Source: p 78, Syntax, A Generative Introduction (3 ed, 2012) by Andrew Carnie.
Though I am only on Chapter 4 at the time of this post, I cannot wait until Chapter 6 to understand the following.

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Here is a common mistake to avoid: Notice that the AdvP rule specifies that its modifier is another AdvP: AdvP ⟶ (AdvP) Adv. The rule does NOT say *AdvP ⟶ (Adv) Adv, so you will never get trees of the form shown in (28) [see above]:

  You might find the tree in (27) a little confusing. There are two Advs and two AdvPs. In order to understand that tree a little better, let’s introduce a new concept: heads. We’ll spend much more time on heads in chapters 6 and 7, but here’s a first pass: The head of a phrase is the word that gives the phrase its category.

I reread pp 78-79, but still do not understand why 28 is wrong and only 27 is correct.
What is the main idea here? How does the concept of Heads resolve?

1 Answer 1


If AdvP immediately dominated two Advs, what would the head of the phrase be? There must be one distinct head, and in 28) this could be either of the Advs, there would be no way to clearly decide which node is the head of the phrase. Therefore, you specify which adverb should be the head of the AdvP (here it is quickly, because this is the "main" adverb that is again modified by another adverb) and the issue is resolved, since the AdvP containing the adverb very can in no way be the head of the adverb phrae.

  • It's confusing to put 'very' and 'quickly' in the same syntax category Adv, since one is a quality of an action and the other is an intensifier of a quality. Each is adverbial (nested), with 'quickly' modifying the verb and 'very' modifying 'quickly', but 'very very', 'quickly quickly' and 'quickly very' are not valid complete adverbial phrases.
    – amI
    Commented Jul 1, 2016 at 20:32
  • I think the point that disturbs you is that the term "adverb" implies it modifies a verb. But this is not necessarily so; an adverb can modify anything, from verbs to adjectives and even adverbs, The trouble is that you don't have a terminological distinction between modifiers of an action and modifiers of a modifier of an action, but as long as there's no alternative terminology for words explicitely modifying adverbs (at least I'm not aware of any - call them adadverbs? ;) ), I guess you need to live with the fact that "adverb" is a label that doesn't tell much about the word's semantics. Commented Jul 2, 2016 at 15:07
  • I think that the fact it modifies an adverb rather than a verb/action is alreay well-visible from the syntactic structure, where very is an AdvP to an AdvP and not an AdvP to a VP, thereby clearly modifying a modifier itself rather than the action. The labeling shouldn't disturb too much then; both the, admittedly vague, terms adveb and adverbial are rather meant to denote the function of such phrases and not primarily a word category (as the name ad-verb would suggest), which I think is not too unuseful in a tree that wants to emphasise grammatical relations rather than word classes. Commented Jul 2, 2016 at 15:13
  • BTW, I recently had a similar discussion about the adverb / adverbial terminology here, and am basically aware of the problem, but don't know of any alternative, more meaningful terminology and therfore make use of the standard categories. Commented Jul 2, 2016 at 15:15
  • I see your points. I prefer the term 'intensifier' for words that modify qualities (quality as in 'adjective'). I think the category 'adverb' should be broken into intensifiers (very), temporals (soon), and qualities (quickly), so that parsers can state that intensifiers precede the intensified.
    – amI
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 22:13

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