Linguistics 522

Lecture 4

Phrase-structure rules Complements and adjuncts

We assume the following PS-rules (phrase-structure rules):

  1. N'' => (D) N'
  2. N' => N' PP (Adjunct rule)
  3. N' => N PP (Complement rule)
Read N'' as N-double-bar, N' as N-bar. N-double-bar is going to be a synonym for what we've been calling NP.

The first thing these rules do is claim that there is a constituent intermediate between an NP and lexical N. This will be a constituent containing the head noun and its modifiers, the italicized sequences in the following NPs.

  1. the king of France
  2. the yellow bird
  3. the letter carrier
  4. the unattractive hippotamus in the living room
So far we only have rules for PP modifiers. Rules for other types of modifiers will be given below.

The other thing the 3 PS-rules do is distinguish between two kinds of PP modifiers, complements and adjuncts. Here are the examples Radford uses to motivate the distinction:

  1. complement: the student of physics
  2. adjunct: the student with red hair
There is a semantic intuition here which is not always clear but can roughly explained as follows. The adjunct and the noun express two distinct properties of the individual described. It can be paraphrased in two separate clauses: The complement and the noun function together to express one property, which can be expressed in one clause, and not in two: This semantic intuition is not very solid and the more you think about it, the slipperier it gets. We are going to rely on some suntactic facts to back us up.

We introduce a set of tests for the complement/adjunct distinction. As a set of properties that all converge on making the same distinction they constitute an argument for it. Some of them are also simple predictions that follow directly from making this structural distinction.
Order of
and adjuncts

If you look closely at the complement and adjunct rules you will see that in any tree containing both a complement and an adjunct, the complement must always occur closer to the noun. This predicts the following facts:

  • a student of physics with red hair
  • * student with red hair of physics
Consider another example.
  • John's desire for justice
Let's test whether in Switzerland is a complement or an adjunct, given the little we know so far.
  • John's desire for justice in Switzerland
  • ? John's desire in Switzerland for justice
The second NP is certainly more marked, so we have some evidence for the claim that for justice is a complement.
Iterability of

The adjunct rule has the interesting property that it can be applied any number of times. It has an N' as both the mother and the daughter.

  • the boy with red hair
  • the boy with red hair with long arms
  • the boy with long arms with red hair
  • the with red hair with long arms in the den
In contrast, the Complement rule can only be applied once:
  • * the student of physics of astronomy

Note: Do not confuse this with the claim that there can only be one complement. This is wrong:

  1. John handed Mary the ball.
  2. * John handed Mary.
  3. * John handed the ball.
There are clearly verbs that take two obligatory complements, which must both be sisters to the lexical head:
This is not two applications of the complement rule. It is one application of a single rule that allows two complements:
    V' -> V NP NP
But only some heads, like hand, are eligible for this rule. The noun student is clearly not one of them.

One is an anaphoric element that seems to be able to take an entire N-bar as its antecedent.

  • Bill has a yellow car with green racing stripes. Sue wants a blue one. (one = car with green racing stripes)

We see the following contrast

  • The student with red hair was smarter than the one with blue hair.
  • * The student of astronomy was smarter than the one of biology.

We can coordinate adjuncts with adjuncts and complements with complements:

  • The student with red hair and with green eyes was quite striking.
  • A student of astronomy and of physics must be smart.
But we cannot mix.
  • * The student with red hair and of physics
Something bogus about this test?

So far we've talked about predictions made by our structural assumptions. Now we just point to a syntactic fact that seems to be sensistive to our complement/adjunct distinction, without being able to say exactly why it's sensitive.


Given our rules, a modifier may have more than one head to its left that it can attach to:
  1. The man with the wooden Indian in the corner.
    1. Reading one: The man standing in the corner who has a wooden Indian.
    2. Reading two: The who owns the wooden Indian that is in the corner.
  2. The store with the wooden Indian in the corner
  3. The store with the wooden Indian on the corner
To make sure you've got the idea, draw the trees for the readings of example 1 (they are different) and the trees for example 2 and example 3. (Hint: Problems like this will show up on the midterm and final).

Other kinds of complements and adjuncts


Sentential complements of nouns do occur:

  • the claim that John left his post without permision
  • the realization that he had failed his men
  • the discovery that the universe was expanding
Verb Phrase

Assuming for the sake of argument that infinitival phrases are VPs, here are some examples of verb phrase complements:

  1. the decision to evacuate the city
  2. John's eagerness to explain his actions
  3. the order to the troops to leave
Note that if to leave is a complement, the PP to the troops in III must also be a complement. Why? What kind of PS-rule do we need?


We will distinguish the sentential noun complements for nouns like claim, realization, and discovery from relative clauses like the following:
  • the book that John gave to Mary
  • the box Ellen hid in the laundry room
  • the claim that John refuted Notice in the third example, even though the noun claim is the head, the clause following that is not a full clause on its own. Something is missing from it that can semantically be identified with the claim. Similarly in the first and second examples, that introduces clauses with something missing. Contrast:
    • relative clause: the claim that John refuted
    • complement clause: the claim that the world is round

Complements and adjuncts prenominally

prenominal np

We have the following order facts for some prenominal NP modifers.

  • the Cambridge physics student
  • * the physics Cambridge student
Again we see a distinction in order, and we see the same semantic relation that we saw filled by an of phrase filled by a prenominal NP. That is, the following are paraphrases:
  • the physics student
  • the student of physics
Other tests agree:
  • iteration A Cambridge high quality middle class student
  • free order with adjuncts A high quality Cambridge middle class student
  • Coordination
    • Several Cambridge and Oxford students
    • Several physics and astronomy students
    • * Several Cambridge and astronomy students