I'm reading Adger's Core Syntax book and am having a tough time with Exercise 1 of the functional categories chapter.

The exercise is about gerunds. Gerunds are specified by the form of suffixing -ing to verbs. Let's assume that adding -ing in English is ambiguos between being a little n containing the [of] case feature and a little v with the [acc] case feature.

The exercise is asking to draw a tree, completly specified with case features for each of the phrases in bold.

  • The reading of Shakespeare satisfied me.
  • Reading Shakespeare satisfied me.

One thing right off the bat that we see is that the phrases bolded have to be DP (given that they are in the subject position). Usually a PP is headed by a P, and has its DP complement, like above the table or near my foot. So, if this is parallel (and we don't have anything in the specifier of P), then the PP here would be of Shakespeare. (One could make an argument for reading being in Spec P, but that'd be a bit different).

The tree I came up with is: DP[D[the], nP[[me], NP[read n[ing] of Shakespeare]]]

Could someone help me out with the tree drawing+case feature agreement? I'm having a rough time trying to come up with a syntax tree that makes sense. Thank you!

  • How about if you don't assume that? Is anything harmed?
    – jlawler
    Nov 11, 2018 at 23:26
  • @jlawler Unfortunately I have to assume that. It's part of the exercise described by Adger. Nov 11, 2018 at 23:28
  • No, the elements in bold are an NP and a non-finite clause. We know that "reading" is a noun in the first example, since it can take adjectival premodification ("The occasional reading of Shakespeare"), and it has an of PP as complement, and it has the determiner "the". And we know that "reading" is a verb in the second because it has the direct object "Shakespeare", and it could take adverbial modification ("Occasionally reading Shakespeare satisfied me")
    – BillJ
    Nov 12, 2018 at 11:50

1 Answer 1


I can't answer your question. I hope remarks below help, somehow. The coherence of your question is questionable, because (as best I can understand) you're asking about case assignment in gerund constructions, but the example you want case assignment for (A below) is actually not a gerund construction. Your example B is a gerund construction, but case assignment in B seems straightforward.

  A. The reading of Shakespeare satisfied me.  

  B. Reading Shakespeare satisfied me.

There have been many discussions here of gerunds. They're tricky. A number of syntactic characteristics show that "reading" in your example A is a noun, as against "reading" in example B, which is a verb. Distinguishing characteristics include occurrence with articles, modifiability by adjective vs. adverbs, taking direct objects.

Gerunds are verbs, even though they are heads of what you call "DP" (and what others call "NP"). Believe it or not, it's true. Thus, case assignment in example B is straightforward: a transitive verb takes an accusative direct object.

I don't know how in detail the cases work in examples like A, where a verb in a nominalized sentence has been converted to a noun, but it has nothing to do with gerunds (which are verbs).

  • Thank you for your answer. Could you please tell me how the syntax tree would look like for the examples? Nov 12, 2018 at 18:05
  • I'll refer you to McCawley's text books.google.com/…
    – Greg Lee
    Nov 12, 2018 at 19:12
  • I'm still unsure on how to draw the tree. Could you please provide an example. Nov 12, 2018 at 19:38
  • No, I couldn't. Sorry.
    – Greg Lee
    Nov 12, 2018 at 19:45

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