Constituent

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In generative syntax, a constituent is a notion in the syntactic description of linguistic expressions.

A constituent of an expression is any part of the expression that, linguistically, functions as a unit. In terms of tree structure, a constituent can be defined as a subtree, or as the material dominated by a single node.

In terms of labeled bracketing, the material enclosed by a matching pair of brackets is a constituent.

Examples

Each of the bracketed strings in (i) is a constituent:

(i) [1 John [2 left [3 his [4 pet chihuahua 4] 3] [5 to [[6 his mother [6] [5] 2] 1]

Various tests can be employed to establish whether a given part of an expression is a constituent. One well-known test is used in (ii);

(ii)

    a	  to his mother, John left his pet chihuahua
    b	  his pet chihuahua, John left to his mother
    c	* his pet chihuahua to his mother, John left 

Comment

Assuming that topicalization allows the preposing of exactly one constituent, the well-formedness of (ii)a & b indicates that the italicized strings are constituents; the illformedness of (ii)c can be attributed to the fact that the direct object and the indirect object do not form a constituent. A stricter version of the notion constituent holds that only those subtrees that are maximal projections are called constituents.

Synonym

phrase

Link

Utrecht Lexicon of Linguistics