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The Syntax of the English Simple Sentence

II Applied Modern Languages

Course instructor: Daria Protopopescu
Contact: dariaprotopopescu@yahoo.com

Lecture 3
The Syntax of Simple Sentences - COPULATIVE PREDICATIONS
Let us start from the analysis of the following sentences:

Mary is happy.
John is a teacher.
Susan is of my age.
She will make a good mother.

These sentences contain a copula (be in sentences a, b, c) or a copula-like verb (make in

sentence d) which functions as the link between the subject of the sentence and the constituent
which predicates about the subject. This element is called a predicative. The copula or the
copula-like verb and the predicative form a copulative predicate.
Lets have a look at the following examples:
2. (a) Grandfather is a good man. (DP)
(b) My sister is very pretty. (AP)
(c) The hat is of my size. (PP)
(d) The problem is to do it correctly. (IP)
(e) The idea is that you should never agree to such things. (CP)
As we can see the predicative can be expressed by a wide range of phrases. Only the copula
BE allows the full range of predicatives, the other copula-like verbs allow only a limited
number of possibilities.
In example 1, it is the predicative not the copula which assigns a property to the subject,
namely Mary is assigned the property happy, John the property a teacher, a.s.o., which means
that the predication relation holds between the subject and the predicative, and not between
the subject and the copula. We can say that the subject of the sentence is assigned a theta role
and so is an argument of the predicative, not of the copula BE. It can be demonstrated by the
semantic relations that the predicative imposes on the subject.
3. (a) *Bill is a spinster.
(b) *Mrs. Brown is Marys father.
(c) *His brother is buxom.
The sentences above are ungrammatical as the property assigned by the predicative to the
subject violates the s-selection. A spinster and buxom select a [+female] entity, while father
selects a [+male] entity.

One conclusion would be that the copula does not assign an external theta role because it does
not have substantive content. This means that the copula does not have an external argument;
it only has an internal argument, a small clause which account for the predication relation
between the subject and the predicative. The subject is base-generated in a small clause
position where it is assigned a thematic role, and from there it moves its surface position to be
assigned case and also to satisfy the EPP (Extended Projection Principle), which says that all
sentences must have a subject. This means that the verb BE cannot assign case, which is in
keeping with the fact that it does not assign a theta role to an external argument. So the copula
BE behaves like an unaccusative verb.
Burzios generalization
(i) a verb which lacks an external argument (subject) fails to assign Accusative case
(ii) a verb which fails to assign Accusative case fails to theta-mark an external
The movement of the NP has to meet some requirements.
[Maryi]NP is [ti happy]SC.
1. the moved element is an NP
2. movement is obligatory.
3. the landing-site of movement is an empty position
4. the landing site is an A (argument)- position
5. the landing site is an NP position
5. the landing-site of movement is a position to which no theta-role can be assigned.
6. the landing-site of movement is a position to which case is assigned
7. the site from which the element is moved is an NP position to which no case is assigned
8. movement leaves behind a trace
9. the trace is co-indexed with the antecedent, with which it forms a chain. Because the head
of the chain is an A-position, it is called an A-chain.
10. the chain is assigned a theta-role
11. the theta-role is assigned to the lowest position of the chain, the foot of the chain
12. the chain is case-marked
13. case is assigned to the highest position of the chain, the head of the chain.
The copula be is a raising verb taking a small clause as its complement, it lacks an
external argument, fails to assign case to its complement, does not assign a theta role.
Therefore it is an unaccusative verb which selects a small clause, the subject of the
clause being generated in the [Spec, SC] position out of which it raises to be assigned
The copula BE is semantically light, which has been taken as a possible explanation
for the fact that it shares a number of properties with the auxiliaries.
It behaves like auxiliary verbs it undergoes movement to I; it moves to C in question
formation; it is directly negated by not/nt, it can be stressed by emphatic affirmations,
it occurs in tags and codas
4. (a) Are they students?
(b) They are not/arent students.

(c) Oh, but they ARE students.

(d) They are students, arent they?
(e) They are students, and so are their friends.
Like an auxiliary, the copula BE precedes the adverbs.
5. They are always rude to everyone.
He is never impertinent.
Unlike auxiliaries, which only allow one type of complement (VP), the copula allows a
wide variety of small clauses as complements (DP, AP, NP, PP, IP, CP).
The copula can co-occur with other auxiliaries, including auxiliary BE
6. You have always been so nice to me.
He is being clumsy now!
When the small clause contains two NPs, any of the two can raise to subject position.
7. That unimportant incident was the cause of the war.
The cause of the war was that unimportant incident.
To conclude, we can say that the copula BE is an unaccusative verb that has a number
of specific properties which distinguish it from regular unaccusatives and from
auxiliaries as well.
The role of the copula
Small clauses are reduced clauses which lack the functional categories, mainly Tense but
which denote predication relations, namely states of affairs which must receive temporal
anchoring. This is done by the verb the small clause is a complement of. The copula carries
the markers for Tense, Aspect, Agreement, Mood.
8. (a) Michael is careful. (Tense)
(b) Michael is being so awkward today! (Tense, Aspect)
(c) He has always been so nice. (Tense, Aspect)
(d) If only he were more attentive. (Tense, Mood)

fall, stand, make, sit, loom, remain, hold, run, get, lie, grow, go, turn, pass, seem,
come, etc
If you work hard, you will make a good lawyer. (DP)
She will make a wonderful actress. (DP)
The scheme fell flat. (AP)
He fell victim to her cruel remarks. (NP)
She fell an easy prey to him. (DP)
The house fell into ruins. (PP)
The book lay open on the table. (AP)
The snow lay thick on the ground. (AP)
The argument holds true. (AP)
She always holds aloof from company. (AP)
Tom stands alone among his mates. (AP)
We will stand firm. (AP)
Lady Jane stood godmother to her sisters child. (NP)
Those poor people stand in need of help. (PP)
He sat tight on the saddle. (AP)
The castle loomed menacing in the distance. (AP)
He remained a widower at the age of 30. (DP)
The sink got rusty. (AP)
He has grown old. (AP)
He finally turned a traitor. (DP)
They obliged the prisoners to turn Muslim. (AP)
They pass for rich. (PP)
He passed for a doctor. (PP)
The students seem interested in linguistics. (AP)
The knot has come undone. (AP)
Copula-like verbs behave like the copula. They lack an external argument, their internal
complement is a small clause, so they are raising verbs like the copula.
The scheme fell flat.

Nevertheless, there are a number of differences between the copula and the copula-like verbs.
They preserve part of their lexical meaning (durative stay, remain, inchoative
become, get)
They impose certain selectional restrictions on the small clause (see the examples
They do not combine with the full range of small clauses as BE
They do not raise, do not invert in question formation, need do-support, are not
negated by not/nt, need do-support, do not appear in tags and codas.
10. They turned Muslim.
*Turned they Muslim? (Did they turn Muslim?)
*They turned not Muslim. (They didnt turn Muslim)
*They turned Muslim, turnednt they?
They do not precede the adverbs (like lexical verbs)
11. *The river runs always dry in summer.
The river always runs dry in summer.
Unlike the copula BE, when the small clause contains two NPs, only the NP subject,
that is the one generated in subject position of the SC can raise to subject position of
the sentence.
12. My uncle remained a doctor all his life.
*A doctor remained my uncle all his life.
Adjectives are heads that project structure according to X-bar, can be modified by an
adverb in the Spec position, can select a complement (PP, CP or IP), can also contain
13. (a) rather envious of Marys success
(b) glad that we were there
(c) very unwilling to come here
(d) rather discontent with me for my behaviour
They may have an exclusively attributive or a exclusively predicative use or both
14. Mary is beautiful.
I saw a beautiful woman.
They appear only in pre-nominal positions in English, unlike Romanian
15. an envious person / *a person envious

When used attributively, adjectives do not allow complements

16. * a very unwilling to come here person
* a rather discontent with me father
Nevertheless, there are a number of adjectives which appear post-nominally even
when used attributively - general, public, martial. laureate
17. secretary general, attorney general, notary public, court martial, poet laureate
There are adjectives which, under specific conditions, appear post-nominally even
when used attributively
18. The ships damaged by the storm were recovered yesterday.
Attributive adjectives have degrees of comparison, but only those which denote
gradable properties. They can be modified by degree words (quite, rather). Adjectives
that denote ungradable properties do not allow comparison or degree words.
19. (a) the most beautiful woman
(b) It isnt very hot.
(c ) *He is very alive.
When the occur in a string preceding the noun they are arranged on a very strict order
a) adjectives modifying object-denoting nominals
20. a beautiful red Persian carpet / * a Persian beautiful red carpet
b) adjectives modifying event nominals
21. his previous disgusting angry reaction to your demand
Their future possible friendly cooperation
Adjectives may denote temporary or permanent properties, and depending on that they
may appear in pre or post-modifying positions
22. the only navigable river (permanent property) / the responsible man (trustworthy)
The only river navigable (transient property) / the man responsible (to blame)
Exclusively modifying adjectives
1) denominal adjectives derived from noun denoting substances
E.g. wooden, leaden, golden
23. a wooden bracelet / *The bracelet is wooden. (made of wood)
A leaden coffin. / *The coffin is leaden. (made of lead)
A golden ring. / *The ring is golden. (made of gold)

If used in a figurative meaning, these adjectives may also be used predicatively

24. Her movements were wooden. (like wood)
The sky was leaden. (the colour of lead)
Her hair was golden. (the colour of gold)
2) adjectives which may have been derived from adverbs
E.g. main, eventual, principal, utter, actual, favourite, former, mere, sole
25. The main purpose of his action has never been known. / *The purpose is main.
What we witnessed was an utter failure. /*The failure is utter.
Dont overestimate the actual importance of the act./ *The importance of the act is actual.
3) past participles which never occur in passive sentences (departed, escaped)
26. The departed guests. /*The guests are departed.
The escaped prisoner /*The prisoner is escaped
4) modal adjectives alleged, potential, possible
27. an alleged genius / *the genius was alleged
5) temporal adjectives future, former, late, occasional, present, daily, monthly
28. the future wedding / *the wedding is future
6) manner adjectives (related to adverbs) compulsive, big, frequent, etc
29. a compulsive eater / *the eater is compulsive
They select internal arguments (like verbs) to which they assign theta roles. They
generally subcategorize for PP, but the preposition is idiosyncratic, that is it cannot be
predicted from the properties of the adjective. Some adjectives subcategorize for IP
(infinitives) or CPs.
30. capable of decision; conversant with the subject; lacking in intelligence; dependent on
his family; answerable to the Prime Minister
31. They were eager to succeed.
He is ready to leave.
She was happy that they had arrived.
I am afraid that they will not manage.
They behave like verbs in a number of ways, but do not inflect for Tense and
Agreement. They take a subjected hosted by [Spec, AP] and a complement to which
they assign theta roles. This type of phrase is assumed to be a small clause

32. He became very angry with his sisters for their attitude.
Exclusively predicative adjectives
1) Adverb-like adjectives derived by prefixation with ae.g.. ablaze, afire, agog, aghast, afraid, asleep, akin, ajar, akimbo, alive, alike, alone, afloat,
aware, awash, astir, askew, averse, ashamed
33. The whole building was ablaze. / *the ablaze building
He was asleep. /*the asleep man
The door was ajar. /*the ajar door
If the adjective is quantified it can be used as a modifying adjective.
34. a half-asleep student; a somewhat afraid student; a fully aware teacher
2) prepositional adjectives which can never appear as pre-nominal modifiers, which
nevertheless appear in a post-modifying position
35. Young people are fond of pop music.
Is your child subject to colds?
This woman is prone to superstition.
A child subject to so many colds should be carefully looked after.
Adjectives appearing in both positions
1) with distinct meanings
Eg. heavy, hard, slow, frequent, traditionalist, occasional, possible, apparent
36. The march is slow. / A slow child
The luggage is heavy. / A heavy smoker
2) both predicative and modifying in one meaning and only modifying in the other meaning
Eg. civil, criminal, dramatic, atomic, chemical
37. She gave me a very civil answer. / Her answer was civil.
He specializes in civil engineering / *The engineering is civil.
3) adjectives such as old, new, wrong when characterizing the referent directly they are used
in both positions
Eg. true, complete, perfect, sure, clean, firm, sheer, total, utter
38. old/new furniture / The furniture is old/new
A wrong answer / The answer is wrong

- when not characterizing the referent directly they are used attributively
39. an old/new acquaintance
The wrong person (wrongly identified)
a) Attributive A is B
40. Mary is smart.
Bobby is a fresher.
The district is in a state of chaos.
The problem is that he should leave.
b) Equative A=B
41. The girl is Johns friend.
He is Secretary of State.
This girl is the most attractive of all.
The Nominal Predicative
a) Attributive a shame, a pity, no wonder, no doubt
Its a pity that he should have left.
b) NPs without a determiner
He is master of the situation.
The woman was poor class. (of the poor class)
- very rarely definite NPs
White hats are the thing today.
generated by the BE deletion rule:
(1) incapacity of realizing Predication by themselves
(2) cooccurence with Predicative AdjP/NP in surface structure.
[+V, +/S/_] where S is predicated by copulative be^Adj/NP
[+ / - Be-del] as an operational feature indicating the application of the Be-del rule.
1. [-Be-del]: COME, GET, GROW in the context [-be, Pred NP]
She came / got to be an attractive lady.
2. [+Be-del]: REMAIN, BECOME, TURN, RUN, GO (as inchoatives) GROW in the
context [-into NP].
She remained a widow.
3. [+/- Be-del]: SEEM, APPEAR, CONTINUE

She seemed (to be) an attractive lady.

Copula like verbs of becoming are characterized by the feature [+inchoative]: BECOME, GO,
MAKE: If you work hard, you will make a good engineer.
She will make an excellent wife.
Jack and Mary make a handsome couple.
The story of his adventures makes excellent reading.
Will you make one of us?
Will you make a fourth at bridge?
He made friends with your daughter.
The meaning is: be, result into being, turn out to be, develop into. The predicative is an NP,
usually [-definite].
FALL: His best jokes fell flat.
The arrow fell short.
He fell silent.
He fell a victim to his wifes cruelty.
He fell heir to his uncles estate.
He fell into disgrace.
They have fallen into poverty.
The meanings are: be (unsuccessful), come to be / reach a state / become. The Predicative is
an AdjP, a nonprepositional NP or a prepositional NP (into NP).