Syntactic Principles and Constraints

A List of Important Principles and Constraints Used in Syntactic Analysis


(Chomsky, 2001)

The syntactic operation Agree assigns values to unvalued features and deletes uninterpretable features.


Case Filter

All phonologically realized DPs must receive Case (abstract case).


Doubly Filled COMP Filter
(Chomsky & Lasnik, 1977)

IP should be decomposed into two separate projections: TP and AGRP.


Enlightened Self-Interest
(Lasnik, 1995)

A movement operation is licensed only if some feature of the moved element or the target of movement can be checked or deleted.


Empty Category Principle

A trace must be properly governed. X properly governs Y if and only if X head-governs Y or X theta-governs Y.



Extension Condition

Applications of Merge can only target root syntactic objects.


Full Interpretation

Every feature must be legible at the interface.

(Chomsky, 1993)

A movement operation is licensed only if some feature of the moved element is checked.



No new elements could be added during a syntactic derivation.


Inclusiveness Condition
(Chomsky, 1994; Hornstein, et al., 2005)

The LF object X must be built only from features of the lexical items of N.


Interpret Once under Agree
(Adger & Ramchand, 2005)

Interpretable features in an Agree chain are interpreted only once.


Last Resort

Movement is allowed only when it eliminates uninterpretable formal features.


Linear Correspondence Axiom
(Kayne, 1994)

Asymmetric c-command corresponds to linear precedence.


Mirror Principle
(Baker, 1985)

This principle states that the morpheme order, starting from the root and moving outwards, reflects syntactic hierarchy.


Parameterized EPP

The EPP feature can be checked via a φ-feature or a Pred-feature. Some languages require that Spec, TP be filled by a DP with φ-features, while in other languages, Spec, TP is filled by a predicate phrase with a Pred-feature.


Phase Impenetrability Condition
(Chomsky, 2000, 2001, 2004)

Only the head of a phase and its edge are accessible to operations outside this phase.


Preference Principle
(Chomsky, 1993)

Try to minimize the restriction in the operator position.


PRO Theorem
(Haegeman, 1994)

PRO must be ungoverned.

Relativized Minimality
(Rizzi, 1990:7)

X α-governs Y only if there is no Z such that

(i) Z is a typical potential α-governor for Y,

(ii) Z c-commands Y and does not c-command X.



Movement cannot cross more than one bounding node. DP and TP are bounding nodes in English.


Structure Preserving Principle

Structures that are formed at D-structure are preserved at S-structure.


Theta-Role Assignment Principle

Theta-roles can only be assigned under a Merge operation.


Uniformity Condition
(Chomsky, 1995; Hornstein, et al., 2005)

The operations available in the covert component must be the same ones available in overt syntax.

Past, Present, and Future

Find out where the FLA is heading!