a syntactic process whereby certain constituents must share certain features, e.g. subjects must agree with the inflection on the verb in person and number.

canonical subject position

the specifier position of the IP. This is the position where subjects are assigned Case. The canonical subject position, however, is not equivalent with the base position of the subject, as was assumed for a long time, see the VP-Internal Subject Hypothesis.


an argument which follows the verb, or, more generally, a phrase selected by a head.

definite determiner

a determiner like the or this that turns a nominal expression into a definite DP.


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.

indefinite determiner

a determiner like a or some turning a nominal expression into an indefinite DP.

mass noun

a noun that does not show number distinction, e.g. tea/a cup of tea. See also partitive construction.

noun phrase (NP)

a phrase headed by a noun. Noun heads can take PP or CP complements, DP complements are excluded since nouns are not Case assigners. The specifier position of an NP is occupied by what are generally called post-determiners. NPs are complements of DPs.


a contrast between singular and plural as in a shirt/several shirts. The English regular plural marker is s.


a category under a main category, e.g. the category of intransitive verbs is a subcategory of the verbal category.

Basic English Syntax with Exercises

4.2.1 Determiners and Complements

We have already seen two subcategories of determiner: those which take NP complements and those which take no complement. There are also determiners which take optional NP complements:

(33)athe proposal*the
b*him proposalhim
cthat proposalthat

Determiners are rather boring in this respect and it seems that there are no other possibilities. This, as it turns out is very typical of functional categories as a whole, as they all have very limited complement taking abilities. However, even if the range of complements of the determiner is very limited, the arrangement of the determiner and its NP complement still conforms to the general pattern of head–complement relationships in English with the head preceding the complement:


As we have seen, the determiner may impose restrictions on its NP complement, particularly in terms of number: singular determiners take singular NP complements and plural determiners take plural NP complements. Some determiners take mass NP complements, and we have seen that the empty definite determiner takes a proper NP complement:

a man*a men*a sand?a Jim
*both manboth men*both sand*both Jim
some mansome mensome sand?some Jim
*e[+def] man*e[+def] men*e[+def] sande[+def] Jim
*e[–def] mane[–def] mene[–def] sand*e[–def] Jim

As heads, determiners also project their properties to the phrase and so a plural indefinite determiner will head a plural indefinite DP. We can see this from the following observations:

(36)athere are some men in the garden
bthere is a man in the garden
c*there is/are the man/men in the garden
dthe man is in the garden
ethe men are in the garden

As we have pointed out, only indefinite DPs can appear in the post-verbal position in there sentences. Interestingly, in this construction the verb appears to agree with the post-verbal element. So in (36a) the post-verbal DP is indefinite, the sentence being grammatical, and the verb is in the plural form. The determiner some is an indefinite plural determiner and these properties are projected to the whole phrase. The determiner a is indefinite and singular and hence the DP that it heads can go in the post-verbal position of a there sentence and the verb will be in its singular form, as in (36b). The determiner the is definite, but unmarked for number. Therefore it cannot head a DP in the post-verbal position of a there sentence (36c), but it can trigger either singular or plural agreement on the verb when it sits in the canonical subject position, (36d) and (36e), depending on what NP it takes as a complement.

We can represent these relationships in the following way:


All this is very typical of the behaviour of a head.