so here's the set-up: In a sentence like "Bill went to the store," several accepted constituency tests can produce "Bill went" as a constituent. These tests include the question test (What happened? Bill went.) and the ellipsis test (Bill went to the store, and to the docks, and to the playground, ... etc.). We also know that complete sentences are in themselves constituents, and "Bill went" is, technically, a complete sentence. It happens, in this case, to be contained within a larger sentence, but it is its own sentence nonetheless.

However, "Bill went" also fails certain constituency test, notably the clefting test (*It was Bill went that to the store).

So my question is: in this example, is "Bill went" a constituent or not? And, almost more importantly, if it is not a constituent, precisely why not?

2 Answers 2


"Bill went" is not a constituent in "Bill went to the store". Your tests purporting to show that it is are incorrect. The example "Bill went to the store, and to the docks, and to the playground" does not result as an ellipsis of "Bill went", but rather by Conjunction Reduction which forms the coordination of three prepositional phrases: "to the store", "to the docks" and "to the playground".

  • Thanks Greg! What about the question test and the fact that it is its own sentence? Is there a specific reason why "Bill went" can't be a constituent with respect to those tests? And if not, then why are we sure it isn't a constituent?
    – R Winters
    Sep 3, 2019 at 18:46
  • It wasn't clear to me what you think "the question test" is. This:? Q: What happened to the store? A: Bill went. // There is no such test as "it is its own sentence", by which you appear to mean that if a certain sequence of words is ever an S then it is always an S. Consider for instance, "The girl who loves Bill went to the store", where clearly the sequence of words "Bill went to the store" is not a constituent.
    – Greg Lee
    Sep 3, 2019 at 20:42

Ok, I have finally found an answer after quite a search! Many thanks to Washington State University's webpage, https://public.wsu.edu/~gordonl/S04/256/Constituents.htm, for giving me this lovely and very specific answer!

"A sequence of words cannot be a constituent if its parts are part of other constituents which are not subunits of the same constituent."

Many, many thanks, Washington State University!

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