How do I break down the Complement further in accordance with X bar theory.


  • 1
    I believe it's no longer fashionable to use more than one Bar (i.e, no N-Double Bar); a very long sentence makes for an uncomfortable number of Bars. I don't know what they do now, instead, though. Perhaps they're color-coded? In McCawley's version of x-bar, the N-Double Bar node is simply an NP, which is not, like N' (pronounced "N-Bar"; bars are hard to wordprocess, while primes are easy), a phrase headed by an N, but rather is a different type, outside the X-Bar system. NP is the syntactic constituent type corresponding to the logical type Argument of Predicate.
    – jlawler
    Commented May 4, 2014 at 14:46
  • How do we break down the Complement though?
    – avkaapstad
    Commented May 4, 2014 at 14:54
  • Any way you like. I'd say it was [book [Adj [S ... S] Adj]], personally. (I wouldn't use X-bar at all; it adds nothing but complications and it's theoretically ill-defined.)
    – jlawler
    Commented May 4, 2014 at 15:02
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    X-bar syntax is worth knowing only for its historical value in the development of syntactic theory. Serious syntacticians rejected X-bar structures decades ago. Commented May 4, 2014 at 21:47
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    @hippietrail: I prefer to leave this open because it's not about a specific sentence, but rather about how X-bar deals with relative clauses.
    – prash
    Commented May 5, 2014 at 10:32

1 Answer 1


I've given what i deem to be a reasonably standard phrase-structure tree for a that-relative clause, consistent with the principles of X-bar theory below (taking Jackendoff, 1977 as a concrete reference). I'm assuming the DP hypothesis here (i.e. that 'a book...' is headed by a determiner rather than by the noun), but it's easy to re-cast this in terms on an NP if that displeases you.

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Relative clauses are generally taken in generative syntax to involve wh-movement. Since there is no overt wh-word in a that-relative, this is modelled by positing a null relative operator. Evidence that relative clauses involve wh-movement comes from facts like the following: (i) Relative clauses can be formed using wh-words, as in (1):

(1) A book which i bought.

(ii) Relativisation seems to obey the same constraints as wh-movement, e.g. It can cross a finite clause boundary, as indicated by (2):

(2) A book that Vera said Op_i that John had bought t_i.

(iii) Relativisation is blocked by the presence of a syntactic island. Sensitivity to islandhood is generally taken as being diagnostic of, or even definitional of wh-movement. This can be illustrated by the fact that (2) is ungrammatical, where movement out of a syntactic island - Specifically, a complex subject:

(3) *A book Op_i that a copy of t_i was stolen

Example (4) Shows that wh-movement out of a complex subject leads to ungrammaticality:

(4) *Which book was a copy of t_i stolen?

(iv) There are languages in which an overt realisation of a wh-word alongside that in a relative clause is grammatical, e.g. in Middle English:

(5) thy freend which that thou has lorn (cmctmeli.m3, 218.C1.31) 'your friend that you have lost' (Retrieved from: http://www.ling.upenn.edu/~beatrice/syntax-textbook/ch11.html)

  • I would do the same. The only tiny thing that I think you have just forgot is to coindex book and operator.
    – Dariya
    Commented May 6, 2014 at 23:12

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