In my last blog I began to delve in to the wonderful world of Syntax. I looked at the linguist definition of a sentence and more importantly the abstract idea of the proposition. I also briefly touched on word order as it is involved in sentence grammaticality. So from my previous blog we can now make two statements: 1) Sentences are abstract mental objects and, 2) word order is somehow involved in the “grammaticality” of sentences. However, we have not yet determined what role word-order plays in grammar. We will begin to look at that in this blog entry.

In her entry, Did you know languages have constituents?, my colleague briefly touched on an important component of Syntax: constituents. Constituents are a group of words which have an internal coherence. That is, they belong together. For example, the words in the phrase ‘that glass of milk‘ seem to belong to each other, as do, ‘the black wooden chair‘, ‘the big red odd shaped container’, etc. We know this because in a complete sentence all of these phrases can be replaced with one little word: it. However, compare those “constituents” to these segments: ‘the table over’, ‘wooden chair by’, and ‘big red odd‘. In contrast these segments don’t seem to belong together. They most certainly cannot be replaced in the sentences with any one word.

So now we have determined that some groups of words belong together and we call these groups constituents. Within constituents there are even smaller groups. These groups are given different titles depending on the “head” of the group. (I will explain headedness in a later blog). Some of these are: determiner phrases (DP) (sometimes referred to as noun phrases, NP), prepositional phrases (PP), adjective phrases (AdjP), adverb phrases (AP) and, verb phrases (VP). An example of a determiner phrase (DP) is ‘the container’. However, ‘the big red oddly shaped container‘ is also a DP, only a larger one also containing an adjective phrases (AdjP): big red oddly shaped container. Additionally, ‘the apple‘ is also a determiner phrase. However, ‘ate the apple‘, is a verb phrase (VP) that also contains a determiner phrase, ‘the apple‘.

Can you get creative and come up with a large phrase that contains more than one other additional phrase? What are the constituents in the phrase?

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