Raising Expletives


Jacek Witkoś (Poznań)


[This paper is a report on a joint project with Norbert Hornstein, UMD: Yet Another Approach to Existential Constructions, to appear in Festschrift for Anders Holmberg.]


Existential constructions (ECs) display several contradictory properties, repeatedly exploited in numerous generative approaches (e.g. Chomsky 1986, 1995, 1999; Lasnik 1995, 1999 and Bošković 1997).

For example, the relation between there and someone/a beer in (1a,b) shows the same locality properties as a chain of movement between someone/a beer and the trace in (2a,b).


a.      *There seems that someone is in the room.

b.      *There is the man drinking a beer


a.       *Someone seems that t is here.

b.      *A beer is the man drinking t

The associate acts ‘as if’ it were in the position of the expletive as regards agreement.


  1. There is/*are a man in the room

b.      There *is/are dogs in the park

There is a one to one correlation between expletives and associates. And there is the well-known definiteness effect. These well known facts all point to the same conclusion; that the associate and expletive form an (A-)chain at some point in the derivation; a standard implementation assumes that a LF structure like (4b) underlies (4a).


  1. There is someone in the room

b.      [There+someone [is [someone [in the room ]]]]


Yet, other data indicate that the associate is interpreted at LF in its overt position. For instance Den Dikken (1995) shows that in (5a), many people scopes under negation, in (5b) under the modal, in (5c) under seems, and (5e) does not license ACD ellipsis that is licensed in (5d):


  1. There aren't many people in the room.

b.      There may be someone in the room.

c.      There seems to be someone in the room.

d.      John expect someone that I do to be in the room.

e.      *John expects there to be someone that I do to be in the room

Consider another interesting fact. Specifiers of associates are less adept at binding than are specifiers in "regular" DPs, e.g. the binding indicated in (6a,c,e) is not possible in (6b,d,f).  Why not?


  1. Yesterday, someone's1 mother was saying that he1 was handsome.

  2. *Yesterday, there was someone's1 mother saying that he1 was handsome.

  3. When I walked in, nobody's1 father was talking to him1

  4. When I walked in, there was nobody's1 father talking to him1

  5. Nobody's/Somebody's1 father was kissing his1 mother.

  6. *There was nobody's/somebody's1 father kissing his1 mother.

More facts pointing in the same direction concern defective agreement patterns in Ecs. They are not identical to what we find in their non-EC counterparts, e.g. we can find less than full agreement in (7a,b) nut not in (7c,d):


  1. (?)There seems to be men in the garden.

  2. There is a dog and a cat on the roof.

  3. *Men seems to be in the garden.

  4. *A dog and a cat is on the roof.

Why should this be so?

We would like to resolve these problems by rejecting the assumption that associates move at LF:


  1. Expletives cannot check theta roles.

  2. Associates never move.

Given this, a questions arises: how to derive the chain properties of Ecs if associates do not move. Our proposal: we have a derivation like (9a) for ECs.


  1. There is someone in the room.

  2. [There is [ [there someone] in the room]].

If there first forms a unit with the associate and then distances itself from the associate by movement, we can retain both the assumption that the expletive and associate are in a chain relation. The defective agreement pattern in (7a,b) makes sense if the predicate directly agrees with features of there rather than those of men or a dog and a cat.  More concretely, let's say that there need not agree in number with its complement.  If so, when there agrees with finite T0, it is a default form for number that is manifest.



Bošković, Željko. 1997. The Syntax of Nonfinite Complementation. Cambridge: MIT Press.


Chomsky, Noam. 1986. Barriers. Cambridge: MIT Press.


Chomsky, Noam. 1995. The Minimalist Program. Cambridge: MIT Press.


Chomsky, Noam. 1999. Derivation by Phase. MIT Occasional Papers in Linguistics 18.


Den Dikken, Marcel. 1995. Binding, Expletives and Levels. Linguistic Inquiry 26: 347-54.


Lasnik, Howard. 1995. Case and Expletives Revisited. Linguistic Inquiry 26: 615-633.


Lasnik, Howard. 1999. Chains of Arguments. In Working Minimalism, eds Samuel David Epstein and Norbert Hornstein, 189-215. Cambridge: MIT Press.