Adjunct (syntax)

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In various syntax theories , the term adjunct denotes syntactic units that can be freely added to a given structure. In contrast to this is the concept of complement . The traditional term of indication from German grammar is often equated with adjunct, although the definitions differ. Such conceptual imprecision also stems from the fact that the term adjunct is used in a broader, more substantively defined sense and in a narrower, structural sense.

Adjunct in the broader sense

In the older linguistic literature (Z. Harris, J. Lyons, etc.) adjunct designates “syntactically optional or peripheral expressions” (Lyons 1983), or (after Lyons 1971) “a determining element that occurs together with a carrier element of which it is and from which it can be separated without resulting in a syntactic change for the sentence. ”(The term“ determining element ”in this quote refers to the term determinant (word formation) ).

Since adjuncts typically have a modifying function, a sentence usually remains acceptable if an adjunct is omitted. The counter-term to adjunct is then a grammatical addition or complement .

Examples of adjuncts in this sense:

Adjunct in the narrower sense: transformation grammar

In transformation grammar and its successors, rule and attachment theory and minimalism , an adjunct is not defined in terms of content (e.g. as a modifier), but purely structurally: it is then an element that joins another element without functioning as a specifier or complement . The decisive defining feature here is that the entire expression does not change its level of complexity by adding the adjunct. That is, adjunction to a phrase results in a phrase, adjunction to an intermediate projection X 'results in X' again, and adjunction to a head results in a head category.

As a result, this class of adjuncts certainly overlaps with the term explained first, but is not congruent. Above all, expressions in the position of a specifier can also have a modifying function and would then also be referred to as adjuncts in the broader sense; on the other hand, in a structural sense, the specifier and adjunct form an opposition. Furthermore, the case of the head adjunction (for example the formation of a compound predicate ) is not included in the older version of the adjunct term.


  • Andrew Carnie: Constituent Structure. 2nd edition. Oxford University Press, 2010.
  • John Lyons: Introduction to Modern Linguistics. CH Beck, Munich 1971.
  • John Lyons: Semantics. CH Beck, Munich 1983.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. J. Lyons 1971, p. 351. This German text translates the English original adjunct as ' adjunct '.
  2. Carnie 2010, p. 121 ff.
  3. Carnie 2010, p. 122.