Movement of a wh-word: who, what, how, why, where, when, etc. We often use "wh-movement" as a shorthand for "A'-movement." However, while all wh-movement is A'-movement, not all A'-movement is wh-movement.


An "adposition" is a functional particle or word that determines something about a following noun. Often, adpositions give information about location: on, over, under, in. English only has prepositions, because the adposition comes in front ("pre-") of the noun Many languages have "postpositions", where the adposition comes after the noun ("post-").


An animate noun is something is alive, typically referring to something that has a conscious. Humans are animate, trees are not.


An antecedent is a referring expression that forms a dependency with some lower pronoun or anaphor.


An argument is something that is c-selected. Arguments include grammatical roles like "subject, object, indirect object, etc."


A syntactic relation. A binds B iff A and B are coreferential, and A c-commands B.

binding domain

A binding domain is a minimal distance that some element makes reference to in its distribution. The binding domain for this class is the nearest dominating TP.


A is bound by B iff A and B are coreferential, and B c-commands A.

bracketing structure

A syntactic representation using brackets to indicate constituents and categories.


A c-commands B iff A's mother dominates B.


A morphology property of nouns in many languages. Case can either be structural, and indicate the grammatical role (subject/object) or semantic, and indicate the thematic role of the noun.


X is a complement if its mother is a bar-level (Y') and its sister is a head (Y).


A complementizer (C) is the category that heads a clause (=sentence). By definition, all clauses are headed by a complementizer.


Words formed from other words.

Condition A

The condition of Binding Theory that stipulates that "An anaphor must be bound in its binding domain."

Condition C

The condition of binding theory that governs R-expressions. "R-expressions cannot be bound."


See coordination.


Control is the formal relationship between PRO ("big pro") and its antecedent.


The coordination constituency test uses conjunctions (and, but, not,...) to test for constituency.


A "be" verb.


A and B corefer if they refer to the same individual(s).

cyclic movement

Movement is cyclic if it occupies the same position in different clauses more than once.


D-structure (or Deep-structure) is the level of representation before movement. It the level at which selection is satisfied must be satisfied.


X is the daughter of Y if X is directly under Y (is immediately dominated by Y). This relationship can also be stated as "Y is the mother of X."


A determiner is syntactic category. Determiners specify properties of noun phrases.


The distribution of an element refers to where it occurs, including its syntactic, morphological, and even phonological context.


A dominates B if A is above B in a tree. A immediately dominates B if A dominates B and there are no other projections that dominate B which do not dominate A.

double-object constructions

The double-object construction is phrase that has two "objects," like John gave Mary a book.


The DP-hypothesis proposes that all NPs are encased in a DP "shell."


An element is considered elided if it is not pronounced, but does not display a movement relationship between the silent portion and the antecedent.


An instance of an unpronounced constituent. For example, in "Tegan called Joanna, and Sam did, too," there is an unpronounced VP [ called Joana ] in the second half of the sentence.


Endocentrism is the property of being named in terms of one of the parts.


Evidential markers indicate how the speaker learned about the information they are conveying. "Visual" evidentials indicate that the speaker saw the event."Hearsay" indicate that the speaker is reported secondhand information.


Expletive arguments are semantically vacuous, appearing only to satisfy syntactic constraints like c-selection and/or the Subject Condition.

external argument

An external argument is any argument of the verb that is introduced outside of the VP---it is "external" to VP.


Syntactically or semantically relevant information that is associated with a head.


A DP is free if it is not bound, i.e., c-commanded by a coreferential expression.


Functional words typically provide relationships between lexical words, or specify properties of lexical words. Their meanings are often difficult to define, and are dependent on the presence of a lexical word.


A generative syntactic theory is one which proposes a set of abstract rules can can "generate" any and every human language.


A grammar of a language is a complete set of phrase structure rules.


A head is a terminal node, and is realized as a morpheme or word. See also the Headedness Principle.


Movement of heads. Head-movement is constrained by the Head-Movement Constraint. Haed-movement is distinct from Phrasal Movement.

head-movement constraint

Informally, the head-movement constraint says that heads cannot skip over intervening heads. Formally, the head-movement constraint says that a head can only move to the nearest c-commanding or c-commanded head.

Headedness Principle

Every phrase has exactly one head and every head is in its phrase.

Headedness Principle.

Every head has a phrase, and every phrase has exactly one head.


Idioms or "idiom chunks" are non-compositional phrases: the meanings of the constituents do not transparently reflect the meaning of the whole.

internal argument

An internal argument is any argument of that is introduced inside of the VP---it is "internal" to VP.


Intransitive verbs only every appear with a subject, and never appear with an object. In theoretical terms, an intransitive verb is a verb that c-selects for only one argument.


Lexical words have "content," and are typically easily definable, referring to things, events, actions, or abstract properties. They contrast with functional words.


A modifies B if A restricts the meaning of B. In this class, "modify" means the same as "adjoin."


A morpheme is the smallest unit of sound-meaning correspondence. All words are made up of one or more morphemes.


Morphology is the study of morphemes. Morphemes are defined as the smallest unit of meaning.


Any point in a tree.


Noun Phrase


A morphological category referring to either singular or plural (and in some languages including dual and trial as well).


A grammatical role. Objects are typically complements to V.


An oblique argument is "non-core" argument. Non-core argument are typically adjuncts, and very often appear in prepositional phrases (in English) or in semantic cases (like "instrumental") in other languages.


A syntactic process in which an object is promoted the subject position, and a subject is demoted to an adjunct.


The perfect aspect is used to indicate an event which is completed by the indicated tense. Thus, in the "present perfect," the event of the verb has been completed by the present moment. In the "past perfect," the event of the verb has been completed at some past moment. In English, perfect is expressed using a finite form of the auxiliary verb HAVE and the participial form of the main verb, e.g., "John has eaten sushi."

phrasal movement

Movement of phrases. There are two varieties of phrasal movement: A-movement and A'-movement. Phrasal movement contrasts with head-movement.


A number category, indicating non-singular.

polar questions

Yes/No questions, or questions that can be answered either "yes" or "no."


A prefix is a morpheme that attaches at the beginning of a word.


A typological phenomenon characterized by the ability to have apparently silent pronouns. Languages like Spanish, Italian, and Swahili are pro-drop languages.


Various syntactic categories have different pro-forms, which can be used to substitute for those categories as a constituency test.


The progressive is an aspectual category that indicates an incomplete or ongoing action with respect to a particular event at a time. In English, progressive aspect is expressed using a finite form of the verb BE and the gerundive form of the verb, e.g., "John is eating sushi."


A referring expression. A pronoun's reference is not strict, meaning that it can change depending on context. Note that pronouns are not nouns, they are syntactically determiners.


A category of words. Note that pronouns are not nouns, they are determiners.

quantifier float

A process by which quantifiers appear in places that have been moved away from.


Quantifiers are sub-category of Determiners and include things like every, some, each, all, few, most, etc. Quantifiers are used to express a proportion of the associated NP.

question C

A version of the complementizer used in questions.


A referring expressions. R-expressions strictly refer, meaning that their reference cannot change in context.


Raising (or "raising to subject") involves movement out of one clause into the subject position of a higher clause. See also "raising verbs".


Something is recursive if it is a process that applies to itself. Practically, in syntax, something is recursive if it is a category that contains the same category (e.g., PP inside of PP, N inside of N, etc).


A referring expression, also called an anaphor. A reflexives reference is not strict, meaning that it can change depending on context, but it is also sensitive to syntactic structure. Reflexives are subject to Condition A of binding theory.


Surface structure. This is the structure that built after movement and selection have been satisfied.


Every head selects the type, number, and semantic role of what it combines with. There is semantic selection (s-selection) and category selection (c-selection).

sentence fragment

The sentence fragment constituency tests asks whether the phrase your testing can stand on its own.


X and Y are sisters if X and Y share the same mother---that is, if they're both directly under the same thing (immediately dominated by the same phrase).


X is a specifier if its mother is a phrase level (YP) and it's sister a bar-level (Y').

structural ambiguity

A structural ambiguity occurs when a sentence have more than one syntactic parse.

Subject Condition

Spec-TP must be filled at S-structure. The Subject Condition guarantees that there is always a "subject" of every clause.

subject-auxiliary inversion

When an auxiliary verb appears in front of the subject. Formally, this is analyzed as T-to-C movement.


A family of constituency tests that tests constituency by replacing a string of words with another form, typically a pro-form.


A morpheme that attaches to the end of a word.




SVO languages have the word order Subject-Verb-Object in positive declaratives.

syntactic categories

Syntactic categories are parts of speech, referring to N (Nouns), D, (Determiners), V (Verbs), etc.


An instance of head-movement. Tense lowering moves T to the next lowest c-commanded head.

terminal node

A terminal node is a node that ends in a lexical item, i.e., a word or a morpheme. Phrases and bar-levels are not terminal.


A constituency test where some element is preposed to the front of the sentence, usually with comma intonation, e.g., "Mary, I saw."


A transitive verb has two arguments, a subject and an object.


The Uniformity of Theta Assignment Hypothesis. This hypothesis holds that each thematic role has a dedicated position in the syntax.

Verb particle

A verbal particle is a prepositional element that co-occurs with a verbal element, often affecting the meaning of the verb in subtle ways.


The VP-Internal Subject Hypothesis, the hypothesis that all subjects start inside the verb phrase. This idea has been  superceded by VoiceP.


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