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

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.

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.

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.

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.


an infinitive appearing with to, a non-finite verb-form.

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.

Basic English Syntax with Exercises

6.2 The syntax of inflection

Let us now focus attention on the inflectional element itself to see some of the syntactic processes that concern it. Here we will be concerned with certain movement phenomena involving the inflection and the process of auxiliary insertion discussed in the last chapter.

When the inflection is represented by a free morpheme, such as a modal auxiliary or the infinitival to, nothing much happens to it. As a free morpheme it can stand by itself and hence we see it sitting in the head position:


(17) represents the D- and S-structures of the sentence Sam should phone Fiona. As discussed in the previous chapter, the agent originates in the specifier of a light verb, the position to which this Θ-role is assigned. It moves to the specifier of the IP, a process we will discuss in the next section. The verb heads the lower VP and moves to support the light verb. The inflectional element is unaffected by any process. Exactly the same is true for an infinitival clause:



Here (18) provides the D- and S-structures for the infinitival IP in a sentence like I want [Sam to phone Fiona]. Again, the same movement processes are observable and again none of these involves the inflection itself.



        6.2.1 Inserting auxiliaries into I

        6.2.2 Do-insertion

        6.2.3 Tense and Agreement

        6.2.4 Movement to tense and I