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5 VP shells in resultative, double-object and object-control structures
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:
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):
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
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
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)
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):
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:
Shall we lunch?
(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:
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):
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