Sandhya Sundaresan & Hedde Zeijlstra – Introduction to Syntax (2 weeks)

Whereas the grammar of English (or other languages) might look like a rather chaotic set of different patterns, syntactic theory has revealed that these patterns can actually be understood as a result of a small number of grammatical insights. Unravelling these insights forms the start of understanding syntax. This course will offer students all the necessary tools to do this, without going into too much technical detail (especially in Week 1). After the course, students should be able to read and understand basic syntactic articles.

The course describes the state-of-the-art of syntactic theory under Minimalism by addressing how and why certain combinations of words are “proper” English sentences whereas other combinations are not. What is the mechanism behind that? Why don’t we all speak the same language? How is grammar related with meaning and with the way sentences are pronounced?

In this course, we guide students through a variety of intriguing puzzles, striking facts and novel ideas, and let them discover the beauty of syntactic theory. We start out by discussing what the general building blocks of grammar are and how those building blocks can be combined into full sentences, using the primitive syntactic operation, Merge. After that, we will show how Merge is further constrained in such a way that only “good” sentences and no “bad” sentence can be created by the syntax, introducing phenomena such as thematic roles, case, agreement and movement, and we may briefly show how syntax is related to other fields in grammar, such as semantics and phonology.


  • Categories and features
  • Merge
  • Theta-roles & Case
  • Theta-roles & Case
  • Functional projections: selection and the functional sequence (fseq)
  • Agreement and the operation Agree
  • Binding & Control
  • Movement as Remerge
  • Triggers for Remerge & “Island-effects”
  • Locality and phases
  • Linearization

Recommended reading:

Koeneman, Olaf & Hedde Zeijlstra (2017). Introducing Syntax. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Adger, David (2003). Core Syntax. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Additional reading:

Radford, Andrew (2009). Analysing English Sentences – A Minimalist Approach. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge. Sportiche, Dominique, Hilda Koopman & Edward Stabler (2013). An Introduction to Syntactic Analysis and Theory. Wiley-Blackwell: Oxford.