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5 VP shells in resultative, double-object and object-control structures

5 VP shells in resultative, double-object and object-control structures

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9.5 VP shells in resultative, double-object and object-control structures

We can extend the vP shell analysis still further, to take in double-object

structures. such as:

(54) (a)




They will get [the teacher] [a present]

Could you pass [me] [the salt]?

I showed [them] [my passport]

She gave [me] [a hat]

For example, we could suggest that (54a) has the structure (55) below (with arrows

indicating movements which take place in the course of the derivation):
















ø +get




the teacher




a present

That is, get originates as the head V of VP (with the teacher as its subject and a

present as its complement, much as in The teacher will get a present), and then

raises up to adjoin to the strong causative light verb ø heading vP; the subject

they in turn originates in spec-vP (and has the thematic role of agent argument of

the null causative light verb ø ), and subsequently raises to spec-TP. (For a range

of alternative analyses of the double-object construction, see Larson 1988; 1990;

Johnson 1991; Bowers 1993; and Pesetsky 1995.)

The VP shell analysis outlined above also provides us with an interesting

solution to the problems posed by so-called object-control predicates. In this

connection, consider the syntax of the infinitive structure in (56) below:


What decided you to take syntax?

For reasons given below, decide functions as a three-place predicate in this use,

taking what as its subject, you as its object, and the clause to take syntax as a

further complement. If we suppose that the infinitive complement to take syntax

has a PRO subject (and is a CP headed by a null complementiser ø ), (56) will

have the skeletal structure (57) below (simplified e.g. by ignoring traces: the three

arguments of decide are bracketed):



9 split projections


[What] decided [you] [ø PRO to take syntax]?

Since PRO is controlled by the object you, the verb decide (in such uses) is an

object-control predicate.

There are a number of reasons for thinking that the verb decide in sentences

like (56) is indeed a three-place object-control predicate, and that you is the object

of decide (rather than the subject of to take syntax). Thus, (56) can be paraphrased

(albeit a little clumsily) as:


What decided you [that you should take syntax]?

We can then say that you in (57) corresponds to the italicised object you in

(58), and the PRO subject in (57) corresponds to the bold-printed you subject

of the complement clause in (58). Moreover, the verb decide imposes pragmatic

restrictions on the choice of expression following it (which must be a rational,

mind-possessing entity – not an irrational, mindless entity like the exam):


!What decided the exam to be difficult?

This suggests that the relevant expression must be an argument of decide.

Furthermore, the expression following decide cannot be an expletive pronoun

such as there:


What decided there to be an election?

A plausible conclusion to draw from observations such as these is that the

(pro)nominal following decide is an (object) argument of decide in sentences

such as (56), and serves as the controller of a PRO subject in the following to

infinitive. However, this means that decide has two complements in structures

such as (56) – the pronoun you and the control infinitive to take syntax. Within a

binary-branching framework, we clearly can’t assume that the V-bar headed by

decide in (56) has a ternary-branching structure like:








ø PRO to take syntax

However, we can avoid a structure like (61) if we suppose that (56) has a structure

more akin to that of:


What made you decide to take syntax?

but differing from (62) in that in place of the overt causative verb make is an

affixal causative light verb ø , with the verb decide raising to adjoin to the light

verb as in (63) below:

9.5 VP shells in resultative, double-object and object-control structures



















ø +decide







decide ø PRO to take syntax

The wh-pronoun what moves from spec-vP to spec-TP by A-movement, and then

from spec-TP to spec-CP by A-bar movement. There is no T-to-C movement here

for reasons which should be familiar from §6.6 (where we saw that questions with

a wh-subject do not trigger auxiliary inversion). Instead, the past-tense affix (Tns)

in T which carries person/number/tense features is lowered onto the light-verb

complex ø +decide, which is ultimately spelled out as the past-tense form decided.

The light-verb analysis in (63) offers two main advantages over the analysis in

(61). Firstly, (63) is consistent with the view that the merger operation by which

phrases are formed is binary; and secondly, (63) enables us to attain a more unitary

theory of control under which the controller of PRO is always a subject/specifier,

never an object (since PRO in (63) is controlled by you, and you is the subject of

the VP which was originally headed by the verb decide). This second result is a

welcome one, since the verb decide clearly functions as a subject-control verb in

structures such as:


Who decided PRO to take syntax?

where the PRO subject of to take syntax is controlled by the thematic subject of

decided (i.e. by who).

Although the verb decide can be used both as a so-called object-control predicate in sentences like What decided you to take syntax? and as a subject-control

predicate in sentences like Who decided to take syntax?, most object-control predicates (like persuade) have no subject-control counterpart – as we see from (65)


(65) (a)


He persuaded Mary to come to his party

Mary persuaded to come to his party

This means that the analysis of sentences like (65a) will involve a greater level

of abstraction, since it involves claiming that persuade originates in the head V

position of VP and that Mary is the thematic subject of persuade (so that persuade



9 split projections

originates in the same position as decide in (63) above, and Mary in the same

position as you). We will also have to say that persuade is an obligatorily transitive

affixal verb which must adjoin to the kind of abstract light verb which we find

in structures like (63) – so accounting for the ungrammaticality of structures like

(65b). (For further discussion of so-called object-control verbs, see Bowers 1993;

for an analysis of the control verb promise, see Larson 1991.)


VP shells in transitive, unergative, unaccusative, raising

and locative inversion structures

In §9.4 and §9.5, we looked at how to deal with the complements of

three-place transitive predicates. But now we turn to look at the complements

of simple (two-place) transitive predicates (which have subject and object arguments) like read in (66) below:


He read the book

Chomsky (1995) proposes a light-verb analysis of two-place transitive predicates

under which (66) would (at the end of the vP cycle) have a structure along the

lines of (67) below (with the arrow showing movement of the verb read from V

to adjoin to a null light verb in v):







ø +read





the book

That is, read would originate as the head V of VP, and would then be raised to

adjoin to a null agentive light verb ø . (A different account of transitive complements as VP-specifiers is offered in Stroik 1990 and Bowers 1993.)

Chomsky’s light-verb analysis of two-place transitive predicates can be

extended in an interesting way to handle the syntax of a class of verbs which

are known as unergative predicates. These are verbs like those italicised in (68)

below which have agentive subjects, but which appear to have no complement:

(68) (a)



Shall we lunch?

Let’s party!

Don’t fuss!

(d) Why not guess?

(e) He apologised

(f) She overdosed

Such verbs pose obvious problems for our assumption in the previous chapter that

agentive subjects originate as specifiers and merge with an intermediate verbal

projection which is itself formed by merger of a verb with its complement. The

reason should be obvious – namely that unergative verbs like those italicised

9.6 VP shells in other structures

in (68) appear to have no complements. However, it is interesting to note that

unergative verbs often have close paraphrases involving an overt light verb (i.e. a

verb such as have/make/take etc. which has little semantic content of its own in

the relevant use) and a nominal complement:

(69) (a)



Shall we have lunch

Let’s have a party!

Don’t make a fuss!

(d) Why not make a guess?

(e) He made an apology

(f) She took an overdose

This suggests a way of overcoming the problem posed by unergative verbs –

namely to suppose (following Baker 1988 and Hale and Keyser 1993) that unergative verbs are formed by incorporation of a complement into an abstract light verb.

This would mean (for example) that the verb lunch in (68a) is an implicitly transitive verb, formed by incorporating the noun lunch into an abstract light verb

which can be thought of as a null counterpart of have. Since the incorporated

object is a simple noun (not a full DP), we can assume (following Baker 1988)

that it does not carry case. The VP thereby formed would serve as the complement of an abstract light verb with an external argument (the external argument

being we in the case of (68a) above). Under this analysis, unergatives would in

effect be transitives with an incorporated object: hence we can account for the

fact that (like transitives) unergatives require the use of the perfect auxiliary have

in languages (like Italian) with a have/be contrast in perfect auxiliaries.

Moreover, there are reasons to suppose that a light-verb analysis is required for

unaccusative structures as well, and that the syntax of unaccusative predicates

like come/go is rather more complex than we suggested in §7.6, where we noted

Burzio’s claim that the arguments of unaccusative predicates originate as their

complements. An immediate problem posed by Burzio’s assumption is how we

deal with two-place unaccusative predicates which take two arguments. In this

connection, consider unaccusative imperative structures such as the following in

(dialect A of) Belfast English (see Henry 1995: note that youse is the plural form

of you – corresponding to American English y’all):

(70) (a)



Go you to school!

Run youse to the telephone!

Walk you into the garden!

If postverbal arguments of unaccusative predicates are in-situ complements, this

means that each of the verbs in (70) must have two complements. But if we make

the traditional assumption that complements are sisters of a head, this means that

if both you and to school are complements of the verb go in (70a), they must be

sisters of go, and hence the VP headed by go must have the (simplified) structure

(71) below:








to school


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