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The term constituents (from the Latin constituens , participle I from constituere “to set up, insert”) generally denotes a unit that is “part of a larger, more complex unit”. In linguistics , it refers to parts of a larger linguistic unit.

In a broader sense, there are constituents “at every level”. Also "parts of words (can) be called constituents". See also: IC analysis . There are also constituents of meanings.

The term comes from American structuralist linguistics and is primarily associated with constituent grammars. The concept of constituents can also be applied to the dependency structures of the dependency grammars, since dependency structures can also be broken down.

To determine constituents, a number of tests have been carried out, the so-called constituent tests .

The following only deals with constituents in the sense of sentence elements.


The constituent can be defined as follows:

A group of words that are treated as a unit by a syntactic rule.

In a tree structure, a constituent corresponds to the whole tree or a complete subtree of the tree. According to this definition, every node in the tree corresponds to a constituent.

Constituents in constituent grammars

By definition, the following tree of constituent grammar contains eleven constituents:

Constituents in the constituent structure tree

The following words and word combinations in the tree are constituents: this , tree , has , exactly , eleven , constituents , this tree , exactly eleven , exactly eleven constituents , has exactly eleven constituents , this tree has exactly eleven constituents . The tree shows only one of the possible analyzes. If the constituents are broken down differently, the word combinatorics changes, e.g. B.

Constituents in the constituent structure tree

This tree contains one less constituent; there are no finite VP constituents, i.e. H. has exactly ten constituents is not considered a constituent here. The decomposition of sentences into constituents can very well lead to different results, depending on which basic assumptions are made for the decomposition.

Constituents in dependency grammars

The concept of constituents comes from American structuralism, which is primarily associated with the work of Leonard Bloomfield , Rulon Wells , and the young Noam Chomsky . American structuralism was based on the principle of constituency, i. H. syntactic structures were based on the principle of constituency. But if you apply the above definition to dependency-grammatical structures, these can very well be broken down into constituents. The above sentence contains far fewer constituents, only six instead of eleven or ten:

Constituents in the dependency tree

Since the tree has only six nodes, it has only six constituents: this one , exactly , this tree , exactly six , exactly six constituents , and this tree has exactly six constituents . A second example of a dependency tree underlines the difference:

Constituents in the dependency tree

Since this tree contains twelve nodes, it also contains twelve constituents.


  • Vilmos Ágel et al. (Ed.): Dependenz und Valenz. In: Handbooks for Linguistics and Communication Studies. 25 / 1-2, pp. 188-229. Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2003/6.
  • Leonard Bloomfield: Language. Henry Holt, New York 1933.
  • Noam Chomsky: Syntactic Structures. Mouton, The Hague / Paris 1957.
  • Timothy Osborne, Michael Putnam, Thomas Groß: Bare phrase structure, label-less trees, and specifier-less syntax: Is Minimalism becoming a dependency grammar? In: The Linguistic Review. 28, 2011, pp. 315-364.
  • Lucien Tesnière: Éleménts de syntaxe structurale. Klincksieck, Paris 1959.
  • Rulon S. Wells: Immediate Constituents. In: Language. 23, 1947, pp. 81-117.

Web links

Wiktionary: Constituents  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b Duden, Online,
  2. Achim Stein: Introduction to French Linguistics. 3. Edition. Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2010, p. 49 f.
  3. Christa Dürscheid : Syntax. Basics and theories. 5th edition. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2010, ISBN 978-3-8252-3319-8 , p. 29. (UTB, 3319)
  4. Michael Schlaefer: lexicology and lexicography. 2nd Edition. E. Schmidt, Berlin 2009, p. 187: Constituent is an "element in the structure of word formations, sentences, meanings".
  5. See Bloomfield (1933), Wells (1947), and Chomsky (1957).
  6. The dependency grammar is based primarily on the life work of Lucien Tesnière (1959). See also Ágel u. a. (2003/6).
  7. Andrew Carnie (2010): Constituent Structure. 2nd edition, Oxford University Press, p. 18.
  8. Regarding the status of a finite VP constituent, cf. Osborne et al. a. (2011: 323-4).