The sentence would be "Whose dirty underwear is this?".

I assume that the base (is that called deep structure sentence?) would be "This is whose dirty underwear" but I'm not sure what transformational rules are applied here.

My attempt so far is as follows:

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*I should also note that I'm following "An Introduction to Language by Fromkin and others", and the notion it seems to be following is a bit simplified version of the X-bar theory, and my knowledge is pretty much limited to that.

  • 1
    There are at least 11 editions of that book, so the answer is edition-specific. IMO this is at least consistent with the spirit of the "no-trees questions" rule since you propose a tree and ask for an evaluation.
    – user6726
    Mar 9, 2019 at 18:30
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    Well I'm using the 9th, tough the answer I'm looking for isn't really related to the book I'm using since this is not a "homework" (my field of study has nothing to do with linguistics) and basically out of personal curiosity. (actually the book rules out the usage of TP due to it being complex for example, yet I'm trying to understand how the generally accepted X-bar theory PS trees are generated and I don't think that's possible without solving specific problems.
    – Anony
    Mar 9, 2019 at 18:34
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    The problem is that your solution is wrong for some theories and right for others. That is, there is no "generally accepted theory". For example, labels are essentially gone from current Minimalism. Is your question "is this correct for some theory"?
    – user6726
    Mar 9, 2019 at 18:57
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    This is why we don't prefer questions about syntax trees. They're not official, just aids to understanding, they change with every new theory and author, and there isn't any single way to do them. Consult your teacher to see what they use -- they won't teach you anything that developed later than the year they wrote their dissertation. If they didn't write a syntax dissertation, they won't teach you anything later than when they entered grad school. If they didn't go to grad school, they may well teach you anything at all.
    – jlawler
    Mar 10, 2019 at 0:06
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    The comments above by user6726 and jlawler are good. Syntax trees vary greatly from one syntactician to the next. What is construed as correct or incorrect in the area is subject to personal background and the preference of the grammarian at hand. Apr 3, 2020 at 6:54

1 Answer 1


I suggest you look at McCawley's discussion of this in his textbook The Syntactic Phenomena of English. He has a Q operator on Ss, which is coindexed with certain constituents of the S in its scope. I don't take McCawley's treatment as theoretical, but rather descriptive.

The question could also be expressed: "This is someone's dirty laundry -- whose?" So, we need to give the structure of the corresponding declarative sentence ("This is someone's dirty laundry") and find a way to express in a tree diagram that the identity of "someone" is being asked about in the corresponding question.

In McCawley's description, that fact that it is a question is expressed with an introductory "Q" element, and what specifically is being asked about is expressed in the tree structure by coindexing the Q and some constituent of the sentence.

  • This answer is overly brief and rather vague. Besides one recommendation (that is difficult to follow up on for a non-linguist), I do not think it helps. It would be better as a comment. Apr 3, 2020 at 6:56
  • @TimOsborne I added some detail to my answer.
    – Greg Lee
    Apr 3, 2020 at 14:44
  • The answer might become helpful if there were a tree to illustrate what you mean. You frequently point to McCawley (1998) in your answers. If you had an electronic copy of that book, you could take screen shots of the trees and them post them in your answers. Your answers would thus be more accessible. Apr 4, 2020 at 4:00
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    If there were an electronic copy of the book, that would indeed be useful.
    – jlawler
    Apr 4, 2020 at 16:16
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    @jlawler, There is one. Look at page 491 here: books.google.com/…
    – Greg Lee
    Apr 4, 2020 at 18:11

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