Adam An

Syntax cookbook

January 23, 2024

Here’s a “cookbook” of various kinds of English syntax trees. This is my attempt at capturing a happy medium of what’s commonly introduced in introductory texts and my own undergrad syntax class.

Perhaps the most controversial assumption is that morphology is a product of syntax. Not taking sides here - all I’m saying is this is what I was first taught.


Headedness principle
A phrase needs a head; an XP needs an X.
Binarity principle
Everything has two children (which may be empty or host a combination of multiple things due to movement).
The presence of an X necessitates the presence of X' and XP above it.
VISH (Verb-Internal Subject Hypothesis)
The hypothesis that subjects of verbs generate in SpecVP and raise to SpecTP.
Head-Movement Constraint
Heads can only move to adjacent heads.

X-bar structure

X-bar structure

You can have as many nested X’ levels as you want. The specifier position of XP is abbreviated SpecXP.

“Classic” DP

Tree for a DP

Possessed DP

Tree for a possessed DP

The “subject” generates in the specifier of a lexical phrase before raising to the specifier of a functional phrase, much like SpecVP raising to SpecTP per VISH.

SVO sentence

Tree for an SVO sentence

The subject generates in SpecVP and raises to SpecTP as per VISH. T lowers to V since [present] is not pronounceable on its own; √eat+[present] resolves at a later stage to “eat”.


Tree for a sentence with a modal

Things that can occupy T are features [past] [present] and modals.

Question with a modal

Tree for a question with a modal

Questions generate with a phonologically null [question] C that need to combine with something to be pronounced; here, the T raises to C.

Question with do-support

Tree for a question with do-support

As in the question with a modal, T raises to C, but as the [question] C and [present] T are both unpronounced, the repair strategy is to resolve the combination to “do”.

Negation with do-support

Tree for a question with negation and do-support

T-to-V movement, like in the “classic” SVO sentence, is blocked due to the Head-Movement Constraint. The repair strategy is to resolve the unpronounceable [present] to “do”.

Aspect be/have

Tree for a sentence with aspectual be

Question with aspect be/have

Tree for a question with aspectual be

Last updated January 24, 2024