Parasitic gap

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Parasitic gap is an empty category which is licensed by the occurrence of another empty category in the sentence. Thus in a sentence like

(i)  which books did you file t without reading e

the operator which is interpreted not only as binder of the direct object t of file, but also as licenser of the direct object e of reading. Evidence that the gap in the adjunct clause is really 'parasitic', i.e. that we do not have something like a 'double trace' configuration, is provided by the pair of sentences in (ii) and (iii) (Kearney (1983), cited in Chomsky 1986b).

(ii)    which books about himself did John file t [before Mary read e]
(iii) *	which books about herself did John file t [before Mary read e]

Since a moved wh-phrase can be interpreted as if it were in its base-position (see reconstruction), an anaphor in it may be bound as if it were in the wh-phrase's base-position. From the fact that the anaphor in these examples can only be bound by the subject of the matrix clause (John) and not by the subject of the adjunct clause (Mary), we can conclude that the wh-phrase can only have been moved from t, not from e. Also see operator movement, chain composition, empty operator.


Utrecht Lexicon of Linguistics


  • Chomsky, N. 1986b. Barriers, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.
  • Chomsky, N. 1982. Some concepts and consequences of the theory of government and binding, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.
  • Engdahl, E. 1983. Parasitic Gaps, in: Lingusitics and Philosophy 6, pp.5-34
  • Kearney, K. 1983. Governing Categories, Ms.U. of Connecticut, Storrs.
  • Taraldsen, K.T. 1981. The Theoretical Interpretation of a Class of Marked Extractions, in:A. Belletini, L. Brandi, and L. Rizzi (eds.) Theory of Markedness in Generative Grammar, Proceedings of the 1979 GLOW Conference, 475-616, Scuola Normale Superiore: Pisa.

Other languages

German parasitäre Lücke, Schmarotzerlücke