7 VP shells

In Chapter 4, we mentioned the binary-branching hypothesis - the idea that syntactic nodes have at most two daughters. At first glance, this hypothesis seems incompatible with the existence of double object sentences in natural language, illustrated for English in (1).

(1)     Travis will give Betsy the receipts.

In such sentences, the verb appears to be associated with three semantic arguments (agent, recipient, theme), and it looks like the recipient (Betsy) and the theme (the receipts) must both be represented as complements of the verb.1 This chapter presents a proposal for how to make double object sentences consistent with the binary-branching hypothesis. The proposal hinges on the fact that ditransitive verbs like give can be semantically decomposed into a causative part and a remainder whose meaning differs according to the verb in question. Some examples are shown in (2).

(2)   feed = cause to eat
  give " get
  lend " get (temporarily)
  show " see
  teach " learn

The semantic decomposability of the verbs in (2) suggests deriving sentences like (1) from schematic structures like (3), where the uppercase predicates CAUSE and GET indicate abstract verbal heads.


Recursive VP structures of this type, where one VP is immediately dominated by another, are known as VP shells.2, 3 Since VP shell structures contain two verbal heads, they accommodate all three arguments without requiring either of the heads to be associated with more than one complement - which is exactly what is required by the binary-branching hypothesis.

In order to motivate the VP shell treatment of double object sentences, we begin by discussing ordinary causative sentences (ordinary in the sense that the causative verb is overt). After showing that causative verbs take a VP small clause complement, we present some striking parallels between causative sentences and double object sentences in Japanese.

Strictly speaking, according to the VP shell analysis, there are neither double object verbs nor double object sentences. However, these terms are so well established that we will continue to use them for expository convenience. We will use the term 'double object verb' to refer to VP shell structures associated with three semantic arguments (before substitution), and the term 'double object sentence' to refer to sentences containing such a structure.

We then turn to the details of the structure in (3); in particular, we propose that the lower verbal head adjoins to the higher one, yielding a complex verb that is spelled out depending on the content of the lower head. For instance, the combination of CAUSE and GET is spelled out as some form of give, whereas the combination of CAUSE and EAT is spelled out as some form of feed. This proposal extends an idea already introduced in Chapter 6, where we said that the combination of PAST and SING is spelled out in English as sang. It is worth noting that in both cases the lower heads (GET, EAT, SING) and the higher heads (CAUSE, PAST) correspond to open-class and closed-class morphemes, respectively, and that the spellout form depends on the lower morpheme.

Before extending the VP shell analysis to several other cases in English, we briefly clarify the relation of CAUSE to its overt causative counterparts like cause, let, and make, introducing a distinction between direct and indirect causation. We then consider double complement sentences like (4), where the order of the recipient and theme arguments is reversed from what it is in (1) and the recipient argument is expressed by a PP rather than a DP.

We will refer to DP-PP sentences like (4) as double complement sentences. As explained earlier, we use this term strictly for expository convenience, without intending to imply a ternary-branching structure for these sentences.

(4)     Travis will give the receipts to Betsy.

We further extend the VP shell analysis to the ditransitive verbs put and persuade as well as to verbs that participate in the causative alternation illustrated in (5).

(5) a.   The ball { dropped, rolled } .
b.   The children { dropped, rolled } the ball.

The final section of the chapter addresses two issues related to VP shells. The first issue arises in connection with a proposed constraint on idioms according to which they must be constituents. At first glance, idioms like give someone the creeps and throw someone to the wolves violate this constraint because they appear to be discontinuous. However, just as the VP shell analysis allows us to maintain the binary-branching hypothesis in the face of double object and double complement structures like (1) and (4), so, too, does it allow us to maintain the structural constraint on idioms in the face of apparently discontinuous idioms. The second issue concerns small clauses. Having motivated the VP shell analysis with reference to small clause complements of causative predicates, we conclude the chapter with a discussion of the structure of small clauses more generally.

Double object sentences

The structure of ordinary causative sentences

We begin our exploration of VP shells by considering ordinary causative sentences like (6), where the semantic notion of causation is overtly expressed by the verb let.

(6)     God let there be light.

Recall from Chapter 3 that expletive there must be licensed as the subject of a verb of existence (here, be). It follows from this that the sequence there be light forms a small clause, a minimal instance of predication (minimal because unlike an ordinary clause, it doesn't contain any overt I element). It is this small clause that serves as the complement of let, as shown in (7).

(7) a.       b.  

The treatment of there be light as a constituent is motivated not only in syntactic terms (with reference to the licensing requirement on expletive there), but also by the intuition that let takes two semantic arguments, an agent (expressed by the matrix subject) and an event (expressed by the small clause).

A related piece of evidence that causatives like let takes small clause complements comes from sentences like (8).

(8)     John let it slip that he was bored.

The it in (8) is the expletive it discussed in Chapter 3, which is associated with that clauses. Like expletive there, expletive it must be a subject, and therefore the sequence it slip that he was bored must be a small clause. (We are concerned here only with the it; the details of how the that clause is integrated into the larger structure, whether by substitution or adjunction, are not relevant for present purposes.)

Parallels between causative sentences and double object sentences

In certain languages, causative sentences and double object sentences exhibit noteworthy parallels. One such language is Japanese, where the case-marking of arguments is strikingly similar in both sentence types. Case is discussed in more detail in a later chapter; all that is important for present purposes is that different case particles mark certain grammatical relations in Japanese. Specifically, subjects are generally marked with the nominative case particle -ga, as distinct from direct objects, which are marked with the accusative particle -o.4

(9) a.  
Taroo-ga  hasit-ta   koto
      nom run   past that
'(the fact) that Taroo ran'
Taroo-ga  ringo-o   tabe- ta   koto
      nom apple acc eat   past that
'(the fact) that Taroo ate an apple'

Embedding a sentence under a causative verb has the following effects on case marking. When the complement sentence is intransitive, the matrix subject is marked with -ga, as usual, but the subject of the complement clause is marked with -o, as shown in (10). (This is analogous to what happens in English when we embed They ran under a causative verb and end up with We made them run, with object marking on the embedded subject.)

As the hyphens indicate, the causative verb -(s)ase is a bound morpheme in Japanese. We return to this fact shortly.

Hanako-ga  Taroo-o   hasir-ase- ta   koto
       nom       acc run   caus past that
'(the fact) that Hanako made Taroo run'

Given (10), one might expect embedding a transitive sentence under a causative to result in the case-marking pattern in (11), where the object of the lower clause is marked with -o because it is an object, as in (9b), and the subject of the lower clause is also marked with -o, by analogy to (10). (Cf. English They chased him and We made them chase him.)

(11)   *
Hanako-ga  Taroo-o   ringo-o   tabe-sase-ta   koto
       nom       acc apple acc eat  caus past that 
Intended meaning: '(the fact) that Hanako made Taroo eat an apple'

As it turns out, however, the case-marking pattern in (11) is ungrammatical, violating what is known in the Japanese syntax literature as the double -o constraint, which prohibits the occurrence of more than one -o-marked noun phrase per surface verb. Rather, when a transitive sentence is embedded under a causative verb, the subject of the lower clause must be marked with a distinct particle, the dative case marker -ni, as in (12).

(12) a.
Hanako-ga  Taroo-ni  ringo-o   tabe-sase-ta   koto
       nom       dat apple acc eat  caus past that 
'(the fact) that Hanako made Taroo eat an apple'
Hanako-ga  Taroo-ni  hon- o   mi-  sase- ta   koto
       nom       dat book acc see  caus  past that
'(the fact) that Hanako made Taroo see the book'

What is of interest to us now is that the -ga -ni -o case-marking pattern in (12) recurs in double object sentences, as shown in (13).

Hanako-ga  Taroo-ni  hon- o   mise- ta   koto
       nom       dat book acc show  past that
'(the fact) that Hanako showed Taroo a book'

The identical case-marking pattern in (12) and (13) is exactly what the VP shell proposal leads us to expect, since the relevant structures are analogous. The structures in (14a) and (14b) are for (12b) and (13), respectively. For expository clarity, we assume that the only difference between them is whether the causative morpheme is overt or silent.

The complete structures of the sentences under discussion of course includes projections of I (past tense) and C (the complementizer koto). For expository clarity, we generally omit these projections in this chapter.

(14) a.       b.  

Abstract verb movement

Besides the case-marking pattern just presented, the Japanese causative exhibits a further property that is important for the VP shell analysis. Unlike the English verb let, Japanese -(s)ase is a bound morpheme. As they stand, therefore, the VP shells in (14) are not yet grammatical. The missing step is for the verb of the lower VP to adjoin to the causative morpheme. This V-to-V movement is motivated by the same considerations as the V-to-I movement discussed for French in
Chapter 6; in both cases, a verb moves up the tree in order to "support" a bound morpheme. The result for (14a) is shown in (15a). In view of the semantic and case-marking parallels between causative and double object sentences, it makes sense to extend the overt verb movement in (15a) to the double object case. This yields (15b) as the final form of the VP shell for (14b).

(15) a.       b.  

The surface difference between the two structures in (15) concerns how the verbal heads are spelled out in the morphology. In (15a), the spellout is analytic, with each syntactic head corresponding to a transparently identifiable morphological form (mi and -sase). In (15b), the spellout is synthetic, with the two heads in the syntax corresponding to a single morphological item (mise-).

Finally, we assume that the VP shells for English double object verbs are analogous to the ones that we have just motivated for Japanese. (16) shows the VP shell structures, before and after verb movement, that we are assuming for the English counterpart of (13). From a structural point of view, the only difference between the Japanese structures and their English counterparts is the direction in which V takes phrasal complements.

(16) a.       b.  

Why do we left-adjoin (rather than right-adjoin) SEE to CAUSE in English? The reason is that we treat CAUSE by analogy to a suffix like -ify (cf. magn-ify, not *ify-magn).

(17) gives the VP shell for our original English double object sentence in (1), both before and after abstract verb movement. Click on the example number to see an animation of the derivation.

(17) a.       b.  

(18) gives the structure for the entire sentence. In the corresponding present-tense or past-tense sentences, the tense morpheme would lower onto the complex V head, and the resulting head would be spelled out as give(s) or gave.


Direct versus indirect causation

Before extending the VP shell analysis to further sentence types, we should explicitly state that we are not claiming that CAUSE is completely synonymous with overt causative verbs like cause, let, make, and the like. These overt causative verbs express what has been called indirect causation, where the causing event and the caused event are conceptualized as two separate events. By contrast, CAUSE expresses direct causation, and the causing event is not conceptualized as distinct from the caused event. It is important to realize that direct and indirect causation are conceptual categories that speakers impose on the universe of discourse; they do not themselves reflect distinctions inherent in that universe. In other words, the very same event in the real world can be conceptualized as involving either indirect or direct causation. Sometimes this corresponds to a camera zooming in on out on a scene. For instance, a bridge-building event could be described as involving indirect causation. In (19a), the the agent of the caused event is expressed as the subject of an active verb, whereas in (19b), the agent of the caused event is expressed as a by phrase modifying a passive verb. (We discuss the passive in more detail in
Chapter 10.) Despite the difference in voice, the agent of the caused event (the two legions) is expressed explicitly in both sentences.

(19) a. Caesar had two legions build a bridge.
b. Caesar had a bridge built (by two legions).

It is also possible to zoom out, as it were, treating some of the complexity associated with the bridge-building as not at issue, and to describe the same event as in (20).

(20)     Caesar built a bridge.

From this zoomed-out perspective, the bridge-building is an event with a single agent. The legions can no longer be integrated into this sentence as a subordinate agent, but only as an instrument wielded by the sole remaining agent.

(21) a. * Caesar built a bridge by two legions.
b. Caesar built a bridge {using, with} two legions.

Notice that the zoomed-in and zoomed-out perspectives on event complexity correlate with surface morphology. The zoomed-in, more detailed perspective in (19) is expressed by two surface verbs (causative have and build), whereas the zoomed-out, less detailed perspective in (20) is expressed by a single surface form (build).

Although our focus in this chapter has been on the role of CAUSE in the derivation of ditransitive sentences (whether double-object or double-complement), we note that the availability of CAUSE opens the possibility of analyzing at least some monotransitive sentences in an analogous way. Pursuing this approach, apparently simple build would be derived from CAUSE and a verbal head meaning something like 'state-of-being-built', and a sentence like (20) would be derived using a VP shell structure roughly as in (22).

(22)     [VP Caesar CAUSE [VP a bridge built ] ]

The contrast between the optionality of the by phrase in (19b) and its ill-formedness in (21a) arises from the difference between zoomed-in and zoomed-out perspective, as just discussed.

Notice that if it were possible to generalize this approach to all transitive heads, the notion of 'complement' (along with the notion of 'intermediate projection') could be eliminated from the theory of phrase structure. The price of this simplification is the inclusion in the theory of abstract heads like CAUSE. Much recent work in morphosyntax adopts the approach just sketched. However, as this is an introductory textbook, we do not pursue it further here.

We hasten to add that not all verbs involve CAUSE (even assuming the VP shell analysis just proposed for build). For instance, inchoative manner-of-motion verbs (The ball dropped) lack a projection headed by CAUSE. We discuss such verbs together with their causative variants (The children dropped the ball), which do involve CAUSE, in a later section of the chapter on the causative alternation.

The distinction we have just drawn between direct and indirect causation allows us to revisit a point that we made in connection with the rise of do support in the history of English. Recall from Chapter 6, The emergence of do support, that Middle English allowed a variant of (19a) where the subordinate verb exhibits active voice, but where the subordinate agent is expressed with an optional by phrase, as in the passive.

(23)     Caesar { did, had, let, made } ___ build a bridge (by two legions).

Recall further that the causative verb was make in certain dialects of Middle English and do in others. For native speakers of both dialects, their own causative verb expressed indirect causation. However, Ellegård 1953 surmises that in a situation of dialect contact, speakers of the make dialect misanalyzed the do of the do dialect in sentences like (23) as the overt expression of direct causation. The mis- or reanalysis would then have taken hold as a way of circumventing the ineffability of simple negative sentences with structures violating the locality constraint on tense lowering, at least in sentences with verbs involving CAUSE. In modern English, do has developed one step further - into a true auxiliary that is compatible even with verbs that do not involve CAUSE (Ecay 2010). This is comparable to the development of other auxiliaries; for instance, the modern English future auxiliary will originally had the meaning 'want' but is now used as a pure tense marker together with entities that are incapable of wanting.

Double complement sentences

Give and send

Many double object sentences have a double complement counterpart in which the order of the recipient (red) and theme (blue) arguments is reversed and the recipient is expressed as a PP rather than as a DP.

(24) a.   Travis gave Betsy the receipts.
b.   Travis gave the receipts to Betsy.

At first glance, double complement sentences seem to be completely synonymous with their double object counterparts and to stand in a one-to-one correspondence with them. Indeed, early on in generative grammar, it was held that any double complement sentence could be transformed into a double object sentence by an operation known as Dative Shift (in many languages, as we saw eaerlier for Japanese, recipients are marked by dative case morphology or dative case particles). However, certain semantic restrictions on the two sentence types have led this view to be abandoned (Green 1974, Oehrle 1976, Jackendoff 1990). For instance, recipients in double object sentences, but not in double complement sentences, are constrained to be animate.

Double object sentence Double complement sentence
(25) a. Travis sent Betsy the receipts. (26) a. Travis sent the receipts to Betsy.
b. * Travis sent the post office box the receipts. b. Travis sent the receipts to the post office box.

This effect is so strong that noun phrases that can be interpreted as inanimate in a double complement sentence are coerced into an animate interpretation in the corresponding double object sentence, if that is possible. For instance, in (27b), Philadelphia cannot be interpreted as a location, as is possible in (27a), though it can be interpreted metonymically as the people at the Philadelphia office.5

(27) a.   Travis sent the receipts to Philadelphia. (ambiguous between metonymy and location reading)
b.   Travis sent Philadelphia the receipts. (only metonymy reading)

What the facts in (25)-(27) suggest is that ascribing exactly the same thematic role (that of recipient) to the first DP in a double object sentence and to the PP in a double complement sentence is not quite correct. Rather, the PP headed by to denotes a path or direction along which the theme moves, and the complement of to denotes the path's endpoint, which can be either a recipient in that location, as in (26a), or a pure location, as in (26b). The endpoint is also referred to as the goal. We give the structures that we are assuming shortly.

This move of carefully distinguishing between recipients and locations is supported by the parallel between (25)-(27) on the one hand and the corresponding simple get and go sentences in (28) and (29) on the other.

Parallel to double object sentence Parallel to double complement sentence
(28) a.   Betsy got the receipts. (29) a. The receipts went to Betsy.
b. * The post office box got the receipts. b. The receipts went to the post office box.
c. Philadelphia got the receipts.
(only metonymy reading)
c. The receipts went to Philadelphia.
(ambiguous between metonymy and location reading)

The elementary trees that we assume for (28) and (29) are given in (30). In order to rule out (28b), we need to assume that the specifier of get cannot be filled by a true location. In other words, the elementary tree in (30b) is (for some reason) ill-formed.

(30) a.       b. *     c.       d.  

Embedding the structures in (30) under CAUSE yields the facts in (25)-(27). In particular, the ill-formedness of (25b) is directly related to the ill-formedness of (28b).

In the double complement examples presented so far, the path complement is headed by a transitive P. Of course, as we would expect given X' theory, the projection of an intransitive head can serve as a path complement as well. In the examples in (31), we could follow traditional grammar in classifying here and there as adverbs. Alternatively, we could treat them as intransitive Ps (without transitive counterparts).

(31) a.   Travis sent the receipts { here, there } .
b.   The receipts go { here, there } .

Notice that here and there unambiguously refer to locations or to paths with locations as endpoints. Therefore, (31a,b) do not have metonymy readings, in contrast to (27a) and (29c), respectively. Given our stipulaton that locations cannot substitute as specifiers of get, the ill-formedness of (32a,b) follows directly (cf. the absence of location readings in (27b) and (28c)).6

(32) a. * Travis sent { here, there } the receipts.
b. * { Here, There } got the receipts.

From what we have said so far, it is clear that not every double complement sentence has a double object counterpart. Specifically, double complement sentences where the endpoint of the path is a location rather than a recipient have no double object counterpart. However, since endpoints of paths are not required to be pure locations, but can instead be recipients at locations, it might still be the case that every double object sentence has a double complement counterpart. But this turns out not to be true either. The reason is that in a double complement structure, the preposition to imposes a semantic requirement on the theme: namely, that the theme travel (or at least be able in principle to travel) along a path whose endpoint is denoted by the complement of to. By contrast, themes in double object sentences, which lack to, aren't subject to such a requirement. For instance, since it is perfectly possible for ideas or migraine headaches to be the result of certain causes, the double object sentences in (33) are acceptable.

Double object sentence Double complement sentence
(33) a.   The scandal gave the reporter an idea. (34) a. * The scandal gave an idea to the reporter.
b. Bright lights give Amy a migraine headache. b. * Bright lights give a migraine headache to Amy.

The reason that the corresponding double complement sentences in (34) are unacceptable is that the idea and the headache are conceptualized as arising within somebody's head as the result of a cause, but without having traveled there along some path. A way of putting this in terms of thematic roles is to say that the subject of abstract GET in sentences such as these is an experiencer rather than an ordinary recipient. As expected, the simple get and go sentences in (35) and (36) are parallel to (33) and (34).

Parallel to double object sentence Parallel to double complement sentence
(35) a. The reporter got an idea. (36) a. * An idea went to the reporter.
b. Amy got a migraine headache. b. * A migraine headache went to Amy.

Contagious diseases, incidentally, are not conceptualized as traveling along a path. Instead, they are conceptualized as spreading (occupying their original location in addition to the new location). This explains the contrast between (37) and (38).

(37) a. Jerry gave Amy his cold.
b. Amy got a cold.
(38) a. * Jerry gave his cold to Amy.
b. * A cold went to Amy.

In concluding this section, we should point out that we have ignored differences between give and send that are not relevant for present purposes. Not surprisingly, of course, the two verbs do not behave completely identically. Among other differences, for instance, the lower VP shell for give must contain a recipient even in the double complement configuration, whereas the lower VP for send can contain either a recipient or a location.

(39) a. Jerry sent the books to Amy.
b. Jerry sent the books here.
(40) a. Jerry gave the books to Amy.
b. * Jerry gave the books here.

We return to these kinds of differences in our discussion of causative get.


Another double complement verb is put, which can be decomposed into a VP shell structure where CAUSE takes a VP complement headed by BE. BE in turn takes a complement denoting the endpoint of a path.


Unlike give or send, put is never associated with a recipient argument. Even human or animate complements in the PP receive a purely locative interpretation. As a result, put appears in double complement sentences, but not in double object sentences, as shown in (42).7

(42) a.   Amy put the books { on the shelf, there }.
b. * Amy put { the shelf, there } the books.


In the VP shells that we have considered so far, the complements in the lower VP shell have been DP (double object verbs) or PP (double complement verbs). In persuade, we have the case of a VP shell where the complement in the lower VP shell is a clause (CP), which can be either
finite or nonfinite, as shown in (43). The decompositions we propose are given in (44).

(43) a. Finite:   We persuaded him that he should do it.
b. Nonfinite:   We persuaded him to do it.
(44) a. Finite:   We CAUSE him AGREE that he should do it.
b. Nonfinite:   We CAUSE him AGREE to do it.

(45) gives the VP shell structure for the finite case.


The nonfinite case has exactly the same structure, differing only in the internal details of the CP. We defer further discussion of the nonfinite case to its own section in Chapter 9.

The causative alternation

Manner-of-motion verbs

This section extends the VP shell analysis to the alternation between inchoative verbs and their homonymous causative counterparts illustrated in (46) and (47).

Inchoative Causative
(46) a.   The ball dropped. (47) a.   The children dropped the ball.
b.   The ball rolled down the hill. b.   The children rolled the ball down the hill.
c.   The boat sank. c.   The explosion sank the boat.

When used as inchoatives, the verbs are intransitive and denote a manner of motion, and the subject is the theme argument (expressing the entity undergoing motion). When used as causatives, the verbs are transitive, the subject is an agent or cause initiating the motion, and the theme argument appears as the direct object. These facts all follow straightforwardly if the transitive variant is derived from the intransitive variant by embedding the latter under CAUSE, as shown in (48) and (49). For clarity, we show the VP shell structures in (49) both before and after abstract verb movement.

(49) a.       b.  

In the predicates under discussion, the inchoative and the causative variant are both spelled out using the same morphological item. For instance, both DROP in (48) and CAUSE + DROP in (49b) are spelled out as the same surface verb drop. We will use the term 'causative alternation' in connection with any verbal heads for which the causative and non-causative variants are spelled out using the same form. The lower verbal head need not be a manner-of-motion verb. For instance, inchoative get has a causative alternant, as discussed in detail below. However, even though give corresponds semantically to CAUSE + GET, give is not a causative alternant of get in the sense just described (because their surface forms are not homonymous).

Manner incorporation

As the name implies, manner-of-motion verbs all denote some sort of motion, each differing in exactly how the theme argument undergoes motion. This suggests that the inchoative variants of these verbs are themselves decomposable into a basic predicate MOVE and a specification of manner. We assume that the manner (about whose syntactic category we remain agnostic) adjoins onto the basic predicate in the same way that verbs adjoin onto tense to form a complex head. The derivation is illustrated in (50).

(50) a.       b.       c.  

Manner incorporation is not restricted to manner-of-motion verbs. For instance, the various verbs of saying (call, groan, grunt, whisper, and so on) can be decomposed into a basic predicate SAY or SPEAK and a particular manner.

It has been argued that manner incorporation is not equally productive across languages (Talmy 1975). The Germanic languages allow manner incorporation freely, whereas the Romance languages in general do not, preferring instead to incorporate path or direction. Given its somewhat mixed character (Germanic by strict historic descent, but with a large Romance vocabulary), English exhibits both types of incorporation (MOVE + DROPPING-MANNER > DROP, MOVE + INTO-DIRECTION > ENTER).


As mentioned earlier, get and give are not causative alternants in our sense, but get on its own does participate in the causative alternation. In contrast to the manner-of-motion verbs discussed earlier, the inchoative in (51a) is transitive rather than intransitive. But in common with the previous case, the causative in (51b) introduces an additional argument - specifically, an agent.

(51) a.   Betsy got the receipts.
b.   Travis got Betsy the receipts.

The argument structure for GET in (51a) is already familiar from (30a) and is repeated here as (52a). Embedding (51a) under CAUSE results in (51b). For simplicity, we show only pre-movement structures in what follows.

(52) a.       b.  

The structure in (52b) is identical to that proposed earlier for Travis gave Betsy the receipts, and the question arises what distinguishes get and give (just as the question arose earlier about what distinguishes give and send). We address the issue very soon.

In addition to heading the elementary tree in (52a), GET can also head the elementary tree in (53a), with the same structure as GO. Embedding this structure under CAUSE yields the causative variant in (53b). Thus, GET participates in two causative alternations - the double-object alternation in (52) and the double-complement alternation in (53).

(53) a.       b.  

Examples of the structures in (53) are given in (54).

(54) a.   The receipts got { to Betsy, to the post office box, there }.
b.   Travis got the receipts { to Betsy, to the post office box, there } .

As discussed earlier, either recipients or locations can function as endpoints of paths, and the get sentences in (54a) are analogous to their counterparts with go, as expected. Also as expected, entities not conceptualized as being capable of traveling along paths cannot occur as themes in the double complement structure.8

(55) a. * An idea got to the reporter. (cf. (36a))
b. * A { migraine headache, cold } got to Amy. (cf. (36b))

The material from here to the end of the section will not be part of the exam. Resume reading at Further issues.

As promised earlier, we turn now to the differences among get, give and send. For expository convenience, we distinguish the variants of GET and GO at issue by appending their spellout forms. In other words, the GET that combines with CAUSE to form give is GET-give, the GO that combines with CAUSE to form send is GO-send, and so on. We begin with the double-complement structure paradigm in (56)-(58).

(56) a. We gave the book to Gillian.
b. * We gave the book to Hawaii. (ok only on metonymy reading)
c. * We gave the book there.
(57) a. We got the book to Gillian.
b. We got the book to Hawaii. (ambiguous between metonymy and location reading)
c. We got the book there.
(58) a. We sent the book to Gillian.
b. We sent the book to Hawaii. (ambiguous between metonymy and location reading)
c. We sent the book there.

As is evident from the judgments in (56)-(58), GO-give differs from GO-send and GO-get in requiring the object of to to be a recipient. The latter two verbs differ in that GO-send appears to require intermediate agents or instruments (carriers, post offices, etc.) on the path traveled by the theme, whereas GO-get is agnostic in this regard. Likely related to this is that GO-get implies that the theme reaches its destination; for GO-send, some speakers consider (58) compatible with scenarios where the book goes astray and never arrives.

In the double-object structure, all of the GET variants require their specifier to be filled by a recipient.

(59) a. We { gave, got, sent } Gillian the book.
b. * We { gave, got, sent } Hawaii the book. (ok only on metonymy reading)
c. * We { gave, got, sent } there the book.

Analogously to the double-complement case, GET-get implies that the theme arrives at its destination, whereas GET-send is again less strict for some speakers. Conversely, GET-send again seems to require intermediate agents along the path. But what distinguishes GET-give and GET-get?

Consider the paradigm in (60) and (61).

(60) a. Jerry gave Amy a present.
b. Jerry gave Amy a cold.
(61) a. Jerry got Amy a present.
b. * Jerry got Amy a cold.

At first glance, it might seem that we can derive these facts - in particular, the contrast between (60b) and (61b) - by requiring the theme of GET-get to be an entity capable of traveling along a path. (In other words, we would be extending a requirement from the double-complement structure to the "other" structure, similarly to how we impose a recipient requirement on the VP shell for GO-give that is naturally associated with the double-object structure.) But this idea won't work, as it leads us to expect (62b) to be ungrammatical, contrary to fact.

(62) a. Amy got a present.
b. Amy got a cold.

A closer look at (62a) and (62b) reveals a thematic difference between them. In (62a), the specifier of GET-get is a true recipient, whereas in (62b), it is an experiencer. The recipient receives some entity from outside of itself. This entity, which is expressed by the theme argument, may be a concrete object, as in (62a), or an abstract entity, as in (63).

(63) a.   Jerry got the { job, promotion, raise } .
b.   Amy got Jerry the { job, promotion, raise } .

The experiencer experiences some phenomenon. Like the outside entity in the recipient case, the phenomenon is expressed by the theme argument, but the phenomenon arises within the experiencer, even though triggered by an external cause or agent.

Recall that abstract CAUSE expresses direct causation - the causing event and the caused event are conceptualized as non-distinct. When the caused event is a phenomenon that arises inherently in an experiencer, direct causation gives rise to a weird interpretation - one where an agent initiates a causing event that has a magic effect on the experiencer along the lines of "Poof, now you've got a cold" or "Poof, now you've got a headache". The scenario is weird in a way that "Poof, now you've got a job" or "Poof, now you've got a car" isn't (assuming that the agent has a job or car to give away).

If we reconceptualize the situation as involving what we called indirect causation, which is expressed through overt causative verbs, the external cause and the internal experience are conceptualized as distinct. This cancels the weird magic effect, and the resulting sentences become acceptable, as in (64).

(64)   Jerry made Amy get a cold (by exposing her to his cold).

For reasons that remain mysterious, the combination of CAUSE and GET-give in (60b) patterns like (64). In other words, even though give is synthetic just like get, it behaves in (60b) as if it were analytic like make ... get. Although the following does not solve the mystery, this suggests that the difference between give and get might not lie in the head of the lower VP shell (GET-give vs. GET-get). Instead, the lower head might be the same, but combine with an abstract head expressing indirect vs. direct causation, respectively, as shown in (65).

Head expresses ... Indirect causation Direct causation
Overt head make ... get n/a
Silent head give get

Resume reading here.

Further issues

Locality constraints on idioms

Expressions whose meaning does not follow straightforwardly from the individual parts, as in (66), are known as idioms. (The idiomatic meaning can sometimes be traced back to an etymological source, but even if that is possible, that source is unknown to most of the idiom's users.)

(66) a.   red tape 'bureaucratic difficulties'
b.   the Big Apple 'New York City'
c.   kick the bucket 'die'
d.   let the chips fall where they may 'disregard the consequences of one's actions'

It has been traditional in generative grammar (Marantz 1984) to (attempt to) impose a locality constraint on idioms along the lines of (67) (locality constraints are so called because they make reference to relatively small, or local, domains).

(67)     All parts of an idiomatic expression must together form a constituent.

The motivation for (67) is to account for the absence of theoretically possible idioms like the made-up example in (68), where blue and hopping, though adjacent, don't form a constituent.

(68) a.   They've bred a strain of blue hopping drosophila.
Intended meaning: 'They've bred a strain of drosophila that is unusually large.'
b.   The great apes all have blue hopping brains.
Intended meaning: 'The great apes all have unusually large brains.'
c.   She's a blue hopping child for her age.
Intended meaning: 'She's an unusually large child for her age.'

In many cases, the constraint in (67) is trivially satisfied. For instance, in (66), red tape is an NP, the Big Apple is a DP, and kick the bucket and let the chips fall where they may are instances of V'. But idioms consisting of discontinuous chunks should not exist. At first glance, therefore, idioms like those in (69) seem to pose a problem for the locality constraint in (67).

(69) a.   give someone the creeps 'make someone uneasy'
b.   throw someone to the wolves 'sacrifice someone'

However, just as the VP shell analysis allows us to preserve the binary-branching hypothesis in the face of prima facie counterevidence, it also allows us to preserve the locality constraint on idioms in the face of apparently discontinuous idioms. This is because the VP shell analysis allows us to say that what is idiomatic in (69) are the underlined instances of V' in (70).

(70) a.   CAUSE someone GET the creeps
b.   CAUSE someone GO to the wolves

Strong evidence for the decomposition in (70) is the existence of the related idioms in (71).

(71) a.   get the creeps 'become uneasy'
b.   go to the wolves 'be sacrificed'

In addition, since heads form constituents with their complements but not with their specifiers, potential idioms such as those in (72) are predicted not to be possible.

(72) a.   the { creeps, wolves } GET someone
b. the { creeps, wolves } GO to someone

This elegantly explains the unacceptability of sentences like (73) and (74) (on their intended idiomatic interpretation).

(73) a. * The creeps got me.
b. * The wolves went to Felix.
(74) a. * Oscar threw the wolves Felix. (= CAUSE the wolves GET Felix)
b. * Crazy people give the creeps to me. (= CAUSE the creeps GO to me)

Small clauses revisited

We motivated the assumption of VP shells with reference to causative small clauses like (6), repeated in (75).

(75)     God let [ there be light ] .

As we know from Chapter 3, small clauses can also contain predicates headed by syntactic categories other than V. (76) gives some examples.

(76) a. AP They proved [ the solution completely inadequate ] .
b. DP They consider [ her a friend ].
c. PP They made [ him into a star ] .

Stowell 1983 proposed that all small clauses have a uniform structure, illustrated for (76b) in (77).

To be revised

According to this analysis, the small clause (Aristotelian) predicate (underlined in the examples above) is an intermediate projection. The entire small clause (in brackets) is a maximal projection, and the subject (in italics) is the maximal projection's specifier and the predicate's sister. Stowell's analysis is attractive because it treats small clauses as structurally analogous to ordinary clauses. The only difference between the two clause types concerns whether the clause is a projection of I. Nevertheless, the analysis cannot be maintained for DP small clauses because it fails to accommodate the minimal variant of (76b) in (78).

(78)     They consider [ her Tanya's friend ].

Here, the DP predicate contains a possessor, which under Stowell's analysis would compete with the small clause subject for Spec(DP) (Heycock 1991).

In order to maintain binary branching, the structure for examples like (78) must include an additional head, which we represent here as a silent counterpart of the copula be. Like its overt counterpart, this head imposes a subject-predicate relationship on its specifier and its complement. We give the structure for (78) in (79a), and our revised structure for (77) in (79b). Notice that both structures preserve the structural parallelism between small clauses and ordinary clauses that was attractive in Stowell's analysis. (Indeed, the complete parallelism with clauses containing be might be considered an advantage of (79) over (77).)

(79) a.       b.  

Based on the semantic parallel between (78) and the AP and PP small clauses in (80), we propose to extend the structure in (79) with silent BE to small clauses in general.

(80) a. AP   They consider [ the unemployment figures ominously high ] .
b. PP   They consider [ the patient out of danger ] .

It is worth pointing out that small clauses are not restricted to the complement position of verbs; they can also occur as the complements of prepositions, as illustrated in (81).

(81) a. AP   With [ the unemloyment figures ominously high ] , ...
b. DP   With [ Heller the board's choice for director ] , ...
c. PP   With [ the patient out of danger ] ,

Finally, the copula (whether silent or overt) is not the only possible head for small clauses. (82) illustrates small clauses headed by as, and (83 gives the structure for (82c).9

(82) a.   They regard [ her as Tanya's friend ] .
b.   They regard [ the unemployment figures as ominously high ] .
c.   They regard [ the patient as out of danger ] .



1. In traditional grammar, the recipient and theme are taken to be the verb's indirect and direct object, respectively.

2. The idea underlying the VP shell analysis goes back to Chomsky 1955 and was taken up in Larson 1988, 1990 (see also Jackendoff 1990). The treatment in this chapter is indebted to that in Harley 2002, though not identical to it in all details.

3. Here and in what follows, we decompose 'give' into CAUSE and GET. The lower VP shell might arguably be headed by HAVE instead. The difference between the two heads is aspectual. GET is inchoative (focusing on the initial part of a change-of-state event), whereas HAVE is stative; in other words, 'get' is 'come to have'. Since CAUSE itself implies a change of state, it is difficult to know whether the change-of-state part of the meaning of 'give' is due to CAUSE or to GET.

4. In addition to marking grammatical relations like subject or direct object, Japanese also marks discourse functions such as topic. In Japanese main clauses, topic marking with -wa overrides subject marking with -ga. It is therefore customary to illustrate -ga marking using subordinate clauses, as we do in what follows.

5. Metonymy is the traditional term for various types of figurative language use, notably including the one relevant here, where an expression that literally refers to a location is used to refer instead to a group of people typically at that location. Common examples include the White House (broadly 'the U.S. executive, more narrowly 'the U.S. president along with close staff'), the Kremlin ('the Russian government'), Westminster ('the U.K. parliament'), and so on.

6. The alternation in (i) - specifically, the well-formedness of (i.b) - is only apparently problematic for what we say in the text.

(i) a.   Amy sent the mail { back, off } .
b.   Amy sent { back, off } the mail.

Back and off are so-called particles, which can behave like ordinary PPs, as in (i.a), but also more like bound affixes, as in (i.b). A detailed analysis of the syntax of particles is beyond the scope of this course, but evidence for their differing syntactic status in (i) comes from contrasts as in (ii).

(ii) a.   Amy sent the mail right { back, off } . (cf. right to the CEO)
b. * Amy sent right { back, off } the mail.

7. Again, alternations as in (i) are only apparent exceptions to the statement in the text and reflect the status of on and back as particles; see fn. 5.

(i) a.   Amy put her sweater (right) { on, back } .
b.   Amy put (*right) { on, back } her sweater .

8. If the themes in (55) are interpreted as entities able to undergo physical transfer, the sentences become grammatical. Replacing the indefinite article by the definite article makes the relevant interpretations more salient. The idea might then refer to an idea contained or expressed in a message or book, and the cold might refer to a cold virus contained in a test tube being sent from one lab to another.

Similarly, in an expression The noise finally got to them, the theme (the noise) is conceptualized as moving along a path from a location where it doesn't affect or bother the experiencers (them) to one where it finally does.

9. The varying grammaticality of the small clause heads in (i) seems to pose an problem for the analysis in the text.

(i) a.   We let [ Martha { be, *as, *BE } Lukas's buddy ] .
b. * With [ Heller { as, *be, *BE } the board's choice for director ] , ...

The problem is only apparent, however, since heads are able to subcategorize not only for the syntactic category of their complements, but to specify that category's head as well. We know this because of examples like (iii), where a head selects not just a PP complement, but a PP complement headed by a particular preposition.

(iii) a.   faith { in, *at, *on, *to } your ability
b.   rely { on, *at, *in, *to } someone

Exercises and problems

Exercise 7.1

A. Find five double object or double complement verbs not mentioned in the chapter and suggest a semantic decomposition for them.

B. Can you find further double complement verbs of the put or persuade type?

C. Modern English has causatives of verbs or other heads, as in (1a) and (1b), respectively, that are morphologically related to those heads, though they are not spelled out by the same form. The base form and the causative were at one point related by phonological rule (for instance, ablaut or umlaut), but historical sound change has since obscured those regularities. Similarly, over time, the meaning of the originally causative form sometimes drifts away from a strict causative meaning. What are the causative verbs in question?

(1) a.   drink, fall, lie (as in 'lie down', not 'prevaricate'), sit
b. full, gold

D. Are there double object or double complement verbs that are not amenable to the causative decomposition proposed in the chapter?

Exercise 7.2

Make up one short sentence for each of the double complement verbs give, send, put, and persuade, and use the grammar tool in x-bar ch7 to give complete structures for them.

Exercise 7.3

A. Propose structures for each of the following expressions, focusing on the parallels between the (a) and (b) expressions. Assume that German and Latin are head-final.

'die'       'kill'
German (1) a. um- kommen b. um- bringen
around come around bring
Latin (2) a. inter- ire b. inter- facere
between go between make
Latin (3) a. per- ire b. per- dere
through go through give

Exercise 7.4

For the purposes of the exercise, assume the judgments given, even if they aren't your own.

A. Explain the contrast between (1) and (2).

(1) a.   The scandal gave the reporter an idea.
b.   Bright lights give Amy a migraine headache.
(2) a. * The scandal got the reporter an idea.
b. * Bright lights get Amy a migraine headache.

B. Explain the pattern of judgments in (3) and (4).

(3) a.   The couch got a shove.
b.   The movers gave the couch a shove.
c. * The movers got the couch a shove.
(4) a. * A shove got to the couch.
b. * The movers gave a shove to the couch.
c. * The movers got a shove to the couch.

C. Explain the contrast in (5).

(5) a.   Crazy people give me the creeps.
b. * Crazy people get me the creeps.

D. Explain the pattern of possible interpretations in (6) and (7).

(6) a.   The surgeon gave the patient the finger. (ambiguous between literal and idiomatic reading)
b.   The surgeon gave the finger to the patient. (unambiguously literal)
(7) a.   The surgeon got the patient the finger. (unambiguously literal)
b.   The surgeon got the finger to the patient. (unambiguously literal)

E. Explain the acceptability contrast in (8).

(8) a. * The scandal sent the reporter an idea.
b. The editor sent the reporter an idea.

F. Is the naturally-occurring example in (9) expected or not?

(9)     Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, the longtime head of the Lady Vols, gives an earful to Alexis Hornbuckle during their win over Texas Tech.
(Daily Pennsylvanian, 28 March 2005, p. 9)

Exercise 7.5

Explain the contrast between (1) and (2).

(1)     God let there be light.
(2) a. * They consider there light.
b. * With there light, we can start trekking.

Exercise 7.6

Build structures for (1).

(1) a.   They kept the president's arrival a secret.
b.   They kept the president's arrival very secret.

Exercise 7.7

For each of the trees that you draw for this exercise, include a paraphrase for the interpretation that the tree represents.

A. Build structures for each interpretation of the following structurally ambiguous headlines. Unlike in the chapter, give full IPs where necessary.

For simplicity, treat compound nouns (e.g., NBA referees) as simple nouns without internal structure. Treat the gerund form in (1c) as a simple verb without morphological structure (growing rather than grow + -ing).

(1) a.   Lawyers Give Poor Free Legal Advice
b.   Young makes Zanzibar stop
c.   Complaints About NBA Referees Growing Ugly

B. Propose structures for the intended interpretation of (2) and for a structurally possible (but let us hope unintended!) cannibalistic interpretation.

(2)     "I want to make you my favorite sandwich."
(Holly Hughes. 2003. Best food writing 2003. New York: Marlowe. 167.)

C. Propose structures for the two salient interpretations of the punchline in (3) (the customer reading and the Zen reading). For simplicity (contrary to the solution for Exercise 5.9, (1d)), you can treat the imperative clause as a bare VP.

(3)     Q. What did the Zen master say to the guy at the hot dog stand?
A. Make me one with everything.

Exercise 7.8

A. In addition to the two causative alternations discussion in the body of the chapter, get participates in a third, illustrated in (1). Build the complete structures for both sentences (including the IP projections).

(1) a.   They got wet.
b.   She got them wet.

B. Propose VP shell structures for the verbs in (2).

(2) a.   They became wet.
b.   The red cloth enraged the bull.
(3) a.   The new fiscal policies enriched the king.
b.   The news saddened me.

Problem 7.1

There seem to be no ditransitive nouns, adjectives or prepositions. Is this an accident?

Problem 7.2

For some speakers, the second clause in (1) contradicts the first. For others, (1) is semantically coherent.

(1)     They sent a rocket to Uranus, but it never arrived.

An apparently unrelated fact is that, for some speakers, (2a) entails that the students learned syntax, whereas (2b) doesn't have that entailment. For other speakers, the sentences in (2) are synonymous.

(2) a.   The instructor taught the students syntax.
b.   The instructor taught syntax to the students.

Can you suggest a (unified) explanation for these judgments concerning send and teach?

Problem 7.3

Explain the pattern of acceptability judgments in (1)-(3) (or as much of the pattern as you can).

(1) a. They gave the people some money.
b. They gave some money. (recipient unexpressed)
c. * They gave the people. (theme unexpressed; ✓ on unintended reading, where the people is theme)
(2) a. They gave some money to the people.
b. They gave to the people. (theme unexpressed)
c. * They gave some money to. (recipient unexpressed)
(3) a. They gave. (recipient and theme unexpressed, as in I already gave at the office).
b. * They gave to. (recipient and theme unexpressed)

Problem 7.4

Can you suggest a reason for why (1b) lacks a 'fetch' interpretation?

(1) a.   They got the package.
Interpretation 1: ✓ They received the package.
Interpretation 2: ✓ They fetched the package.
b.   She got them the package.
Interpretation 1: ✓ She made it come about that they received the package.
Interpretation 2: * She made it come about that they fetched the package.

Problem 7.5

As discussed in the chapter, and illustrated again in (1) and (2), get and manner-of-motion verbs participate in the causative alternation.

(1) a.   The package got to Philadelphia.
b.   The package dropped from the truck.
(2) a.   We got the package to Philadelphia.
b.   We dropped the package from the truck.

Verbs like hand, kick, throw and others differ from get and each other in manner. (In other words, we can think of hand as including referennce to a manner involving the hands', etc.) So why do these verbs not participate in the causative alternation? In particular, why do they lack intransitive alternants like (3b), corresponding to (1)?

(3) a. We { handed, kicked, threw, ... } the ball to Julie.
b. * The ball { handed, kicked, threw, ... } to Julie.

Problem 7.6

The sentences in (1)-(3) are grammatical.

(1) a.   The pebble skipped across the water.
b.   We would skip pebbles across the water.
(2) a.   The horses { walked, trotted, galloped, jumped } .
b.   The trainers { walked, trotted, galloped, jumped } the horses.
(3) a.   The athletes { walked, ran, marched } around the track.
b. The coach { walked, ran, marched } the athletes around the track.

By contrast, causative alternants for verbs like dance, giggle or laugh are ungrammatical in adult English.

(5)     You're giggling me!

However, many children acquiring English go through a stage of producing sentences like (5). How can we describe the difference between the children's grammar and the adult grammar?