Introduction to Constituency - Resource Guide 4

Today's newsletter is our fourth Resource Guide, and it's about teaching constituency. 

There are many ways to approach the details of what kind of basic sentence structure to teach intro students to draw, so it would be impossible to put together a resource on tree-drawing that would satisfy everyone, but what these disparate approaches have in common is that they all come back to constituency. 

Why this topic is useful

Syntax is the study of sentence structure, and the analysis of this structure in a specific language or across a group of languages. Understanding this structure can help us see why some sentences are ambiguous. Part of analysing this structure is constituency: which words have a closer relationship than others. 


Constituency Test Videos

  • AllAboutLinguistics - How To: Constituency Tests
    A short crash course on how to test for constituents. Good for a quick review of the topic. Length: 2m20s. Captions: automatically-generated. 

  • TheTrevTutor: Intro - Constituency Tests
    A comprehensive introduction of constituents and four different constituency tests (substitution, movement, question & answer, “do so”) using on-screen graphics to demonstrate things like bracketing. Length: 11m29s. Captions: automatically-generated.

  • Univ of Edinburgh - Generative Syntax: On Constituency
    Prof Caroline Heycock gives a good introduction of constituency and generative syntax in general, explaining how we use this information to produce and process sentences. The playlist this video is included with has several good videos on constituency and syntax in general including the one above (specifically videos #2-8): Generative Syntax Playlist. Length: 7m43s. Captions: English (human-edited).

  • Lingthusiasm Podcast - The Bridge Between Words and Sentences
    Excerpt: 19:54-24:01. Examples of constituency tests and how to apply them. The episode includes a list of helpful links to demonstrate what’s being discussed in this segment. Full transcript: human-edited. 

Syntax Tree Videos

  • The Ling Space - Syntactic Trees and X’ Theory
    Great introduction to X’ Theory and why the seemingly complex process of breaking the structure of language down into syntax trees is helpful for understanding how that language functions. Length: 8m00s. Captions: English (human-edited).

  • Ling Vids - Structural Ambiguity
    Using color-coded notecards and voiceover to demonstrate structural ambiguity with syntax trees. A good example of how understanding syntax is important for an overall grasp of its language. Length: 4m49s. Captions: English (human-edited).

  • Tree Diagramming Practice
    An instructor goes over various example sentences and shows how to diagram each one. Could be good for syntax tree practice, as some of the resulting trees are fairly complex. Length: 22m12s. Captions: automatically-generated. 

Activities & Practice Exercises

  • Syntax Tree Generator
    Typing out a sentence using bracketing will create the corresponding syntax tree below.

  • Syntactic Tree Diagram
    A syntax exercise using nodes to represent key constituents and build syntactic diagrams. Would recommend looking over syntactic node definitions first. Includes a video introduction/review. If students are confused when starting the activity, there are also additional instructions within the activity under the hamburger menu to the upper right. Completing all of the sentences successfully provides an option to download and print a certificate of completion.

  • Identifying Constituents
    A good introduction/review of constituency tests with practice exercises.

  • UMass - Extra Syntax Practice
    Syntax tree drawing exercises with answers.

  • Constituency Tests
    A list of different constituency tests with examples.

Something fun

Via SpecGram

In other news

If you have any students who are looking for something to do after this semester the LingComm Grant is a $500 grant for communicating linguistics to broader audiences in 2020, and we've recently been able to upgrade to giving out four of them thanks to the support of Lingthusiasm patrons. Applications close 1st of June 2020. For more details visit

See you on Monday for 3 Links about Articulatory Phonetics, and stay tuned for next Friday's Resource Guide on World Englishes. 

Kate, Lauren, Gretchen, and Liz. 


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About Mutual Intelligibility

Mutual Intelligibility is a project to connect linguistics instructors with online resources, especially as so much teaching is shifting quickly online due to current events. It's produced by Lauren Gawne and Gretchen McCulloch, with the support of our patrons on Lingthusiasm. Our 3 Links editor is Liz McCullough, and our Resource Guide contributor is Kate Whitcomb (Layman's Linguist).

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