Semantic versus syntactic agreement in anaphora: The role of identity avoidance

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There are several well-known differences between strong forms and weak forms of pronouns, with regards to their syntactic and semantic behaviour (see for instance Cardinaletti and Starke 1999) and where it concerns the discourse status of their antecedent, in particular how accessible to the hearer this must be (see for instance Ariel 1990). One striking generalisation about strong pronouns that has been made in these respects is that they must always have a [+human] antecedent. In this paper I argue for the following four points.
(i) A more precise characterisation of the relevant property of strong pronouns is that, when they stand in opposition to a weak pronoun, they must agree semantically rather than syntactically with their antecedent.
(ii) So-called 'semantic agreement' implies a lack of any syntactic agreement.
(iii) This accounts for cases where what is arguably a strong pronoun obligatorily takes an antecedent that is not [+human].
(iv) This behaviour of strong pronouns is the result of an instance of identity avoidance, such as can be found in many other cases in natural language (cf. Neeleman and Van de Koot 2005, Nevins 2012).
Evidence for these claims comes from the different behaviour of strong and weak pronouns where it concerns agreement in gender with their antecedent in modern standard Dutch.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIdentity Relations in Grammar
EditorsKuniya Nasukawa, Henk van Riemsdijk
Place of PublicationBoston
PublisherDe Gruyter
Number of pages36
ISBN (Electronic)9781614518983, 9781614518112
ISBN (Print)9781614518181
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Publication series

NameStudies in Generative Grammar
PublisherDe Gruyter
ISSN (Print)0167-4331


  • agreement
  • pronouns
  • gender
  • Dutch


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