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LS23. Interrogatives – pronoun (3)

John Pertwee as Doctor WhoThis week completes the NG analysis of WHO-interrogatives by discussing passives with a pre-verb noun.


The first of the passive WHO-interrogatives with a pre-verb argument has three junctions.  All these create propositions familiar from earlier analyses.  The outcome is known of course.  We have only to work out how the propositions combine.  What is proposed applies to all of sentences (80) to (87) although the pre-verb noun may be Olivia or Poppaea.

(80) Who is Poppaea given?

Both WHO? and POPPAEA (or OLIVIA) are shared between the GIVE / THEME and GIVE / GOAL propositions.  This is similar to what was described in LS15 for (20) and (15), and LS23 for (76).  As sentence (76), contention between the two arguments is not resolved until sentence-end unless something else intervenes.

How are the arguments allocated when the propositions are completed?  As in (76), activation-decay as the deciding factor would give the wrong result here.  Actually (76) and (80) are different from the earlier sentences in that one of the contending concepts is WHO?  This could behave differently from the concept for a noun phrase.

One possibility is that there is no splitting of WHO?  Instead it goes straight to GIVE / THEME.  The rationale is that WHO? in these sentences is always THEME unless a stranded preposition, to or by, forces it elsewhere; a bare noun never affects the situation.  The disadvantage of this idea is that it would require an explanation of why GIVE / THEME / WHO? with six units of activation is not immediately delivered to cognition.

Another possibility is that the activation on WHO? is split 5:1 between THEME and GOAL, rather than 4:2.  Then it should be more strongly activated and consolidate on theme at sentence-end if not already allocated elsewhere.

These possibilities may seem rather contrived but their virtue is compatibility with ‘no stored program’ and ‘one pass, left to right’.  There’s little point in straining for a definitive solution when so much empirical data still needs to be considered.


In (81) the proposition from given__Olivia displaces the previous incomplete propositions.  They lose their shared REL concept.  If the sentence ended at this point it would be ungrammatical because either WHO? or POPPAEA remains undeliverable.

The following given__BY brings AGENT.  The resulting rationalisation leaves GIVE / AGENT / WHO? and GIVE / GOAL / POPPAEA.

(81) Who is Poppaea given Olivia by?

If the treatment of WHO? is not clear, you should look at the discussion of sentence (77) in LS22.

With GIVE / AGENT / WHO? complete, POPPAEA is displaced.  It consolidates on to GIVE / GOAL which no longer has WHO? attached.


Sentence (82) also has a stranded preposition, TO.  The analysis is straightforward.

(82) Who is Olivia given to?


Sentence (83) appends a by-phrase to (82).

(83) Who is Olivia given to by Nero?


Sentence (84) has a to-phrase, which forces consolidation of OLIVIA as THEME, and a stranded BY, which rescues the displaced WHO?

(84) Who is Olivia given to Poppaea by?

If the sentence ended at Poppaea, it would be ungrammatical because WHO? remains undeliverable.


Sentence (85) lacks the to-phrase in (84).  Although not displaced, the WHO? propositions are subsumed into the AGENT proposition created from given__BY.  That leaves OLIVIA to be consolidated as THEME at sentence-end.

(85) Who is Olivia given by?


Sentence (86) is simply (80) with a by-phrase appended.

(86) Who is Poppaea given by Nero?


Sentence (87) is the same as (83) except that TO and the by-phrase are in the opposite order.

(87) Who is Olivia given by Nero to?


More slogging

We’ve now covered all of what was charted in LS20.  Tough, but satisfying to be able to show the value of NG’s words and rules – especially the C node – in sentences (77) and (81).

In the next piece we’ll start looking at verb-plus-particle forms.  Don’t give up!

Mr Nice-Guy

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