I'm finding it difficult to figure this out in sentences like the following:

a) I have a job to do.

b) I need you to go.

Surely, "have" and "need" assign theta-roles to "a job" and "you" respectively, but since an NP cannot receive multiple theta-roles, how do you explain the fact that both NP's are respectively interpreted as the object and subject of the infinival verbs in these sentences? The theoretical framework is minimalism. Let me know if this question is not clear enough.

Thank you in advance!

  • 4
    "have" and "need" assign semantic roles (theta roles) to "a job to do" and "you to go", respectively. "to do" and "to go" assign semantic roles (theta roles) to "a job" and "you", respectively. The confusion with the examples arises from the syntactic structure, i.e. whether "a job to do" and "you to go" should be viewed as constituents or not. In a minimalist analysis, they are indeed constituents because strict binarity of branching is required. – Tim Osborne Dec 5 '13 at 22:07
  • Ok that's what I was leaning towards but couldn't seem to articulate it. Thank you very much for the concise answer. – John Dec 5 '13 at 22:12
  • Right. Each clause is governed by its own predicate. – jlawler Dec 6 '13 at 5:28
  • " whenever you have more theta-roles than overt DPs , you are going to have phonologically empty DPs somewhere.' I don't get you here. Could you please explain it? – user10358 Aug 27 '15 at 3:42

The structure of the sentence would actually be something like this (with traditional node labels and only relevant empty categories):

Syntax tree

So the second verb actually assigns its Theta roles to empty categories coindexed with the phonologically non-empty constituents. Specifically, PRO, which is coindexed with he, is the subject (or agens) of do, and (phonologically null) which is the object (or patient).

The Theta criterion basically presupposes that whenever you have more theta-roles than overt DPs, you're going to have phonologically empty DPs somewhere.

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