In the following sentence:

People's opinions are not always the result of their experiences.

What is "always" constituent of?

I tried movement:

  1. Not always, people's opinions are the result of their experiences. - sounds grammatical to me.
  2. Always, people's opinions are not the result of their experiences. - sounds ungrammatical.
  3. The results of their experiences, people's opinions are not always. - sounds ungrammatical.
  4. Always the results of their experiences, people's opinions are not. -sounds grammatical to me.
  5. People's opinions might not always be the result of their experiences.
  6. People's opinions are sometimes the result of their experiences.

I am confused whether it is part of the NP "the result of their experiences"?

If you can give syntactic tests to show your arguments would be great. Thank you.

The sentences 5 and 6 were added after the question was asked and answered because I came up with additional examples.

1 Answer 1


Your first test is correct: The adverb "always" is - together with the negation "not" which modifies (negates) it - a constituent serving to modify the verb phrase (the being a result is modified w.r.t. time, namely that it is "not always" being one).
Since the head of the constituent is the adverb "always", most syntacticians would call this constituent an adverbial phrase and locate it as an adjunction to the verb phrase.
4. sounds very weird to me; I'm not a native speaker though. Looks like the part starting with "always" was topicalised, i.e. moved to the front of the sentence to make it the sentence's topic (where the "not" is in focus). Might be that this information structuring legitimates such a construction, but it is at least very marked I'd say, since the adverb ("always") was detached from its negation ("not"), making it hard to reconstruct the constituent.

  • I can interpret "not always' as a complex specifier for the VP. The fourth sentence is not very common but I've seen it being used to emphasize. Another alternative would be: The result of their experiences, people's opinions are not always. Oct 16, 2016 at 20:01
  • Are you sure you mean a specifier as defined in X-bar theory? Such adverbial modifications are usually simply adjunctions. About the second sentence: Yes, sounds reasonable. The emphasis is a slightly different one though (here, the topic is the results, and the comment is that they are not always such; whereas in your sentence 4., "always" is part of the topic and, in the comment (the part after the comment), negated that this "always" quantification holds). Oct 16, 2016 at 20:07
  • You are right. I just drew the three and it is an adjunct. For the rest it looks like a bit of semantic mixed with syntax. I agree that the first sentence sounds best and justifies always as being an adjunct of the VP that has been topizalised. Oct 16, 2016 at 20:10
  • English syntax always messes with semantics :) Just compare the two readings in the sentence "All women didn't sing": The negation can either have scope over the singing, meaning "There was no woman who sang, but also over the "all" quantification, meaning" Not all woman sang", where "didn*t" is syntactically kind of in the wrong place to semantically modify the "all" - again an instance of focus-topic-strucuring ("all women" is the topic, "didn't" is in focus). Oct 16, 2016 at 20:14
  • Thanks. I added a fifth sentences which definitely shows that "not always" is a constituent and modifies the verb. Also, I think the third sentences might be grammatically correct although unusual. Oct 16, 2016 at 20:20

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