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A Student's Introduction to English Grammar says:

A bare role NP is a singular NP that is ‘bare’ in the sense of lacking the determiner which would elsewhere be required, and that denotes some kind of role, office, or position. A PC can have the form of a bare role NP, but an O can’t:

i a. She became [the treasurer]. [NP] = PC

i b. She knew [the treasurer]. [NP] = O

ii a. She became [treasurer]. [NP] = PC

ii b. *She knew [treasurer]. [NP] = O

• In [i] both the [a] and [b] examples are fine because an ordinary NP like the treasurer can be either a PC or an O.

• In [ii], treasurer is a bare role NP, so it is permitted with become, which takes a PC, but not with know, which takes an object.

Where NP stands for 'noun phrase, PC stands for 'predicative complement' and O stands for 'object'.

Now, in the following sentence, does [NP] qualify as a bare role NP as defined above?

c. He's running for [president].

If it is a bare role NP, then how about [NP] in the following sentence?

d. The film's competing for [best picture].

While it can be said that president denotes a role/office/position in (c), I don't believe the same can be said about best picture in (d). But these two sentences are strikingly similar in syntax, so if president is a bare role NP in (c), I believe so should best picture be in (d), except it apparently isn't.

So something must have gone awry in this line of analysis. In order to fix this apparent incongruity, we need to say either that (1) president of (c) is not a bare role NP defined above or that (2) there's no such thing as a bare "role" NP in the first place but there's only a bare NP.

Is there any other alternative analysis to (1) and (2)? If not, which of the two analyses is logically correct?

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  • In your list, it's most like iia.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 12:42
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    He's a candidate for the office, not running to catch up with the current president! Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 12:42
  • "I want to be a mother" = "I want to have children", whereas "I want to be mother" = "I want to be the one who pours the tea". Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 12:54
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    @FumbleFingers Why do you think that question/answers answer my question? Just because the quotes are the same doesn't mean the questions are the same.
    – listeneva
    Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 13:01
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    The quote seems to presume that every noun has to have an article, and that article use can be predicted by rule. Untrue. Article use is almost entirely idiomatic, and there are thousands of idioms. Also the definition of "bare role NP" is semantic, not syntactic, and "object" is not defined at all. Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 22:54

3 Answers 3

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In the sentence He's running for president, the [bare role NP] is neither a PC nor an O (not a verb O anyway). You have introduced a third sentence pattern.

Let's compare the three. (I am going to use more common, prescriptive grammar terms here for illustration.) . . .


SVC—subject + linking verb + subject complement (PC in your book):

She became the treasurer.

She became [treasurer].

She is the treasurer.

She is [treasurer].


SVO—subject + transitive verb + object (O in your book):

She knew the treasurer.

*She knew [treasurer]. (incorrect)


SVA—subject + intransitive verb + adverb:

She's running for [treasurer].

For treasurer is a prepositional phrase acting as an adverb to modify the verb run. (The PC is the whole PP for treasurer—not the bare role NP alone.)

Now, we can't say She's running for the treasurer without changing the meaning; we must use the bare role NP. But it seems we can say both She's acting as treasurer and She's acting as the treasurer.

I suppose we can blame this on the fact that for has a great many meanings, and the addition of a determiner invokes a different one. Or we can just call run for + bare role NP an idiomatic construction and leave it at that.

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  • Or could we say that a PC and an O of a preposition can have the form of a bare role NP, but an O of a verb can’t?
    – listeneva
    Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 22:27
  • Nice discussion at the end of the ways prepositions can affect article usage. I guess we can also say "She's running for the position of treasurer", where "position" but not "treasurer" takes the definite article.
    – herisson
    Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 22:40
  • I do have a minor terminological quibble. I agree that running is an intransitive verb in this sentence (although some people disagreed with me about that in the comments on this page). But I don't think that "for treasurer" (or the preposition "for") should be described as an "adverb". As you say later in the answer, "for treasurer" is a prepositional phrase, which is not the same thing as an adverb.
    – herisson
    Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 22:43
  • A PP can have an adverbial function, but I don't think that is the case here, because "adverbial" seems to be used to describe a PP that does not function as a complement. I'm basing my comment here on the detailed explanations of the use of the terms "adverb" and "adverbial" that can be found on the following Linguistics Stack Exchange page: Is the adverbial phrase and adverb phrase identical?
    – herisson
    Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 22:44
  • @listeneva: I think . . . a PC can have a bare role NP, an O of a verb cannot, and an O of a preposition can or cannot, depending on the preposition. Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 2:46
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In the sentence "A PC can have the form of a bare role NP, but an O can’t", I think "PC" and "O" are meant to be interpreted as referring specifically to complements of verbs. In your sentence, president is not a complement of the verb: rather, the verb run takes the preposition for as its complement, and the preposition for takes president as its complement. (Perhaps this is arguable; see my answer to "Impinge: transitive or intransitive?" for more information.) The complement of a preposition is sometimes called the "object" of the preposition; they mean the same thing.

I don't think "president" is a predicative complement here. I'm not sure whether for even can take a predicative complement.

I'm also not sure whether president is a bare role NP in "run for president". it's clear that not all singular NPs without an article (a.k.a. "anarthrous NPs") are "bare role NPs". For example, school can be used without an article—either as the complement (object) of a preposition, as in they are at school, or as the complement (direct object) of a verb, as in I don't like school—but school is not a bare role NP. I don't know exactly how "bare role NP" is defined (or whether it even has a rigorous definition), but "run for" can take various kinds of anarthrous complements, and not all of them can be used as predicative complements:

  • "He ran for office in 2000" is grammatical, but *"He is office" isn't.
  • "He plans to run for reelection" is grammatical, but *"He is relection" isn't.
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  • The quote in the question provides the definition of a bare role NP: "A bare role NP is a singular NP that is ‘bare’ in the sense of lacking the determiner which would elsewhere be required, and that denotes some kind of role, office, or position." According to this definition, president in He's running for president qualifies as PC, I think.
    – listeneva
    Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 14:47
  • @listeneva: If that's the literal definition, then it would be a bare role NP. It doesn't seem that useful to have a special term for noun phrases without articles based only on their meaning, though. I would prefer to categorize noun phrases without articles based on the reason they lack articles. In any case, I don't think it makes sense to use the definition of bare role NP as a criterion for determining whether something is a predicative complement: the term "predicative complement" has its own definition.
    – herisson
    Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 15:03
  • @listeneva I'd say it's more logical to see 'run for' as an obligatorily transitive multi-word verb. He ran for president. He became president. He remained president. Then the 'complement' nature of the NP 'president' is clear. Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 15:06
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    @EdwinAshworth I think a transitive verb takes not a PC but an O. I wonder how you can claim 'run for' as a whole is a transitive verb and at the same time that 'president' is a PC. If it's clear that 'president' is a PC, shouldn't 'run for' be an intransitive verb, just like 'become' and 'remain'?
    – listeneva
    Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 21:19
  • @listeneva Yes; there's perhaps not a widely used term for it. 'An obligatorily complement-taking (ie linking) MWV'. Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 13:38
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Fascinating question! While there certainly are anarthrous count singular NPs that do not qualify as Bare Role NPs (e.g. those in PPs like on call/off target/in bed), I think the ones in your examples c and d do indeed qualify as Bare Role NPs. While best picture may not be a role, it's definitely a position -- a position at the top of a ranking. Note also that running for President and competing for Best Picture are very similar processes, both of them involving a vote by some kind of jury, where the role/position is ultimately awarded to only one candidate.

IMHO a harder question is whether the two for-PPs qualify as PCs or not. There are arguments both ways. In both c and d the for-PP names a quality that the subject-referent is pursuing for itself, and one important property of (subject-oriented) PCs is precisely that they denote a(n existing or resultant) quality of the subject-referent, rather than referring to an additional participant the way Objects do (compare He became/hired an architect). In their unabridged grammar, Huddleston and Pullum label PCs headed by prepositions as "marked predicative complements" (2002: 255), which might be what we're dealing with here.

Yet if the for-phrases in c and d are marked predicative complements, they are unusual in being limited to the bare NP form. AdjPs do not work (*He's running for presidential/victorious), and as Tinfoil Hat points out, adding a determiner changes the meaning (He's running for presidentHe's running for the president). Other marked PCs generally seem to be compatible with the AdjP or regular NP form, as in I regard him as brilliant / a genius or He passes for French / a Frenchman.

One alternative analysis would treat these particular uses of run and compete as prepositional verbs, where a specific subsense of the verb requires as its complement a for-PP which just happens to be semantically very similar to a PC without actually being one, cf. Huddleston and Pullum's analysis of turn into NP (2002: 260). I find a PC classification slightly more plausible though.

Huddleston, R. D., & Pullum, G. K. (2002). The Cambridge grammar of the English language. Cambridge University Press.

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    Yes, grammar hereabouts is very tricky. Master posits a second covert article, the null article, (She was elected Ø₂ president / the president) most definite and distinct from the isoformal zero article, which is the least definite (we had Ø₁ chicken / some chicken for tea). Commented Jan 29 at 15:21

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