Linguistics 322

Intermediate Syntax

Mood deals with speaker's perception of the reality of a proposition. All propositions must be marked for mood.

The most common mood is the declarative mood also called the indicative mood. Here, the speaker quietly asserts the sentence as being true (factual). Whether or not he is correct is an issue that belongs to real world pragmatics, not grammatical correctness. The indicative mood in not marked in matrix clauses. The complementizer is the category that marks mood. The indicative complementizer is phonetically null in matrix sentences. In embedded sentences it may be marked with that or it may be null. In the following sentences that is a complementizer, not a demonstrative determiner:

(1)     John bought a book.

(2)     *That John bought a book.

(3)     Mary knows John bought a book.

(4)     Mary knows that John bought a book.

The null variant is possible only when the embedded clause follows the subcategorizing verbs. In other positions, that is required:

(5)     It surprised John that Mary bought a book.

(6)     *It surprised John Mary bought a book.

(7)     That Mary bought a book surprised John.

(8)     *Mary bought a book surprised John.

Mood is assigned the category 'C' (for complementizer), though I have been moving towards 'M' to reflect this reality. The argument of mood is in old-fashioned syntax S; here we consider it to be a T-proposition ('T' for TENSE). A full proposition contains the semantic content of a sentence which is judged to be true unless otherwise marked. The declarative mood is the default in English (and almost certainly in all natural languages). MOOD is an operator. The declarative mood is unmarked since it is the default. All non-declarative moods are marked by the feature [-Irreal]. The feature [-Irreal] means that the speaker is asserting that the argument of [MOOD [-Irreal]] is true.

The logical (base) structure for this sentence of English is now (9) starting with mood:


The argument structure for (1) is (10) based on (9):

(10)     [MOOD [-Irreal]] <SP [S] < [TENSE [+Past]] <[R[-Perf] <Asp[-Prog] <Vce[-Pass]< BUY <theme: A BOOK> <agent: JOHN[+PT] >>

In tree-structure form:


The feature [+Irreal] means that the speaker is not asserting the argument to be true.

The first feature within [+Irreal] that we will analyze is [+Interr]. We consider interrogative sentences to be one of mood--the interrogative mood. In questions, the speaker is seeking information whether a proposition is asserted to be true by the person(s) he asks. Go to questions.

Another common mood is the conditional mood. It occurs in construction with the indicative or the imperative mood. Either clause in this construction is dependent on the conditional clause. The conditional mood is marked with the complementizer if: The conditional mood is always an embedded clause. It cannot be a matrix clause:

  1. If it doesn't rain tomorrow, we will go on a picnic.
  2. If Mary passes syntax, we'll have a party.
  3. You will get nowhere if you don't study.
  4. If the stove is turned on, the food will cook.
  5. If the stove is on, the food must be cooking.
  6. If it rains later this morning, wear your raincoat when you leave.
  7. If it is raining, put your raincoat on.
  8. *If it doesn't rain tomorrow.

The modal marker will indicating futurity amongst other semantic features does not occur in the conditional when futurity is implied, though the consequential indicative clause is marked with will. The indicative clause implies futurity or it has the reading of an epistemic modal must. The epistemic modal must refers to event that is assumed be true, if the condition upon which it is dependent is true as in (5) above. Whether the food is cooking is dependent on whether the stove is on or off.

The conditional mood may be used in the past tense:

  1. If it rained yesterday, then they didn't go a picnic.

Here, the speaker does not know whether it rained yesterday.

An off the shoot is the negative conditional mood. Here, the complementizer is unless:

(12)   Unless it rains tomorrow, we will go on the picnic.

(12) means

(13)   If it doesn't rain tomoarrow, we will go on the picnic.

Uncertain is th acceptability or grammaticality of Unless-contiionals occurring inthe scope of negation:

(14)    ?Unless it doesn't rain tomorrow, we won't go on the picnic.

The questionability of the sentence arises from the fact that a simple If-conditional conveys the same message, which is easier for the listener to process:

(15)    If it rains tomorrow, we won't go on the picnic.

In all probability, sentential negation (polarity) is distinct from lexical negation, which may have its source elsewhere. We will assume this to be the case without elaboration.

The contrary-to-fact mood is also marked by if. The marking becomes complicated because the tense of the verb in the clause is affected. The contrary-to-fact mood refers to a proposition which is not true as far as the speaker is concerned:

  1. If John were king, he would eliminate misery.

The use of were with a singular subject marks contrary-to-fact mood amongst those speakers who use it. Other speakers use the normal past tense form:

  1. If John was king, we would eliminate misery.

The use of the present tense form here marks the conditional mood:

  1. If John is king, then he should be eliminating misery.

In the former sentence, John is not a king. In the latter, it is uncertain whether he is a king, but in the event that is one, the speaker is assuming that he eliminating misery.

If the contrary-to-fact proposition occurs in the logical past tense, the pluperfect construction must be used:

  1. If John had been king (when he was alive), he would have eliminated misery.

In this sentence John was never a king.

(Go to bottom of page for more on on the conditional and contrary-to-fact moods. )

The imperative mood refers to a command. In matrix sentence the imperative mood is not marked by an overt complementizer; it is null. Tense and aspect are absent in imperative clauses.--we may say that the imperative mood licenses apsect and modd only, but not tense and relevance. Sentence intonation is the key marker:

  1. Go to the store!
  2. Be good!
  3. Do that!

In embedded clauses, the complementizer that marks the imperative mood. Tense and aspect are also not licensed here:

  1. I demand that you be home at 9.
  2. She insisted that he be a fool at the party.
  3. We will demand that he get his hair cut.

The negative imperative is always formed with the dummy auxiliary verb do:

  1. Don't go to the store!
  2. Don't be good!
  3. Don't do that!

To formalize the imperative, we need to posit the feature [+Imp] for the imperative mood. Like T (see tense and aspect) Imp requires a host. If lowering is not blocked Imp lowers and adjoins to V. It has no morphological form in English, but it does affect the sentence intonation pattern. [+Imp] originates as C:

Note that V1 is where the direct object should go, but there is none; therefore the verb is intransitive. V2 is neither an internal nor an external argument; the external argument is always at VP.


The feature [+Imp] is spelled out as "!" representing the imperative intonation contour. In the negative imperative, the operator [+Neg] first lowers to [+Imp]. There it blocks the lowering of [+Imp] to V. Being stranded, [+Imp] requires a host. The main verb cannot raise [+Imp]. Hence, the dummy auxiliary verb do is inserted to function as the host by Last Resort:

old diagram:


The links are similar to the preceding diagram. There is a barrier at M which blocks copying M and Neg to the main verb. The tendency in English is when a feature is copied downwards, a barrier is inserted which blocks further copying. Hence, the dummy DO must be inserted to function as a hst for M.

The hortative mood refers to a plea; it is not a command. It is often confused with the imperative mood because both are formed the same in English, although the hortative is often formed with dummy auxiliary verb do in the affirmative:

  1. Do go to the store!
  2. Do be good!
  3. Do do that!

In the negative there is no difference.

  1. Don't go to the store!
  2. Don't be good!
  3. Don't do that!

Intonation is the only marker that differentiates the hortative from imperative if negated.

The conditional mood.

The conditional mood refers to a non-realized event, and a prediction, a question, or statement based on that event should it be or become true. For example:

  1. If John passes 322 (future meaning), he will take 405.
  2. If Mary passes 322 (same), will she take 405?
  3. If Billy Bob likes hominy (present), he should like black-eyed peas.
  4. If Daisy Mae signed up for 405 yesterday (past), will she probably end up on the waiting list?

The conditional operator takes two arguments (both of them are clauses): the conditional statement (the if clause) and the consequential statement. Conditional clauses are never matrix (root) clauses; the mood marker is always spelled out as 'if'.

There is a closely related mood, the name for which I do not know--we could call it the regardless mood until the official name is found. In this construction, the regardless operator takes two clauses: the consequence clause, which is proejcted to be true or false regardless of the regardless clause. Here, the regardless form is often spelled out with 'whether or not' (sometimes, the clause may include the form regardless:

  1. Whether or not Mary Jane passes 322, she won't take 405.
  2. Will buy a new Mac, whether our PC dies or not.
  3. Regardless of whether it is raining now or not, I'll have to take a long walk for an hour.

Note also that there is also a negative conditional marked with the mood marker unless:

  1. Unless Boris passes 322, he won't take 405.
  2. If Boris doesn't pass 322, he won't take 405.

Unless means 'if not'. Here we could say that [+Neg] needs [+Cond] as a host as an option, but this would be a pre-lexical operation. We haven't been doing things of this sort. So, we will just generate 'unless' directly. Besides, you can negate such clauses:

  1. ?Unless Boris doesn't pass 322, he will take 405.

Such semantically double negatives are normally avoided.


This mood is not a conditional mood. It refers to what would have happened if some other event were true or false:

  1. If Caligula were taking 322, he would be able to take 405 next semester.
  2. If Hermione had bought that VW beater, she would be able drive up the hill every day.
  3. If Constantine were to recapture Istanbul, he would rename it back to Constantinople.

The contrary-to-fact operator takes two argument-clauses, too: the contrary-to-fact clause and its consequence. In the first sentence, the contrary-to-fact clause refers to the present tense, though it is formally marked with the past tense form. Semantically, the contrary-to-fact clause in the second sentence is formally marked with the perfect-form. The past tense form of had marks the contrary-to-fact mood in conjunction with if . The perfect form marks the semantic past tense. The c-to-f clause in the third clause refers to the future. Here, we need the "be + to" construction to mark futurity.

This the first time we have formally seen a discrepancy between semantic features and grammatical features, though have mentioned that such exists. In our model of grammar recall that a grammar is the code needed to encode a conceptual form into a phonetic form or signing or a written form that is tied into the phonetic form, and to decode a phonetic et al form to a conceptual form. Semantic tense occurs in conceptual structure, and grammatical tense in the grammar. Although these forms tend to feed each other, it is not necessarily always the case, as in the contrary-to-fact mood. Formally, we will have to differentiate between a conceptual feature (tense) and a grammatical feture ([±Past]). In all probability semantic/conceptual features are not binary, though grammatical features are argued to be binary. We won't attempt to do so here, but it should be borne in mind that it is something that will have to be done.

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This page last updated 1 DE 2000