I think this is a very basic question.

Whom will you invite?

Why doesn't the subject you block the movement of whom?

I'll try an answer: the movement of whom is not an A-movement because it isn't case-driven. Therefore it doesn't hop on A positions and it just goes from complement of VP to [Spec, CP], with no intermediate steps.

  • Possibly because subject NPs don't block movements?
    – jlawler
    Nov 1, 2013 at 22:00
  • What is an A-movement? What does "case-driven" mean? What does it mean to hop on an A position and what is an A position? How widespread is the acceptance of the terminology that you use and the specific theory it goes with? Not all people on this list are experts. Please explain more about what you're asking. Nov 2, 2013 at 4:51
  • 4
    All these terms are commonly accepted inside the generative grammar framework. If I had to explain these terms, I wouldn't even bother to pose the question. It's like if I had to explain what a byte is in order to pose any specific questions on any programming languages. Nov 2, 2013 at 7:25
  • I agree that explaining all these terms goes beyond what can be expected of a question. But you could (and I believe should) indicate what theory and what version of it your question refers to. It's Minimalism, right?
    – robert
    Nov 3, 2013 at 21:59

1 Answer 1


Going through the derivation might help. Since your question is framed in terms of the generative framework, i'll give my answer also from a generative PoV - specifically, from the PoV of the Minimalist Program, where movement is feature-driven. I presuppose i certain amount of familiarity with minimalism in my answer, so apologies in advance.

We start with the following 'Numeration'/'Lexical Array'. I've only included featural specifications (which are given in square brackets) where they will be relevant to the derivation. Note that i'm also going to ignore subject-auxiliary inversion in the derivation. I also use bare phrase structure labelling, so no distinction between maximal projections and intermediate levels.

{Whom[wh], will, you, invite, C[*u*Wh]}

First we merge 'whom' and 'invite', so that 'invite' satisfies its internal theta-role, and 'whom' is assigned accusative case. Note that 'whom' possesses an interpretable Wh feature.

(1) [V invite whom[wh] ]

Next we merge the subject, 'you', which satisfies the external theta-role of 'invite':

(2) [V you [V invite whom[wh] ]

Next we merge 'will':

(3) [I will [V you [V invite whom[wh]]]]

Movement of the subject 'you' to SpecIP is triggered (by, e.g. an EPP feature on I):

(4) [I you [I will [V you [V invite whom[wh]]]]]

Interrogative C is merged:

(5) [C C[*u*Wh] [I you [I will [V you [V invite whom[wh]]]]]]

Now we've reached the crucial part of the derivation. Interogative C possesses an uninterpretable wh-feature, which must be deleted before spell-out, or the derivation will crash. The [*u*Wh] feature 'probes' downwards for a matching 'goal' - since 'whom' posseses an interpretable [wh] it counts as a matching goal. Once the goal is found, movement of 'whom' to SpecCP is triggered, and [uWh] is deleted in a spec-head configuration under AGREE with 'whom'.

(6) [C {whom[wh]} [C C [I you [I will [V you [V invite {whom[wh]}]]]]]

The answer to your question is that 'you' doesn't count as an intervener, since it doesn't possess a [wh] feature. Interrogative C probes specifically for [wh] - anything not possessing [wh] isn't visible to the probing operation. Intervention is relativised - only elements of the relevant sort count as interveners.

We can see that other wh-words do count as interveners by considering the well known superiority effects:

(a) Who t bought what?
(b) What did who buy t?

Since the subject is closer to interrogative C than the object, it counts as an intervener to wh-movement of the object, as attested by the ungrammaticality of (b).

  • This is from the MP perspective. I think the OP is interested in the GB theory.
    – Alex B.
    Nov 2, 2013 at 19:22
  • Just curious. "you" doesn't possess an [wh] feature because it doesn't block wh-movement, right? Isn't this logic circular though?
    – Alex B.
    Nov 2, 2013 at 19:32
  • 1
    @AlexB The Op didn't mention GB anywhere, but alluded to generative grammar. This is 'state of the art' generative grammar. I don't agree that the logic is circular - wh-words behave as a class for the purposes of intervention, and we can capture this by saying that they all share a particular feature.
    – P Elliott
    Nov 2, 2013 at 21:15
  • @AlexB i wouldn't put it as you did - we can infer that 'you' doesn't possess a wh-feature because it doesn't block wh-movement. Nothing circular there.
    – P Elliott
    Nov 2, 2013 at 21:17
  • 1
    Thanks. AlexB is correct in saying I was asking about a GB framework interpretation. The GB theory says that the maximal projection "you" doesn't intervene in the derivation because it's in an A-position, while WH- extraction is a A'-movement and therefore skips A-positions. The locality constraint on movement is respected as the first nearest A'-position is [Spec,CP]. Thanks for the MP explanation though. It's most interesting and I guess I'll sooner or later have to abandon GB to assume MP hypotheses. Nov 5, 2013 at 9:36

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