Chapter 3: Syntax: The Sentence Patterns of Language 1
Syntax: The part of the grammar that represents a speaker’s knowledge of
sentences and their structures.
Rules of Syntax: Principles of grammar that account for the grammaticality
of sentences, their hierarchical structure, their word order, whether there is
structural ambiguity. Ex: system from the word un + system + atic + ally.
Grammatical or Ungrammatical:
Well formed: Sequences of words that conform to the rules of syntax.
Ill formed: Sequence of words that violate the syntactic rules.
What Grammaticality is not based on
The ability to make grammaticality judgements does not depend on having
heard the sentence before.
Grammaticality judgements do not depend on whether the sentence is
meaningful or not
You may understand ungrammatical sequences even though you know they
are not well formed.
Grammaticality does not depend on the truth of sentences. Untrue sentences
can be grammatical.
Our unconscious knowledge of the syntactic rules of grammar permits us to
make grammaticality judgements.
What else do you know about Syntax?
Ambiguity: The term used to describe a word, phrase or sentence with
Hierarchical structure: The groupings or subgroupings of the parts of a
sentence into syntactic categories. Ex: the bird sang [[[the] [bird]] [sang]];
The groupings and subgroupings of morphemes in a word
Structural ambiguity: The phenomenon in which the same sequence of
words has two or more meanings based on different phrase structure
analyses. Ex: He saw a boy with a telescope.
Grammatical relations: Any of several structural positions that a noun
phrase may assume in a sentence.
Direct Object: The grammatical relation of a noun phrase when it appears
immediately below the verb phrase (VP) and next to the verb in deep
structure; the noun phrase complement of a transitive verb. Ex: the puppy in
the boy found the puppy.
Sentence Structure Chapter 3: Syntax: The Sentence Patterns of Language 2
Tree diagram: A graphical representation of the linear and hierarchical
structure of a phrase or sentence.
Constituents: A syntactic unit in a phrase structure tree. Ex: the girl in a
noun phrase constituent in the sentence the boy loves the girl.
Constituent structure: The hierarchically arranged syntactic units such as
noun phrase and verb phrase that underlie every sentence
If the sentence has more than one constituent structure, it is ambiguous, and
each tree will correspond to one of the possible meanings.
Syntactic Category: Traditionally called “parts of speech”; also called
grammatical categories; expressions of the same grammatical category can
generally substitute for one another without loss of grammaticality. Ex:noun
phrase, verb phrase.
Noun phrase (NP): category of expressions containing some form of a noun
or pronoun as its head, and which functions as the subject or as various
objects in a sentence.
Verb phrase (VP): The syntactic category of expressions that contains a
verb as its head along with its complements such as noun phrases and
prepositional phrases. Ex: gave the book to the child.
Verb: The syntactic category, also lexical category, of words that can be the
head of a verb phrase. Verbs denote actions, sensations, and states. Ex: climb,
hear, and understand.
Prepositional phrase (PP):
Sentence: A syntactic category of expression consisting minimally of a noun
phrase, followed by an auxiliary, followed by a verb phrase in deep structure.
Adjective phrase (AP): A syntactic category, also phrasal category, whose
head is an adjective possibly accompanied by modifiers that occurs inside
noun phrases and as complements of the verb to be, ex: worthy of praise,
several miles high, green, more difficult.
Determiner (Det): The syntactic category, also functional category, of words
and expressions that when combined with a noun forms a noun phrase.
Includes the articles the and a
Adjective (Adj): The syntactic category, also lexical category, of words that
function as the head of an adjective phrase, and that have the semantic effect
of qualifying or describing the referents of nouns. Ex: tall, bright, intelligent.
Noun: The syntactic category of words that can functions the head of a noun
phrase, such as book, jean, and sincerity.
Preposition: The syntactic category, also lexical category that heads a
prepositional phrase. Ex: at, in, on, up.
Adverb: The syntactic category, also lexical category, of words that qualify
the verb such as many adverbs like quickly and time adverbs like soon. The
position of the adverb in the sentence depends on its semantic type. Ex: John
will soon eat lunch, john eats lunch quickly. Chapter 3: Syntax: The Sentence Patterns of Language 3
Auxiliary verb: Verbal elements, traditionally called “helping verbs,” that co-
occur with, and qualify, the main verb in a verb phrase with regard to such
properties as tense, ex: have, be, will.
Phrase Structure Trees.
Phrase structure tree: A tree diagram with syntactic category information.
AKA constituent structure tree.
Articles: One of several subclasses of determiners. Ex: the, a.
Node: A labelled branch point in a phrase structure tree; part of the graphical
depiction of a transition network represented as a circle, pairs of which are
connected by arcs.
Every higher node is said to dominate all the categories beneath it. VP
dominates V, NP, PP, Det, B, P.
A node is said to immediately dominate the categories one level below.
Sisters: Categories that are immediately dominated by the same node.
Heads and Complements
Head (of a compound): The rightmost word. Ex: house in doghouse. It
generally indicated the category and general meaning of the compound.
Head (of a phrase): The central word of a phrase whose lexical category
defines the type of phrase. Ex: the noun man is the head of the noun phrase
the man who came to dinner;
Complements: The constituent(s) in a phrase other than the head that
complete(s) the meaning of the phrase. In the verb phrase found a puppy, the
noun phrase a puppy is a complement of the head verb found.
Transitive verb: A verb that selects an obligatory noun phrase complement.
Selection: A specification in the lexical entry of a word that determines the
constituents required or permitted as complements when that word is the
head of a phrase. Ex: in a verb phrase, a transitive verb such as find requires a
direct object complement, whereas a verb such as eat permits a direct object
Intransitive verb: A verb that must not have a direct object complement. Ex:
What Heads a Sentence?
Modals: The auxiliaries other than be and have.
Auxiliary verbs specify a time frame for the sentence, whether the situation
described by the sentence will take place, already took place, or is taking
To express the idea that Aux is the head of S, the symbols INFL (=inflection)
and IP (=inflection phrase) are often used instead of Aux and S Chapter 3: Syntax: The Sentence Patterns of Language 4