To clarify: V-T movement would be a type of movement of the V head (verb phrase) to I (or T) head (inflection phrase). Some languages, like French, allow for this movement. But during my syntax classes I've been told that such movement is illicit in English.

However, in a book on syntax (A. Witkos 'Movement Rules. Foundations of GB syntax of English' p. 252) I came across this sentence:

There is a student outside the classroom

it's bracketed derivation looked like this:

[IP There is [VP t(is) [PP a student [P' outside the classroom]]]

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which shows an instance of such a movement. The 'is' trace sits in [head, VP] and then moves to [head, IP].

  • 1
    The sentence is grammatical English. The structure no doubt makes sense in some theories and not in others. Since the structure is not data, it is an artifact constructed by someone (in this case, probably the author), according to their own principles, for their own purposes. So one can't ask whether it is possible in English, but rather what the author's principles and purposes were, and whether they are relevant to other speakers'.
    – jlawler
    May 8, 2017 at 21:54

1 Answer 1


Under the standard XP-Internal Subject Hypothesis, the derivation above is correct, and is does indeed exceptionally raise from V to T in cases like this.

It is true, though, that V-T movement (and further raising of finite main verbs into higher heads like Focus and C) was available in English until well after Shakespeare's time, and that, whereas in languages like Spanish, French, Italian or German it still remains generally available, in English it has since become restricted to a) auxiliaries (i.e., modals, aspectual have and be, passive be and 'dummy' do), b) the main verb be (in all its existential, identificational, or copular uses), and, to the extent the construction survives, in the speech of old-fashioned British English speakers, mainly, c) possessive uses of the main verb have, as in You haven't money, Have you money? (instead of the much more common You don't have money, Do you have money?).

The standard explanation for why V-T Raising has remained possible for just auxiliary verbs and main verb be used to be that none of them theta-marks its complements (and none projects a subject argument, either), which would leave them free to raise from the VP in order to check their inflectional features.

That may well be right for auxiliaries, certainly, copular uses of main verb be (e.g., She is brilliant, She is an engineer, She is in London, etc. in which the subject receives its theta-role from A, P or N), and for existential uses of be like the one you mention in your question, where be selects a PP complement but it is the P outside that theta-marks a student and the classroom.

However, that 'explanation' gets much more dubious, or plainly unacceptable, for a) existential uses of be in which be is not followed by any theta-marker (as in, e.g., There is a cafeteria, unless some hidden/ellipted PP structure is assumed, of course), b) 'identificational' uses of main verb be, as in That tall man is my brother, where is must be a two-place predicate and theta-mark the two NPs/DPs, and c), to the extent the construction survives, possessive uses of the main verb have, which is also a two-place predicate and must theta-mark its two arguments, the subject as 'Possessor' and the object as`Theme', or whatever the right role-label is for the entity 'possessed'.

Thus, what used to be the standard explanation for the exceptional survival of V-T raising in the above-mentioned cases is far from satisfactory, and, to my knowledge, please correct me if I am mistaken, it has not been replaced with any other, but the facts are solid enough: finite auxiliaries, finite main verb be, and, marginally, finite main verb have can still raise to T/Infl and higher, whereas no other English verbs can.

  • What about to go in There goes John in his new wagon. or There goes the neighbourhood.? And Therein lies the answer.? And Here sits the captain of the ship.? Jul 26, 2017 at 19:48
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    Those (as well as cases like 'Here comes the bus', 'Under the crypt was found the tomb of a Danish king', 'At the door waited a shiny black limousine', etc.) are NOT cases of V-T movement, but of 'inversion' (= subject-postposition), triggered by the informational weight of the subject, which converts it into the 'focus' of the sentence. Note that, a) in your examples, 'there' is not a 'dummy', but a full (and stressed) adverb, b) there is no associated indefinite NP (the NPs are definite), and c) 'therein' is a PP (an adposition). Such verbs, in sum, stay in VP; they do not raise from V to T.
    – user6814
    Jul 27, 2017 at 7:34
  • Thank you. To me as a relative layman in this domain they seem half-dummy, but stress is a good test. (I would say my examples can but need not take stress, the true dummy cannot.) Note we could use an indefinite NP, eg There goes another one. And what about There blows an ill wind? It seems to me that there is a class of verbs that are allowed to do this, just not with pronouns, and sound a bit antiquated and poetic. Jul 27, 2017 at 8:34
  • You are right in that some examples of 'there' are ambiguous. So-called 'presentational' verbs like 'arise', 'emerge', 'occur', and some uses of 'come', 'go' (there is some idiolectal variation) have 'dummy' 'there', instead of stressed 'there', and a real DP subject behind. What makes them different from existential constructions is that their subject can also appear PRE-verbally when the verbs themselves are not informational foci, but such verbs ALSO remain in the VP. A simple proof is negation: If V had risen to T, it should precede NOT, but *There goes/blows NOT ... are all ungrammatical.
    – user6814
    Jul 27, 2017 at 14:23

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