a constituent with the feature composition: [+N, +V, F] modifying nouns, e.g. mad in mad cow. These constituents cannot have nominal complements, their semantically nominal complement must appear as a Prepositional Phrase with the rescue strategy of of-insertion.


a constituent introducing a sentential complement. The complementisers in English are that, if ,and for. They occupy the head position of CP and have selectional restrictions on the force and finiteness of the clause. Feature composition: [+F, N, V]

degree adverb

a subclass of adverbs which specifies the degree to which some property applies, e.g. very and extremely. Feature composition: [+F, +N, +V]


the head of a Determiner Phrase, a closed class item taking an NP complement defining its definiteness. Feature composition: [+F, N, +V]

functional category

categories without lexical content, fulfilling some grammatical function in a given structure: inflections, determiners, degree adverbs and complementisers.

generative grammar

a grammar containing rules with the help of which we can generate all and only the well-formed expressions of a language (therefore excluding the ungrammatical structures).


(a) a morpheme added to the end of words of a given category in sentence structure as required by the given structure, e.g. s in Peter like s his dog or er in Peter is clever er than Tony.

(b) the head of an Inflectional Phrase. It can be realised as a modal auxiliary or a zero agreement morpheme. Information about tense can be found in a separate vP directly under IP.


a system that enables people who speak it to produce and understand linguistic expressions.


a word that names people, places or things that can have a plural form. Feature composition: [+N, V, F]


a syntactic unit preceding its complement, the most often a DP defining a special syntactic and/or semantic relationship between the complement and another constituent: cat in the bag/grapes of wrath/tea without sugar/a reduction of taxes. Feature composition: [F, N, V].

thematic category

categories with lexical content: verbs, nouns, adjectives, prepositions.


a word used to describe an event or situation that can appear in one of the five verb forms. Feature composition: [N, +V, F].

word category

a set of expressions that share certain linguistic features, a grouping of words that cluster together, e.g. noun, verb. See also functional category, thematic category.

Basic English Syntax with Exercises

1.3 A Typology of Word Categories

Having introduced some of the basic concepts, let us now turn to look at what categories we need to refer to in the description of a language like English. In generative linguistics it is often seen as a positive aim to keep basic theoretical equipment to a bare minimum and not to expand these unnecessarily. This can be seen in the standard approach to word categories in terms of the attempt to keep these to as small a number as possible. In the present book we will mainly be concerned with eight basic categories. These come in two general types: thematic categories and functional categories. In the thematic categories we have verbs (V), nouns (N), adjectives (A) and prepositions (P) and in the functional categories there are inflections (I), determiners (D), degree adverbs (Deg) and complementisers (C). Thus we have the following classification system:


We will introduce these categories individually in the following sections.


        1.3.1 Categorial features

        1.3.2 Predicates and arguments

        1.3.3 Grammatical aspects of meaning

        1.3.4 The Thematic categories





        1.3.5 Functional Categories



           Degree Adverbs


        1.3.6 Functionally underspecified categories