My teacher drew this diagram in the class. He seperated the sentence as NP and S2 but it doesn't seem true. Can somebody help me?

tree diagram

  • You have to specify the reference. Which theory is your teacher lecturing, this structure might be correct in a PSG sense, but GB and MP do no recognize this type of parsing. Put simply, the complementizer has a distinct but embedded CP layer:
    – Tsutsu
    Jan 13, 2019 at 10:49
  • The lesson is Introduction to Linguistics and it's the first time analyzing sentences for me. He didn't teach any theory but I'm trying to understand x-bar. I didn't know there were different theories. I think I need to accept his method to pass the class. Thank you by the way.
    – Demir
    Jan 13, 2019 at 12:29
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    Why doesn't it seem true? Please tell us your reason for saying this. Notice what the antecedent of "which" is.
    – Greg Lee
    Jan 13, 2019 at 14:57
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    Meanwhile, to the OP: This question could be improved by including the information TsuTsu, Greg Le, and I asked for in comments. Just responding in comments isn't enough; the question needs to be edited to be answerable even if the comments aren't there. I can't promise that this will get your question reopened (because I think it was closed inappropriately in the first place), but it might help—but, even if not, it's still worth learning to use SE the right way, so you'll get better answers on future questions.
    – abarnert
    Jan 16, 2019 at 19:17
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    I've opened a meta question on this. I think the help, as written, is misleading the people who voted to close here, and needs to be improved. (Or, if I'm wrong, then it's misleading me, and also at least one moderator, so it still needs to be improved…)
    – abarnert
    Jan 16, 2019 at 21:30

1 Answer 1


It's hard to tell from your picture, because some of the lines are not really visible. But I'm pretty sure your confusion comes from the fact that your teacher is wrong, in multiple, fundamental ways:

  • [which belonged to the old sailor] is modifying (part of) the object NP. You saw [a gray horse which belonged to the old sailor]. So that S2 needs to be inside the NP, as a sibling of what it's modifying. That's the whole point of relative clauses, and, more generally, of modifiers. Your teacher seems to have drawn it as a sibling of the subject, which would mean you, not the horse you saw, belonged to the old sailor. It's also apparently a child of the outer sentence, which makes no sense—what component of the sentence is it supposed to be? This sounds like the part you're asking about, and you're right to ask, because it makes no sense.
  • Even more fundamentally: that object NP (including the relative clause) needs to be inside the VP (traditionally, as the direct sibling of the V). Objects are arguments of verbs; arguments go inside the phrase. I'm not sure where your teacher has put it; it seems to be not even linked into the sentence at all, which is never right for anything.
  • Even more fundamentally: [S NP-subj VP] is the basic starting point for what a sentence is, and your teacher seems to have missed even that, and left the VP (with nothing in it but a V) floating around unattached.
  • [gray horse] is definitely not an AdjP. It acts noun-ish, not adjective-ish, and it clearly means a kind of horse, not a kind of gray, so it's some kind of projection of the head [N horse], not [Adj gray].
  • [old sailor] has the exact same problem as [gray horse].

This is not theory-specific stuff; it's part of the basic pre-theoretic model of the simple (surface) structure of sentences that different theories try to explain and represent in different ways.

As a first approximation, try this:

  • [S [NP [Pronoun I]] [VP [V saw] [NP [D a] [AP [A gray]] [N horse] [S [C which] [VP [V belonged] [PP [P to] [NP [D the] [AP [A old]] [N man]]]]

I saw a gray horse which belonged to the old man

By the way, that diagram comes from the Syntax Tree Generator by Miles Shang; you can just go to the web page, paste a bracket-notation tree, and it gives you the equivalent graphical tree. There are dozens of such programs, so I'm not specifically endorsing this one; you might, e.g., prefer one that lets you drag things around in the tree instead of forcing you to get the brackets right.

  • Abarnert, would you consider S [which belonged to the old man] an adjunct or an argument? And do you think there was a theta-role assigned to this clausal argument/adjunct?
    – Tsutsu
    Jan 14, 2019 at 13:14
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    I'd substitute NP for C over which (I'd use C over that), and DP over D over a, if I were being as fancy with the DP as the AP, and NP over the subordinate S. But those are trivial diffs. This is good straightforward GS; McCawley would like it fine.
    – jlawler
    Jan 14, 2019 at 20:03
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    @jlawler I tried to stick with the teacher's categories, except when they were just blatantly wrong. Explaining those changes would require giving a lot more background, and committing to a specific theory. Explaining why the VP has to be somewhere inside the sentence instead of floating around as an unconnected tree is a lot simpler (and probably more important, too).
    – abarnert
    Jan 14, 2019 at 20:27
  • @TsutsuT. It's an adjunct, and it serves much the same function, in basically the same way, as "gray" here. The details depend on what your theory says about the argument structure of N—but by any measure, even taking the broadest theory, "gray horse" is a already a complete description. Restricting it to "gray horse which belonged to the old man" is the same as restricting it to "gray, tired horse". The relativizing test is kind of silly when applied to something that's already a relative clause, but: "a gray horse which was the one which belonged to the old man".
    – abarnert
    Jan 14, 2019 at 20:42
  • @TsutsuT. First consider this side track: You can't devour without something getting devoured; "*He devoured" but "He devoured the cookies". But "His frequent devouring bothered her" is possible. So in "his devouring of the cookies", we have to work out whether "cookies" is an optional argument or an adjunct, and, if the former, if "devouring" assigns a theta role; lots of theory follows. But "He is a horse" doesn't require ownership any more than color or age, and doesn't imply a default owner or color argument. So, in "horse which belonged to the old man", the same question doesn't come up.
    – abarnert
    Jan 14, 2019 at 21:08

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