She slowly ate a donut,

Where I was told that slowly ate a donut was a constituency, and ate a donut was a constituent,BUT slowly ate was not, since they are not under the same node...

Which all make sense, but it doesn't chime with concept of constituency test I learned earlier when it is said that

in the sentence

The angey boss fired me

the angry boss is a constituent because it can be replaced by a single word: boss, angry boss is also a constituent because it can be replaced by another word(boss) etc.

Thank you for your time in advance.

  • 1
    In ‘the angry boss fired me’, the angry boss cannot be replaced by the single word boss, at least not in most varieties of English. It can be replaced with he, but boss on its own is not valid as a noun phrase with no determiner to mark definiteness. Angry boss can be replaced by boss, leaving the valid the boss. Also, why are you asking about Reddit posts? This isn’t Reddit. Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 8:28
  • the boss fired me make sense, no? Also, sorry, I copypaste my post from reddit...
    – jxhyc
    Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 10:04
  • Yes, ‘the boss fired me’ makes sense, but that’s substituting angry boss with the single word boss. It’s not substituting the angry boss with the single word boss. If you substitute the angry boss for the single word boss, the result is ‘boss fired me’, which is not valid to most speakers. (Boss is used in this sort of pseudo-pronominal way in slang in some lects, but most people would find it ungrammatical.) Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 10:35

1 Answer 1


In general you should always use multiple constituency tests, because some are too general and others too specific. In this case, we can also use coordination (The angry boss and the mean supervisor fired me), clefting (It is the angry boss who fired me), pseudoclefting (The angry boss is who fired me), passivization (I was fired by the angry boss), and answer fragments (Who fired you? — The angry boss), probably among others.

The replacement test is best done with proforms: pronouns or empty verbs like do so/it. This is called proform substitution. We cannot easily replace angry boss with a pronoun, because of the definite article The. What you are doing is general subtitution; the linked Wikipedia page gives various examples in which this test fails.

The proform substitution test is more reliable, and fails with slowly ate. This test can be used to show that slowly ate a donut is a constituent ((John slowly ate a donut, and) she did so too), but this fails with slowly ate (*John slowly ate a donut, and she did so a bagel).

There are other tests that you can apply as well. For example, answer fragments: you can have What did she do? — Slowly eat a donut but not *What did she do a donut? — Slowly eat: you would have to add to (the donut) to the question and it to the answer. On the other hand you can have again What did she do slowly? — Eat a donut, so ate a donut is a constituent.

What you are actually doing when you replace slowly ate with ate is testing the omission of slowly. This test works especially well for adverbs and adverbial phrases, and correctly suggests that slowly is a constituent.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.