We've been covering constituency tests in my syntax class and whenever it comes to doing the Coordination (also know as conjunction) test, it isn't making sense to me. I'm just not sure how it proves constituency. Does anyone have a concise explanation?

  • So you're asking for a concise commentary on how coordination (or conjuction) confirms constituency? :) – morganpdx Jan 26 '11 at 22:28
  • Yes...or just some kind of clarification on how it works. For example, how do you perform the coordination test within a sentence that doesn't have a conjuction? – KACarter Jan 26 '11 at 22:32

As I understand it, the definition of 'constituent', according to Wikipedia, is:

a constituent is a word or a group of words that functions as a single unit within a hierarchical structure

Coordination is the act of combining words or groups of words into a single unit using the preposition "and", and then confirming that they still behave exactly like each of the nouns would individually. Example:

  • [The boy and girl] went to the river
  • I know [the boy and girl]
  • They called [the boy and girl]
  • [The boy and girl] we all like

If you tried to do this with two words that cannot be constitents, e.g. a noun and a verb, it proves their inability to be constituents:

  • [the boys] and [girls]
  • [have eaten] and [are now leaving]
  • the [boys and leaving] have [eaten and girls]

There is a concise explanation, with clear examples and a warning about the fallibility of the test, half way down the short article at http://faculty.biu.ac.il/~danong1/courses/2011-2012/287/slides/3.Constituency-nup.pdf .

[A] As an example of the use of the test, consider the question: Is in the kitchen a constituent in the sentence

(1a) Is she in the kitchen?

The fact that we can construct the well-formed closely related coordinated sentence

(1b) Is she in the kitchen or in the bathroom?

is considered strong evidence that in the kitchen (and now in the bathroom) is/are constituents.

[B] As an example where the test is used to disprove constituency, consider the question: Is wants another a constituent in the sentence

(2a) He wants another dog. ?

A correctly related 'sentence' involving coordination is:

(2b) * He has a and wants another dog. (Formed from fusing, using coordination, the sentence He has a dog with He wants another dog in the obvious order).

However, the resulting structure is ungrammatical, so wants another is not a constituent in (2a).

[C] As an example where the test gives a false result according to most grammarians,

consider the question: Is He enjoys a constituent in the sentence He enjoys writing sentences.?

We can construct the well-formed larger coordinated sentence He enjoys but she hates writing sentences., where the test would indicate that He enjoys and now she hates are constituents, but where most grammarians would claim that they are not.

This example is from Wikipedia, which goes on to inform us:

Thus while the coordination test is widely employed as a diagnostic for constituent structure, it is faced with major difficulties and is therefore perhaps the least reliable of all the tests mentioned.

Though there is an even stronger warning earlier in the article:

These [constituency] tests are rough-and-ready tools that grammarians employ to reveal clues about syntactic structure. A word of caution is warranted when employing these tests, since they often deliver contradictory results. Some syntacticians even arrange the tests on a scale of reliability ...


conjunction can be categorized in what is called 'conjunction Reduction' in GB (Government and Binding) Theory and also by using Chomsky-Adjunction. This is so when applying especially PSR1={phrase structure rules} and PSR11 and some T-Rules={Transformation rules}. This is the case where we have the 'segregatory and combinatory coordination'. For example, James likes meat. Eugene likes meat. These two sentences can be conjoined using 'and' by deleting the common phrase in both in the process called conjunction reduction. Thus we will have the following sentence: 'James and Eugene like meat.' This is what we can call combinatory coordination from segregatory coordination.

  • 1
    This would profit from consistent use of capitals and quotation marks; from more white space to clarify the stages of exposition; and from formatting to distinguish examples from argument. – StoneyB on hiatus Sep 22 '12 at 13:29

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