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Grammar I


Graciela Palacio
2012(revised 2015)

A constituent is a syntactic unit. Consider the following sentence taken from Haegeman &
Guern (1999):
Louise saw the girl with the binoculars.
The sentence is ambiguous, i.e. it has two interpretations. Either what Louise saw was the
girl with the binoculars or Louise saw the girl and Louise used binoculars to that purpose.
This sentence illustrates a case of structural ambiguity. The two interpretations of the
sentence can be related to two different structures. In the first interpretation the string the girl
with the binoculars is one syntactic unit, i.e. one constituent:
Louise saw [the girl with the binoculars].
In the second interpretation the strings the girl and with the binoculars are two different
Louise saw [the girl] [with the binoculars].
The following sentence illustrates another case of structural ambiguity:
John kept the car in the garage.
In one interpretation keep is a three-place verb, taking three arguments (John, the car, and in
the garage) and two complements (the car and in the garage). The translation of the sentence
would be Juan guardaba el auto en el garage. In this interpretation, the car is one constituent
and in the garage is another one:
John kept [the car] [in the garage].
In the other interpretation, the car in the garage forms one constituent (the car that is/was in
the garage). Suppose John had two cars. He sold one and he kept the other. If someone asks
which car he kept, he might get as an answer that John kept the one that is in the garage. The
translation of the sentence would be Se qued con el auto que est en el garage.
John kept [the car in the garage].
The structure of sentences can be discovered by the following constituency tests:
1. Constituents can be replaced by one word, e.g.:
Louise met

the girl with the binoculars.


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met the girl with the binoculars.



met the girl with the binoculars.

2. Constituents can be questioned by one word, e.g.:

Who did Louise meet?
The girl with the binoculars.
3. If word order is altered, the elements that form a constituent move together, e.g.:
She said she would meet the girl with the binoculars and meet the girl with the
binoculars she did.
4. Constituents can be the highlighted elements in emphatic sentences, e.g.:
It was the girl with the binoculars that Louise met. (cleft sentence)
It was Louise that met the girl with the binoculars. (cleft sentence)
What Louise did was follow the girl with the binoculars. (pseudo-cleft)
We are going to start now with the syntactic analysis of simple sentences. What is a simple
Simple sentences have only one finite or conjugated verb. They are made up of only one
clause, a main clause (remember that sentence and clause may coincide). In Traditional
Grammar they can be divided into two major parts, a subject and a predicate, for e.g.:

saw the girl with the binoculars.

The subject is often described as the constituent defining the topic of the sentence - that
which the sentence is about - whereas the predicate is that which is asserted about the
subject, that which is said about the subject.
Subject and predicate are functions. A function is a relation between two elements. We can
also say that the subject of the sentence is a Determiner Phrase (DP). But in that case, we
would be mentioning its category.
To clarify the distinction that exists between categories and functions you must think of
yourselves. You are made up of a set of characteristics or features, physical and psychological
(i.e. average height, slim, with wavy hair, calm, thoughtful, etc.). You have been given a
name so that it is easy to identify you. Your name is like a category label, i.e. an abbreviation
for a set of features.

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In everyday life you perform different functions. With respect to your parents, you are their
son or daughter. With respect to your teachers, you are pupils. You can in turn be somebodys
mother or father. You can be somebodys girlfriend or boyfriend or somebodys patient.
When faced with a sentence, we will first try to identify its constituents, i.e. the syntactic
units that make it up and state what grammatical function they have (i.e. subject, predicate,
head, complement, adjunct, etc.). We will then have to state the grammatical category to
which each constituent belongs (i.e. state whether it is a determiner phrase, a verb phrase, an
adjectival phrase, etc.).
So far we have considered the functions of subject, predicate, complement and adjunct.
Head of a phrase is also a function.
Now how does the tree that we described in lesson 8 relate to all this? Let us consider the tree

What the tree is telling us is that every sentence is a complementisers phrase (CP). The
complementisers (C), which marks the illocutionary force of the sentence, is the head of the
phrase, its complement being the tense phrase (TP). We can represent the same information in
a somewhat simplified manner as follows:
Syntactic Representation of the sentence as a CP:

Head (Complementiser)

He will eat the sweet.

Complement (Tense Phrase)

As was said above, head and complement are functions, complementisers and tense phrase
are categories.
Once we have represented the sentence as a CP, we can concentrate on the TP He will eat the

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Now if you look at the tree you will notice that this TP is made up of two elements, the D
(determiner) He and a T (T-bar) (will he eat the sweet). For pedagogical reasons, we will
ignore the movement of the subject he out of the VP.
We will analyse He as the subject and the rest (will eat the sweet) as the predicate. Subject
and Predicate are functions. The subject is a D and the predicate is a T. D (determiner) and
T (T-bar) are categories.
Syntactic analysis of the TP:
Subject (D)

Predicate (T)
will eat the sweet.

Now if you go back to the tree you will notice that the head of the TP is T (tense). The
position is occupied by the modal auxiliary will. Will is the element that carries the tense, the
finite element. Notice that in every sentence there can only be one finite element because
there is only one Tense head.
So if we now concentrate on the analysis of will eat the sweet, we can say that will functions
as the head of the TP, and that eat the sweet is its complement, a verb phrase (VP):
Subject (D)

Head (T)

Predicate (T)
eat the sweet.
Complement (VP)

Notice that will is the head of the TP, not the head of T. What we have done is the syntactic
analysis of the TP, thats why the subheading included above.
From now on for every sentence that we have to analyse we will first do the semantic
analysis, then the syntactic representation of the sentence as a CP, and then the syntactic
analysis of the TP.
Lesson 10 Activity 1: (to be discussed in class)
What do the following sentences have in common?
1. The man put the book on the table.
2. The director set the film in New York.
3. The mobile cast a shadow on the wall. (cast= projected)
4. The woman flung a cake into the oven.
Lesson 10 Activity 2: (to be discussed in class)
Divide the following sentences into subject and predicate and state the category of the
subject. In what way do the different subjects differ?

The boy is tall.

The boy that I like is tall.
The boy seldom returns the books.
The boy who took the dictionary seldom returns the books he borrows.
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Lesson 10 Activity 3: (to be discussed in class)

Compare the different elements that can occupy the head Tense in the following sentences:
1. He will like her.
2. He does like her.
3. He likes her.
Lesson 10 Activity 4 (to be handed in as Assignment 10)
Analyse the following sentence integrating the information that we have seen so far. Do the
semantic analysis of the main predicator, the syntactic representation of the sentence as a CP,
and the syntactic analysis of the TP.
1. The tiger in that cage must be dangerous.

Haegeman, L. & J. Guern (1999) English Grammar: a generative perspective, Blackwell.

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