Resumptive pronoun

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A resumptive pronoun is a pronoun that refers back to a previously realized item within the same syntactic structure.

Resumptive pronouns are often found in relative clauses, where they are realized twice -- once as relative pronoun and once as resumptive pronoun.

In generative syntax, resumptive pronouns are seen as an alternative strategy to movement (Haegeman 1994: 409), they are spell-out forms, where otherwise (i.e. if movement would have applied properly) only invisible traces would be left.

Resumptive pronoun is a pronoun which appears in the position of the variable bound by a wh-phrase.


The strategy to form relative clauses with resumptive pronouns is applied in non-standard French:

Voici l'homme que Marie lui a parlé
here_is the_man that Marie to_him has talked

'Here is the man that Marie has talked to' (cited after Haegeman 1994: 409)

in (i) him is a resumptive pronoun bound by who and interpreted as a bound variable.

(i) I wonder [whoi they think [that [if Mary marries himi ] then
    everybody will be happy]]

The appearance of resumptive pronouns is marginal in standard English, but quite acceptable in French and colloquial English. Theoretically, the construction is exceptional as well. Since the if-clause creates an Adjunct Island, extraction of who out of the object position of marries is ungrammatical, as shown in (ii):

(ii) * I wonder [whoi they think [that [if Mary marries ei ] then
       everybody will be happy]]

The resulting chain presumably violates subjacency. In (i), on the other hand, who has not been moved. But being an operator, it must bind a variable, in this case the resumptive pronoun him.


Utrecht Lexicon of Linguistics


  • Chomsky, N. 1982. Some concepts and consequences of the theory of government and binding, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.
  • Chomsky, N. 1981. Lectures on Government and Binding, Foris, Dordrecht.
  • Haegeman, Liliane. 1994. Introduction to Government and Binding Theory. 2nd Edn. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Zribi-Hertz, A. 1984. Orphan prepositions in French and the concept of null pronoun, Researchers Linguistique 12,
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