stems are allowed to support more than one bound morpheme and hence there are complex words being formed from a series of inflectional morphemes.


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.


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

aspectual auxiliary verb

those dummy auxiliary verbs that participate in forming the progressive (different forms of be as in They are waiting.) or the perfective aspect (different forms of have as in I have read this book.). They are not generated in the head position of IPs (as opposed to modal auxiliaries) but in vP, and can undergo upward movement to the head position of IP. Feature composition: [–N, +V]

aspectual morpheme

the morphemes -ing and -en responsible for the progressive and perfective aspectual meanings, respectively.

base form

the (at least apparently) uninflected form of the verb. it can be finite (like in I like chocolate where a zero form of the inflection indicates SG1 agreement) or non-finite (like in I may invite Jamie where a verb form also called the bare infinitive is used, no inflection whatsoever is present on the verb, the inflectional head position is occupied by the modal auxiliary may).

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 last resort operation when neither the auxiliary nor the lexical verb can move. We find it in the following structures:

(a) the VP has fronted: [crash the car] he did

(b) the inflection itself has inverted in a question: did he – crash the car?

(c) there is a negative between the I and the VP: he did not use the windscreen wipers

dummy auxiliary

a certain form of the auxiliary do, its main function is to support the tense morpheme when it cannot appear on the main verb

Head Movement Constraint (HMC)

a head must move to the next head position.

inflectional morpheme

it does not change the category of the lexical element to which it is added, it provides another form of the word, e.g. the past inflectional morpheme ed. The meaning of the original word does not change. Syntactic process.


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


the smallest meaningful unit. Words can be made up of one or more morphemes. See also bound morpheme, free morpheme.


S-structure constituents do not always appear in the position where they are base-generated in D-structure, they often move from their base positions to other structural positions. There can be various reasons motivating movement, see wh-movement and DP-movement.


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.

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.

vP (pronounced: little vP)

a phrase headed by a light verb taking a VP complement hosting agent or experiencer arguments in its specifier position. For a list of elements that can appear in vp see light verb.

Basic English Syntax with Exercises

6.2.2 Do-insertion

The use of have and be as supporting auxiliaries is therefore associated with the appearance of the aspectual morphemes whose presence necessitates the use of the auxiliary by ‘tying-up’ the verb so that it cannot support any other morpheme. The use of the dummy auxiliary do however, is a little different as it is not associated with the appearance of any aspectual morpheme and indeed cannot be used in the presence of one:

(21)ahe did not arrive
bhe had not arrived
c*he did not have arrived

What determines the use of the auxiliary here? Obviously the verb is unable to support the inflection in this case, but this does not seem to be because it already supports another morpheme. In fact the verb is in its base form and there is no reason to think that there is any other verbal morpheme present. (21a) is simply the negative version of he arrived. Apparently it is the negative that blocks the verb from moving to support the inflection. To gain some understanding of what is going on here we need to briefly examine another kind of head movement which we will more thoroughly discuss in the next chapter. In the formation of certain questions an auxiliary verb is moved to the other side of the subject:

(22)aDenise will dancewill Denise dance?
bTim is tallis Tim tall?

As we can see, both modal and aspectual auxiliaries can undergo this movement process. The observation of interest to us is what happens when there are more than one auxiliary:

(23)aGraham could be gardening
bcould Graham be gardening?
c*be Graham could gardening?

Apparently, when there are more than one auxiliary, the first one is chosen to move. The reason for this seems to be that moving the first auxiliary involves a shorter movement than moving the second:


Travis (1984) proposed that this phenomenon can be explained by a restriction on head movement which prevents one head from moving over the top of another:

(25)the Head Movement Constraint (HMC)
a head must move to the next head position

The reason why (23c) is ungrammatical, then, is that if the aspectual auxiliary moves in front of the subject, it has to move over the modal. Whereas if the modal moves, it crosses over no other head. Now consider the case of verb movement in the presence of not:

(26)a =  he rang the bell
b = *he rang not the bell

The movement represented in (26a) appears to be grammatical whereas that in (26b) is ungrammatical. Again the difference between the two is that the grammatical movement is shorter. But if we want to use the HMC to account for the phenomena, it must be the case that the negative is a head as it is moving over this element that causes the problem. But, what kind of a head is the negative? It is situated between the inflectional element and the v/VP:


We know that the inflectional element takes a v/VP complement and therefore that the negative must be either V or v. As the complement of the negation is a v/VP it follows that the negative must be v, a light verb, as main verbs do not have verbal complements. Thus the analysis is:


Accepting this, we can account for the insertion of dummy do. The verb will not be able to move to inflection without violating the HMC. Apparently in English, the negative is not the sort of verbal element that can support tense and hence the only option available is to insert an auxiliary. As there is no aspectual morpheme to deem otherwise, the inserted auxiliary will be do:

‘the glass did not shatter’

Note that the inability of the negative to support the inflections is a language specific property and there are languages where this is exactly what happens. For example, Finnish negation shows the same agreement morphemes as its verbs do and in the presence of negation the verb does not inflect for agreement:

(30)menenen mene
go1.s.not1.s. go‘I go/I don’t go’
menetet mene
go2.snot2.s. go‘you go/you don’t go’
meneeei mene
go3.snot3.s. go‘he/she goes/he/she doesn’t go’
menemmeemme mene go‘we go/we don’t go’
menetteette mene go‘you (lot) go/you (lot) don’t go’
meneväteivät mene go‘they go/they don’t go’

Because of its behaviour, the Finnish negative element is often called the negative auxiliary or even a negative verb. Moreover, in other languages the negative element surfaces as a bound morpheme on the verb, a situation very similar to the analysis we have given the aspectual markers in English. This is exemplified by the following Choctaw and Japanese sentences:

‘I didn’t see it’
(32)watashi-wa yom-anakat-ta
I                  read-not-past
‘I didn’t read’

Besides the bound morpheme status of the negative, these languages differ from English in that verbal stems are allowed to support more than one bound morpheme and hence there is agglutination: complex words being formed from a series of inflectional morphemes. The point is that in these languages the negative element behaves like we have seen certain English light verbs do and hence they offer support for the suggestion that the negative can be analysed as a light verb.

Note that the presence of the negative will not affect the use of aspectual auxiliaries as these are inserted into the inflection position rather than moving to it:

‘the glass has not shattered’