Syntax, Part 2: Necessary elements

It would make good sense to begin with a minimal sentence, to determine the necessary elements of an English sentence, and fully formulate those. From there, we can work up and up to the more complicated sentences.

Take our previous sentence: (11) The Duke of Earl will brush his teeth in the airplane

We can cut out in the airplane but not his teeth

(11m) The Duke of Earl will brush his teeth
(11n) *The Duke of Earl will brush in the airplane
(11o) *The Duke of Earl will brush

This suggests that in some way, his teeth is more crucial to the sentence than in the airplane. (it also suggests that we were wrong to lump the PP in with V and NP. But from this, we cannot conclude that all Vs must have an NP following them. The following sentences show a number of different types of verbs

(12a) Sven will put the microwave in the toilet on Friday
(12b) Sven will put the microwave in the toilet
(12c) *Sven will put the microwave on Friday
(12d) *Sven will put the microwave
(12e) *Sven will put in the toilet (in the same sense is in (12) (12c) is acceptable, but for a different meaning, namely the installation of the toilet)
(12f) *Sven will put

(13a) I will throw the ball to Steve on Friday
(13b) I will throw the ball to Steve
(13c) I will throw the ball on Friday
(13d) I will throw the ball
(13e) *I will throw on Friday
(13f) *I threw

(14a) I will eat Chinese food on Friday
(14b) I will eat Chinese food
(14c) I will eat on Friday
(14d) I will eat

(15a) *I will sleep the alarm clock on Friday
(15b) *I will sleep the alarm clock
(15c) I will sleep on Friday
(15d) I will sleep

(16a) Aeneas will defeat Turnus on Friday
(16b) Aeneas will defeat Turnus
(16c) *Aeneas will defeat on Friday
(16d) *Aeneas will defeat

This data shows two things. First, there is a class of modifiers (including on Friday), which are purely optional, that is, their presence does not change the grammaticality of the sentence. Second, there are a number of different frames for verbs:

Ditransitive: put
Ditransitive/Transitive: throw
Transitive: defeat
Transitive/Intransitive: eat
Intransitive: sleep

However, while some of the verbs can lose objects (those in the throw and eat categories), none of them can lose their subject.

(12g) *will put the microwave in the toilet
(13g) *will throw the ball to Jeff
(14e) *will eat Chinese food
(15e) *will sleep
(16e) *will defeat

So it seems that all sentences have at least two necessary elements: a subject and some type of verb phrase. I have also glossed over ‘will’, and our account of sentences will have to take that into consideration as well. However, a more important question looms. Why is the internal structure of verbs so varied?

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