words, the grammar of English must be capable of telling us that heavy is the kind of adjective that is capable of being modified by a modifier of degree, and likewise of telling us that how is, among other things, an adverb of degree.

Similarly, how do we figure out what properties to assign to the phrase as a whole? It is the responsibility of the rest of the grammar to tell us how phrases of this type function elsewhere in the language. It will tell us, for example, that the phrase how heavy can occur as a predicate phrase (see (5)a, which is an instance of a pragmatically special kind of question), and that by virtue of containing the interrogative word how it is available for occurrence in a particular positional relation to the rest of its clause (see (5)b); but that, unlike certain other types of adjective phrases (e.g., very heavy), it cannot occur in the usual positions open to adjective phrases between an article and a noun (notice the ungrammatical (5)c)) though it can occur in one of two very special noun-modifying structures, with or without the preposition of, in which the article is limited to a(n) (as in (5)d-e).


Decisions about assigning properties to the whole phrase will depend, then, on the existence of grammatical constructions that permit such phrases to combine into still larger structures (such as the very special constructions involved in phrases like those in (5)d-e).

1.1.2 Visibility: a Digression

The task of assigning grammatical descriptions to phrases is often spoken of in terms of a visibility metaphor. The constructions which can "use" the phrase we have just considered can "see" only the information that identifies the phrase as a whole and cannot "see" the phrase's innards; if it is important for knowing the distribution of a phrase like how heavy that the phrase contains the specific word how, then that information will somehow have to be a part of the description of the phrase as a whole.

The point of the distinction between internal and external structure can be understood by imagining the following (somewhat pointless) kind of activity. Suppose we have the job of packaging things according to their labels, and then putting labels on the packages we produce. One of our assignments is to package an X and a Y together and to label the package that contains them Z. We find an object labeled X and an object labeled Y and we wrap them up together. We then label that package Z. We receive a new assignment, which is to package an A and a B and to label the package Z too. Now if we're given the job of packaging a Z and a W together into a package labeled Q, we will be able to use either of the Z packages we have just created, or any other object labeled Z, but our instructions cannot refer to what they contain. We can only "see" the label Z, not the package's contents.

Of course what we might mean by the "label" Z is quite free to interpretation. An adjective- phrase "package" with how will clearly have to be quite complex. By virtue of being an adjective-phrase it can occur in particular phrasal contexts: as a complement of be, seem, etc. By virtue of how's being an interrogative word, a property it shares with what, where and when, it can occur in initial position in an interrogative clause. And by virtue of being a particular kind of modifier (a property it shares with too, this and that), it can occur in constructions like those illustrated in (5)d-e. (Compare too big of a box, this big of a box, that heavy a package, etc..)

One of the theoretical questions that will come up later in the text will center around the question of whether all syntactic operations are subject to a visibility constraint and what such a constraint would actually mean. In the first place, if we impose no restrictions on the content of a "label" this "constraint" can be easily fudged, to the point of including everything about the contents (i.e., the constituents), in the manner of nutrition labels on packaged foods in American food markets. But furthermore, there might be some grammatical processes (say, recognizing antecedency for any number of anaphoric relations) which determine the appropriate combinability of phrases only by checking the nature and location of particular components. Suffice it for now to say that what the components of a phrase are is one thing, what KIND of thing the phrase itself is is another.

1.1.3 Interrogative Clause Complement (how heavy the big ones are

Continuing to examine sentence (1), we might notice that the sequence comprising the last six words - how heavy the big ones are - "goes with" the verb realize, in the sense that it expresses the proposition that is the content, so to speak, of a mental process of "realizing". Certain words impose requirements on what kinds of expressions they need for completing their job in a sentence. These requirements have both semantic and syntactic aspects: in the case of realize, we need to know what kind of semantic entity it requires, and we also need to know what grammatical form an expression of such an entity must or may assume. We speak of these requirements as the word's arguments. A description of the verb realize, then, must tell us what kind of phrase can accompany it in a sentence, and the description of the phrase how heavy the big ones are must likewise tell us that it has the properties allowing it to serve as an argument of the verb realize.

A general description of the main aspects of a word's co-occurrence requirements is what we will refer to as the word's valence. It will become obvious later that there are close correspondences between a word's semantic requirements and its syntactic requirements: the kind of meaning that needs to be expressed is often realized in only a limited number of ways syntactically.

In any case, the grouping assumptions we have made so far for words in sentence (1) lead to the structuring seen in (6):


The bracketing in (6) shows that the last six words of the sentence (enclosed in one pair of brackets) make up a single constituent, and within that constituent, the first two words (enclosed in the inner pair of brackets) belong together as a constituent of the larger unit. There remain questions about the internal structure of the constituent to which we have just added bracketing, and about the way it fits into the structure of the whole sentence.

1.1.4 Noun Phrase (the big ones)

Deliberating further about the same example, we might propose that the big ones is another of our phrases. Thus, we progress to (7):


It is clear that this constituent has three possible constituent structures, shown in (8)a-c. (8) Most current syntactic analyses of English noun phrases assume the correctness of (8)c. However, we will assume a "flat" structure as in (8)a. The reasons will be discussed in Chapter 3.

1.1.5 Verb Phrase ( realize | how heavy the big ones are

Until now, the assignment of words to phrases has more or less coincided with the "pacing" or "phonological phrasing" a speaker would give to the sentence when uttering it. Our first intuitions of constituent structure are based on a sense of which words are pronounced together. Places in our sentence at which speakers are likely to pause, for example, are after realize, after heavy, and perhaps after ones. But in many cases, the grouping required by the grammarian will not be supported by normal ways of pronouncing the sentence. Thus, it is not likely that any normal utterance of this sentence would introduce a pause after she, pronouncing the rest of the sentence in a single run, though a major sentence break between she and the rest of the sentence is the next constituency decision we are going to propose.

To understand the intuitions behind this decision consider the sentences in (9):


A generalization over all of these sentences could be captured if we introduced a constituency break between the subject (she) and what follows, and if we then united what follows into a single verb phrase constituent. An analogous structure in our sentence (1) would unite realize with its complement, as in (9).

(9) Does she [realize [[how heavy] [the big ones] are]]?

1.1.6 Left Isolate (how heavy | the big ones are)

Regarding the complement of realize, the structuring that would be generally agreed upon is what we see in (10), where brackets have been added to enclose the big ones are:

(11) Does she [realize [[how heavy] [[the [big ones]] are ]]]?

That is, we accept an analysis in which how heavy is one constituent and the big ones are is the other. In the case of this sentence there are neither phonological nor immediately obvious structural reasons for preferring it to one that does not connect are to the big ones. But we see the phrase how heavy the big ones are as analogous in structure to the bracketed constituents in the sentences in (11)


The Left Isolate construction which licenses all of these phrases is one which allows an interrogative phrase, like how heavy, how much, which player, and what, to appear to the left of a clause with the interpretation that it completes the semantic and semantic requirements of the clause remnant which follows it. That is, we can compare the bracketed portions of (11) with the corresponding parts of (12):


The how much of (12)a serves as the object of know; the which player of (12)b is the object of the preposition to; the what in (12)c is the object of the preposition about. Similarly, how heavy the big ones are is analogous to the bracketed portion of (13):

(13) She knows [that the big ones are very heavy].

The Left Isolate construction presents an interrogative word or phrase (among other things) to the left of a clause which "needs" or "can use" an expression like the one to its left for completing its semantic and syntactic structure. That is, the left-isolated constituent stands for something unexpressed in the clause-remnant which follows it. In our case, the phrase how heavy is the complement of the copula are.

1.1.7 Inversion (does | she | realize how heavy the big ones are)

An Inversion construction characterizes certain kinds of questions, such as those in (15).


The construction in question places a tensed auxiliary verb before the sentence's subject resulting in a form capable of use as a yes/no question, as with the sequence does she in our example sentence.

Finally, we will claim that the constituent structure of the entire example in (1) is what is presented in (16).

(16) [ [Does] [she] [ [realize] [ [ [how] [heavy] ] [ [ [the] [big] [ones] ] ] [are] ] ] ]?

It will be noticed in (16) that we have assigned a new function to the bracketing. Although we first introduced the bracketing practice as a way of showing the boundaries of a unitized sequence of words, it will also be used from now on merely to indicate constituency, and that of course includes the ultimate constituents, the individual words, as well as constituents that are made up of more than one word.

We have been saying that it is important to know what sort of object each constituent is, but the bracketing in (16) does nothing more than show the way things are grouped together. We must eventually provide the means of filling out such a description by associating each constituent, lexical or phrasal, with a complete array of information about what it is and how it fits into the sentence.

1.1.8 Terminological Digression

This may be the place to introduce a potentially confusing way of using the term phrase. In general, isolated uses of the words phrase and phrasal will refer to sequences of words functioning as sentence constituents (including the sentence as a whole). Thus, when we speak about phrasal constructions we will mean only those constructions which are built up of more than one word. But when the word "phrase" is modified - as in verb phrase, noun phrase, or interrogative phrase, it will refer to a constituent type that can often be instanced by either a phrase or a single word. In these usages we are following general practice in linguistics.

1.2. The Representation of Constituent Relationships

Bracketing representations like (16) are hard to read a nd will be replaced in later chapters by diagrams that make it easier to tell, without the need to identify corresponding left and right brackets, which strings of words go together to form phrasal constituents. These new representations will be of two types. In tree diagrams, constituents (including the sentence as a whole) are represented by nodes and the constituents of a phrase are shown as nodes hanging down from the node representing the phrase as a whole. In box diagrams all constituents are represented as boxes, and constituents making up the internal structure of a phrase are represented as smaller boxes lined up inside a larger box. In general, we will be relying on box diagrams for much of what we do, simply because that allows us to write into each box the whole array of information we need for each constituent type. (Take a quick glance at the later chapters if you can't imagine what this is all about.)

Following modern linguistic practice, we will be using female kinship terminology for speaking of the ways in which constituents are related to each other, and of the ways in which phrasal constituents are related to their parts. In our test sentence, we will say, for example, that how and heavy in [ [how] [heavy] ] are sisters of each other. The "sister" relationship can hold not only between words, but between phrases as well. Thus, we will also say that how heavy and the big ones are in [ [ how heavy ] [the big ones are ] ] are sisters of each other. It is also possible for one sister to be a word and the other to be a phrase. This is the case for the constituents in the verb phrase [ [realize] [how heavy the big ones are] ].

Analogously, the whole phrase how heavy can be said to hold a particular relationships to its component constituents, and for that the terms mother and daughter are used. The daughters of the phrase how heavy are how and heavy, and the phrase as a whole is the mother of each of these words.

It deserves repeating that the constituent structure of sentence (1) presented in the bracketing in (16) has to be taken as an indirect claim about the grammar of English. Someone who proposes such an analysis owes us an account of the grammar which assigns properties to each of the imputed constituents and which licenses their combination into phrases on the basis of those properties. It will not do, for example, to say that there are some arguments for grouping the sequence the big ones as [[the big] [ones]] and other arguments for grouping it as [the [big ones]], and that therefore its structure is indeterminate. It may be the case that what the correct grammar is is itself indeterminate, but the grammar one ends up with will dictate the correctness of at most one of these analyses.

1.3. Features and Feature Structures

We have been touching on two quite different aspects of linguistic structure. One of these has to do with matters of constituent structure; the other has to do with the properties of the constituents that describe what they are and what they mean.

For various reasons we will represent information about linguistic elements as feature structures (about which important details will be introduced in the next chapter). The features or properties that make up such information will be hierarchically structured, thus allowing ourselves to identify whole arrays or classes of features with higher-ordered feature names.

The simplest sort of feature structure consists of two parts, an attribute and a value of that attribute. One possible feature structure is made up of the attribute name tense and the value name present. This can be written as a pair of terms enclosed in brackets, thus:

A part of the characterization of an attribute is the list of its potential values. The list of potential values of the attribute "tense" might be "past" and "present", for example. The list of potential values of an attribute "number" (for a given language) might be "singular" and "plural". The potential values of an attribute "gender" might be "masculine", "feminine", and "neuter". And so on.

A more complex kind of feature structure is a list of simultaneously descriptive feature structures. (There is thus a recursive quality to the notion "feature structure": an attribute-value pair is a feature structure; a value can be a feature structure; a set of feature structures can be a feature structure.) This can be represented as a bracketed list of feature structures, such as

A still more complex kind of feature structure is a list of attributes together with their value assignments. There might be an attribute "inflection" that has number and gender information as its value; hence:

Higher-level attributes are posited just in case there are some grammatical generalizations that require mention of the whole system of feature structures that make up their value.

At the highest level, we will recognize, for grammatical descriptions of syntactic constituents, the following classes of features:

1.3.1 Phrasal Roles

Phrasal roles are features assigned to the daughters of phrasal constructions, showing how the elements of phrases are related to the phrase as a whole. The attribute name will be role, and for each of the phrases we are examining exactly one of the values will be head. For the moment we are considering only headed phrases, that is, phrases in which one daughter plays a significant part in characterizing the phrase as a whole. That daughter is of the type [role head], and the values of the "role" attrribute for the other or others will fall into one or another of the following types: complement, modifier, specifier, and filler.

For English it makes sense to name phrase types (and the constructions which license them) by expressions that identify role names, in the order in which the daughters occur. In our example sentence, we can see that

1.3.2 Synsem Features

Synsem features are divided into two types, intrinsic and relational. Briefly, intrinsic features identify the properties of a constituent, telling 'what they are', while relational features identify 'what they are doing' in a given context. (The role features just discussed have this latter property, too, but they are given special treatment because they only figure in separating the functions of phrasal members.) Relational Features

Relational features identify the function (or role, or relation) of a constituent relative to the combinatorial needs of some other part of the sentence (discussed below under valence). These are divided into The gf features we use will be For various reasons we may wish to choose various distinct ways of talking about what we here identify as obliques, but the intention is to have all of these represented as just one type of grammatical relation. When we speak of a prepositional phrase serving in an adverbial function in a sentence we will use oblique; when we speak of an adverbial constituent that is not clearly connected with the internal semantics of the sentences head predicate, we may use the term adjunct; and when we speak of oblique valents which are verbal or sentential in form, we may use the term complement. The subject of a sentence will be the sentence part that participates in subject-verb agreement; the object of a sentence will be restricted (with some qualifications) to that sentence part, distinct from the subject, which follows a verb and expresses the valent which could appear as the subject of a passive sentence; and, in our somewhat idiosyncratic usage, the oblique is everything else. Certain accommodations will be made to bring our terminology more in line with other traditions, but in general these three will do. (Again, the details are to be found in the chapter on valence.)

The theta roles are the semantic roles played by the referents of linguistic expressions within particular kinds of high-level schemata of action, motion, cognition, etc. These notions figure in the interface between semantic and syntactic structures through a system of constructions known as linking constructions. Examples of theta-role names are

Again, details and a set of working assumptions will be presented in the chapter on valence.

Suffice it for now to make it clear that semantic relations do not correspond one-to-one to grammatical functions; that is, they are not definable in terms of the semantic interpretations of specific grammatical functions. This contradicts some traditional definitions of subject and object, whereby the subject is defined as the name of the individual who does something and the object is the name of the thing that has something done to it.

This lack of correspondence between grammatical functions and semantic roles can be illustrated by considering contrasts and distinctions in the following two sentences


There is a semantic role called experiencer, identifying the locus of a psychological state or process, which is instantiated by the subject of (22)a and the object of (17)b. (In our example sentence, she is the experiencer of a "realizing" predication.) We also notice in (17) that the subject in (17)a does not have the same semantic role as the subject in (17)b. We leave until later a consideration of the nature of the non-experiencer roles in (17). Intrinsic Features: Syntactic

The intrinsice features are divided into syn and sem features. Here we speak briefly of the syn or syntactic features, which can be divided into two further types, head features and level features. In general, head features are features that are characteristic of both heads and the phrases they head, while level features distinguish different levels of structure.

Head Features. The head features are those properties of a constituent which are projected (or "percolated") to the constituent's phrasal "mother". The way this works is related tothe discussion of "visibility" above: the head features of a constituent are those features which are present in the "label" of the phrase that the constituent is the head of.

One of the most important of the head features is called cat or category. The distinctions among the cat features corresponds to the distinctions found among the traditional "parts of speech" -- though while the parts of speech are typically thought of as attributes of words alone, being a classification of word types, the cat features are seen as characteristics of phrases as well.

The cat features that we recognize include

Others will be needed; and there are also situations in which no clear cat feature is called for.

An important characteristic of Construction Grammar is the position that the identity of the lexeme of a head constituent is a head feature. This means that we can always identify a phrase with reference to its lexical head. One of the benefits of this decision is that it facilitates the formulation of certain collocational patterns while preserving locality.

Level Features. What we are calling level features are features that indicate the "level" of a constituent. Two important level features are lexicality, which simply refers to being (or not being) a word, and maximality, which refers to being (or not being) an argument of a predicate or the major constituent of a sentence." The two notions of lexicality and maximality are independent. Consider sentence (18).

(18) The main key disappeared.

The word key in this sentence is lexical but not maximal: it is not all by itself an argument of the verb disappeared. The word disappeared is lexical AND maximal: it is a single word that, in this context, stands alone as the sentence's complete verb phrase.

The maximality contrast can be most easily illustrated with nomimals, i.e., constituents of category n. As suggested by the example with key above, a clear case of a non-maximal constituent is a singular count noun such as bird. The simple word bird cannot occur on its own as the subject of a sentence or as the object of a verb or a preposition, and in that sense we say it is necessarily non-maximal. But it can occur as the head in a determined noun phrase construction, a construction which places an article or a possessor at the beginning of a nominal expression resulting in a maximal noun phrase. Thus, the bird or my bird, as well as a huge bird or my favorite bird, can indeed occur in positions requiring maximal noun phrases.

Additional intrinsic features of the syntactic type will be presented below, after we have introduced the concept of valence. Intrinsic Features: Semantic

Sem ("semantic") features include those identifying simple semantic propertes, such as animateness, masculinity, boundedness, etc., but in general the semantic structures that concern us most will be built around what we will be calling frames.

A semantic frame is a conceptual structure that is evoked by or encoded in a construction, most obviously in lexical constructions, i.e., in words. For example, the frame associated with the verb realize in our sample sentence encompasses a schematization that includes a cognizer, i.e., the person who "realizes" something, a content, i.e., that which the cognizer takes to be true, and a "presuppositional" structure which includes the information that the person who USES the word realize takes for granted the truth of the proposition represented by the phrase that expresses the content. When the semantic frame of realize is associated with a particular syntactic structure, we recognize the difference between two kinds of complements, a that-clause complements (realize that it's ten o'clock) and an interrogative complement (realize where we are), in which case the "content" has to be understood as, in a sense, the correct answer to the underlying interrogative. The presuppositional structure of realize goes further than that, since it also includes the implication that the answer to such interrogative is particularly salient. Thus, a person who utters sentence (16)a thinks he's pretty important; a person who utters sentence (16)b is worried that it's getting late; and a person who utters sentence (16)c suspects that Lucy's age is something to worry about.


1.4 Valence

In addition to role features and synsem features, the next important feature type is valence. A valence attribute for a lexical head is a set of feature structures, each of which characterizes the semantic and syntactic characteristics of one of the lexical head's valents. We will use the word valent to refer to any constituent type required by a predicator or valence-bearing lexical head, and will feel free to use this word to cover both the semantic requirement and the corresponding specification of grammatical form.

1.5 Phonology

The phon or phonology features will for the most part finessed in this book. The chapter on morphology, chapter 4, will briefly take into account what needs to be said in a proper theory of morphophonology as phonological material interfaces with matters of syntactic structure, but we will use angle brackets to indicate the phonology that corresponds to the word or phrase enclosed in them. Thus, "" will refer to the proper phonological representation of the word written "duck".

Basic Grammatical Categories

The constructions which license particular phrases must specify the kinds of constituents they require. This means that grammatical constituents have to have certain properties assigned to them. The "properties" or "features" (these terms will be used interchangeably) that figure in grammatical generalizations are assigned to both lexical constituents (words) and to phrasal constituents, and they are of several kinds. The first kind we can call categorial, giving us information about the kind of entity the thing is. The second kind is relational, giving us information about the role a constituent has in a particular context.

Consider the facts in example (15):


In both (15)a and (15)b, the form cats is a noun; that characterization is of the categorial type, and is independent of what the word is doing in its sentence. But in (15)a cats is the subject of the sentence, and in (15)b, cats is the object. This time we are talking about how the word cats relates to its environment; and the characterization of something as subject or object is of the relational type.

Categorial Information

We begin with categorial information. The simplest and most familiar are the traditional "parts of speech" as these are assigned to individual words. But in many cases, to say that something is a verb or a noun is not enough, since there are subclasses of these parts of speech that have to be known in explaining their distribution and behavior. In the case of the nine words in our sample sentence, we might say the following:

(16) Categorial features.

        does      verb; auxiliary verb                                           
        she       noun; personal pronoun                                         
        realize   verb                                                           
        how       adverb; interrogative word                                     
        heavy     adjective                                                      
        the       article                                                        
        big       adjective                                                      
        ones      noun; indefinite pronoun                                       
        are       verb; copula; auxiliary                                        

For consistency, the word "noun" is used here for any kind of nominal constituent. Traditionally, the word "noun" is the name for a word which is a lexical item of the nominal type but which is not a pronoun.

The main available category labels will include verb, noun, adjective, and preposition among the clearest cases; to these we will find reasons to add others from time to time - quantifier, adverb, article, demonstrative, etc. It is clear, however, that many of these words will need to bear more than one label, i.e., will have to be assigned more than one grammatical feature. Some of the additional features are subtypes of the main features. (Thus, auxiliary is a subtype of verb, pronoun is a subtype of noun, etc.). But sometimes the categories associated with a word are cross-cutting, such as what we see in (16) like thus or slowly. The how in our sentence is an adverb, but unlike thus or slowly, it is also an interrogative word; who and which are interrogative words, unlike how, but they are not adverbs.

Phrasal or multi-word constituents have grammatical properties, too. At the largest level, our example is a sentence; it is also a clause; as a clause it is an interrogative clause; as an interrogative clause it is an inverted clause (an auxiliary precedes the subject).

The constituent how heavy the big ones are is also a clause, and it is also an interrogative clause, but it is a "WH"-clause (its first element is an interrogative phrase).

Relational Features: Phrasal Roles

< p> So far we have been talking about features of constituents that merely represent "what they are": we turn now to questions of "what they are doing where they are". We will later return to more properties of the former kind, but especially properties that determine, or are sensitive to, the kinds of relational features we are about to examine.

The phrasal constituents that we encounter can in the first instance be divided into headed phrases and non-headed phrases. Non-headed phrases are more or less symmetrical, in the sense that there is no daughter constituent that determines the character of the phrase as a whole. In the phrases that we will consider here, one daughter constituent more closely determine the phrasal type of the mother than the other or others. That is the constituent which we will call the head of the phrase.

The head of the verb phrase [ [realize] [how heavy the big ones are] ] is the verb realize, and the remainder is its complement. We can refer to this as a head-complement phrase, and the construction which licenses it as a head complement construction. Other head-complement constructions place prepositional, verbal, or clausal complements after nouns (fear of lightning, desire to go home, knowledge that the end is near), prepositional, verbal, or clausal complements after adjectives (afraid of lightning, eager to go home, certain that the end is near), and nominal and prepositional complements after prepositions (in the rain, from under the sofa). We will see later that heads determine what kinds of complements they welcome, and the mechanism by which that is achieved will be discussed under the heading valence. In the realize example, there is only one complement and the phrase has a binary structure; but a lexical head can require more than one complement, as in sentence (17), where there are two complements in the verb phrase headed by showed.


We will regard the basic structure of the sentence (1) as a three-part verb-headed phrase in which does is the head. Thus, [[does] [she] [realize how heavy the big ones are]].

Returning to the conventions of using the word phrase, we can notice that there are verb phrases which are not head-complement phrases, as in (18)a, and there are verb phrases which are not headed phrases, as is the case with the bracketed constituent in (18)b.


(In the case of (18)b, the substructure of the verb phrase contains two verb phrases, but the constituent as a whole is a conjunction, hence non-headed, rather than a headed phrase.)

Not all noun-phrases are phrasal, as in (19)a, and not all phrasal noun-phrases are headed, as seen in (19)b.


The phrase [ [how heavy] [the big ones are] ] is a filler-head phrase, from the fact that the initial adjective phrase how heavy "fills" or satisfies a requirement of its head, since the verb are does not have its complement locally satisfied. That is, the verb be (here in the form are) "asks for" something to complete its function; to say that what it needs is not locally satisfied means that it does not appear as a right sister of are in a head-complement phrase.

A traditional generativist treatment of a noun phrase made up of a determiner, an adjective, and a nominal head, is right branching, that is, in terms of two right-headed binary phrases. On such an analysis, a modification construction licenses an adjective-plus-noun-phrase (big ones, in our case), and a determination construction licenses a determiner-plus-noun-phrase (the plus big ones in our sentence). The expression "noun-phrase" was used in both of these descriptions since an adjective might modify an already modified noun, and a determiner might determine a modified noun. The problems with this analysis are discussed in chapter 3. Suffice it to say for now that we are going to be positing a noun-phrase construction which allows determiners, pre-nominal modifiers, noun, and post-nominal modifiers, in a generally "flat" configuration. The special complexities of this construction reside in the fact that all of these roles (except the nominal head) are optional. Within phrases, then, we can identify types of relationships holding between the constituent members of a phrase. These can be represented by features indicating phrasal roles. All of the phrases we have discussed so far have one constituent whose role is head. The others are modifier, specifier, filler, and complement.

Further Relational Properties: Grammatical Functions and Semantic Roles

It is important to repeat that the role features just discussed are necessarily context bound. To say that something is a head is not to say what it is, but what its function is in a particular linguistic context. Nothing is a head, a modifier, or a complement, in isolation. To call something a head, or a complement, is to speak of its role within a phrase.

There are two additional kinds of relational notions that we need to recognize in grammatical theory, and these are grammatical functions and thematic roles. The way we use these words, they will be assigned by properties of valence sets. In a sentence like (20)

(20) Jimmy broke the balloon.

we will describe Jimmy as the subject and the balloon as the object, but OF WHAT? They are the subject and the object of the verb break (here in the form broke), but it would also be common to say that Jimmy is additionally the subject of the whole sentence.

The grammatical functions of a verb are represented in something we call a valence set; a valence set is initially associated with the verb, but since it shapes the basic syntactic and semantic structure of the whole sentence, it is "transmitted" or "projected" to the sentence as a whole. For a simple clause like the one in (20), to say that Jimmy is the subject oF the verb is the same as to say that it is the subject of the sentence, since Jimmy as subject is a member of the valence set which belongs to both.

Repeating: when a verb is found in a sentence, it has brought with it, as a part of its lexical entry, a valence set identifying and controlling the constituents that may or must co-occur with it in the sentence. This valence set is projected to the "mothers" and "grandmothers" of the verb, up to the level of the sentence.

We will also say, with respect to the sentence's meaning, that Jimmy is the agent of the action of breaking the balloon, and that the balloon is the patient of that action. These terms, indicating the semantic role of each element with respect to the action, are also specified in the same valence set; and since the action of breaking is associated with the verb as well as with the entire sentence, once again we have this apparent ambiguity in respect to what these things are agents and patients OF.

(In referring to the subject as "Jimmy" and the agent as "Jimmy" (in plain font) we intend to reflect the idea that in the one case we are talking about a linguistic entity, the noun-phrase Jimmy; in the other case we are talking about the person Jimmy viewed as the agent of the activity.)

The essential difference between phrasal roles on the one hand and the grammatical functions and semantic relations on the other hand is that in the former case, the relations are between sisters in a phrase, the latter are relations between a valence set and elements which might be represented anywhere in the sentence, or, as we will see later, elements which are not actually physically present in the sentence at all.

We will use the term valents to refer to the members of valence sets, independently of whether we have in mind grammatical or semantic entities. We will also allow ourselves to refer to valents that have no corresponding semantic interpretation ("semantically empty" syntactic elements, such as the it of it's true), and to valents that are semantically understood but syntactically missing (such as the "understood subject" of an imperative sentence). Auxiliaries

Some verbs are of the subtype auxiliary. An auxiliary requires a subject and a complement. Two of the words in sentence (1) are classified as auxiliaries, does and are. In the case of does in our sample sentence, the subject is she, and the complement is realize how heavy the big ones are. But from what was said earlier, the word she functions in one sense as the subject of does and in another sense as the subject of the whole sentence. The subject of are is the big ones, which is simultaneously the subject of the inner (and incomplete) clause the big ones are. and of the whole (interrogative) clause how heavy the big ones are.

But she in this sentence, while directly instantiating the subject of does, is also indirectly the subject of the verb realize. We will say that she directly instantiates the subject requirement of does (this is the verb onto which she induces grammatical agreement - we get does rather than do), but that she indirectly instantiates (or co-instantiates) the subject requirement of realize.

(Eventually we will want to recognize the big ones as the indirectly instantiated subject of how heavy, but questions about the subject relation for adjective phrases can be postponed.)

The grammatical functions that we will need to recognize, for English, are subject (already discussed), but also object. For valence elements which are neither subjects nor objects, we will use the term oblique to cover them all. In a sentence like

(21) I showed the photographs to the judge.

we will say that I is the subject, the photographs is the object, and to the judge is an oblique. A reason for saying "the subject" and "the object" but "an oblique" is that a grammatical English simple clause contains exactly one subject, at most one object, but any number of obliques.

In the following sentence the obliques are bracketed:

(21) We drew the picture [yesterday] [on the blackboard] [with colored chalk].

Terminological Digression: COMPLEMENT

We have introduced the term complement as the name of a phrasal role, for cases in which we have a lexical head followed by a complement, where the word stands for a phrasal role. In addition to the remarks made above about sentence (21), we can notice that the verb phrase drew the picture yesterday on the blackboard with colored chalk is a head-complement construction with head drew and four complements. There are three (3!) other uses of the word complement that we need to be careful about. Some people use the word to refer to anything in a word's valence set, thus including subjects (which generally do not appear with the verb in a head-complement phrase); and some people use the word to refer specifically to those valence elements which are obligatory, reserving the word adjunct for those that are optional; and there is a use of the word that is limited to verb phrases or clauses, rather than noun phrases or preposition phrases, that serve as members of valence sets.

Semantic Relations

The third important kind of relational notion has to do with semantic relations, of which we have already given a number of examples. This part of grammar, and the problems connected with it, will be dealt with in detail in the chapter on valence. Other Morpho-Syntactic Features

For a language like English, once we recognize the existence of grammatical relations we are ready to see the need for further descriptions of the grammatical properties of the words in our sample sentence. Many of these new features render the difference between categorial and relational features a bit confusing. Characterizing she as nominative, for example, is saying something true about what kind of a word she is; but at the same time we have to recognize that she is the kind of a word which is limited to particular linguistic contexts. We are dealing here with categorial properties which are reflections of relational properties.

The needed kinds of additional information can be suggested by the following table:

(23) Further properties of words.

        does      present tense (compare with did) singular (compare with do)    
                  third person (compare with (I) do)                             
        she       singular (compare with they) nominative (compare with her)     
                  feminine (compare with he) third person (compare with I,       
        realize   bare infinitive (compare with realized, realizes)              
        the       definite (compare with a)                                      
        ones      plural (compare one)                                           
        are       present tense (compare with were) plural (compare with is)     
                  third person (compare with am)                                 

Many of the properties just illustrated a re reflexes of the word's context, but they are nevertheless properties revealing something about what the words are. The properties belong to grammatical feature sets called case (the nominative feature of she), tense (past versus present in verbs), number (singular versus plural), person (first person [I, we], second person [you], third person [the rest]), verb form (finite, infinitive, gerund, etc.), and a few that we'll be making up on the run.

Lexemes and Word Forms

What we have been referring to so far simply as the "words" in sentence (1) are mostly variants of more abstract entities, and for this we use the term lexeme. The concept lexeme is an abstraction that allows us to say that the lexeme be shows up in sentences in many forms. The word forms that realize be are am, is, was, were, be, and being. The lexeme do shows up in our sentence as does. The lexeme realize shows up as realize.

In English the name we conventionally give to a lexeme is one of its word forms; in the case of verbs, it is the infinitive or bare-stem form. In the case of nouns, it's the singular form; in the case of pronouns, the nominative form, etc. (The lexeme she has word-forms she, her, hers, for example.)

Our treatment of the distinction we have just been discussing will be assigned to the morphology and the forms themselves will simply be reflected in the phon component. The way this works will be made clear in chapter four.

Combinatorics and Argument Structure

In connection with what we can call the combinatorial properties of words, we have already spoken of valence. The combinatorial requirements of a word will often specify constraints on the grammatical realization of the arguments of the word. Such constraints can be expressed in terms of the grammatical functions and thematic roles of its arguments, as well as their grammatical form. Of the verb realize, for example, we might say that it requires the presence of a constituent identifying the experiencer of a particular kind of mental state or process, and the content of that state or process; the experiencer is capable of realization as the subject of a sentence headed by realize, and the content is capable of realization as its object. The object can be expressed as a noun phrase (he realizes his limitations) or clausally, either as a that-clause (that she loves me in she doesn't realize that she loves me) or as an interrogative clause (what time it is in do you realize what time it is?).

(In the final story we will need one more distinction in the lexical realm, treating the fact that words can have multiple meanings, and that different senses of a word might have different valences. For example, there is a second meaning of realize seen in an expression like to realize one's potential; in this sense the word has no clausal complements.)

The valence of a word, then, is the description of the combinatorial potential of the word. Since there is some redundancy or predictability in respect to the co-occurrence of grammatical functions, semantic roles, and syntactic form, it is possible to take advantage of that by distinguishing the minimal valence of a word, that specification of valence information from which the rest can be predicted, and the full valence, a description which identifies the relational features of all of the valence elements in a given sentence. The generalizations which account for the pairing of semantic roles with grammatical functions make up an area of grammatical description known as linking.

The Auxiliary DO

The valence of the auxiliary word does in our sentence is fairly complex. A form of the verbal lexeme do, it is an auxiliary which requires a subject and a complement, the subject is assigned no semantic role by this verb, and the complement must be a verb phrase headed by a non-auxiliary verb, in its bare infinitive form.

That is, it shares with auxiliaries like will or can requiring the bare infinitive form in its complement, but unlike will or can it is limited to complements headed by non-auxiliary verbs. Thus we can say


It shares with the passive auxiliary verb be the requirement that its complement has to be headed by a non-auxiliary verb, but the passive auxiliary requires a complement headed by a verb in past participial form. Thus:


And do is necessarily finite: it can only be the first verb in a verb chain, a property it shares with will and can and other modal auxiliaries.


In short, the valence requirements of do are absolutely unique. It cannot be preceded or followed by another auxiliary.

Non-Valential Combinatorics

Some distributional constraints on words are not typically thought of in terms of valence. The adjective heavy is interesting in this respect. It is a scalar adjective, like old, large, long, tall, etc., and it is thus able to occur with specifiers that indicate the scalar extent of the thing being measured. All of them, for example, can use extent indicators of the kind so, this, and how: how tall, how heavy, how old; so large, so long, so heavy; this tall, this heavy; etc, But while adjectives for the other unilinear scales also allow qualification of the extent with a precise measurement expression, heavy does not. That is, we get (27)a-c, but not (27)d.



Information about the meaning of a phrase can be built up from the semantic descriptions of its constituent elements. The key word in our sample sentence is realize This word has the peculiarity of being a factive verb, in that its use presupposes the truth of a that-clause complement, or it presupposes the known answer of an interrogative clause. Furthermore, it conveys a sense of the importance of the presupposed information. Thus a sentence like (23)a is merely a statement of my anonymity in this environment; but adds more than that - the implication that I am important, or that their reaction to me would be quite different if they knew who I was.


"Flat" semantics