Spanish-English Contrasts: A Course in Spanish Linguistics

By M. Stanley Whitley | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
Noun phrase syntax and morphology

8.0 Nouns and noun phrases.

A noun with its adjacent modifiers, if any, constitutes a NOUN PHRASE, NP. Since pronouns (v. 9.0) and noun clauses (v. 13.0.1–13.1.3) occur in the same positions and with the same functions, many linguists generalize and call these NPs too. NPs are conspicuous in grammar because of their interaction with verbs and because of phenomena such as agreement holding inside them.


8.1 Functions of noun phrases with verbs.

NPs have five main functions in the syntax of both Spanish and English: SUBJECT (Subj), DIRECT OBJECT (DO), INDIRECT OBJECT (IO), PREDICATE ATTRIBUTE (PA), and OBJECT OF A PREPOSITION (Obj of Prep, or OP). These are illustrated in figure 8.1.

Of the five, PA (the traditional "predicate nominative," v. 11.1.2) and OP (v. 10.2.2) are rather straightforward; PA follows a copula (verb of being) and OP is governed by a preposition. The other functions are more elusive and harder to define. Students with prior grammatical training in English or other languages may have a kind of feel for them that can help when they study Spanish. But many students today lack such a background, and when the textbook fails to explain Subj, DO, and IO clearly and accurately, the burden falls on the Spanish teacher. Describing these notions of general grammar inevitably takes valuable class time from practice with Spanish grammar in particular; yet simplistic definitions offered in the interest of brevity may leave students even more confused.


8.1.1 Subject and direct object.

Suppose that we follow traditional grammar and tell students that Subj is the doer or agent, the entity that acts upon the verb and carries out the event. This works for most verbs of action, as in Benjamín saltó or Benjamín me abrazó, but what is to be done with the following?

Benjamin padece una enfermedad grave. recibe cartas.

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