I'm struggling to diagram the following sentence:

The activist continued to protest.

I understand the basic structure and what movement is taking place but I'm confused as to how to diagram the V followed by an infinitive (continued to protest). Could someone please explain?

2 Answers 2


I'm afraid the analysis depends on the theory of grammar you're using. In most CF-based formalisms, "continued" would be an I that takes a VP ("to protest") as its complement. In this case, however, the sentence seems to contain a complex predicate (or clause union). Lexicalist theories assume that both verbs are co-heads in a complex (composite) predication. In any case, one would represent the sentence as

[IP [NP the activist] [I' [I continued] [VP to protest]]]
  • @This is a GB analysis (Government and Binding). Here's a dependency grammar (DG) analysis [[[The] activist] continued [to [protest]]]. In a DG analysis, there is no movement. You don't have to deal with it. Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 20:00
  • @TimOsborne I wouldn't classify it as "GB analysis". It might well be a LFG analysis, which has no movements either. I think one could say it's an X' analysis.
    – Atamiri
    Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 23:21
  • yes, I see. There is no trace shown. I jumped to a conclusion because the question posits movement. Commented Dec 7, 2013 at 0:19

I might also add to the discussion the question of grammatical function. In theories that include the specification of grammatical function (subject, object, etc.) in the syntactic representations they posit, the question arises what grammatical functions can be realized by non-finite VPs (or clauses). There is a discussion of this question by Rodney Huddleston in Chapter 14 of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (pp. 1206-1220). He argues that non-finite clause complements in English usually do not realize the object function (which is mainly realized by NPs), but a different function, which he dubs catenative complement.

A discussion of the grammatical functions of finite clause complements across several languages can be found in the paper “The grammatical functions of complement clauses” by Mary Dalrymple and Helge Lødrup (which can be found on the second author’s webpage).

In case you might find it useful, here is a tree for your sentence that follows by and large the syntactic framework in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.

Enlarge image

  • Two comments about the box diagram: the first is that I find trees easier to read. The numerous boxes embedded inside each other is difficult to decipher. The second is that Huddleston is positing the existence of a predicate finite VP constituent. I wonder if he produces evidence anywhere in the giant book for the existence of that constituent. My guess is that he does not. He probably takes it for granted like the vast majority of phrase structure grammars. Commented Dec 18, 2013 at 0:49
  • 1
    @TimOsborne, this is related to a previous discussion, where several attempts were made to justify the existence of a finite VP constituent. As far as I'm aware, no justification is given by Huddleston, but I need to double-check.
    – Shai Cohen
    Commented Dec 18, 2013 at 7:30

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