2 Syntactic constituenthood


At first glance, a sentence consists of a string of words arranged in a single dimension - that of linear order. However, we presented evidence in Chapter 1 for a second dimension that is less obvious (though no less real!) than linear order - the dimension of syntactic structure. Whether a particular string of words is a syntactic constituent isn't always self-evident, and so several diagnostic tests have been developed for constituenthood. In this chapter, we review these tests, along with some of the complications that arise in applying them. We also discuss in more detail how syntactic structure is represented in tree diagrams of the sort introduced in Chapter 1.


Tests for determining syntactic constituenthood

Substitution

The most basic test for syntactic constituenthood is the substitution test. The reasoning behind the test is simple. A constituent is any syntactic unit, regardless of length or syntactic category. A single word is the smallest possible constituent belonging to a particular syntactic category. So if a single word can substitute for a string of several words, that's evidence that the word and the string are constituents of the same category.

We mentioned in Chapter 1 that pronouns can substitute for noun phrases. Some examples are given in (1).

(1) a.   The little boy fed the cat.   He fed her.
b.   Black cats detest green peas. They detest them.

As we already said in Chapter 1, it's important to understand that a particular string of words can be a noun phrase in one syntactic context, but not in another. For instance, the substitution test tells us that the underlined strings are noun phrases in (1), but not in (2).

(2) a.   The little boy from next door fed the cat without a tail. * He from next door fed her without a tail.
b.   These black cats detest those green peas. * These they detest those them.

Rather, in these sentences, the noun phrases are the longer strings in (3) that are underlined.

(3) a.   The little boy from next door fed the cat without a tail.   He fed her.
b.   These black cats detest those green peas. They detest them.

Pronouns are not the only placeholder elements, or pro-forms. For instance, adverbs such as here or there can substitute for constituents that refer to locations or directions. As in the case of noun phrases, whether a particular string is a constituent depends on its syntactic context.

(4) a.   Put it on the table. Put it there.
b.   Put it over on the table. Put it over there.
c.   Put it over on the table. Put it there.
(5) a.   Put it on the table that's by the door. * Put it there that's by the door.
b.   Put it over on the table that's by the door. * Put it over there that's by the door.
c.   Put it over on the table that's by the door. * Put it there that's by the door.

The word so can substitute for adjective phrases (here, the most natural-sounding results are obtained in contexts of comparison). As usual, the same string sometimes is a constituent and sometimes isn't.

(6) a.   I am very happy, and Linda is so, too.
b.   I am very fond of Lukas, and Linda is so, too.
c.   I am very fond of my nephew, * and Linda is so of her niece.

Finally, pronouns and sometimes the word so can substitute for subordinate clauses introduced by that, as in (7).

(7) a.   I { know, suspect } that they're invited. I { know, suspect } it.
b.   I { imagine, think } that they're invited. I { imagine, think } so.

We conclude our discussion of substitution by noting a complicating factor. Nowhere is it written that every constituent has a corresponding pro-form. For instance, although some prepositional phrases can be replaced by the pro-forms here or there, other types of prepositional phrases - for instance, ones referring to purposes or reasons - can't. As a result, it is perfectly possible for the substitution test to give false negative results, and for the results of the substitution to disagree with the results of the other tests presented in what follows. We return to the issue of false negative results later on in the chapter.

Movement

Substitution by pro-forms is not the only diagnostic for whether a string is a constituent. If it is possible to move a particular string from its ordinary position to another position - typically, the beginning of the sentence - that, too, is evidence that the string is a constituent. In order to make the result of movement completely acceptable, it's sometimes necessary to use a special intonation or to invoke a special discourse context, especially in the case of noun phrases. In the examples that follow, "___" indicates the ordinary position that a constituent has moved from, and appropriate discourse material (enclosed in parentheses) may be added to make the examples more felicitous.

(8) a.   I fed the cats. The cats, I fed ___. (The dogs, I didn't.)
b.   I fed the cats with long, fluffy tails. The cats with long, fluffy tails, I fed ___. (The other cats, I didn't.)

Movement of constituents other than noun phrases is illustrated in (9).

(9) a. Prepositional phrase: The cat strolled across the porch with a confident air. With a confident air, the cat strolled across the porch ___.
b. Adjective phrase: Ali Baba returned from his travels wiser than before. Wiser than before, Ali Baba returned from his travels ___.
c. Adverb phrase: They arrived at the concert hall more quickly than they had expected. More quickly than they had expected, they arrived at the concert hall ___.

As shown in (10), moving strings that aren't constituents yields ungrammatical results.

(10) a.   I fed the cats with long, fluffy tails. * The cats, I fed ___ with long, fluffy tails.1
b.   The cat strolled across the porch with a confident air. * With a, the cat strolled across the porch ___ confident air.
c.   Ali Baba returned from his travels wiser than before. * Wiser than, Ali Baba returned from his travels ___ before.
d.   They arrived at the concert hall more quickly than they had expected. * More quickly than they, they arrived at the concert hall ___ had expected.

Questions and short answers

Another diagnostic for whether a string is a constituent is whether the string can function as a short answer to a question. The question itself also functions as a diagnostic test, since we can think of it as being derived by substitution of a question word for a string, with subsequent movement of the question word.2 (11) illustrates this pair of tests for a variety of constituent types.

(11) a. Noun phrase:   What do you see? The cats.
Cats with long, fluffy tails.
The cats with long, fluffy tails.
b. Prepositional phrase:   How did the cat stroll across the porch? With a confident air.
c.   Where did Ali Baba go? On a long journey.
To New York.
d. Adjective phrase:   How did Ali Baba return? Wiser than before.
Fairly jet-lagged.
e. Adverb phrase:   How did they do? Not badly.
Surprisingly well.
Much better than they had expected.

Once again, attempting to question nonconstituents is ungrammatical.

(12) a. * What did you feed ___ long, fluffy tails? * The cats with.
b. * How did the cat stroll across the porch ___ confident air? * With a.
c. * How did Ali Baba return from his travels ___ before? * Wiser than.
d. * How did they arrive at the concert hall ___ had expected? * More quickly than they.

Notice, incidentally, that so substitution for adjective phrases and subordinate clauses has a variant that is reminiscent of questions. In addition to just substituting for the string of interest, as illustrated earlier, so can move to the beginning of the sentence, triggering subject-aux inversion - the same process that turns declarative sentences into yes-no questions. This variant of so substitution is illustrated in (13) and (14).

(13) a.   I am very happy, and so is Linda.
b.   I am very fond of Lukas, and so is Linda.
c.   I am very fond of my nephew, * and so is Linda of her niece.
(14)     I { imagine, think } that they're invited, and so do they.

It clefts

The final constituent test that we'll consider is based on a special sentence type known as it clefts. We begin by noting that ordinary sentences can often be divided into two parts: a part that contains background information that is presupposed, the ground, and a part that is intended to be particularly informative, the focus. In spoken language, this focus-ground partition (also known as its information structure) is generally conveyed by intonation.3 In written language, where intonation is difficult to represent, it is still possible to indicate a sentence's information structure by fitting the focus and the ground into a syntactic frame consisting of it, a form of the copula to be, and the subordinating conjunction that. In the examples in (15), the frame is in black, the ground is in blue, and the focus is in red. Notice that a single sentence can be partitioned into focus and ground in more than one way, giving rise to more than one it cleft.

(15) a.   Ordinary cats detest the smell of citrus fruits.   It is ordinary cats that detest the smell of citrus fruits.
b.   Ordinary cats detest the smell of citrus fruits.   It is the smell of citrus fruits that ordinary cats detest.

If a string can appear as the focus of an it cleft, then it is a constituent. Some examples for various constituent types other than noun phrase are given in (16).

(16) a. Prepositional phrase   The cat strolled across the porch with a confident air.   It was with a confident air that the cat strolled across the porch ___.
b. Adjective phrase   Ali Baba returned from his travels wiser than before.   It was wiser than before that Ali Baba returned from his travels ___.
c. Adverb phrase   They arrived at the concert hall more quickly than they had expected.   It was more quickly than they had expected that they arrived at the concert hall ___.

Because of their discourse function, it clefts don't always sound entirely natural out of the blue. Nevertheless, it clefts where the focus is a constituent, as in (16), contrast sharply with the word salad that results from attempting to focus a string that isn't a constituent, as in (17).

(17) a.   Ordinary cats detest the smell of citrus fruits. * It is the smell of that ordinary cats detest ___ citrus fruits.
b. The cat strolled across the porch with a confident air. * It was with a confident that the cat strolled across the porch ___ air.
c. Ali Baba returned from his travels wiser than before. * It was wiser than that Ali Baba returned from his travels ___ before.
d. They arrived at the concert hall more quickly than they had expected. * It was quickly than they had expected that they arrived at the concert hall more ___.

Some complications

Mismatches between syntactic structure and other structure

We mentioned earlier that it is not always self-evident whether a particular sequence of words is a syntactic constituent. For instance, in reading a sentence like (18) out loud, we can perceive an intonation break between cat and that (indicated by the slash).

(18)     This is the cat / that chased the rat.

Because the intonation break is clearly audible, it is very tempting to equate the sentence's abstract syntactic structure with its relatively concrete prosodic structure. Specifically, because the and cat belong to the same prosodic constituent, it is tempting to treat the cat as a syntactic constituent.

There are two pieces of evidence against doing so. First, as we have already seen in similar examples, substituting a pronoun for the string the cat is ungrammatical in the context of (18) (though not in other contexts).

(19) a.   This is the cat that chased the rat. * This is it that chased the rat.
b.   I petted the cat. ok I petted it.

Second, the string cat that chased the rat is shown to be a constituent by the grammaticality of substituting the pro-form one. (One substitution is discussed in more detail in Chapter 5.)

(20)     This is the cat that chased the rat. This is the one.

The facts in (19a) and (20) converge to tell us that the word cat first combines with the relative clause, not with the. Thus, (18) exhibits a mismatch between two types of linguistic structure: syntactic and prosodic.

It is worth noting that the syntactic structure just described corresponds to the way that the interpretation of the entire expression the cat that chased the rat is composed from the interpretation of smaller expressions. In a simple semantics, the term cat denotes the set of all cats. Combining cat with the relative clause yields cat that chased the rat, which denotes a subset of all cats - namely, those with the property of having chased the rat. Further combining cat that chased the rat with the definite article the yields as a denotation some unique individual within the rat-chasing subset of cats (exactly which individual this is depends on the discourse context).4

This correspondence of syntactic structure and semantic structure (the step-by-step composition of the expression's meaning, as just illustrated for (18)) holds up as a first approximation, and it is consistent with the correspondence between noun phrases and individuals, between adjective phrases and properties, between prepositional phrases and locations, directions, etc., between verb phrases and events, states, etc., and so on. Nevertheless, mismatches between syntactic structure and semantic structure are possible. For instance, the sentence in (21) has two distinct meanings, which can be paraphrased as in (22).

(21)   Every student knows two languages.
(22) a.   For every student, it is the case that he or she knows two languages.
(Abigail knows Arabic and Basque, Chris knows Chinese and Danish, Eric knows English and French, ...)
b.   There are two languages that every student knows.
(Arabic and Basque are known by Abigail, Chris, Eric, ...)

In the interpretation in (22a), the universal quantifier every is said to take scope over the number two (EVERY > TWO). In the interpretation in (22b), the number takes scope over the universal quantifier (TWO > EVERY). In either case, though, the ambiguous sentence itself (not the paraphrases!) has a single syntactic structure. This is evident from the syntactic constituenthood tests in (23), where the question and short answer pair are compatible with either scope interpretation.

(23) a.   Every student knows two languages. Who knows two languages? Every student.
b.   Every student knows two languages. What does every student know? Two languages.

Other mismatches are also possible. Recall from the section on it clefts that one and the same sentence can be associated with more than one information structure. Finally, mismatches between syntactic and morphological structure are common; we discuss some examples in more detail in Chapters 6 and 7.

False negative results

In a perfect world for syntacticians, the constituenthood tests would have perfect validity. That is, a biconditional relation would hold between a string's being a constituent and passing the constituenthood tests, as indicated in the penultimate column in (24). The examples presented so far have been consistent with such a biconditional relation. However, the world is not made to order for syntacticians, and it turns out to be possible for constituents to fail one or more constituenthood tests. The actual state of affairs is thus as indicated in the rightmost column of (24).5

Ideal world Real world
(24) a.   If a string passes the constituenthood tests, then it is a constituent. TRUE TRUE
b.   If a string is a constituent, then it passes the constituenthood tests. TRUE sometimes FALSE

In other words, the failure of a string to pass a constituenthood test can be a false negative result. In what follows, we present three such cases - constituents that fail at least some of constituenthood tests

Phrasal versus lexical constituents. Since single words are indivisible units, they are constituents by definition.6 Nevertheless, they don't necessarily behave on a par with multiword constituents. For instance, cats passes the constituenthood tests reviewed earlier in (25), but not in (26).

(25)     Cats are not social animals.   They are not social animals.
(26) a.   The cats are hungry. * The they are hungry.
b.   Tabby cats are quite common. * Tabby they are quite common.
c.   Cats without tails are relatively rare. * They without tails are relatively rare.
d.   Those cats that have no tails are Manx cats. * Those they that have no tails are Manx cats.

The reason for the grammaticality contrast in (25) and (26) is a systematic difference between the syntactic contexts in these examples. In (26), cats is accompanied by a determiner or a modifier of some sort, indicated by italics. In such contexts, cats combines with these other words to form a noun phrase, but it isn't a noun phrase in its own right. In (25), on the other hand, cats is a bare (= unmodified) noun. As such, it functions as a noun and as a noun phrase at the same time. In other words, there are two levels of constituenthood: the lexical level, where single words are constituents by definition, and the phrasal level, where single words don't necessarily behave on a par with multiword constituents.

The constituenthood tests reviewed earlier turn out to be diagnostic only for phrasal constituents. The ungrammatical results of attempting to move, question, and focus lexical constituents, rather than phrasal ones, are illustrated in (27)-(29). The relevant lexical constituent is underlined, and any words belonging with it to the same phrasal constituent are in italics.

(27) a. Attempt to move:   I fed the cats. * Cats, I fed the ___.
b.   The cat strolled across the porch with a confident air. * With, the cat strolled across the porch ___ a confident air.
c.   Ali Baba returned from his travels wiser than before. * Wiser, Ali Baba returned from his travels ___ than before.
d.   They arrived at the concert hall more quickly than they had expected. * Quickly, they arrived at the concert hall more ___ than they had expected.
(28) a. Attempt to question: * What did you see the ___? * Cats.
b. * How did the cat stroll across the porch ___ a confident air? * With.
c. * How did Ali Baba return from his travels ___ than before? * Wiser.
d. * How did they arrive at the concert hall more ___ than they had expected? * Quickly.
(29) a. Attempt to focus: Ordinary cats detest the smell of citrus fruits. * It is smell that ordinary cats detest the ___ of citrus fruits.
b. The cat strolled across the porch with a confident air. * It was with that the cat strolled across the porch ___ a confident air.
c. Ali Baba returned from his travels wiser than before. * It was wiser that Ali Baba returned from his travels ___ than before.
d. They arrived at the concert hall more quickly than they had expected. * It was quickly that they arrived at the concert hall more ___ than they had expected.

The examples in (30-(32), on the other hand, illustrate the grammatical results of moving, questioning, and focusing phrasal constituents that happen to consist of a single word. (Notice the absence of italicized material in this case.)

(30) a. Movement:   I like cats. ok Cats, I like ___.
b.   Ali Baba returned from his travels wiser. ok Wiser, Ali Baba returned from his travels ___.
c.   They arrived at the concert hall quickly. ok Quickly, they arrived at the concert hall ___.
(31) a. Question/short answer: ok What do you like ___? ok Cats.
b. ok How did Ali Baba return from his travels ___? ok Wiser.
c. ok How did they arrive at the concert hall ___? ok Quickly.
(32) a. It cleft: Ordinary cats detest citrus. ok It is citrus that ordinary cats detest.
b. Ali Baba returned from his travels wiser. ok It was wiser that Ali Baba returned from his travels ___.
c. They arrived at the concert hall quickly. ok It was quickly that they arrived at the concert hall ___.

Finiteness. Testing for the constituenthood of verb phrases is more complicated than is testing for the constituenthood of other syntactic categories. First, there are no simple pro-forms for verb phrases. The best we can do is to use the periphrastic forms do so for substitution and do what for questions.7 (Notice that it's only what, rather than the entire pro-form do what, that moves to the beginning of a question.)

(33) a. Substitution:   She will write a book. ok She will do so.
b.   The two boys could order tuna salad sandwiches. ok The two boys could do so.
(34) a. Question/short answer:   What will she do? ok Write a book.
b.   What could the two boys do? ok Order tuna salad sandwiches.

Second and more importantly given our present focus on false negative results, verbs and the verb phrases that contain them come in two varieties, finite and nonfinite (see Finiteness in English for details). Now, two of the constituenthood tests - substitution and the question/short answer test - yield grammatical results regardless of a verb phrase's finiteness, as shown in (35) and (36).

(35) a. Substitution, nonfinite verb phrase:   She will write a book. ok She will do so.
b. finite verb phrase:   She wrote a book. ok She did so.
(36) a. Question/short answer, nonfinite verb phrase: What will she do? ok Write a book.
b. finite verb phrase: What did she do? ok Wrote a book.

But the results from the other two tests are more complex. Movement of nonfinite verb phrases is grammatical,8 whereas movement of finite ones is not.

(37) a. Movement, nonfinite verb phrase:   (She says that) she will write a book, ok (and) write a book, she will ___.
b. though she may write a book ok write a book though she may ___
(38) a. finite verb phrase:   (She said that) she wrote a book, * (and) wrote a book, she ___.
b. though she wrote a book * wrote a book though she ___

In it clefts, nonfinite verb phrases are marginally acceptable in focus, whereas finite verb phrases are again clearly ruled out.

(39) a. It cleft, nonfinite verb phrase: She will write a book. ? It is write a book that she will ___.
b. finite verb phrase: She wrote a book. * It is wrote a book that she ___.

To summarize: we have good evidence that nonfinite verb phrases are constituents. In the case of finite verb phrases, we have evidence for constituenthood from two of the four constituenthood tests. Given this slightly complex state of affairs, we will proceed as follows. We will make the simplifying assumption that the ungrammaticality of moving or focusing finite verb phrases has nothing to do with their constituenthood, but that it is due to some other reason, yet to be determined. (In fact, we will give you a crack at solving the problem in a later chapter.) Having made this assumption, we are free to treat finite verb phrases as constituents on a par with their nonfinite counterparts even though the syntactic behavior of the two types of verb phrases is not identical in all respects.

Chances are that you are a bit leery of the simplifying assumption just described. If so, think of it as comparable to taking out a loan. True, taking out a loan is risky, and taking out loans in a careless or irresponsible way can lead to financial disaster. Nevertheless, the credit market is a necessary and productive part of any modern economy. In a similar way, making simplifying assumptions in science can help us to make progress where we would otherwise be stumped by the complexity of the phenomena that we are investigating. Of course, we have to be careful about what simplifying assumptions we make. Otherwise, we end up fooling ourselves into believing that we are making progress, when in fact we are working on such a distorted model of reality that our work is worthless.

Apart from this wrinkle concerning finiteness, verb phrases behave just as we have come to expect from other constituent types. The tests yield grammatical results for verb phrases, but not for verbs.

(40) a. Substitution:   She will write a book. * She will do so a book.
b. Movement: (She says that) she will write a book, * and write, she will ___ a book.
c. "   though she may write a book * write though she may ___ a book
d. Question/short answer: * What will she do a book? * Write.
e. It cleft:   She will write a book. * It is write that she will ___ a book.

And once again, particular strings can be phrasal constituents in one syntactic context, but not in another. For instance, write isn't a phrasal constituent when it combines with a direct object, but it is when used on its own. This is the source of the grammaticality contrast between (40) and (41).

(41) a. Substitution:   She will write. ok She will do so.
b. Movement: (She says that) she will write, ok and write, she will ___.
c. "   though she may write ok write though she may ___
d. Question/short answer: What will she do? ok Write.
e. It cleft:   She will write. ? It is write that she will ___.

Islands. In (42a), the doctors is a constituent, as is evident from the possibility of substituting a pronoun for the string, as in (42b).

(42) a.   We should invite the lawyers and the doctors.
b.   We should invite the lawyers and them. (pointing to the doctors)

But although the doctors passes the substitution test, the other three tests yield ungrammatical results.

(43) a. * The doctors, we should invite the lawyers and ___.
b. * Who should we invite the lawyers and ___? The doctors.
c. * It is the doctors that we should invite the lawyers and ___.

Earlier, we pointed out that question formation can be thought of as a combination of substitution and movement. The parallel between movement and question formation in (43a,b) and the it cleft in (43c) suggests that the latter, too, involves movement - specifically, movement of the focus to the position preceding that. In the remainder of this section, we will therefore use the term 'movement' in a broad sense to include all three constituenthood tests instantiated in (43).

Notice that there is nothing semantically wrong with (43), since it is possible to express the intended meaning grammatically, as shown in (44).

(44) a. ok The doctors, we should invite ___ together with the lawyers.
b. ok Who should we invite ___ together with the lawyers? The doctors.
c. ok It is the doctors that we should invite ___ together with the lawyers.

Taken together with the grammaticality of (42b), the contrast between (43) and (44) shows that movement of the noun phrase the doctors is somehow prevented by the syntactic configuration in (43). Ross 1967 introduced the metaphorical term island for configurations that block movement where one would otherwise expect it to be possible. The idea underlying the term is that the constituents that might be expected to move, but can't, are stranded on an island like castaways.

Ross identified several types of islands, including coordinate structures, the type under discussion here,9 and his discovery has given rise to a huge body of literature on the topic. Our purpose here is neither to catalog the types of islands nor to pursue the proper linguistic analysis of them (this is done in Chapters 11 and 12), but simply to draw attention to the fact that constituenthood tests based on movement will yield false negative results for phrasal constituents if they happen to be contained in islands.

Representing syntactic constituenthood

In Chapter 1, we introduced tree diagrams as a convenient way of representing syntactic structure. For a mathematician working in the field of graph theory, the formal properties of tree diagrams are interesting in their own right, but for a syntactician, the interest of trees lies in the fact that they are representations, or models, of constituent structure. In other words, the graphic structure of a tree on the page is intended as a statement about the way that speakers group together syntactic elements in their minds. In a good model, we want the properties of the model to correspond straightforwardly to the properties of the domain of inquiry. Such a close correspondence allows us to state observations and generalizations about the domain of inquiry without undue complication. Moreover, if we're lucky, we might even be able to use our understanding of the model's formal properties as a sort of conceptual lever to generate hypotheses and to discover facts and generalizations about the domain of inquiry that would otherwise escape notice.

In light of these considerations, let's consider the sentence in (45), focusing particularly on the constituenthood of the underlined string.

(45)     The secretary drafted the letter.

According to the two tests that apply to finite verb phrases, the string drafted the letter is a constituent.

(46) a. Substitution:   The secretary drafted the letter. The secretary did so.
b. Question/short answer: What did the secretary do? Drafted the letter.

Having established this fact, let's now consider two alternative representations of the sentence. We've already encountered (47a) in Chapter 1. (47b) is an alternative, 'flatter' tree.

(47) a.       b.  

At first glance, the flatter tree might seem preferable on the grounds that it is simpler in the sense of containing fewer nodes. But let's focus on the question of which tree is a better representation of the sentence. Another way of putting this question is to ask whether either of the trees in (47) has some graphic property that corresponds to the results of the constituenthood tests in (46). In (47a), the answer is 'yes,' since there is a single node (the one labeled VerbPhr) that exhaustively dominates the string drafted the letter (see the section on exhaustive dominance in Node relations for a definition). The tree in (47b), on the other hand, lacks such a node and has no other graphic property that corresponds to the string's constituenthood. Clearly, then, (47a) is a better representation of the sentence, because it follows the natural convention in (48).

(48)     Syntactic constituents are represented graphically as nodes in a tree.

We will conclude this discussion of the model character of syntactic representations by emphasizing that models are just that - models, and not the actual domain of inquiry itself. The purpose of any model is to help us understand some part of reality that is too complex to understand in all of its detail, at least all at once. This means that models are partial in two respects. First, models often leave out many properties of a phenomenon that aren't relevant from a particular point of view. This fact is often stated in the form of the maxim "Don't mistake the map for the territory." For instance, a mountaineer's map might show topographical information in great detail, but completely ignore political boundaries, whereas a diplomat's map might do the reverse. Analogously, in linguistics, syntactic models leave out many important properties of language, such as real-world plausibility, pragmatic felicity, the location of intonation breaks, and so on. These are the focus of other subdisciplines of linguistics.

A second way that models are partial is that they are subject to revision as our understanding of a particular domain improves and deepens. Another way of saying this - which perhaps sounds more impressive - is to say that scientific progress is possible.


Notes

1. As we mentioned in Chapter 1, the grammaticality of a sentence depends on its interpretation. Specifically, (10a), repeated here as (i), is ungrammatical under the ordinary interpretation where the prepositional phrase with long, fluffy tails modifies cats.

(i)     The cats, I fed with long, fluffy tails.

(i) also has an outlandish interpretation that can be paraphrased as I fed long, fluffy tails to the cats. Under this interpretation, (i) is grammatical. In other words, in the pre-movement version of (i) given in (ii), the string the cats is a constituent in the outlandish interpretation, though not in the ordinary one.

(ii)     I fed the cats with long, fluffy tails.

Conversely, the string the cats with long, fluffy tails is a constituent in the ordinary interpretation of (ii), but not in the outlandish one. This is evident from the fact that (iii) has only the ordinary interpretation.

(iii)     The cats with long, fluffy tails, I fed. (The other cats, I didn't.)

2. Under certain discourse conditions, English allows the question word to remain in the place where it substitutes (in situ), as illustrated in (i). See Information versus echo questions for more discussion.

(i) a.   Who did you see? (information question or echo question)
b.   You saw who? (only echo question)

3. It is worth pointing out that focus-ground partitioning is relevant not just for it clefts, but also for questions and (short) answers. The focus in a question is the unknown information expressed by the question word. A short answer to a question consists only of a focus. Repeating the ground of the question yields a full answer.

(i) a. Question:   What animals detest the smell of citrus fruits?
b. Short answer:   Ordinary cats.
c. Full answer: Ordinary cats detest the smell of citrus fruits.
(ii) a. Question:   What do ordinary cats detest?
b. Short answer:   The smell of citrus fruits.
c. Full answer:   Ordinary cats detest the smell of citrus fruits.

4. Notice that the resultant interpretation is distinct from the one that would result from first combining cat and the and then combining the cat with the relative clause. The denotation of the cat is a unique member of the set of cats. Combining the cat with the relative clause would attribute to this unique entity the property of having chased the rat. Given that the cat already denotes a unique entity, the property of having chased the rat wouldn't be a defining property of the cat in question; it would simply be an additional, more or less accidental one. The interpretation in question is possible semantically, and it can be expressed by using a non-restrictive relative clause, as in (i).

(i)   This is the cat, which chased the rat.

But (i) is not synonymous with (18), where the rat-chasing property is restrictive (= defining).

5. In contrast to (24b), the statement in (i), derived from (24a) by the modus tollens rule of propositional logic, is true.

(i)   If a string isn't a constituent, then it doesn't pass the constituenthood tests.

6. For present purposes, we disregard syntax-morphology mismatches of the sort alluded to earlier and discussed in Chapters 6 and 7.

7. For completeness, we should mention that do so substitution and the question test for verb phrases are subject to a semantic restriction. Specifically, do so and do what cannot substitute for verb phrases with so-called stative verbs like know or want.

(i) a.   They know her parents; they want the cookies. * They do so.
b.   What do they do? * Know her parents; want the cookies.

As their name implies, stative verbs refer to states (rather than to activities or accomplishments), and a reasonably reliable diagnostic for them is their inability to appear in the progressive construction.

(ii) a. Stative verb * They are knowing her parents; they are wanting the cookies.
b. Nonstative verb ok They are meeting her parents; they are eating the cookies.

Since do is the prototypical activity verb, it is not surprising that expressions containing it, like do so and do what, give rise to a semantic clash when they substitute for verb phrases containing stative verbs.

8. Though movement of nonfinite verb phrases in out-of-the-blue contexts, as in (i), is not very felicitous, it is clearly grammatical given appropriate discourse contexts, as the examples in the text show.

(i)   Write a book, she will ___.

9. The island metaphor is not perfect. Although constituents can't move out of an island, islands as a whole are able to move, as shown in (i).

(i) a. ok The doctors and the lawyers, we should invite ___.
b. ok Who should we invite ___? The lawyers and the doctors.
c. ok It is the lawyers and the doctors that we should invite ___.


Exercises and problems

Exercise 2.1

Using the constituenthood tests reviewed in this chapter, determine whether the underlined strings in the following sentences are (phrasal) constituents. Be sure to provide the evidence on which your conclusions are based.

(1) a.   They put the car in the garage.
b.   They put the car in the garage.
c.   They put the car in the garage.
(2) a.   They know the guy with the fedora.
b.   They know the guy with the fedora.
(3) a.   They threw in the towel.
b.   They threw the towel in the closet.

Exercise 2.2

How well does each of the trees in (1) and (2) represent the syntactic structure of the sentence it is intended to represent? Your discussion should be concise, but detailed enough to answer the following questions:

State the linguistic evidence on which your conclusions are based. (If you have completed Exercise 2.1, you can simply refer to the evidence there rather than repeating it.)

(1) a.       b.  
c.  
(2) a.       b.  
c.  

Problem 2.1

The substitution test introduced in Chapter 1 and discussed in further detail in this chapter and the substitution operation introduced in Chapter 1 are not identical, but they are related. In a few sentences, explain how.

Problem 2.2

It is sometimes argued that coordination (also known as conjunction) is a test for syntactic constituenthood. Evaluate the argument, using the facts in (i) and others of your own devising.

(i) a.   We saw my youngest sister and her husband.
b.   Jim saw the yarn and Kim, the pattern.
c.   Jim has probably seen the yarn and Kim, the pattern.
d.   the older and the younger children