I just try syntax trees and realize that I have a few problems. I have a problem especially with two examples because I am very unsure how to handle the cases. In case 1, I do not know how to deal with fixed terms such as "the church of England". And in case 2, I don't know how to deal with "the girl who left us" These are my solutions. Would someone kindly make me more understandable? I would be very grateful!

Case 1

Case 2

  • 1
    The same mother nodes should always have the same (or at least similar) daughter nodes coming in the same order. This is expressed in phrase structure grammar by having a small number of phrase structure rules. It seems to me that this is the key point you are missing. (Your example trees are wrong.)
    – Greg Lee
    Jan 28, 2017 at 11:22
  • 2
    @Review I wouldn't see the question as a "Draw me a syntax tree" request. The OP proposed their own solutions and asked for feedback on specific parts of it, so I think it's okay. Jan 28, 2017 at 17:10
  • They are both wrong, I'm afraid. They are both NPs, not a PP and a VP. I've posted an answer based on the most straightforward kind of tree that includes both function and category labels.
    – BillJ
    Jan 28, 2017 at 20:02
  • Yes but if we are given a sentence with conjunction to draw tree then where to place conjunction? For example: Joe and Alfred are my friends. How to analyse this sentence in tree diagram (phrase marker) keeping in view the binary branching Jun 7, 2018 at 17:29

4 Answers 4


Although what is "correct" always depends on theory, there are various things that are definitely not quite right with your trees.

Tree #1

the founder of the church of England

The whole thing taken together is an NP (it starts with a definite article and can serve as the subject of a sentence, so it is something nominal, not prepositional), so the root of the tree should be labelled NP rather than PP.

In general, an XP must always have an X as its head.
Thus, when there is an NP, there must be an N as the head, and for a PP, there is a P head. This principle is not always follwed in your trees.

The same goes for NPs. Now I don't know what theory you are using, because there are basically two opposing approaches:

1) Make the whole thing an NP, i.e. a phrase with an N head to which the determiner is a specifier:
enter image description here
The head of the NP is the N "church". The DP consisting of the D "the" is a specifier because it is the sister of N' and daughter of NP.

2) Make the whole thing a DP, i.e. a phrase with a D head to which the noun phrase is a complement:
enter image description here
The head of the DP is the D "the". The complement of this D head is an NP which consists of the single N head "church".

I will not go into a discussion of the motivations of each approach (and neither into a discussion about whether you should leave redundant bar levels away), but you need to decide what your phrase and its head is supposed to be. Having an NP branching into a D and an N violates the X-bar scheme because a phrase must have an identifiable head and can not branch into two lexical items (D and N); one of them must be an X' or an XP. Either you make it an NP with an N head and the DP as a specifier, or you make it a DP with a D head and the NP as a complement.
Assuming that you want to have the whole as an NP, I'll continue with the first approach.

So a first rudimentary picture of your tree looks like this:
enter image description here

You can now argue about whether the PP "of the church of England" is an adjunct rather than a complement, but in this case I find the latter approach more plausible. So within N', we have an N head "founder" and a PP complement "of the church of England":
enter image description here

Now about the PP. As said above, the head of the PP must be a P of which the complement is an NP, thus:
enter image description here

The NP "the church of England" again branches into the determiner and the N' "church of England":
enter image description here

Within this N', "church" is the head and "of England" is a PP complement to the N head "church":
enter image description here

Again, you could also argue about making the PP "of England" an adjunction, but here too I find a complement more plausible.

The PP "of England" itself looks similar as the other PPs, with the difference that the NP "England" doesn't have a DP specifier:
enter image description here

And now you are done with your tree.
The whole phrase is an NP, of which the head is the noun "founder" and the PP "of the church of England" is a complement with a P head "of". The determiner "the" is located in specifier position to the NP. the PP "of the church of England" later branches into another PP "of England".

Tree #2

the brother of the girl who left us

I'll keep my explanation a bit briefer here.

Similarly as above, you have an NP in which the N' consists of the N head "brother" and a PP complement "of the girl who left us":
enter image description here

Within the PP, the complement NP "the girl" is modified by adjunction of the relative clause "who left us":
enter image description here

It is also possible to locate the relative clause as an adjunct to the N' "girl" rather than the whole NP "the girl":
enter image description here
For reasons that are too complicated to discuss here, I will assume adjunction to the NP rather than N'.

The difficult part now is how to handle the relative clause "who left us". The assumption is the following:
Within the relative clause CP, the relative pronoun "who" is assumed to start in the subject position, i.e. in the specifier position of IP (SpecI), because the NP it refers to ("the girl") is the subject of the sentence:
enter image description here

This NP pronoun is then moved to the specifier of CP (SpecC) to get into the position of a relative pronoun:
enter image description here

The moved pronoun leaves a trace (t_i) and is now located in SpecC position, where it serves as a relataive pronoun referring to "girl".

The tree as a whole thus looks as follows:
enter image description here

To summarize, the whole expression is an NP, where the head N "brother" has a PP complement "of the girl who ...", and within that PP complement, the NP "the girl" is modified by adjunction of a relative clause CP in which the NP "who" was moved from SpecI to SpecC to serve as a relative pronoun referring to "the girl".

General remarks

  • My proposal is not the one and only gold standard solution; there can not be one. Details of what a tree looks like always depends on theory. In particular,

    • there are opposing views on how to account for determiner + noun (making it an NP, as I did, or a DP, with consequences for their internal structure)
    • whether to omit redundant bar levels (as I did),
    • how to label the relative clause (CP or S or ...) ,
    • where to attach the relative clause (as an adjunct to the NP "the girl" or as an adjunct to the N' "girl"),
    • whether the PPs act as complements or as adjuncts to the NPs.

    Which solution is deemed correct depends on what theory you are using.

  • You really should take a look again into the basics of how phrase structure trees work. For example, having a VP with a P head, as you did in your second tree, makes absolutely no sense. It seems that there are some substantial assumptions about phrase structure trees that are not quite clear to you yet.
    You must always make sure that the labels of your (sub) trees are in accordance with what is in the tree: A PP consists of a P and an NP complement, if you have an NP, then this must have an N as its head, and an expression "the brother of ..." is certainly not a VP.
    Once you gained a better understanding of how phrase structure trees work, what a phrase consists of an what relations hold between constutuents, it will get far more obivious to you how to assign a sentence a tree structure.
  • Very good analysis
    – Ram Pillai
    May 10, 2020 at 12:04

The two sentences are Nps

check this:

it cant be a PP because it clearly starts with an NP and "Of" cannot be separated from "The church" because both of them construct a PP (even in the meaning 'of' will be meaningless,and you will ask: of what?)

"the Church of England" is an NP that contains a subordinate PP which is [Of England]


lemontree has given an excellent answer. I agree with her that you should take another look at the basics, and I think you'd benefit from a quick review of two major concepts: constituency and heads. I'll give a quick summary of two concepts - please consider this a supplement to lemon's answer. :)

Describing constituency is the main purpose of syntax trees. The subset of a tree which is dominated by a single node - such as 'of the Church of England', which is a PP in the final version of Tree #1 in lemon's answer - is known as a constituent because it acts as a unit in syntax. We can look for evidence for constituency in various ways, for example:

Topicalisation: [Of the Church of England] he is the founder; of the church of France he is not.

Cleft: It is [of the Church of England] that he is the founder.

Pro-form substitution: I'm talking about the Church of England itself, not the founder [thereof].

Conjunction (warning: less reliable test, must always be used with other tests): He is the founder [of the Church of England] and [of KFC].

Whenever you introduce a node in a syntax tree, you should ensure that the material it dominates form a constituent. In your tree, it's not at all clear that 'the founder of' is a constituent.

Topicalisation: *[The founder of] he is the Church of England.

Cleft: *It is [the founder of] that he is the Church of England.

Pro-form substitution: *I'm talking about the head of the Church, not [some pro-form] the Church.

Conjunction: He is [the founder of] and [the head of] the Church. (See, I told you the conjunction test is less reliable :P)

That's why 'the founder of' is not a constituent.

The other major concept that needs review is the head. The head of a phrase doesn't have a precise, necessary-and-sufficient-conditions definition, but it does have a bundle of common properties that sometimes, though not always, coincide. In general, the head is the only element that always appears the kind of phrase it heads (except in really special cases like ellipsis), it gets to 'choose' (subcategorise for) its dependents other than adjuncts, and it governs its dependents.

As you can see, identifying the head isn't always straightforward, and that's why linguists disagree on whether NP dominates DP or DP dominates NP, or whether complement clauses are CPs or Ss, or whether sentences are IPs or TPs or Ss or something else. Zwicky (1985) lists five different 'head-like notions':

  • Semantic argument: In a phrase X+Y, if X+Y describes the kind of thing described by X, then X is the head. For example, in the NP 'the Church of England', the whole phrase describes a church, so 'Church' is the head.
  • The subcategorisand: In a phrase, the slot that must be listed in the lexicon and subcategorises for its sisters is the head. In the NP 'the Church of England', 'the' is a functional morpheme and 'of England' is a phrase; 'Church' is definitely listed in the lexicon and is thus the head. (Zwicky actually gives a different analysis here that favours the DP hypothesis, but let's not get into that....)
  • The morphosyntactic locus: The bit in constituent X that carries inflectional information about the grammatical relation between X and other constituents is the head. English being an isolating language, this isn't very obvious in your sentences, but it picks out e.g. the word 'is' in 'He is nice'.
  • Government: The head governs its dependents: The depends get markers for appearing with the head. For example, in 'They are nice', the copula governs 'they', requiring a nominative form.
  • Concord: Dependents agree with the head: For example, in French 'le nez' (ART.DEF.M nose), 'le' agrees with 'nez' in being masculine, so 'nez' is the head.

In any event, though linguists frequently disagree on which constituent in a phrase is the head, one thing is clear: In an endocentric constituent, it is always the head that determines the syntactic category of the phrase it heads, and thus a P cannot head a VP. (Note, however, that not all theories require all phrases to be endocentric.)

  • This is a very good eplanation; I guess my answer had too much of the "what" and missed some of the "why" which you now nicely provided. Oh, and it's confusing to read "him" - it's "her"; I am a female :D Jan 28, 2017 at 17:19
  • Haha thanks! Sorry I had no idea you were a female - I've corrected that. (I might have been subconsciously assuming that people working on formal semantic stuff are more likely to be male... but then Partee is female so that was a completely unfounded assumption!) Jan 28, 2017 at 18:28
  • No trouble at all, there was no way you could know - I myself usually assume everyone on the internet to be male ;) And most of the time I really don't care; in fact it shouldn't be of any relevance in the first place whether someone is a male or a female person when discussing non-personal matters (as is the case on SE); I always find it surprising that so many natural languages force you to make a that redundant distinction. It just felt a bit weird to be adressed by "him", so I thought I'd clarify. Jan 28, 2017 at 20:05

Tree Diagrams with Function & Category labels.

  • Out of curiosity, do you strongly agree with the analyses of Huddleston and Pullum? Because I've been reading some stuff from there, and I was thinking, 'hey, that looks awfully familiar...' :P Jan 29, 2017 at 2:55
  • @WavesWashSands Yes, I do indeed. I find the tree diagrams in CGEL, where labels are given for both function and category, to be particularly useful. Even novices can grasp the structure of a phrase or clause with such trees.
    – BillJ
    Jan 29, 2017 at 8:25

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