Government (linguistics)

In grammar and theoretical linguistics, government refers to the relationship between a word and its dependents. There is a traditional notion of government, and a highly specialized definition used in some generative models of syntax.

Traditional usage

In traditional grammar, government refers to the selection of grammatical features by verbs and prepositions in inflected languages. Most commonly, a verb or preposition is said to "govern" a specific grammatical case if its complement must take that case in a grammatically correct structure.

For example, in Latin, most transitive verbs require their direct object to appear in the accusative case, while the dative case is reserved for indirect objects. The verb "favere" (to help), however, is an exception to this default government pattern: its direct object must be in the dative. Thus, the phrase "I see you" would be rendered as "Te video" in Latin, using the accusative form "te" for the second person pronoun, while "I help you" would be rendered as "Tibi faveo", using the dative form "tibi".

Prepositions can govern many different cases. A particular preposition can govern more than one case, with distinct interpretations.

The definition of government can be extended to syntactic categories other than verbs and prepositions, and to grammatical features other than case. For example, the English adjective "fond" combines with a complement phrase introduced by the preposition "of" (as in "fond of rice pudding"). The selection of this particular preposition by the adjective is an instance of government.

Government and binding theory

The abstract syntactic relation of government in Government and binding theory is an extension of the traditional notion of case government. Verbs govern their objects, and more generally, heads govern their complements. "A" governs "B" if and only if:
* "A" is a governor,
* "A" m-commands "B", and
* no barrier intervenes between "A" and "B".Lexical heads are assumed to be governors. Maximal projections are assumed to be barriers to government.


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