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:


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.


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

event structure

verbs can express simple or complex events. Event structure describes what sub-events an event expressed by a certain verb is made up of. This has an effect on the syntactic organisation of elements within the VP. There is supposed to be an isomorphism between event structure and the structure of the VP: a VP breaks up into sub-vPs/VPs in a one-to-one correspondence with the sub-events.


the distinction between declarative and interrogative interpretation.


the part of the clause excluding the subject giving information about the subject: Mary [is clever/likes chocolate/is waiting for Jamie/was in bed/is a university student].


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).


a syntactic category with the help of which we can locate an event or situation in time. In syntactic representation information about tense can be found within the vP appearing directly under the IP in the form of -s, -ed or the zero tense morpheme.


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 Theory

a module of GB accounting for how verbs assign theta-roles to their arguments.

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.

verb phrase (VP)

a phrase headed by a verb. It is in the VP together with the vp(s) that the basic argument structure of the clause is formed, thus, theta-role assignment takes place here. The specifier position of the VP is occupied by the constituent bearing the theme/patient theta role. In passive structures this constituent has to move from the specifier position of the verb to the specifier position of IP in order to get Case. A VP can have different types of complements such as a DP, CP, IP, PP.

X-bar theory

a module of GB containing three very simple rules to describe the structure of the expressions of a language. See also specifier rule, complement rule, adjunct rule.

Basic English Syntax with Exercises

Chapter 5 Verb Phrases

In this chapter we are going to take a detailed look at the structure of the phrase that is in some ways the core of the clause. In this phrase the basic argument structure of the clause is formed which is made up of the verb, acting as the predicate, its arguments and adjoined modifiers. Thus, it is within the VP that Θ-role assignment takes place. We will also see that it is within the VP that other aspects of semantic interpretation are represented, such as event structure and aspect. Other aspects of clausal interpretation, such as tense, modality and force are introduced in structures built on top of the VP and we will deal with these in the following chapters.

The principles of Theta Theory introduced in chapter 2 will play a large part in determining the structure of the VP, alongside those of X-bar theory. In particular we will be guided by the Uniform Theta-role Assignment Hypothesis (UTAH), which as we explained in chapter 2 assumes that specific Θ-roles are assigned to similar positions in all structures. Thus, if we find evidence that a particular Θ-role, theme for example, is assigned to a particular position in one structure, then by the UTAH we should assume that it is assigned to this position in all structures where it is found. In many ways this is a very simple theory, but it does lead to the assumption of somewhat more abstract structures than might have been guessed at prior to analysis. However, we will demonstrate that the more abstract structures have quite a few advantages over what might at first seem to be more straightforward analyses and these advantages can be used to independently motivate the analyses and thus support the assumption of the UTAH. We will start our discussion with the simpler cases and work our way to the more complex ones, though this order of presentation might not be the usual one we find in grammar books.

The notions of event structure and aspect are new and we will spend a little time introducing them in the next section.



5.1   Event Structure and Aspect

5.2   Verb Types

        5.2.1 Unaccusative verbs

        5.2.2 Light verbs

        5.2.3 Ergative verbs

        Potential problems

        Light verbs and ergatives

        Unaccusatives and ergatives

        5.2.4 Transitive verbs

        Evidence from passives

        Extended projections

        Agent and experiencer subjects

        Multiple light verbs

        5.2.5 Intransitive verbs

        5.2.6 Multiple complement verbs

        5.2.7 Phrasal verbs

        5.2.8 Verbs with clausal complements

        5.2.9 Summary

5.3   Aspectual Auxiliary Verbs

        5.3.1 The auxiliary as a dummy

        5.3.2 The nature of the aspectual morpheme

5.4   Adverbs, PPs and Clausal modifiers

        5.4.1 Adverbs

        5.4.2 PP modifiers

        5.4.3 Clausal modifiers

5.5 Conclusion

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