Is there a syntactically valid situation when 2 noun phrases are next to each other in English within the same sentence?

I am building a bottom-up parser for English. I need to know if [NP][NP] situation can be used as a elimination rule.

  • Are you thinking of parataxis?
    – kaleissin
    Jul 29, 2013 at 22:01

5 Answers 5


Absolutely it does. Aside from various bitransitive schemes,
two NPs in a row is a standard parsing signal for an upcoming relative clause with a nonsubject relative.

  • The man who Bill saw left early.
  • The man that Bill saw left early.
  • the man [∅] Bill saw left early. = [[man]np [[Bill]np saw]s]np

  • The man who saw Bill left early.

  • The man that saw Bill left early.
  • *The man [∅] saw Bill left early.

As can be seen, it doesn't work that way with subject relative pronouns, because they can't be deleted.

Every finite clause in English must have a subject.
That's Rule One.

  • So imperatives without explicit subjects aren't finite?
    – dainichi
    Jul 30, 2013 at 8:42
  • Imperatives have subjects (in English, you, as reflexives show: *Look at myself!, *Look at himself!, but Look at yourself!) The imperative construction is formed (and identified) by the deletion of the understood subject, just as the subject of go is deleted because it's the same as the subject of want in I want to go now.
    – jlawler
    Jul 30, 2013 at 13:36
  • The reason I call it Rule One is that all the other rules conspire to bring it about. Dummies are inserted, for instance.
    – jlawler
    Jul 30, 2013 at 13:51
  • Well, the rule doesn't quite explain why 'you' can be deleted in "you look at yourself!", but not 'it' in "it rains". It seems that the rule is obviously selective about imperative vs. declarative sentences. You say "just as the subject of go is deleted" but it's not quite the same, is it? "I want that I go now" doesn't turn into "I want that go now", but requires the whole subclause to be turned into an infinitive.
    – dainichi
    Aug 1, 2013 at 0:10
  • It's a different rule. Some rules insert words, some delete them. Actually, there's one theory that treats the deletion of imperative subjects as simply Equi from a performative I order you to V; it amounts to the same thing, since it's the second person that has to be the subject of the verb containing the order, but the addressee of the formal order itself. Saying I hereby state that S means exactly the same as simply saying S, saying I ask you whether X is Y means exactly the same as simply saying X is Y.
    – jlawler
    Aug 1, 2013 at 0:30

Yes, in so-called double object constructions:

Give me the pen.

They made him a lieutenant.

In case it helps with your parser: I think this construction tends to be avoided when the first NP is not pronominal.

They made Jim a lieutenant.

is still OK, but

Give Rosie the pen.

(while not ungrammatical or terribly uncommon) would more frequently be expressed as

Give the pen to Rosie.

  • 1
    These are two different constructions, with completely different syntax. The first is Dative Alternation, which swaps direct and indirect object order with almost all bitransitive verbs: I gave the book to Bill ~ I gave Bill the book. To is required for the indirect object in one order and not allowed in the other. The second is a causative identificational construction that equates its two object NPs, like elect, select, vote, choose, etc. It often occurs with as or to and the order never changes: They made Jim a lieutenant, but *They made a lieutenant Jim.
    – jlawler
    Jul 30, 2013 at 13:49

Another construction you may want to bear in mind involves a kind of ellipsis operation called 'gapping'. This is pretty vanishingly rare in written English, and not very common in spoken English, but i mention it here for the sake of completeness:

(1) Some ate pizza, and others {ate} pasta (2) I should call you, or you {should call} me?

The braces indicate that a string can be deleted under identity. Note that this looks like deletion of a non-constituent, but it's generally analysed as involving movement of an argument from out of the VP, followed by deletion of the entire VP.

It only really happens in coordination constructions, and it tends to be subject to fairly strict locality. Shouldn't be too difficult to write a rule for.

Another instance which hasn't been mentioned is coordination of more than two elements, i.e.

"You, me and John should go to the cinema together."

Not sure if your parser pays attention to punctuation - if it does you could write a special rule for this, taking advantage of the comma separating the first two elements.

One last thing - don't have the rep to comment directly, but it's not quite right semantically to say that "They made Jim a lieutenant" is an identificational construction that equates its two object NPs. Rather, [Jim a lieutenant] is syntactically a small-clause, with predicational semantics. [a lieutenant] is a predicative DP which takes the individual-denoting DP [Jim] as its argument. Note that the predicative element in a small clause can just as easily be an adjective: "They made Jim angry".


"Who gave what to Mary is Peter the pen." Not very common in English, but very prominent in case-marked languages (German: "Wer wem was gab ist Peter Paul den Stift.")

  • Good point! Also a double object construction. Although I'd say that German "Was gab Peter wem? - Paul den Stift" is a lot less marked than your example.
    – robert
    Aug 6, 2013 at 0:19
  • ...wanted to add a little clarity. The technical term for the construction given in the answer is a 'pseudocleft', e.g. "What i gave to Mary is the pen". The example given is, i think, ungrammatical, as it has two pivots ('Peter' and 'the pen'). I challenge you to find an attested example of a pseudocleft with 2 pivots! The example given in the comment - "Paul den Stift" is a completely different construction involving ellipsis - a 'multiple fragment answer' construction specifically - See Merchant (2003) for mainstream analysis: starling.rinet.ru/~goga/biblio/Merchant/fragments.pdf
    – P Elliott
    Aug 8, 2013 at 0:50
  • 0. I know what pseudoclefts are. 1. "Was who murdered John the butler?" is, according to Huber (2002, 19), a valid pseudocleft in an interrogative. 2. Meinunger, in his monoclausal analysis (1998, 60), argues that "[Who ordered what] is Tom ordered a beer and Jim a watermelan flip." Now I challenge you to give reason why this should not be possible.
    – Momro
    Aug 8, 2013 at 12:25
  • I cannot edit my post anymore, but now saw that the butler sentence does not open up for two NPs. Please ignore this one.
    – Momro
    Aug 8, 2013 at 12:32
  • 1
    I talked to a few native speakers yesterday and also to a colleague about multiple foci in wh-clefts and they all agreed that it weren't possible in languages w/o case-markedness like English. I hereby revoke my example ;-)
    – Momro
    Aug 9, 2013 at 10:04

Looking deeper into the Wikipedia: Verb

Two-place transitive: Vg verbs

Vg verbs (named after the verb give) precede either two noun phrases or a noun phrase and then a prepositional phrase often led by to or for. For example: "The players gave their teammates high fives." "The players gave high fives to their teammates." When two noun phrases follow a transitive verb, the first is an indirect object, that which is receiving something, and the second is a direct object, that being acted upon. Indirect objects can be noun phrases or prepositional phrases.

Transitive Verbs: Vc verbs

Vc verbs (named after the verb consider) are followed by a noun phrase that serves as a direct object and then a second noun phrase, adjective, or infinitive phrase. The second element (noun phrase, adjective, or infinitive) is called a complement, which completes a clause that would not otherwise have the same meaning. For example: "The young couple considers the neighbors wealthy people." "Some students perceive adults quite inaccurately." "Sarah deemed her project to be the hardest she has ever completed."

  • The emboldened sentence-type has already been pointed out by @jlawler, who calls it a causative identificational construction, i'd describe it as a verb with a small clause complement. Incidentally, i think it's odd and probably incorrect for all the examples given under Vc verbs to be grouped together. The second example involves (i think) an adverb 'quite inaccurately' modifying the entire verb phrase, and cases with an infinitive clause following a Noun Phrase could be any number of things, including ECM constructions or control constructions.
    – P Elliott
    Aug 10, 2013 at 17:39

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