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:


a constituent with the feature composition [+N, +V, F] used to modify a verb (as in everything went smoothly) or a sentence (as in Unfortunately, I did not pass the first exam). In this approach adverbs and adjectives belong to the same category, the difference between them being what they modify.


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.

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

finite verb form

a verb form that is inflected for tense in a visible or invisible form. In English this inflection is visible only in the past tense or in SG3 in the present tense.

free morpheme

a morpheme that can stand on its own, e.g. flower, walk. See also bound morpheme


(a) a morpheme added to the end of words of a given category in sentence structure as required by the given structure, e.g. s in Peter like s his dog or er in Peter is clever er than Tony.

(b) the head of an Inflectional Phrase. It can be realised as a modal auxiliary or a zero agreement morpheme. Information about tense can be found in a separate vP directly under IP.


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 symbol defining syntactic units (heads, intermediate constituents, phrases) connected by branches in a tree structure representation.

sentential adverb

an adverb which modifies the meaning of the sentence, e.g. fortunately.


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.

VP adverb

an adverb which modifies the meaning of the verb, e.g. always, already, never.

Basic English Syntax with Exercises

6.2.4 Movement to tense and I

Having separated tense and agreement (=inflection), let us consider their properties separately. Tense is obviously a bound morpheme triggering movement of the verb or insertion of an auxiliary when the verb is unable to move. But what about the null agreement morpheme, is this a bound morpheme or not? If it is, it will need supporting and we would expect verbs and auxiliaries to appear as high as the I node as we do not want to claim that the inflection lowers onto the tense. On the other hand, agreement might be like the modals and be a free morpheme, in which case we would expect nothing to move to I. The data are complex and often depend on other assumptions as to how to interpret them. Basically there appears to be a difference in how verbs and auxiliaries behave. Auxiliaries appear to be able to achieve a higher position than the main verb, indicating that while the verb can move to tense it cannot move to I, whereas auxiliaries can be in I.

As we have seen, adverbs and the negative head can appear in a number of positions within the v/VP, with adverbs being able to adjoin to most phrases above the verb and negation taking most phrases above the verb as its complement:

(48)awill (quickly) have (quickly) been (quickly) being (quickly) hidden
bwill (not) have (not) been (not) being (not) cooked

Both negation and VP adverbs can also precede the non-finite marker, indicating that this is a tense element that stays inside the vP:

(49)afor him quickly to have left was a relief
bfor him not to have said anything was strange

However, neither VP adverbs nor negation can precede modals:

(50)a*quickly will leave
b*not will leave

And neither of them can appear adjoined to a phrase that the verb has moved out from:

(51)a*he will have seen1 quickly [VP the papers t1]
b*he will have seen1 not [VP the papers t1]

It thus seems that these elements appear anywhere inside the vP as long as they are below the I and above the surface position of the verb.

Now, when there is no modal, an auxiliary inserted to bear tense behaves as though it is in I as no adverb or negation can precede it:

(52)aI have quickly marked the essays*I quickly have marked the essays
bI have not graded the papers*I not have graded the papers

This supports the assumption that the inflection is a bound morpheme that needs supporting by a verbal element. With main verbs, however, we find that the tensed verb appears below the adverb and the verb cannot support tense in the presence of negation:

(53)aI quickly assessed the students*I assessed quickly the students
bI did not fail his paper*I failed not his paper

We already have an account for the behaviour of the main verb in the presence of the negative. The negative is a head that blocks the movement of the verb over it. If negation is situated below the I position, then the verb will not be able to move to support the inflection and hence do-support is necessary, as demonstrated in (53b). This will not affect the process of auxiliary insertion however, as this does not involve movement. Yet, an inserted auxiliary bears both tense and agreement and so it seems to be inserted into tense and moved to I, suggesting that the position of the negation is lower than the tensed element, contradicting (49b) where negation is above the non-finite tense. It seems then that negation must be below a finite tense, but above the verb.

The only real problem we face is accounting for the grammaticality of (53a), where the adverb appears in front of the tensed verb. It is this observation which has lead people to the assumption that the inflection must lower to the verb or that the analysis must be more abstract to account for what looks like a downward movement in terms of an upward one.

However, these approaches are based on the assumption that the position of the adverb is rigidly fixed and so if the verb follows the adverb it must be inside the vP. But we have seen that adverbial placement is not so rigid, although it is subject to some restrictions. It would seem to me to be more straightforward to assume that in the case of a finite main verb, the verb does occupy the inflection position and what needs accounting for is the position of the adverb.

Suppose that, like the negative element, the adverb likes to follow the finite tense and precede the verb. However, unlike the negative it is not rigid about this. Specifically, when the verb and the inflection are in one place, it is impossible for the adverb to be between them. Thus a choice must be made: put the adverb above the tense, or put it below the verb. It seems that the restriction on adverbs preceding verbs is the stronger, so the adverb will be adjoined higher than the I position. The position it is actually adjoined to is the I', which we will see is a position where the sentential adverb may appear:


As we mentioned previously, the negative element is not so accommodating and it refuses to give up its place below the finite inflection and above the verb. Thus in this case the verb cannot support the inflection and the dummy auxiliary has to be inserted:


The final structure of the clause we end up with is as follows:


In what follows, we may sometimes for convenience abbreviate this to:


However, the more articulated structure in (56) will be assumed to be correct and indeed will be essential for accounting for certain phenomena which will be introduced in the next chapter.