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Syntactic Functions of the NP

THE SUBJECT
Different languages have specific ways of marking the subject NP: synthetic languages
have specialized case inflections which signal subjecthood (the Nominative case in Romance
languages), other languages mark this function by a well-known position in the sentence (clauseinitial in English, clause-final in Malgasy). Therefore a universal definition of the subject would
have to capture all these language-specific possibilities.
English identifies the Subject by the position it has in the sentence: initially in affirmative
sentences and in wh-questions in which the wh-element questions the Subject:
Unfortunately, [all guests] left early.
[Swimming in cold water] may affect your health.
[Who] won the competition?
[How many] gave up the race?
In yes-no interrogative clauses the operator precedes the Subject:
Did [you] know the answer?
Have [you] found out the truth?
In wh-questions which do not question the Subject but other parts of the sentence, the Subject is
preceded by the wh-element and by the operator:
Whom did [you] meet yesterday?
How does [swimming in cold water] affect your health?
The Subject plays an important part in the formation of tag-questions. Pronouns refer back to the
Subject of the basic clause:
Your brother goes in for bungy jumping, doesnt he?
Not many people would attend such a meeting, would they?
Agreement features
NPs functioning as Subjects agree with the verb in number and person. When the head of
the Subject NP is a collective noun, agreement with the verb depends on how the referent is
visualised by the speaker: as a whole or as individual members of a group, each involved in a
certain action)
[My family] have decided to move to London. (all members)
[The average British family] has 3.6 members. (as a whole)
The Subject determines the number in reflexive pronouns and the number of predicative NPs:
[Joe] and [Tim] are my brothers.
[They] enjoyed themselves at the party.
The realization of the Subject
The Subject may be realised (expressed) by various types of phrases:
1

1. a simple NP (containing a noun, a deverbal noun, a pronoun, an adjective, a numeral):


The museum was the main repository for the countrys antiquities.
Everything went on just as before.
The poor will still have hoe in the justice of the revolution.
Will the accused please, stand?
The first stopped before the door.
Smoking damages your health.
Pleonastic pronouns IT and THERE can only occur in Subject position. They are felt to be
semantically empty, i.e. they lack meaning. They function as grammatical subjects which
anticipate the real (logical or semantic subjects) of the sentence:
[To leave] is easy.
[It] is easy [to leave].
gr.Su
logical Su
[That he is right] is obvious.
[It] is obvious [that he is right].
gr.Su
logical Su
[A man] was at the door.
[There] was [a man] at the door.
gr.Su
logical Su
[A beautiful woman] came.
[There] came [a beautiful woman].
gr.Su
logical Su
2. a complex NP (an NP whose head N has adjuncts which consist of PPs or relative clauses):
[ NP The girl [PP with a funny]] hat is my friend.
[ NP The excerpts [PP from the Bible]] impressed the audience.
[ NP The topics [CP we discussed ]] were well above the average.
3. a clausal NP, i.e. an that-complement clause, an infinitive or a gerundial clause:
[ CP That he did not have any chance] is clear to everyone.
[ CP To run away from responsibility] is cowardice.
[ Showing tourists the sights of the city] is her job.
Thematic roles of the subject
The phrase functioning as Subject can bear almost every type of thematic role:
The boy kicked the ball.
Agent
The ball was kicked.
New houses were soon built.
Jane could admire the landscape.
The living-room reeked of tobacco.
The bomb destroyed the city.

Patient (affected participant)


Patient (effected participant)
Experiencer
Location
Instrument