In this definition

Node A c-commands node B if:

a) A =/= B

b) A does not dominate B and B does not dominate A

c) every X that dominates A also dominates B

I understand the bigger picture, but my non-linguistic brain fails to see the basic distinction between "c-command" and "dominate." How can A "c-command" but not "dominate" B?

1 Answer 1


The trick is that C-commanding effectively goes up one level first, and then checks dominance. In other words, a node C-commands everything dominated by its parent, and not by itself.

Take this (very simplified) tree as an example.

"Alex sees himself"

Clearly, NP1 "Alex" is not NP2 "himself", and NP1 "Alex" does not dominate NP2 "himself", or vice versa. But every node that dominates NP1 "Alex" (namely, the S) also dominates NP2 "himself". Therefore, NP1 "Alex" C-commands NP2 "himself".

This is important, because it seems to be how reflexives work in English: the NP "Alex" C-commands the NP "him", which makes it change from "him" to "himself". But if "Alex" is buried any deeper in the tree, as in "the man who works with Alex saw him", then "Alex" no longer C-commands "him", and so no reflexive happens.

  • Though this example is not C-command per se, but simple Command, which is what you get with an S as the top node. Which it usually is. See Langacker's On Pronominalization and the Chain of Command.
    – jlawler
    May 18, 2018 at 20:14

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