Grammar and the Lexicon

In this module, you'll start with a very high-level overview of what generative syntactic theory hopes to accomplish. Then you'll proceed down to the nuts and bolts of what theory tries to account for and what a syntactic hypothesis looks like. Along the way, you'll learn about two important components of a theory of grammar: syntactic rules and the lexicon. You'll also get your first taste of analysing real phenomena.


I've given multiple reading selections for many of the topics. This is because introductory syntax textbooks sometimes have the unfortunate tendency of introducing their own idiosyncratic nomenclature for particular concepts.1 By reading multiple explanations of the same topic, you will (I hope) begin to see what is essential about each. Focus on what is shared by the different sources. You may also prefer one of the styles of explanation over the others. Isac and Reiss (2008) is the most accessible of the three and Haegeman (1994) is the most technical. Carnie (2012) sits in the middle.

Get started by going through the following readings, which largely recapitulate topics from module 1, but in more formal language.

  • Universal Grammar (Carnie 2012: 3–27, 29–31; Haegeman 1994: 3–18)
  • Comparative syntax (Carnie 2012: 27–29, Haegeman 1994: 18–25)

Then, proceed onto the new stuff:

  • Syntactic categories (Carnie 2012: 43–54, Isac and Reiss 2008: 136–139)
  • Syntactic constituents (Carnie 2012: 71–106, Isac and Reiss 2008: 139–154)
  • Subcategorization (Haegeman 1994: 33–42, Carnie 2012: 54–61)


  1. Do Exercise 1 of Chapter 1 in Haegeman (1994: 26–27). This will be your first problem set: a collection of linguistic data that you'll try to come up with an explanation for. Don't worry about being formal for now. Your hypothesis about what's going on can be written out in plain English.
  2. Do Exercise GPS6 of Chapter 2 in Carnie (2012: 63–64).
  3. Do Exercise GPS9 of Chapter 2 in Carnie (2012: 69).
  4. Do Challenge Problem Set 7 of Chapter 3 in Carnie (2012: 116).


  • Carnie, Andrew (2012). Syntax: A Generative Introduction. 3rd Edition. Chicester: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Haegeman, Liliane (1994). Introduction to Government & Binding Theory. 2nd Edition. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Isac, Daniela and Charles Reiss (2008). I-Language: An Introduction to Linguistics as Cognitive Science. Oxford: OUP.


  1. Some textbooks, for example, refer to constituents such as the white horse as noun phrases (NPs), while others take a more modern approach and call them determiner phrases (DPs). Although the difference is important, at the beginner level, this introduces unnecessary confusion.

Subscribe to my linguistics newsletter

If you'd like to stay up to date with my progress in bringing linguistics out of the ivory tower, I invite you to join the 570+ people receiving my newsletter.