The constituent unit is defined in Wikipedia as a word or a group of words that functions as a single unit within a hierarchical structure. When phrase structure trees are produced, each node in the tree marks a constituent. Thus, each individual word is a constituent in phrase structure grammars just by virtue of being a word.
There is a major problem in this area. The tests for identifying constituents employed in the same phrase structure grammars contradict this starting assumption concerning individual words as constituents. Most individual words fail the majority of tests for identifying constituents that are employed in syntax and grammar textbooks (e.g. topicalization, clefting, pseudoclefting, answer fragments, proform substitution, etc.). A bit of time spent reading the Wikipedia article on the constituent unit makes this point clear. That article discusses the constituent structure of the sentence Drunks could put off the customers. Of the six words present in the sentence, only one of them, i.e. the subject nominal Drunks, passes most of the tests. The other five fail most of the tests. The next data set and those further below are taken from the Wikipedia article; they illustrate that the other five individual words do not behave as constituents with respect to the tests. The first examples are of topicalization:
The same five words fail the clefting test:
They also fail the answer fragment test:
They also fail the proform substitution test:
Similar results obtain for the majority of tests for constituents discussed in the article (15 of them altogether). Only one of the tests, i.e. coordination, regularly suggests that individual words are constituents. The point, then, is that many tests for constituents actually suggest that most individual words are in fact NOT constituents.
The next questions derive from this insight. Isn't this a problem for phrase structure grammars, and if it is not a problem, why is it not a problem? Should the term tests for constituents be renamed to something else, perhaps to tests for phrases, since many (but certainly not all!) phrases pass most of the tests? I of course have a concrete opinion about all this, but I am respectfully requesting that the phrase structure people here share their views and understanding.