abstract Case

being Case-marked is assumed to be a universal property of overt nominal expressions. Whenever there is no visible marking, we assume there to be invisible Case on the given nominal expression.

accusative Case

the case of DPs appearing after verbs, prepositions and visible subjects of infinitival clauses. In English it is visible only on certain pronouns, e.g. him/her.


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.

adjective phrase (AP)

a phrase headed by an adjective. In the complement position we can find PPs and finite and non-finite CPs. DPs and exceptional clauses are excluded since adjectives are not Case assigners. APs are complements of DegPs.


the participants minimally involved in an action defined by the predicate. The complements and the subject, the latter also called an external argument.

Case assigner

a head that has the ability to assign Case, like V(erb), P(reposition) and finite I(nflection).

Case Filter

every overt DP must be assigned abstract Case.

Case position

a position where (nominative or accusative) Case can be assigned.

central determiner

traditionally these are determiners following pre-determiners and preceding post-determiners. In GB central determiners occupy the head position of DP this way defining the definiteness of the phrase (e.g. a man/the man)


the structure before movement takes place, a representation of thematic relations.


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

measure noun

a non-thematic, non-functional noun indicating quantity, e.g. loaf in a loaf of bread.

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 DP complement immediately following the verb. It can move to the subject position in passive sentences. See also direct object, indirect object.


a rescue strategy to avoid a Case Filter violation. APs and NPs are unable to assign Case to their complements, so their semantic DP argument is realised as a PP and the preposition of is inserted: to be envious of Mary (compare with to envy Mary)

phonologically empty

not having phonological, visible realisation, but still present, syntactically active in an abstract, unpronounced form, e.g. PRO is a phonologically empty category, similarly to traces.


traditionally it is a determiner following a central determiner but within the framework of Government and Binding Theory it can be claimed that it is actually an AP that acts to quantify over a noun, and occupies the specifier position of NPs, e.g. many, few.


traditionally pre-determiners are those determiners that appear in front of central determiners within a nominal expression. These are three in number: all, both and half. In the present approach, however, they are analysed similarly to central determiners, they also occupy the head position of DP to account for why they can also be followed by a PP beginning with of as in all the girls/all of the girls.


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].

preposition phrase (PP)

a phrase headed by a preposition. It usually takes a DP complement but certain types of CPs can also appear in the complement position of PPs. PPs themselves can be complements of different constituents such as verbs, nouns and adjectives.


a determiner that expresses a definite or indefinite amount or number of the nominal expression it modifies, e.g. all, both, some, many, four.


the study of meaning. It covers both lexical meaning and the meaning of sentences with special emphasis on their truth conditions (under what circumstances a sentence is true/false).

specifier position

a position defined by X-bar Theory. The specifier is sister to X', daughter of XP. It is a phrasal position, the nature of the phrase depends on what it is the specifier of. E.g. the specifier of IP is the subject, the specifier of DP is the possessor in possessive structures.


post-movement structure containing the traces of moved constituents.

transitive verb

a verb with a nominal complement, e.g. read, buy. The agentive subject occupies the specifier position of vP, the theme object occupies the specifier position of VP.

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

4.3 Multiple Determiners

In the last part of this chapter we will consider structures which appear to have more than one determiner. In fact English seems to allow for up to three determiners:

(62)all the many disappointment

Traditionally, the determiner which appears in the middle is called a Central Determiner, the one in front a Pre-determiner and the one following a Post-determiner. One might think that an appropriate analysis for this kind of structure would be as follows:


Unfortunately however this fails to capture some rather basic facts about multiple determiners and it also complicates the theory of heads to some extent. The first problem is obvious: if a determiner like the can take a DP as its complement, why can it not take any DP complement? The only ‘DP’ that can follow this determiner is one headed by a post-determiner:

(64)athe few good ideas
b*the all men
c*the this mistake

In general then, the structure in (63) predicts that determiners can come in any order within the DP and moreover there can be any number of them. Neither of these expectations is true. The second problem lies in the fact that this suggestion forces us to accept that determiners do not just take NP complements; they can take DP complements as well. We will see in later chapters that it is very typical of functional heads to take just one kind of complement, and no functional head takes a DP complement. DP complements seem to be restricted to thematic heads and so it is unlikely that a determiner should be able to take one.

So what is the proper analysis of multiple determiners? The easiest case to deal with is the post-determiner. We argued in chapter 1 that these are adjectival elements which are undefined for the F feature and hence are neither functional nor thematic adjectives. The fact that they may be modified in the same way as thematic adjectives, however, indicates that they head APs:

(65)ahis [AP very few] good ideas
bmy [AP not so many] disastrous parties

We can see from this that the traditional term ‘post-determiner’ is a rather misleading one as they are not determiners, nor even heads but whole adjectival phrases. Where is this AP situated? Clearly it follows the determiner and what follows the head is its complement. But determiners do not take AP, but NP complements. It must therefore be the case that post-determiners occupy a position within the NP complement of the determiner, the specifier position of the NP complement. Thus, we have the following structure:


This leaves the pre-determiners to accommodate. These are more problematic. However, it turns out that pre-determiners are not such a special class of determiner after all, once one considers the following:

(67)aall (of) the people
bthose of his students who knew him
cfew of his enemies

The only difference between pre-determiners and other determiners is that when they appear in front of a DP the pre-determiner has an optional of whereas this is obligatory with other types of determiner. The fact that we can have a post-determiner in this position is interesting. We have stated that these come in specifier of NP, but where is the NP in (67c) that the post-determiner is in the specifier of? If there is an NP in this structure the head of which cannot be seen, it seems that we are forced to assume that this head is an unpronounced empty category and therefore the structure must be something like the following:


Of course, as we saw previously, caution must be exercised in proposing such empty heads to ensure that they are independently motivated and not just assumed to make the analysis work. It turns out that there is a good deal of independent evidence for the existence of this empty noun.

First, consider the presence of the preposition of which is obligatory in nearly all structures of this type, with the exception of the ‘pre-determiners’. This is the preposition we find when there is a noun which takes a DP complement:

(69)aan illustration of [DP the technique]
ba publication of [DP names and addresses]
cthe theory of [DP relativity]
dthe record of [DP his birth]

This preposition has no meaning in these structures and it is fairly obvious that the semantic relationships hold between the noun and the following DPs. This can be most obviously seen from the fact that the verbs from which some of these nouns are formed are transitive and have no need of the preposition to express their relationship with the DP complement:

(70)ato illustrate [DP the technique]
bto publish [DP names and addresses]
cto record [DP his birth]

The object of the verb is associated with accusative Case and hence must be in a Case position. But the object of the noun is not associated with any Case; indeed nouns in general cannot take bare object. We can account for these observations if we simply assume that the complement position of a noun is a Caseless position. Given the Case Filter introduced in the previous chapter, it follows that DPs are not allowed to occupy such a position at S-structure. There is nothing to prevent a noun from taking a DP complement at D-structure, however, and thematically it seems to be the case that many nouns do have DP arguments which all surface as PPs headed by the meaningless preposition of. We might therefore assume that this preposition is inserted into the structure at S-structure so that the Case Filter may be satisfied.

Note that the object of a preposition is an accusative position and hence that prepositions are Case assigners. Inserting of then allows an otherwise Caseless DP to be assigned Case. Of-insertion is however a very limited phenomenon. It happens with the DP complements of nouns and adjectives and nowhere else which might be argued to be a Caseless position:

(71)aa knowledge of karate
bfed up of fish fingers
c*of him to pay his debts

It seems therefore that the appearance of the meaningless of is a good indication of the presence of a noun or an adjective. In the structure we are considering concerning the pre-determiner, the appearance of the of can be taken as strong evidence in favour of the presence of a noun even though one is not visible.

Another argument for the existence of the empty noun in pre-determiner constructions comes from their interpretation. Compare the following examples:

(72)asome of the dancers
ba group of the dancers

These two constructions are interpreted in very similar ways. (72b) involves a measure or group noun, which we have argued are non-thematic nouns lacking a specification for the F feature. Semantically these work in a very uniform way: the complement of the group noun identifies a set of individuals (in this case the dancers) and the group noun focuses on a part of this set by dividing the set up into natural quantities (groups of individuals, bottles of wine, cups of tea, etc.). This is exactly how the structure with the pre-determiner is interpreted: the set is identified by the inner DP (the dancers) and this set is partitioned into natural quantities (individual dancers in this case) and the pre-determiner quantifies these.

One possible way to account for this similarity is to assume that the empty noun in the pre-determiner structure works like a group or measure noun. Thus, if this can be maintained, there is semantic evidence for the presence of the empty noun. We can take this further by the following observation. Group nouns allow their DP complements to be fronted:

(73)aof the dancers, a group were selected to perform
bof the wine, ten bottles remained unopened
cof the tea, three cups were set aside

Other nouns do not allow their complements to be fronted like this:

(74)a*of Bugsy, a photograph was distributed
b*of relativity, a theory was proposed
c*of linguistics, a student was examined

With pre-determiner structures, the fronting of the of-phrase is also possible:

(75)aof the dancers, some were sent home
bof my family, all were famous cuckoo clock engineers

As this phenomenon is restricted to structures involving group nouns, it seems that this is strong evidence in favour of the assumption that pre-determiner constructions involve a group noun in the position we have proposed an empty category.

If this analysis can be maintained, then we can claim that pre-determiners are no different to other determiners (apart from the optionality of of) in that they may introduce a DP that has an NP complement with an empty head:


With this analysis then we are able to accommodate all the ‘determiners’ found in English in the appropriate number and order.