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Syntactic Theory

Grammatical Functions

We distinguish four types of grammatical functions:

The differences can be accounted for using several criteria:

  • Position in the structure:
    • The predicate of a clause is the highest VP (or AuxP).
    • The subject is external to the predicate.
    • Complements and modifiers are both internal to the predicate.
      • The complements are sisters to V.
      • The modifiers are sisters to VP.
      • Modifiers usually do not stand between the V and its complements
  • Pronominalization:
    A pro-VP form such as do so cannot combine with a complement, but it can combine with a modifier.
    • *Pat put a book [on the shelf], and Mary did so into the drawer. (on the shelf is a complement)
    • Pat read a book [in the library], and Mary did so at home. (in the library'' is a modifier)
  • Obligatoriness:
    • Complements are syntactically obligatory. Their form and number is determined by the verb.
      Note: complements can also be optional (Pat ate (shrimp).)
    • Modifiers are syntactically optional. Their form and number is independent of the VP they combine with.
  • Uniqueness:
    Every complement function can occur at most once with a given predicate. Modifiers can occur in arbitrary number.
  • Semantic autonomy:
    • The interpretation of complements is determined by the verb, the interpretation of modifiers is independent of the verb:
      • Pat relies [on Kim]. (complement, on does not contribute any meaning)
      • Pat lies [on the bed]. (locative modifier, on expresses a relative position)
    • The existence or involvement of a complement is semantically implied by the specific verb. E.g. eat implies that some object is involved in the activity.
    • The compatibility of a VP with a certain modifier is a property not of the particular verb, but of a larger verb class.

Related exercises:

Categories: Glossary