I am learning syntactic theory from the book "English Syntax and Argumentation." I got decent understanding of S, NP, VP, I. I do not use DP or TP because the textbook does not use it. However, I have problem understanding constituency for sentences where the sentence starts with an adjunct or the adjunct is at sentence level. Here are three examples:

By next October he will have been serving as town clerk for thirty-two years.

After all those years, he finally married the girl of his dreams.

Frankly, this whole paragraph needs work.

I have problem with the parts in bold. Should they be considered as Adjuncts to the Verb Phrase or the sentence? If they are part of the Verb Phrase, how do I justify having them at the beginning of the sentence.

In the third one, "Frankly" applies to the whole sentence. I've seen it being called sentence level adjunct or disjunct. I haven't seen any three that has a part for a sentence level adjunct.

Thank you

Based on @user6726 comment, I rephrased the question to be about constituency and not about drawing tree diagrams. Hope this clarifies the question.

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    @curiousdannii, in fact, the OP has done some research and, arguably, is asking for help with a specific problem. I'm not confident this one should be closed. Oct 14, 2016 at 6:32
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    @bytebuster The core problem with tree questions is that there's almost always several ways to do it. Answers will depend on the general linguistic school (generative, functional), specific frameworks (P&P, Minimalism), and often individual preferences or purposes (what do they want to highlight, what information can be ignored.) If a question gives all those details I'm happy for it to be open, but if not then they should be closed. How can we answer whether the bold phrases should be adjuncts to the VP without knowing whether IP, TP, VP′, vP etc are options in OP's framework?
    – curiousdannii
    Oct 14, 2016 at 6:38
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    The OP does say "No DP or TP" but it's not clear if they mean they don't have a decent understanding of them, or whether they don't use them. I won't have thought S and I would be used in the same framework. Students are often taught a somewhat idiosyncratic model of syntax by their lecturers, which is why it's very hard for us to help.
    – curiousdannii
    Oct 14, 2016 at 6:42
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    @curiousdannii, exactly. I mean, this question seems to be salvageable, unlike other questions of the kind. We should probably ask user2840286 to review the comments above and edit the question accordingly. Oct 14, 2016 at 7:40
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    This problem has a very simple solution. Do not mention trees. Rephrase the question as being about constituents: trees are a way of representing constituency. The underlying questions is, "is 'Frankly' an adjunct to the VP?". I repeat, absolutely never use the word 'tree'.
    – user6726
    Oct 14, 2016 at 16:48

3 Answers 3


I have a reply for your third example, "Frankly, this whole paragraph needs work." "Frankly" here is a manner adverb which modifies a root sentence (which is a non-embedded sentence, in the sense of Joseph Emonds, who introduced the category of root sentence into syntactic analysis). Semantically, root sentences represent the performance of speech acts, so the sense here is that the speaker of the sentence is being frank with hearers of the sentence. The very same word, in other positions and with different intonation, can be used to modify the VP of a non-root clause, as for example in "He told us to always speak frankly."

I have given a syntactic theory which gives explicit means for describing the grammar of root sentences and such adverbs as the performative "frankly", which theory is based on an extension of Relational Grammar to a grammatical relation "0", to supplement the grammatical relations "1", "2", "3".

Other than my theory, I am not aware of any explicit syntactic theory which provides a way of describing performative adverbs, except for Arc Pair Grammar or Zeno Vendler's theory of adverbs. My theory is outlined elsewhere here on SE, 2psg SE post (which post has been closed).


Yes, they are adjuncts, they are just topicalized. Alternative word order is orthogonal to what categories phrases have.

  • Can you elaborate on what tropicalized means. Also why/what is alternative word order orthogonal to categories phrases.if you can do it with regard to the sentences I provide it would be great. Thanks. Oct 14, 2016 at 21:50

Based on the comments and additional research I did, here is what I came up with.

Trees are used for drawing sentences and there are different types of trees based on the grammar being used. Trees require that the lines/branches do not intersect. To explain what happens when phrases are moved there are different approach in linguistics. After @Atamiri's answer, on Wikipedia, I found out about Discontinuity (in the English language: topicalization, wh-fronting, and extraposition); and about Dislocation. The first two sentences in my post are examples of Topicalization. The phrases "By next October" and "After all those years" are part of the Predicate that is the Verb Phrase but have been moved at the beginning of the sentence.

One thing I am not sure is why are they not considered Dislocations but are treated as Discontinuity. It seems to me that Dislocations are more specific maybe noun phrases related to pronouns.

The third sentence differs because it is a sentence level adjunct that applies to the whole sentence and expresses the authors attitude towards the sentence that follows. Based on @Greg Lee's answer, currently there is no syntactic theory that provides a way to incorporate disjuncts. @Greg Lee propose that a higher level then the sentence / main clause is introduced to accommodate this cases.

  • Actually, I mentioned 3 theories that describe adverbs like the "frankly" of your example. I certainly didn't characterize such adverbs as "disjuncts".
    – Greg Lee
    Oct 15, 2016 at 3:48
  • You are right. I called them disjuncts. Oct 15, 2016 at 3:51
  • There's no discontinuity in the sentences. Just draw the corresponding dependency trees to see it.
    – Atamiri
    Oct 16, 2016 at 10:32
  • I use phrase structured grammar so there is discontinuity, if it were dependency grammar then there will be no discontinuity. Oct 16, 2016 at 15:42

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