I'm confused by the terminology regarding bound/free pronouns.

Are free pronouns, those not bound to the verb, like 'we' in 'we like beer'?

Or does free mean they are not bound to previous elements? Like 'I told Tom that he...', 'he' here is bound to Tom, not something previously mentioned in the text. 'I', on the contrary, is not connected to previous elements.

  • 1
    The terms get used in several ways, but I'd assume that a free pronoun was a word that participated in the syntax, while a bound pronoun was morphologically attached to some other root, typically a verb or auxiliary (though Px -- possessive affixes like those attached to nouns in Turkish or Mayan are bound pronouns, too). I'm and it's are bound pronouns in English, whereas I and it are free pronouns.
    – jlawler
    Jan 15, 2019 at 21:53
  • 1
    As @jlawler says, these terms can be ambiguous. The word "bound" in the syntactic sense of anaphor binding as used in GB vs. in semantic the sense of bound variables as used in formal semantics are certainly not unrelated, but they're also not the same thing. So, you need to tell us what you're interested in.
    – abarnert
    Jan 16, 2019 at 21:35
  • The Wikipedia article bound variable pronoun tries to cover both syntactic binding and semantic binding, with a range of different theoretical approaches to each, and as a result it's many pages long and a bit confusing. We probably couldn't do much better here. But if you tell us specifically which you're asking about (or, if you're not sure, give us the context of where you got this terminology), we probably can.
    – abarnert
    Jan 16, 2019 at 22:41
  • The distinction in your last paragraph matches the syntactic use within transformational grammar approaches: there is some rule that forces he to co-refer with Tom, purely by virtue of its position in the tree, so we say that it's "bound". This means that by the time we get to semantics, there is no separate variable for he, it's the same variable as Tom.
    – abarnert
    Jan 16, 2019 at 22:48


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