Partial inversion in English




A typical finite clause in English has a single constituent that serves as subject. This constituent precedes the finite verb in non-inverted clauses like simple declarative clauses, follows the finite verb in inverted clauses like polar questions, agrees in person and number with the finite verb and with a tag subject when a tag is present, undergoes subject raising, and so on (Postal 2004). Five constructions violate these generalizations and in the literature have called into question the identity of the subject constituent. In each of these five constructions the finite verb agrees with a following constituent in a declarative clause despite the fact, among others, that the constituent preceding the verb exhibits subject behaviors of the kind identified by Keenan (1976). To the authors’ knowledge, despite intensive analysis of several of these patterns, the group as a whole has not been subject to prior study. The constructions are: Presentational Inversion (e.g., On the porch stood marble pillars), Presentational there (e.g., The earth was now dry, and there grew a tree in the middle of the earth, Deictic Inversion (e.g., Here comes the bus), Existential there (e.g., There’s a big problem here) and Reversed Specificational be (e.g., The only thing we’ve taken back recently are plants). The approach of Sign-Based Construction Grammar (Sag 2012) enables us to establish precisely what all five patterns have in common and what is particular to each, revealing that a constructional, constraint-based approach can extract the correct grammatical generalizations, not only in ‘core’ areas of a grammar, but also in the hard cases, where concepts such as subject, which readily handle the more tractable facts, fail to fit the facts at hand. We see further that the five split-subject patterns, sometimes identified as clausal, yield to a strictly lexical analysis.


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How to Cite

Kay, Paul & Michaelis, Laura. 2017. Partial inversion in English. Proceedings of the 24th International Conference on Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar 212–216. (doi:10.21248/hpsg.2017.12) ( (Accessed December 10, 2023.)