Default person versus default number in agreement

Peter Ackema, Ad Neeleman

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


In this paper, we compare the behaviour of the default in the person system (third person) withthe default in the number system (singular). We argue, following Nevins (2007; 2011), thatthird person pronouns have person features, while singular DPs lack number features. Theevidence for these claims comes from situations in which a single head agrees with multiple DPs that have contrasting person and number specifications. In case the number of morphological slots in which agreement can be realized is lower than the number of agreement relations established in syntax, such contrasting specification may prove problematic. As it turns out, conflicts between singular and plural do not result in ungrammaticality, but conflicts between third person and first or second person do. Such person clashes can be avoided if the morphological realization of the relevant person features is syncretic. Alternatively, languages may make use of a person hierarchy that regulates the morphological realization of conflicting specifications for person. The argument we present is rooted in, and supports, the theory of person developed in Ackema & Neeleman (2013; to appear).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAgreement, Case and Locality in the Nominal and Verbal Domains
EditorsLudovico Franco, Mihaela Marchis Moreno , Matthew Reeve
Place of PublicationBerlin
PublisherLanguage Science Press
Number of pages34
ISBN (Electronic)9783961102006
ISBN (Print)9783961102013
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Publication series

NameOpen Generative Syntax
PublisherLanguage Science Press
ISSN (Print)2568-7336


  • person
  • number
  • default
  • agreement
  • person hierarchy


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