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Pronominal is a closed class of nominal lexical items with a characteristic behavior in terms of their binding properties, as distinct from anaphors and R-expressions. In the Binding theory of Chomsky (1981), pronominals are marked as [+pronominal, -anaphoric], and are subject to Binding condition B.


The expressions he, his, him in (i)-(iii) are pronominals. With respect to binding theory, condition B states that pronominals may either be free (as in (i) and (ii)b), or bound (as in (ii)a), but they may not be bound within a specific type of local domain (see MGC) which explains the illformedness of (iii) on the intended reading).

(i)       He is up early!
(ii)  a	  Johni likes hisi mother
      b	  Johni likes hisj mother
(iii)    *Johni likes himi

Interpretively, pronominals can either deictically refer to some individual that is somehow salient in the context of utterance (as in (i) and (ii)b), they may be coreferential with another referential expression in the utterance, or they may function as bound variables. Coreference obtains in (iv) (as the pronoun is not bound) and may also obtain in (ii)a; the pronoun in (v) is interpreted as a variable bound by every boy.

(iv)     Because John'si girlfriend is happy, hei is happy, too
(v)	 every boyi believes that hei is a genius

The bound variable reading of pronominals is conditioned not only by the conditions of Binding theory, but by conditions on Crossover as well.


Utrecht Lexicon of Linguistics


  • Chomsky, N. 1981. Lectures on Government and Binding, Foris, Dordrecht.
  • Fiengo, R. and R. May 1994. Indices and identity, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.
  • Lasnik, H. 1989. Essays on anaphora, Reidel, Dordrecht