Constituency Used in Grammar

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Leonard Bloomfield (1887-1949).

In English grammar, a constituency is a relation between a linguistic unit (i.e., a constituent) and the larger unit that it is a part of. The constituency is traditionally represented by bracketing or tree structures.

A constituent can be a morpheme, word, phrase, or clause. For instance, all the words and phrases that make up a clause are said to be constituents of that clause.

This method of analyzing sentences, commonly known as immediate constituent analysis (or IC analysis), was introduced by American linguist Leonard Bloomfield (Language, 1933).

Though originally associated with structural linguistics, IC analysis continues to be used (in various forms) by many contemporary grammarians.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "[A] sentence can be analysed into a series of constituents, such as subject + predicate, or NP + VP, etc. These units thus produced can, in turn, be analysed into further constituents (e.g. a noun phrase might consist of a determiner and a noun), and this constituent analysis process can be continued until no further subdivisions are possible. The major divisions that can be made within a construction, at any level, are known as the immediate constituents (ICs) of that construction. The irreducible elements resulting from such an analysis are known as the ultimate constituents (UCs) of that construction."
    (David Crystal, A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics, 6th ed. Blackwell, 2008)
  • An Example of Constituent Analysis
    "Edward grows tomatoes as large as grapefruit.
    - Edward, the subject, is a single noun and is, according to our definition, a noun phrase as well.
    - The main verb grows stands alone without any auxiliaries and is the entire main verb phrase.
    - Although tomatoes, by itself, could be a noun phrase, in identifying constituents of the sentence, we are looking for the largest sequence of words that can be replaced by a single part of speech: a noun, a verb, an adjective, or an adverb. Two facts suggest that tomatoes as large as grapefruit be considered as a single unit. First, in this sentence, the entire phrase can be replaced either by a single word tomatoes (or by a pronoun like something), yielding a complete sentence: Edward grows tomatoes or Edward grows something. Second, if you divide this structure, no single word can replace as large as grapefruit in this structure, while supplying similar information about the tomatoes. If, for example, you try to substitute a simple adjective like big for the phrase, you get *Edward grows tomatoes big. Thus, the complete sequence tomatoes as large as grapefruit is a noun phrase constituting part of the predicate, and we identify the sentence constituents as follows:
    (19) A noun phrase subject: Edward
    A verb phrase predicate: grows tomatoes as large as grapefruit

    (20) A main verb phrase: grows
    A second noun phrase: tomatoes as large as grapefruit"
    (Thomas P. Klammer, Muriel R. Schulz, and Angela Della Volpe, Analyzing English Grammar, 4th ed. Pearson, 2004)
  • Immediate Constituents
    "Let us consider an example. The sentence The boy will sing contains four word forms the, boy, will and sing. The four word forms are constituents of the sentence. However, it should be clear that the four constituents are not equally ranked. The seems to be related with boy in a more immediate way than with sing, and will seems to be more immediately related with sing than with the. We can show this by arranging them together as groups inside square brackets [the boy] [will sing]. We can now say that from this perspective the sentence The boy will sing has two constituents, two groups. These two larger chunks are immediate constituents of the sentence."
    (Alex Klinge, Mastering English. Walter de Gruyter, 1998)
  • Immediate Constituent Analysis
    "Immediate Constituent analysis (henceforth IC analysis) . . . begins with a sentence, say, Poor John ran away (Bloomfield, 1935, p. 161), the immediate constituents of which are poor John and ran away, and works gradually down through its constituent parts until the smallest units that the grammar deals with, the ultimate constituents are reached; it is a 'top-down' approach. . . .

    "The main theoretical issue involved in IC analysis is, of course, the justification of the division of a sentence into one set of constituents rather than another set. Why, for instance, do we class a young man and with a paper as constituents rather than a young man with a; and paper? The answer given by Bloomfield (1933/5), Harris (1951) and other proponents of IC analysis was that the elements which are given constituent status are those which may be replaced in their environments by others of the same pattern or by a shorter sequence of morphemes. The technical term for this substitution test is expansion."
    (Kirsten Malmkjaer, "Immediate Constituent Analysis." The Linguistics Encyclopedia, ed. by Kirsten Malmkjaer. Routledge, 1995)