From An Introduction to Language and Linguistics by Fasold and Connor-Linton, on auxiliary movement:

It may seem strange that movement is done in two steps, copying and deletion of the original, instead of just moving an element. Syntacticians have discovered that grammar behaves as if something is left behind after a movement. That “something” seems to be a copy of what was moved. (p. 110)

I do not see how English example given—

[CP e [IP [DP the man] [I’ ᴘʀᴇs [VP like movies]]]] [CP do ᴘʀᴇs [IP [DP the man] [I’ ᴘʀᴇs [VP like movies]]]]

—illustrates the point in bold. Could someone provide some deeper background info into how this is the case?

  • 2
    The sentence shows how it's notated (with "ᴘʀᴇs" struck through), but indeed doesn't seem to give evidence for it, unless I'm missing something too. But Wikipedia has a good section about this (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syntactic_movement#Traces), which shows that one can contract want to to wanna only when no trace of a moved element intervenes. That would suggest that there is still something there in the structure after it has been passed to phonology. Does that help?
    – Keelan
    Nov 26, 2021 at 21:12

1 Answer 1


I don't think the purpose of this example is to provide evidence; I think it's just to demonstrate one occurrence of this type of movement. The bolded example speaks to movement in general and holds too much history behind it to unpack it all concisely.

In this case, it's a conceptual necessity for the tense information contained in the I head position to get to the C position so that it can be reflected in the question word. But what is left behind, the phantom PRES per se, is an empty category that must be properly governed (according to the Empty Category Principle, or some other theory of locality) or at any rate must be there for interpretation even though it's not pronounced in the low original position. Desiderata of economy--e.g. disallowing you from cutting something out of the structure after the fact--and also alignment with the fact that we can test for other types of head movement, which moves up in a successive(-cyclic) fashion from head to head without skipping a beat, make it likely that something like the proposed mechanisms for head movement is happening. But we of course don't have proof for sure yet on the specifics, because studying syntax is like looking through dark glass and there are so many complicating factors.

Best, Matthew

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