Re: pronoun/antecedent agreement

From: Philip L. Graber (
Date: Thu Jun 06 1996 - 16:30:09 EDT


I think you are confusing semantic categories with grammatical ones. Let
me make some notes to the previous message.

> Because a word can only be marked for case if it is there. If the subject
> is not explicit, there is nothing there to have case.

> Marion here: How can a noun (or any substantive) exist, either explicitly
> or elliptically (in the mind) without having case?

Nouns do NOT exist without case. That was my point. If there is no
explicit subject then there is nothing to carry case. Nouns do not
"exist" elliptically or in the mind. A verb without an explicit subject
clearly implies some kind of "subject," but GRAMMATICALLY it HAS NO
SUBJECT because there is no nominative case word there. Case is a
property of words that are written or spoken, not of ideas in one's mind.

> We get into a question
> of metaphysics here. Let me illustrate with a simple English illustration.
> Suppose I say to a class: "Hand in the test." The subject of the
> sentence is an elliptical "you (plural)" which takes as its antecedent the
> elliptical word "class." While we do not have the inflection of either the
> word "you" or the word "class" to denote the nominative case it is
> understood to be in the nominative case. Why does not Greek function in
> this same manner? By denying this point you "open a can of worms" that
> allows one to use any word as the subject. This is precisely what happened
> in the prior discussion.

There is no can of worms here. The example you give is one of the
exceptions I noted by chose not to deal with, but since you've brought it
up.... Your example HAS NO GRAMMATICAL SUBJECT. There is an implied
agent which is identifiable on the basis of the semantics and pragmatics
of the utterance in context, but there IS NO GRAMMATICAL SUBJECT. "You"
and "class" in your example are NOT understood to be in the nominative
case for two reasons. First of all, they are not even IN your example, so
they can't have grammatical properties. Secondly, words like "class"
(i.e. nouns) don't have case in English when they ARE used, and the form
"you" is not uniquely nominative, so can hardly be said to be marked for
case either. One of the ways English grammar works to indicate the
imperative meaning of your example is precisely that there is no
grammatical subject present. (This is not true for Greek. Greek
imperatives are identified morphologically, and many non-imperative verbs
in Greek don't have subjects.) If there were a subject in your example
sentence, it would no longer be a grammatical imperative. "You" is not
the subject because it is not there. The fact that the sentence has no
subject helps to mark the verb as imperative (its inflection is not
uniquely imperative), and this carries with it a second person implication
in English, allowing the hearers of such an utterance to understand its
meaning. Do not confuse the people to whom such an utterance is spoken
with the WORDS "class" and "you." Words can have grammatical case (in
Greek, not in English), but people do not. Much confusion would be
avoided if we used words like "subject" in only one way--as grammatical
categories or semantic categories, etc., but not any and all. People can
be the "subject" of utterances, but not the grammatical subject. Words
have to be grammatical subjects, and some grammatical clauses don't have
grammatical subjects. And what is not there cannot be grammatically
marked for case.

If there IS a grammatical subject of a finite verb in GREEK, it will be
in the nominative case.


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