abstract light verb

the head position of a vP can be occupied by a phonetically empty light verb.


a type of movement where a new position is formed as a result of the movement creating an adjunction structure, like the (simplified) movement of the PP in the following tree structure representation where the S node is doubled:


one of the thematic or theta-roles, where the argument deliberately performs an action, as Jamie in Jamie sang a song or Robert in Robert kicked the cat. In terms of the UTAH the agentive theta-role is assigned to the specifier position of vP, similarly to experiencer arguments.


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


a semantic property of verbs expressing how a certain event is viewed. See lexical aspect and grammatical aspect.

bound morpheme

a morpheme that has to attach to another morpheme, it cannot stand on its own, e.g. ed, ment, un . See also free morpheme


a structure containing a (visible or invisible) subject and a predicate.


one of the thematic or theta-roles where the argument experiences some physical or mental state, like Mary in Mary was afraid of dogs. The experiencer theta-role is assigned in the specifier position of vP, similarly to the agent role. If both an agent and an experiencer argument are selected by the verb there are two vPs projected and the experiencer occupies the specifier position of the lower vP.

extended projection

a Verb Phrase has an extended projection into IP and CP in a clause. Similarly to it a noun phrase has an extended projection into DP which may further project into a PP.


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

light verb

a verb occupying the head of a vP used in combination with another element, typically a noun or verb, where the light verb’s contribution to the meaning of the whole construction is less than that of a fully thematic main verb, e.g. to take a shower=to shower. Certain verbs expressing aspectual (be, have) or modal (let) meaning also belong here. According to the proposals in the present book the following constituents can appear within the vP in a visible or abstract form (see also vP-shells):

– agentive arguments in the specifier positions

– experiencer arguments in the specifier position

– goal arguments in the double-object construction as specifiers

– the passive -en morpheme in the head of vP

– the aspectual morphemes -en and -ing in the head of vP

– the tense morpheme in the head of vP

multiple light verb

the internal structure of the VP and the structure of the event expressed by the verb are isomorphic. If the event structure of the predicate is complex we have multiple light verbs in the structure. Light verbs can also express tense and aspect.


visible, having phonological realisation

perfect aspect

an action is viewed as being completed, e.g. in I have written my homework.

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.

thematic hierarchy

the hierarchy of the assignment of thematic roles. Agents are higher than experiencers, which in turn are higher than themes. The theta-roles lower on the hierarchy have to be assigned first (if present).


one of the thematic roles where the argument is not affected by the action described by the verb e.g. in Peter saw John nothing directly happens to John as a result of being seen. In terms of the UTAH the theme theta-role is assigned to the specifier position of the VP.

there-construction: see existential there-construction.

theta role

the semantic role of the participants as required by the predicate. E.g. verbs define what kind of semantic relationship is to be established between the verb itself and the arguments of the verb, and arguments are selected accordingly. The verb kick calls for an agent subject, so its subject position cannot be occupied by e.g. my CD-player.

Uniform Theta-role Assignment Hypothesis (UTAH)

a Θ-role is assigned in the same structural position in all structures in which it is present.

Basic English Syntax with Exercises Multiple light verbs

If we assume that experiencers are assigned their Θ-roles in the specifier position of a light verb, we face a problem in analysing verbs with agent and experiencer arguments as in (88). What is puzzling about these verbs is how they can exist at all, given our assumption that agent and experiencer receive their Θ-roles in the same position. The only analysis available to us, if we wish to maintain the UTAH, is to assume that there are two light verbs in these constructions, one for the agent and one for the experiencer:


The event structure of these verbs seems to support this analysis as it does seem rather complex:

(94)e = e1 → e2 → e3: e1 = ‘Fred did something’
  e2 = ‘I experience something’
  e3 = ‘I am frightened’

To get the right word order we will have to assume that the verb moves to the highest light verb and in fact, the verb will have to move to them both, one after the other, if abstract light verbs are bound morphemes:


The first step, represented in (95a), involves the verb moving to the lower light verb and adjoining to it. The next step in (95b), takes the light verb with the thematic verb adjoined to it and moves this to adjoin to the upper light verb. The result is a multiple head adjunction structure of the type discussed in chapter 2.

Multiple light verbs are not unheard of in languages which make more of an overt use of them than English. Consider the following Urdu example:

(96)nadyane saddafko xat lik lene diya
Nadya-erg. Saddaf-dat. letter write take-inf. give-perf.Masc.s
‘Nadya let Saddaf write a letter (completely)’

The verbal complex at the end of this single clause consists of a thematic verb (write) and two light verbs (take and give) where the inner one (take) adds some aspectual meaning of perfection and the outer one (give) seems to add a modal meaning of permission. Even in English we can have a series of light verbs stacked one on top of another:

(97)I made him let her take a look

But while this seems a possible analysis for these structures therefore, it does raise the question of why the light verbs are ordered as they are: why is the agentive one always higher than the experiencer one? The answer may have to do with the notion of extended projection. The essence of this is that the thematic verb to some extent controls the Θ-roles assigned by the light verbs. It has been proposed in several places that there is a hierarchy of Θ-roles which plays a part in the order in which they are assigned. For example, we might suppose that agents are higher in the hierarchy than experiencers and these in turn are higher than themes:

(98)agent > experiencer > theme

The Θ-roles lower on the hierarchy have to be discharged on to an argument before those higher up. The UTAH ensures that Θ-roles can only be discharged in certain positions and in combination with (98) we get the following pattern. The first Θ-role to be assigned is the theme, if there is one. As this can be assigned to the specifier of the thematic verb it will be. Next the experiencer Θ-role must be assigned, providing there is one. This can only be assigned to the specifier of a light verb so the thematic verb will extend its projection to include a light verb and the experiencer Θ-role will be assigned to its specifier. Finally, if there is an agent, again this can only be assigned to the specifier of a light verb and hence will force the verb to extend its projection. If there already is an extended projection, a second light verb will be added to accommodate the agent. Thus, the agent will always be higher in the structure than the experiencer and theme.