Syntactic and semantic mismatches in English number agreement

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

In English, it is possible for a morphologically singular collective noun like government to control both singular (syntactic) agreement and plural (semantic) agreement in the same sentence (e.g. The government has praised themselves). It has been claimed that sentences with the opposite pattern of agreeing elements are ungrammatical (e.g. *The government have praised itself), and there is a corresponding asymmetry in corpus frequencies of these two configurations. Across two acceptability judgement experiments, we show that the acceptability contrast is affected by the relative order of the two agreeing elements, with degraded acceptability in the case where the first agreeing element shows plural agreement and the second shows singular agreement, relative to the opposite configuration. This pattern is found both when the agreeing verb precedes the reflexive, and when the reflexive precedes the verb. Overall, the results suggest that the initial formation of a semantic agreement dependency between an agreement target and a collective controller makes subsequent morpho-syntactic agreement with the same controller less accessible. We argue that any theoretical account of these results would require an important role for incremental processing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-33
JournalGlossa Psycholinguistics
Issue number1
Early online date25 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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