Syntactic Theory

HPSG's Binding Theory

The presentation on this page follows the theory presented in Sag/Wasow/Bender 2003 (definitions adapted from p. 522).

Basic Definitions

The notion of argument structure is basic for HPSG's Binding Theory. See the page on selection in HPSG for some information and examples on argument structure.


Outranking: An expression A outranks an expression B, iff there is an ARG-ST list on which A precedes B (or an expression that is of equal rank as B).

Equal rank: If a node is coindexed with its daughter, their feature structures are of equal rank.
(Two nodes are coindexed iff they have identical INDEX values.)

Principles A and B

Principle A: A [MODE ana] expression must be outranked by a coindexed element.

Principle B: A [MODE ref] expression must not be outranked by a coindexed element.


  • Principle A takes care of reflexive and reciprocle pronouns. Principle B takes care of personal pronouns and full NPs.

  • Binding Theory in GB assumes a third principle, Principle C. In GB, Principle B accounts for the behavior of personal pronouns, Principle C for that of non-pronominal NPs. This distinction is not made in Sag/Wasow/Bender 2003.
    The empirical difference between personal pronouns and non-pronominal NPs can be seen in (1)-(3):
    Sentence (1) shows that personal pronoun in an embedded clause can be coindexed with an NP in the matrix clause.
    Sentences (2) and (3) show that a non-pronominal NP in an embedded clause must not be coindexed with an NP from the matrix clause.
    1. Johni thinks that hei/j should go home soon.
    2. * Hei thinks that Johni should go home soon.
    3. Hej thinks that Johni should go home soon.

  • Expletive NPs (expletive it and there) are specified as [MODE none]. This means that they are not subject to Binding Theory.

Binding in Prepositional Phrases

One of the highlights of HPSG's Binding Theory is the account of binding in prepositional phrases. The theory explains the following contrast:

  1. a. Christopheri talked to himselfi.
    b. * Christopheri talked to himi.
  2. a. * The housei has a fence around itselfi.
    b. The housei has a fence around iti.

This aspect of Binding Theory is explained in a lecture with slides.

Related Exercises