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Participial Relative Clauses

Summary and Keywords

Relative clauses of which the predicate contains a present, past, or passive participle can be used in a reduced form. Although it has been shown that participial relative clauses cannot always be considered to be non-complete variants of full relative clauses, they are generally called reduced relative clauses in the literature. Since they differ from full relative clauses in containing a non-finite predicate, they are also called non-finite relative clauses. Another type of non-finite relative clause is the infinitival relative clause. In English, in participial relative clauses, the antecedent noun is interpreted as the subject of the predicate of the relative clause. Because of this restriction, the status of relative clause has been put into doubt for participial adnominal modifiers, especially, because in a language such as English, they can occur in pre-nominal position, whereas a full relative clause cannot. While some linguists analyze both pre-nominal and post-nominal participles as verbal, others have argued that participles are essentially adjectival categories. In a third type of analysis, participles are divided into verbal and adjectival ones. This also holds for adnominal participles. Besides the relation to full relative clauses and the category of the participle, participial relative clauses raise a number of other interesting questions, which have been discussed in the literature. These questions concern the similarity or difference in interpretation of the pre-nominal and the post-nominal participial clause, restrictions on the type of verb used in past participial relative clauses, and similarities and differences between the syntax and semantics of participial clauses in English and other languages. Besides syntactic and semantic issues, participial relative clauses have raised other questions, such as their use in texts. Participial relative clauses have been studied from a diachronic and a stylistic point of view. It has been shown that the use of reduced forms such as participial relative clauses has increased over time and that, because of their condensed form, they are used more in academic styles than in colloquial speech. Nonetheless, they have proven to be used already by very young children, although in second language acquisition they are used late, because their condensed form is associated with an academic style of writing. Since passive or past participles often have the same form as the past tense, it has been shown that sentences containing a subject noun modified by a post-nominal past or passive participle are difficult to process, although certain factors may facilitate the processing of the sentence.

Keywords: participle, relative clause, reduced relative clause, past participle, passive participle, present participle, verb, adjective

1. Relative Clauses

Relative clauses are subordinate clauses that function as modifiers of a noun and have an adjectival function. Typically, they contain a verb in a finite form and are introduced by a relative pronoun (such as who, whom, which, whose, or that in English) that has a syntactic function (e.g., subject, object, genitive) in the subordinate clause. Finite relative clauses occur in a post-nominal position in English:


Participial Relative Clauses

Relative clauses can be restrictive (defining) or nonrestrictive (non-defining). A restrictive relative clause limits the reference of the noun phrase it modifies. In (1), only some houses have not been sold, namely, those that were too expensive. A non-restrictive relative clause does not limit the reference of the noun phrase. It is preceded by a comma in a written text or a break in speech:


Participial Relative Clauses

In (2), all houses under discussion were too expensive. The relative clause does not limit the reference of the noun phrase. The information it provides could be omitted, or it could be provided in a proposition outside the noun phrase:


Participial Relative Clauses

Relative clauses can also be non-finite propositions. The verb that they contain has an infinitival or a participial form:


Participial Relative Clauses

As observed by Sadler and Arnold (1994), finite relative clauses cannot be substituted only by infinitival and participial clauses, but also by verb-less phrases, more specifically by prepositional phrases (PPs) or adjectival phrases (APs), in general APs containing a complement:


Participial Relative Clauses

2. Participial Relative Clauses

Participial relative clauses are relative clauses containing a present participle or a passive/past participle, but no relative pronoun and no finite verb. Present participles in English are -ing participles, passive/past participles are -ed/-en participles. The following examples are taken from Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech, and Svartvik (1985, p. 1263):


Participial Relative Clauses

In the examples (6a) and (6b), the participles occur in post-nominal position, just like full relative clauses in English. Participles can also function as pre-modifiers of the noun phrase. Quirk et al. (1985, pp. 1326–1327) give the following examples:


Participial Relative Clauses

2.1. Correspondence to Sentential Relative Clauses

Only post-nominal participial relative clauses can be replaced by a full relative clause. Like full relative clauses, participial clauses may be restrictive or non-restrictive (Quirk et al. 1985, p. 1327):


Participial Relative Clauses


Participial Relative Clauses

In English, post-modifying –ing participles can only be replaced by full relative clauses in which the relative pronoun functions as the subject of the finite verb. In sentence (6a) the participial clause can be replaced by a sentential relative clause introduced by the subject pronoun who:


Participial Relative Clauses

Quirk et al. (1985, p. 1263) notice that in English there is no non-finite participial clause that corresponds directly to the full relative clause in (11), in which the relative pronoun functions as the object of the subordinate clause:


Participial Relative Clauses

Post-modifying –ed participial clauses also correspond to full relative clauses introduced by a subject relative pronoun. The complex noun phrase in (6b) can be replaced by (12):


Participial Relative Clauses

The participle in (6b) and (12) is a passive participle, which means that although the pronoun that in (12) is syntactically the subject of the relative clause, semantically it functions as the object of the participle. Therefore, the full relative clause in (11), which cannot be replaced by an –ing participial clause because the relative pronoun is the object of the participle, can be replaced by a passive participial clause:


Participial Relative Clauses

An -ed participle can also be a past participle instead of a passive participle. While passive participles are participial forms of transitive verbs, past participles in participial relative clauses are participial forms of unaccusative verbs, i.e. motional verbs or verbs expressing a change of state (Burzio, 1986). Again, the corresponding full relative clause contains a relative pronoun that functions as the syntactic subject of the subordinate clause:


Participial Relative Clauses

Whereas the relative pronoun in the full relative clause corresponding to –ing and –ed participial relative clauses may only function as the syntactic subject of the clause, there are far less restrictions on the tense of the finite verbal form in the corresponding sentential relative clause. Quirk et al. (1985, p. 1263) observe that the –ing form in (6a) may be interpreted, according to the context, as all of the tensed forms in the relative clauses in (15):


Participial Relative Clauses

While in (6a) the location in time of the participial relative clause depends on the context, the tense to be attributed to the –ing clause may also depend on the tense of the main clause, especially if the noun phrase is object (Quirk et al., 1985, p. 1264):


Participial Relative Clauses

Not only with respect to tense, but also with respect to aspect, –ing participial relative clauses are neutralized forms. Progressive aspect or perfective aspect cannot be overtly expressed (Quirk et al., 1985, p. 1264):


Participial Relative Clauses

As for –ed post-nominal participial relative clauses, the interpretation of the participial form also depends on the tense of the finite clause or on the context. The complex noun phrase in (6b) may be interpreted as in (18) according to Quirk et al. (1985, p. 1264):


Participial Relative Clauses

With regard to the expression of aspect, -ed participial relative clauses differ from –ing participial relative clauses. Although, just as in –ing clauses, perfective aspect cannot be expressed in –ed participial relative clauses, progressive aspect can be expressed (Quirk et al., 1985, p. 1265):


Participial Relative Clauses

2.2. Reduced Relative Clauses?

Just like Chomsky (1957, 1965), Ross (1972) derived participial relative clauses, such as (20a), from full relative clauses, as in (20b), by means of a rule that he called WHIZ Deletion. Example (20a) results from the deletion of the relative pronoun and the auxiliary ‘be,’ as in (20b):


Participial Relative Clauses

Ross derived the participial clause in (21a) from (21b) by means of a rule called “Stuff-ing.” The subject of the full relative clause (21b) is deleted, and –ing is added to the predicate of the relative clause:


Participial Relative Clauses

Williams (1975) observed that full relative clauses do not always have a corresponding reduced, participial, version.


Participial Relative Clauses

In Thompson’s (2001) view, the difference in grammaticality between (22 a and b) can be explained if it is assumed that reduced relative clauses are Aspect Phrases, missing a Modality Phrase. This shows that the reduction is more subtle than predicted by Ross’ transformational rules.

Although Quirk et al. (1985, p. 1263) notice the correspondence between participial and full relative clauses in several cases, they also state that “it must be emphasized that –ing forms in post-modifying clauses should not be seen as abbreviated progressive forms in relative clauses.” In (15) it was shown that the participial –ing form in (6a) can be replaced by full relative clauses containing all kinds of aspects and tenses. Progressive forms in full relative clauses, as in (15d), can, and often do, correspond to –ing participial clauses. However, the participial post-modifier in (23a) cannot be replaced by (23b), but only by (23c), the reason being that stative verbs cannot be used in the progressive form in full relative clauses. This suggests that post-modifying -ing participles are not simply reduced forms of full relative clauses:


Participial Relative Clauses

The notion “reduced relative clause” is used by various linguists to indicate, for example, participial relative clauses (a.o., Kayne, 1994; Sag, 1997). The notion has been criticized, however, because there is not always a correspondence between a participial modifier and a full relative clause.

Whereas Quirk et al. show that there is not always an aspectual full version of an –ing participle, Hudson (1973) shows that there is not always a temporal full version either. Hudson shows that (24a) only corresponds to (24b) but not to (24c):


Participial Relative Clauses

According to Hudson, this also holds for (25). Example (25) can only be replaced by (26a or b), but not by (26c or d):


Participial Relative Clauses


Participial Relative Clauses

Hudson argues that the tense in full relative clauses can only be interpreted “deictically,” that is, relative to moment of speaking, as in (26a,b) or in (26c,d). Reduced relative clauses, as in (25), on the other hand, can be interpreted both “deictically,” as in (26a and b), and “derivatively,” i.e. relative to the tense of the matrix verb, again as in (26a and b), see also Thompson (2001). In both cases, there is a contradiction between “living” and “dead.” The interpretations in (26c and d) are not available.

Other cases, which show that the notion “reduced relative clause” is infelicitous, are discussed under the heading “restrictions” below.

2.3. Verbs or Adjectives?

Participles are ambiguous categories: they are verbal forms and can function as verbs (27a and c), but they may also function as adjectives (27b and d):


Participial Relative Clauses

Since participles are verbal forms, in some analyses they are always analyzed as verbs. Chomsky (1957, 1965) analyzed participles as transformationally derived from full relative clauses.

In other analyses, participles are always adjectives. One such analysis has been proposed by Freidin (1975). Freidin discusses the relation between the active and passive verb construction. He proposes to analyze the active verb as a verb and the participial form in the passive construction (with a by-phrase) as an adjective. Freidin supports his analysis by showing that participles can occur in adnominal positions. Emonds (2001) uses the inflection on participles in, for example Romance languages, as an argument in favor of the claim that participles are basically adjectival.

Arguments for either of these analyses are diachronically motivated. Sustaining a basically adjectival analysis of verbal participles, Emonds (2006, n. 4) states that “when the Latin synthetic passives were lost (Romance languages typically show no reflexes of them), Latin analytic perfect passives formed with the copula plus an adjectival passive participle acquired a second use in Romance, that of a verbal passive, thereby filling the morphological gaps.” Beekes (1990, p. 126; apud Elffers, de Haan & Schermer, 2012), however, argues that, since Indo-European had few or no subclauses, participles had verbal usages already in the earliest stages of Indo-European. The development of a periphrastic perfect with the auxiliary ‘to have,’ as in Latin, took place already in Hittite, according to Beekes, showing that the past participle already had verbal valency at an early stage. This means that the participle could be viewed as a verbal form with adjectival usages.

Wasow (1977) argued that some participles are derived in Syntax, whereas others are derived in the Lexicon. Wasow distinguished adjectival (passive) participles on the basis of their distributional properties. Adjectival participles can be the complement of the verbs seem, become, and remain. This criterion identifies astonished in (27d) as adjectival and recently read in (27c) as verbal:


Participial Relative Clauses

Furthermore, only adjectival passives can be used in pre-nominal position, as in (27d). Therefore, Wasow analyzed verbal passives as true verbs, occupying verbal slots in syntactic structures, occurring with verbal complements and verbal modifiers such as the by-phrase or the time adverbial in (27c), and combining with the inflectional suffix in Syntax. Wasow assumed that category change (e.g., from verb to adjective) could only take place in the Lexicon, but not in Syntax. Therefore, adjectival passives were derived in the Lexicon in his analysis. This analysis was adopted by Bresnan (1982, 1995), Levin and Rappaport (1986), and Meltzer-Asscher (2010). Lieber (1980) proposes that, in the Lexicon, adjectival passives are formed from verbal passives by means of zero affixation.

Brekke (1988) also distinguished adjectival participles from verbal participles. He proposed the Experiencer Constraint, which states that only verbs that have an internal Experiencer Role, such as the psych verbs fascinate, astonish, irritate, or interest, can have adjectival present participles. On the basis of this criterion, interesting in (27b), but not lying in (27a), qualifies as an adjectival present participle. Wasow’s criteria could apply as well to distinguish the adjectival present participle from the verbal present participle. Other distributional criteria are mentioned by Fabb (1984) and Brekke (1988), see also Meltzer-Asscher (2010). The adverb-forming suffix –ly can only attach to adjectival present participles but not to verbal present participles:


Participial Relative Clauses

Only adjectival present participles can be preceded by the adverb so:


Participial Relative Clauses

The same holds for the adverb very.

Siegel (1973) uses un-prefixation as a criterion to distinguish adjectival forms. Both passive participles and present participles prefixed by un- are adjectival:


Participial Relative Clauses

2.4. Gradience

Whereas, in Wasow’s and Brekke’s analyses, a two-way distinction between verbal participles and adjectival participles is created, it has been shown in the literature that this dichotomy is too strong. Aarts (2007) shows that participles are not purely verbal or purely adjectival, but that they can be more verbal than adjectival or more adjectival than verbal. According to Wasow, pre-nominal participles are adjectival. This is confirmed by Borer (1990). Not being an experiencer verb, working in (32) is defined by Brekke as a verbal participle. Aarts (2007), however, shows that the pre-nominal participle working in (32) has both verbal and adjectival properties:


Participial Relative Clauses

The participle working in (32) is verbal because of its –ing ending and because it can be modified by a verbal modifier (a hard-working mother), and adjectival because it occurs pre-nominally. However, it cannot be preceded by not (*a not working mother) or be combined by complements (*a working for the government mother). Conversely, working cannot be intensified (*a very working mother), and it is not gradable either (*a more working mother). It cannot occur in predicative position (*the mother seems working). Aarts concludes that working has both verbal and adjectival properties, but is more verbal than adjectival.

Kratzer (1994) distinguishes two types of adjectival passive participles in German. On the one hand, there are the purely adjectival passive participles distinguished by Wasow. On the other hand, Kratzer distinguishes resultative adjectival passive participles, which express a state that is the result of an event. Expressing a state, they are adjectival, but they are also verbal, because they express the result of an event. An English example, taken from Embick (2004), is presented in (33):


Participial Relative Clauses

For Kratzer, there are therefore three types of participles: purely verbal, purely adjectival, and resultative adjectival participles.

The distinction of three types of participles is also defended by Embick (2004) for English. Embick distinguishes eventive, stative, and resultative participles. Embick presents several diagnostics used to distinguish statives and resultatives in English, such as the following:

I. Unlike pure statives, resultatives allow modification by manner (and other) adverbials (see also Kratzer, 1994):


Participial Relative Clauses

II. Statives, but not resultatives, can occur after verbs of creation, such as build, create, make:


Participial Relative Clauses

III. Un-prefixation is fully productive with resultatives, but not with statives (although there are some exceptions, such as unshaven or unhappy):


Participial Relative Clauses

Embick (2004) also presents several criteria used to differentiate resultatives and verbal passive participles, which have been mentioned already above. First, being adjectival, resultatives (but not verbal participles) can be used as a predicate with the copular verb remain (37). Second, verbal passive participles can combine with a by-phrase, whereas resultatives cannot (38 and 39). Third, with verbal passive participles un-prefixation is not productive (40):


Participial Relative Clauses


Participial Relative Clauses


Participial Relative Clauses


Participial Relative Clauses

Embick distinguishes the three types of participles also in adnominal position. Post-nominal participles in English are analyzed as being verbal (cf. Bolinger, 1967; Fabb, 1984; Sadler & Arnold, 1994):


Participial Relative Clauses

Like Wasow, Embick assumes that all pre-nominal participles are adjectival. The participle in (42) is stative:


Participial Relative Clauses

An adnominal participle modified by a manner adverbial or prefixed by un- is resultative:


Participial Relative Clauses

Contrary to Wasow, however, Embick claims that adjectival passives are derived in the syntactic component, just like verbal passives (see also Bruening, 2014).

De Vries (2002, p. 58) argues that the fact that in English participial modifiers of the noun are only allowed if the supposed relative pronoun is a subject (as discussed in Section 2.1, Correspondence to Sentential Relative Clauses), makes a relative clause analysis suspect. This fact can be explained if pre-nominal participles in English are adjectival.

Like Aarts (2007) for working in (32), Sleeman (2011) argues, however, that pre-nominal participles can be verbal, although they also have adjectival properties, such as their pre-nominal, adjectival position. That pre-nominal participles can be verbal is also supported by the combination with a temporal adverb such as recently, which indicates when an event took place:


Participial Relative Clauses

Whereas Kratzer and Embick distinguish two types of adjectival participles, stative and resultative, Sleeman identifies two types of verbal participles, purely verbal (post-nominal in English) and verbal with adjectival properties (pre-nominal in English). Sleeman represents the four types of participle on a scale:


Participial Relative Clauses

Although Kratzer and Embick make their tripartite distinction only for passive participles, Sleeman argues that several types of present participles can also be distinguished: stative (such as the experiencer verbs discussed by Brekke), fully verbal (present participles in post-nominal position: the woman walking on the grass), and verbal with adjectival properties (pre-nominal, such as working in Aarts’ example [32]). Resultative present participles do not exist in English.

2.5. Argument Structure

Three types of participles on the scale (45) are realized in pre-nominal position in English, whereas only the fully verbal participles occur in post-nominal position, just like full, sentential, relative clauses. Sleeman (2011) claims that the different distribution relative to the noun is the consequence of a difference in argument structure of the participles. Like the finite verb in full relative clauses, post-nominal participles have a complete argument structure. Sleeman adopts Kayne’s (1994) raising analysis of relative clauses, which builds on Vergnaud (1974). In Kayne’s analysis, the antecedent noun of the relative clause originates in the relative clause itself as an argument of the verb. In (46), the antecedent noun originates as the subject of the finite verb in the full relative clause. It raises to its antecedent position outside the relative clause. That is analyzed as a complementizer, that is as a subordinating conjunction, and not as a relative pronoun:


Participial Relative Clauses

In the non-finite relative clause in (47), the antecedent noun originates as the object of the passive participle:


Participial Relative Clauses

In Sleeman’s analysis, participles can be defective, not having a complete argument structure, or lacking an argument structure. If there is no argument that can raise to the antecedent position, a post-nominal relative clause cannot be formed. As a consequence, the participial clause can only occur in pre-nominal position. In this analysis, participles are stored in the Lexicon with more than one argument structure: they are structurally ambiguous.


Participial Relative Clauses

A similar analysis has been proposed by Larson and Takahashi (2007), also referring to Larson’s earlier work, and to Smith (1964) and Jacobs and Rosenbaum (1968), who derive (intersective) pre-nominal adjectives from relative clauses by reduction and movement. In Larson and Takahashi’s analysis, the different position is not the consequence of a difference in argument structure of the participle, as in Sleeman’s analysis. According to Larson and Takahashi, the participle in (48) has moved from the post-nominal position to the pre-nominal position in order to get Case, which is abstract Case in English:


Participial Relative Clauses

Sleeman’s analysis is reminiscent of Higginbotham’s (1985) analysis of the distinction between pre-nominal and post-nominal participles. Higginbotham (1985) claimed that pre-nominal participles are attributes, whereas post-nominal participles are predicates. In his analysis, attributes are related to the noun in another way than predicates. Whereas the noun satisfies the theta-role assigned by the predicate as an argument in syntax (theta-marking), the theta-roles in the lexical theta-grids of the noun and the attribute are associated to each other by means of theta-identification. A distinction between attributive and predicative modifiers of the noun is also made by Cinque (1994). While Cinque (1994) analyzes predicates as (reduced) relative clauses, right-adjoined to the noun phrase, attributes are generated in the specifier position of functional projections of the noun.

In Cinque’s (2010) analysis, however, all relative clauses, both participial and sentential, originate in a pre-nominal position. The post-nominal position of full relative clauses and certain participial clauses is the consequence of the raising of the noun to a position preceding the relative clause (for details, see Cinque, 2010):


Participial Relative Clauses

In English, with heavier relative clauses, such as full relative clauses or reduced relative clauses containing a complement, the raising of the noun is compulsory, while the raising of the noun with bare relative clauses, such as those containing only a participle, is not. That is why in (50a and b) the post-nominal position of the relative clauses is the only possibility, whereas in (50c) it isn’t. If the noun does not raise, (48) is the result.

2.6. Position and Interpretation

Bolinger (1967) argued that, in English, post-nominal participles, as in (50c), have a stage-level interpretation, whereas pre-nominal participles, as in (48), have an individual-level interpretation. In (50c), the post-nominal participle stolen has a stage-level interpretation, because it expresses a temporary property, referring to an event that took place at an unspecified moment. In (48), the pre-nominal participle stolen has an individual-level interpretation, because the participle expresses an enduring property of the noun.

Sproat and Shih (1988) make a distinction between indirect modifiers of the noun, namely post-nominal participles in English, on the one hand, and direct modifiers of the noun, namely pre-nominal participles, on the other (see also Sadler & Arnold, 1994). Indirect modifiers correspond to Cinque’s (1994) predicates, whereas direct modifiers correspond to his attributes. Indirect modifiers are reduced relative clauses, such as verbal participial clauses, and direct modifiers do not have a relative clause source. Building on Sproat and Shih (1988) and work by Larson (e.g., Larson, 1998; Larson & Marušič, 2004, p. 275), Cinque (2010) associates indirect and direct modifiers with different interpretations (see also Cinque, 2014). Furthermore, Cinque shows that, in English, pre-nominal modifiers can be ambiguous; whereas post-nominal modifiers are always indirect modifiers in English, pre-nominal modifiers can be direct or indirect modifiers:


Participial Relative Clauses

In a pre-nominal position, stolen therefore does not only have an individual-level interpretation, it can also have a stage-level interpretation, just as in post-nominal position. Another interpretative difference is the restrictive versus non-restrictive reading. While indirect modifiers have a restrictive meaning, direct modifiers have a non-restrictive meaning. In (52a), the post-nominal participle is unambiguously an indirect modifier. This reduced relative clause can only have a restrictive interpretation:


Participial Relative Clauses

In (53a), the pre-nominal participle is ambiguous in interpretation. It can be a direct modifier and have a non-restrictive interpretation, or it can be an indirect modifier and have a restrictive meaning:


Participial Relative Clauses

A third distinction is the intersective reading versus the non-intersective reading. While in (52a) the post-nominal participle blessed is intersective, in the non-restrictive reading in (53) the pre-nominal blessed is non-intersective. Although Larson (1998) suggests that the correlation between intersective semantics and noun-modifying syntax is absolute, Larson and Takahashi (2007) argue that this conclusion is too strong. They show that individual-level predicates can be fully intersective.

Cinque (2010) shows that, in pre-nominal position, indirect modifiers precede direct modifiers (see 51). This suggests that only the order in (54a) would be acceptable, but not the order in (54b):


Participial Relative Clauses

2.7. Restrictions

Although Larson and Cinque assume that pre-nominal participles in English can have both an individual-level and a stage-level interpretation, Quirk et al. (1985, p. 1328) state, just like Bolinger (1967), that pre-nominal participles only have an individual-level interpretation. In this way, Quirk et al. account for some unacceptable cases. According to them, only a few passive participles admit the permanent reference that will permit pre-modifying use. Whereas the stative verb in (55a) is acceptable, because it expresses a permanent or ongoing property, the participle of the dynamic verb in (55b) in pre-nominal position is ungrammatical:


Participial Relative Clauses

Like Bolinger, Quirk et al. observe that the use of the passive participle of the dynamic verb lose in pre-nominal position (the lost purse), is acceptable, in contrast to the participle found in (55b). The reason is, in Quirk et al.’s view, that “although a purse is no longer regarded as ‘found’ after it has been retrieved, a purse will be regarded as ‘lost’ throughout the period of its disappearance.”

Quirk et al. notice, however, that there are exceptions to the general rule, which suggest that the semantic and aspectual factors are more complicated than they indicate. For instance, one does not normally say (56a), although a sum of money can go on being needed, and (56b) is acceptable, even though a car is stolen at a moment of time:


Participial Relative Clauses

Furthermore, although pre-nominal passive participles of dynamic verbs are generally not acceptable (57), their use becomes grammatical when they are modified by adverbs, as in (58):


Participial Relative Clauses


Participial Relative Clauses

Besides present and passive participles, past participles can also be used as adnominal modifiers of the noun. These participles are the past participial forms of unaccusative verbs: motional verbs or verbs expressing a change of state. Quirk et al. (1985, p. 1265) notice, however, that there are also restrictions on the use of past participles in adnominal position. As for post-modification, Quirk et al. judge the reduced clause in (59b) degraded:


Participial Relative Clauses

They observe that the acceptability of the past participle in post-nominal position increases when the –ed participle is preceded by certain adverbs:


Participial Relative Clauses

The same holds for pre-modifying past participles. Quirk et al. (1985, p. 1327) observe that active that is past participles are rarely used in pre-modification:


Participial Relative Clauses

Quirk et al. enumerate some exceptions:


Participial Relative Clauses

As in the case of post-modification, Quirk et al. notice that pre-modification by past participles is somewhat more common when an active participle is modified by an adverb:


Participial Relative Clauses


Participial Relative Clauses

With the bare participle born, pre-modification is possible in a non-literal meaning. In the literal interpretation, an adverb has to be added:


Participial Relative Clauses

Restrictions on modification of the noun by passive and past participles in English are discussed by both Bolinger (1967) and Ackerman and Goldberg (1996).

Bolinger discusses pairs of close variants in which either the participle or the noun differs:


Participial Relative Clauses


Participial Relative Clauses

As observed, according to Bolinger, pre-nominal participles express individual-level properties, that is permanent, enduring, or sufficiently characterizing properties. This is the case when the verbal event “leaves a mark on something.” This explains, for example, the contrast between (66a and b). In (66b), there is a permanent result, whereas this is not the case in (66a). For a similar account, see Bresnan (1995), and McIntyre (2013). As Bolinger also notices himself, examples such as (68a,b), as discussed above, and (68c,d) are problematic for his account:


Participial Relative Clauses

Ackerman and Goldberg discuss close variants in which the difference resides in the presence or the absence of an adverb:


Participial Relative Clauses


Participial Relative Clauses

Ackerman and Goldberg argue that the participle must be sufficiently informative. Example (69a) is unacceptable because the information paid is implied by the semantic frame of the noun physician. If the adverb well is added, the participle becomes sufficiently informative. The same kind of explanation is provided for near-synonymous pairs in which the participle slightly differs:


Participial Relative Clauses


Participial Relative Clauses


Participial Relative Clauses


Participial Relative Clauses

In these pairs only the more specific, or more informative verb is preferred. However, as noticed by Elffers, de Haan, and Schermer (2012), scratched does not belong to the semantic frame of head and is thus sufficiently informative, but the combination in (67a) is still unacceptable.

Elffers et al. reinterpret Bolinger’s and Ackerman and Goldberg’s observation as “relevance” and “reconstructability.” In Western cultures, the distinction of scratched heads is not culturally relevant. The addition of lexical material can make the content deficit disappear and can make the modification by the participle relevant within a specific and temporally limited scenario. This explains, according to Elffers et al., why (69b) and (70b) are more acceptable than (69a) and (70a).

The unacceptability of the a-examples in examples (71–74) is, in the view of Elffers et al., due to a lack of reconstructability. The participle gives insufficient guidance to the correct interpretation.

It has to be noticed that the status and internal structure of the participial modifiers is not identical in the examples discussed in this section. As discussed in Section 2.4, according to Embick (2004), post-nominal participles are always eventive, whereas pre-nominal participles are either stative adjectives or resultative adjectives. Stative adjectival participles are the result of lexicalization (see Section 2.3) and are often derived from psych-verbs (surprising, astonished). As stated by Embick, participles prefixed by un are always resultative (see Section 2.4). According to Sleeman (2011), participles that form hyphenated compounds introduced by adverbs such as newly or well are also resultative. In both authors’ view, resultative participles may also be bare. Departing from Embick, Sleeman (2011) claims that pre-nominal participles can also be eventive, and that this is the case for participles modified by the adverb recently in English (see Section 2.4). Along such a line of analysis, restrictions on the use of post-nominal or pre-nominal participles might be due to the fact that a stative or resultative use of a bare participle is not available or that a resultative or eventive reading has to be highlighted by the modification by an adverb.

3. Cross-Linguistic Differences

In English, participial relative clauses can be formed with present participles, passive participles and unaccusative past participles. Transitive active verbs are not allowed. In, e.g., Bulgarian, however, transitive active verbs can be used in past participial clauses (Iatridou, Anagnostopoulou, & Izvorski, 2001; Marvin, 2003):


Participial Relative Clauses

This shows that the properties of the English participial relative clauses are not always shared by other languages. In this section, English will be compared to other languages on some of the points discussed above: the structure of the participial relative clause in Section 3.1 and the position of the participial relative clause in Section 3.2.

3.1. Structure

Whereas Ross’ WHIZ Deletion rule states that participial relative clauses are underlyingly clausal, it has been argued on the basis of some languages other than English that participial relative clauses are rather nominal instead. The motivation comes from Hebrew and Arabic, in which the participial relative clause is introduced by an overt determiner (Siloni, 1995). This is illustrated by the following example from Hebrew:


Participial Relative Clauses

Although the participial phrase is introduced by ha ‘the,’ and can therefore not be analyzed as a finite relative clause introduced by a relative pronoun/complementizer, a distinction that is motivated by several other criteria, Siloni analyzes ha as a complementizer-like determiner, relating the participial clause to the head noun as a modifier. Siloni claims that the choice between a (complementizer-like) determiner and a relative pronoun/complementizer introducing the participial clause is determined by the absence versus presence of tense.

Siloni shows that, apart from the presence of a (complementizer-like) determiner, French present participles (but not passive or past participles) in reduced relative clauses behave like Hebrew modifying participial phrases. That is why she claims that the analysis she proposes for Hebrew (and Standard Arabic, Gulf Arabic and Classical Greek) can be applied to languages such as French, English, and Italian as well, but that in these languages, participial reduced relatives are introduced by a covert determiner instead of a lexically realized one. Like Siloni, Alcázar Estela (2007) argues that, in French, English, and other Romance languages, passive/past participial relative clauses should be analyzed in a different way than present participles, the latter having a more extended structure.

Hazout (2001) claims that, in spite of being introduced by a homophone of the determiner, participial modifiers in Hebrew (and Standard Arabic) are adjectival in nature, mixing with verbal properties of the participle. Like adjectival modifiers they agree in gender, number, and case with the head noun. Another argument in favor of the adjectival nature of participial reduced relative clauses is the compatibility of the participle in Arabic with an adjectival negation marker. Verbal properties of the participle are the licensing of objects, but also the licensing of subjects in Standard Arabic.

Like Siloni (1995), Doron and Reintges (2006) assume that the participial modifier is nominal, although they analyze the introducing element such as ha in Hebrew, as an emphatic marker and not as a determiner. In Doron and Reintges’ analysis, the participial modifier also contains verbal structure, which allows participial relative clauses in for instance Classical Greek and Russian, to contain overt tense or aspect markers. An example is provided by Russian:


Participial Relative Clauses

Doron and Reintges (2006) claim that, in participial relative clauses, tense/aspect can only be expressed in languages in which the tense/aspect marker can be detached from the person feature.

Besides languages in which tense/aspect can be expressed on the participle, Doron and Reintges also distinguish languages in which a non-subject can be relativized. Whereas, in English, Hebrew, and Classical Greek participial clauses, for example, only the subject can be relativized, in languages such as Arabic, Older Egytian, and Turkish, other arguments can also be relativized, which means that the subject can be overtly expressed. According to Doron and Reintges, the possibility to express the subject does not depend on the overt expression of tense/aspect. Whereas in Older Egyptian, Turkish, some Dravidian languages, and in the Bantu language Makhuwa, tense/aspect can be expressed on the participle and non-subjects can be relativized (see Doron & Reintges, 2006, and references therein), in Arabic a non-subject can be relativized although tense/aspect is not expressed on the participle. To do this, Arabic makes use of a resumptive clitic, = ‘her’ in the following example:


Participial Relative Clauses

Doron and Reintges show that in Turkish the subject takes a genitive/possessive form instead of a nominative form (see also Krause, 2001).

In Doron and Reintges’ analysis, the subject-containing participial relative clause has the most elaborate structure, followed by participial relative clauses (tensed or non-tensed), in which only the subject can be relativized. Lexicalized participles have the least amount of structure. However, there is no dependency relation between these structural properties. A participial relative clause can have a subject without expressing tense. Furthermore, although, these structural properties are not overtly expressed in English, this does not mean that English participial relative clauses do not contain them. English participial relative clauses might also be nominal, even though the determiner is not overtly expressed, or bear a tense marker, although not visible.

The structural properties discussed in this section show that participial relative clauses may be less reduced than has been assumed in the literature (see Alcázar Estela, 2007, for a similar distinction between three types of structures, based on the analysis of English, Romance, and Basque). As stated by Belikova (2008), this means that, also in this respect, the notion “reduced relative clause” is a misnomer (cf. Section 2.2). Although it cannot be introduced by a relative pronoun, it can, however, be introduced by a homophone of the determiner/emphatic marker in some languages. In Belikova’s (2008) view, the fact that participial relative clauses often appear in an (apparently) reduced structural form has to do with their nominal character, that is, not allowing a relative pronoun/complementizer.

3.2. Position

In English, participial relative clauses occur both in post-nominal and in pre-nominal position. In post-nominal position, participial clauses can occur bare (79a), accompanied by a modifier (79b), or followed by a complement (79c):


Participial Relative Clauses

Cinque (2010) shows that, among the Germanic languages, German differs from English, because in German post-nominal participles are not allowed:


Participial Relative Clauses

The same holds for Dutch. Although Sleeman (2011) judges (81) marginally acceptable, with bare participles the post-nominal position is completely ungrammatical:


Participial Relative Clauses


Participial Relative Clauses

Lundquist (2008, pp. 208–209) points out that post-nominal participles in Swedish are also marginally acceptable or ungrammatical:


Participial Relative Clauses

Lundquist observes, however, that there is a group of present participles that differs from other present participles in Swedish, in that they easily occur as post-nominal modifiers, assigning structural case to their complement. Lundquist labels this group “prepositional” participles, since they denote a stative, often spatial relation between two objects, in a way similar to prepositions:


Participial Relative Clauses

In pre-nominal position, participial clauses in English can be bare (85a) or can be preceded by a modifier (85b). They cannot, however, be followed by a complement (85c and d):


Participial Relative Clauses

The ungrammaticality of (85c and d) has been attributed to Emonds’ (1976) Right Recursion Constraint on left branches. In pre-nominal position, adjectives or participles cannot be followed by any material:


Participial Relative Clauses

English being an SVO language, (87) is not acceptable either instead of (85c or d):


Participial Relative Clauses

In Germanic SOV languages, however, noun phrases such as (87) are acceptable. The following examples are taken from the SOV languages Dutch (Sleeman, 2011) and German (Rapp, 2001):


Participial Relative Clauses


Participial Relative Clauses

Although Swedish is an SVO language, just like English, pre-nominal participles can be preceded by complements:


Participial Relative Clauses

The Right Recursion Constraint applies to English, Swedish, and to other Germanic languages, but not to Bulgarian. Laskova (2006) shows that, in Bulgarian, pre-nominal participles can be followed by a complement or can be followed by an adverbial. Laskova uses these data in favor of an analysis of pre-nominal participles as verbal.


Participial Relative Clauses


Participial Relative Clauses

In Romance, participial relative clauses only occur in post-nominal position. Cinque (2010) argues that, whereas in English, indirect modifiers, that is, reduced relative clauses, occur in pre-nominal and in post-nominal position, in Italian, they can only be used post-nominally, as in (95a):



Participial Relative Clauses



Participial Relative Clauses


Participial Relative Clauses

In (94) and (95a), the noun (phrase) has raised over the modifier(s) (cf. Section 2.5).

4. Register

Participial relative clauses are often considered to be a reduced form of sentential relative clauses, lacking a relative pronoun and a finite form. Since it has been claimed in the literature that academic writing is structurally more elaborate than speech, shown by longer and more complex sentences, and also more explicit than speech (e.g., Hughes, 1996), it might be expected that in academic writing more relative clauses are used than in speech, and that in academic writing fewer participial relative clauses are used than in speech. However, Biber and Gray (2010) argue that both academic writing and speech are structurally complex, but that, in some ways, conversation is more structurally elaborate than academic writing: finite dependent clauses are much more common in conversation than in academic writing. Academic writing is much more compressed. Non-clausal, phrasal, modifiers are much more frequent in academic writing. Therefore Biber and Gray conclude that academic writing is much more condensed and implicit than speech.

As for the register of academic writing, Gray (2015) investigated the use of finite and non-finite relative clauses in the humanities, social sciences, and hard sciences. Gray (2015, p. 126) shows that finite clauses are more frequent in the humanities, slightly less frequent in the social sciences, and least frequent in the hard sciences. Non-finite relative clauses show the opposite trend: they are generally increasing in frequency when we move from soft to hard disciplines.

Hundt, Denison, and Schneider (2012) demonstrate that the use of post-modifying

ing and –ed clauses in academic writings increases over time: from the 1700s until the 1900s, Hundt et al. counted a steadily increasing number of post-modifying –ing and –ed clauses per million words in academic texts. In the 1900s, their number was higher in American scientific texts than in British texts, whereas in the previous centuries it was the reverse. Hundt et al. observed that, compared to relative clauses, the frequency of participial post-modifying relative clauses in scientific texts (British and American texts combined) from the 1700s until the 1900s augmented, while the frequency of full relative clauses in scientific texts decreased in that period. This is in line with the diachronic compression in syntactic complexity within the noun phrase noticed by Biber and Clark (2002).

5. Acquisition

McKee, McDaniel, and Snedeker (1998) studied the use of relative clauses in English by American children ages 2, 2–3, and, 10. They found that 15% of the elicited relative clause attempts were reduced relative clauses.

Diessel (2004) reports the results of his study on the L1 acquisition of full relative clauses and participial relative clauses in English by four children aged 2–5 years. Diessel observed that relative clauses are infrequent in child speech. He counted 305 finite relative clauses and 95 participial clauses.

Diessel points out that, among the ten first relative clauses produced by each child, 80% are relative clauses attached to the predicate nominal of a copular clause. Of the data covering the whole period of investigation, 50% is of this type:


Participial Relative Clauses


Participial Relative Clauses

Relative clauses that attach to a noun in subject position are very rare. The use of a wh-word is also very rare. In the early data, the gap in the relative clause fulfills the function of subject. The verb used in the relative clause is predominantly intransitive in early child speech.

Among the participial relative clauses, 87.5% are attached to the predicate nominal of a copular clause or the verb look at:


Participial Relative Clauses


Participial Relative Clauses


Participial Relative Clauses

The children do not produce participial relative clauses attached to a noun in subject position. Diessel notices that past participial relative clauses are relatively rare in his data; their occurrence is restricted to a few highly routinized forms (e.g., a doggy named Skipper).

Diessel explains his findings by means of the notion of complexity. He states that presentational sentences consisting of a copular verb and a predicate nominal containing a relative clause could be replaced by simple sentences:


Participial Relative Clauses


Participial Relative Clauses

The early child data mainly consist of this type of presentational sentences. The percentage of complex sentences containing a relative clause attached to an object or to an isolated noun increases when the child grows older. This also holds for the use of transitive verbs and object gaps.

That complexity plays an important role in L1 acquisition is also suggested by Biber, Gray, and Poonpon (2011). The scholars propose a developmental progression index of noun phrase complexity based on a comparison between conversation and academic writing in research articles. They found that conversation is more complex with regard to clausal subordination, but that academic writing has a higher degree of noun phrase complexity. In their developmental stages of noun phrase complexity, stage 2 contains attributive adjectives, and stage 3 contains relative clauses. Non-finite –ing and –ed clauses are classified in stage 3.

Not only L1 learners have to learn to make their academic writings nominally complex instead of clausally complex, this has also to be learned by L2 learners. Parkinson and Musgrave (2014) investigated the academic writings of a group of master’s (MA) degree students, L2 learners of English, and of a group of students enrolled in an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) program, preparing the students to enter MA programs. Their findings support the developmental scale of Biber et al. (2011). The MA students produced significantly less pre-nominal adjectives and participial premodifiers than the EAP students, their percentages approaching those reported by Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad, and Finegan (1999) and Biber and Gray (2010) based on their analysis of research publications. The MA students used significantly more –ed participial post-modifiers than the EAP students, the percentage coming close to the percentage of –ed clauses in research publications. The number of –ing participle clauses per 1,000 words in the writings of the MA students was also comparable to the number of these clauses occurring in research publications. Although the EAP students produced a lower percentage of post-modifying –ing clauses than the MA students, the difference was not significant (p = 0.069). Similarly, Granger (1997) found a significant underuse of participle clauses in the academic writing of advanced French-, Dutch-, and Swedish-speaking learners of English.

6. Psychological Research

Since –ed forms are ambiguous between participles and a past tense, their use may give rise to a so-called “garden path effect.” Reading or hearing a sentence such as (103), one may interpret raced as a past tense verb, part of the main clause. Reading or hearing the rest of the sentence one has to come back on this decision, finally interpreting raced as a passive participle, part of a reduced relative clause (Bever, 1970; Lewis & Phillips, 2015; Townsend & Bever, 2001):


Participial Relative Clauses


Participial Relative Clauses

The processing of reduced –ed clauses has been analyzed in experimental psycholinguistic research. For example, it has been investigated if the lexical choices (e.g., Stevenson & Merlo, 1997), frequency (e.g., McKoon & Ratcliff, 2003; Trueswell, 1996), or the linguistic or situational context (e.g., Spivey-Knowlton, Trueswell, & Tanenhaus, 1993) give rise to a garden path effect. Juffs (1998, 2006) and Rah and Adone (2010) show that the garden path effect also holds for L2 learners of English and investigate the role of the L1, showing that it may have an effect on the sensitivity to garden path effects in L2 acquisition.

7. Critical Analysis of the Scholarship

Whereas a few decennia ago, participles were uniformly analyzed as being verbal, the distribution of adjectival passives besides verbal passives, Wasow (1977) paved the way for the recognition of participles as mixed categories that can be verbal or adjectival to various degrees (e.g., Aarts, 2007; Embick, 2004; Kratzer, 1994; Sleeman, 2011).

With respect to the position of participles an important distinction was made by Cinque (1994) between attributive and predicative modifiers, a distinction that was later changed into direct and indirect modification by Cinque (2010). Following Higginbotham (1985), Larson (1998), and Larson and Marušič (2004), Cinque correlates the distinction between direct and indirect modifiers with a difference in interpretation.

An important contribution to the analysis of the relationship between the participial relative clause and the noun was provided by Kayne (1994), who argued that the relationship is not mediated by an empty operator, but that the head noun itself originates as an argument within the relative clause (see also Bianchi,1999).

With respect to the structure of the participial modifier, the analysis of languages such as Hebrew, Arabic, and Older Egyptian have shown that the structure of participial modifiers may be less reduced than what has been assumed in the literature on the basis of English (Belikova, 2008). Furthermore, it has been argued that some languages have more reduced structures than others (Doron & Reintges, 2006) and that passive/past participial relatives might have another structure than present participial relatives (Alcázar Estela, 2007; Siloni, 1995).

We have gained insight into the first and second language acquisition of participial clauses and into their use in academic and oral language throughout the years. Technological developments have allowed insights into the mental processing of participial modifiers. Although a considerable amount of progress has been made, this does not mean that our knowledge of participial modifiers is complete. In the first place, scholars do not always agree with respect to the analysis of participial modifiers, also depending on the theoretical framework they are working in. Kayne’s (1994) noun raising analysis of relative clauses has been criticized by Borsley (1997). Cinque’s (2010) analysis of participles, as indirect modifiers that can occur in English both in pre-nominal and post-nominal position without a difference in interpretation, has been questioned by Sleeman (2011). More research is also needed to investigate the restrictions on the use of participles in pre-nominal and post-nominal position (cf. McIntyre, 2013).

There is no consensus either on the structure of participial reduced relative clauses. Are they nominal (e.g., Siloni, 1995) or adjectival (e.g., Hazout, 2001)? How reduced are they? Is there a difference between passive/past and present participial clauses?

More empirical data are needed to validate the claims that have been made in the literature about the acquisition of participial modifiers and the frequency of their use over time. More sophisticated experiments can validate and expand what the literature has learned us about the processing of participial relative clauses.

Further Reading

Participial relative clauses are discussed in traditional grammars of English, such as in the comprehensive grammars Quirk et al. (1985), Huddleston and Pullum (2002), and Biber et al. (1999). Seminal papers on the interpretation and category of participles are Bolinger (1967), Siegel (1973), Freidin (1975), Wasow (1977), Lieber (1980), Fabb (1984), Higginbotham (1985), and Brekke (1988). Participles in relation to other non-finite adnominal modifiers are analyzed by Sadler and Arnold (1994). Syntactic analyses within the generative framework are provided by Kayne (1994) and Cinque (2010). Doron and Reintges (2006) give a comprehensive overview of parametric differences between languages in the structure of participial modifiers. The interpretation of the pre-nominal participle as opposed to the meaning of the post-nominal participle is analyzed in Larson’s work (e.g., Larson & Takahashi, 2007) and in Cinque (2010, 2014). Restrictions on the use of past participles in the adnominal position are accounted for by Bolinger (1967), Ackerman and Goldberg (1996), and McIntyre (2013). The occurrence of participial relative clauses in different styles has been studied by Biber in numerous works (e.g., Biber et al., 1999). The L1 acquisition of participial clauses has been analyzed by Diessel (2004). For L2 acquisition Parkinson and Musgrave (2014) can be consulted. Seminal works on garden path effects in processing of participial relative clauses are Bever (1970) and Townsend and Bever (2001).

An additional syntactic topic is agreement participle with the head noun in, for example, Romance languages. A seminal paper on this topic is Kayne (1989), who argues that agreement of passive participles in sentences containing a pre-nominal object in French takes place in a way other than agreement with a subject. Agreement in participial relative clauses would be subject agreement. As for adnominal present participles, they do not agree in French, unlike adjectival participles (see, e.g., Helland, 2013).

Additional syntactic literature can also be found in the volume edited by Van de Velde, Sleeman, and Perridon (2014). In this volume, Struckmeier and Kremers (2014) analyze the structure of pre-nominal participial modifiers in German as close to full relative clauses. In the same volume, Niculescu (2014) analyzes a present participle in post-nominal position in Romanian having both verbal (no agreement) and adjectival (introduction by cel) properties, a rarely attested construction, as a mixed category. In another contribution to this volume, Sleeman argues on the basis of a corpus analysis that passive verbal participles in French, also in adnominal position, can be modified by degree adverbs that normally occur with adjectives.

Several papers in the volume edited and introduced by Arche, Fábregas, and Marin (2014) show that adjectival passive participles in various languages may have verbal properties, such as the combination with by-phrases (e.g., Alexiadou, Gehrke, & Schäfer, 2014; Gehrke & Marco, 2014; Gurer, 2014).

Besides typically developing children, children with language impairment have also been studied with respect to the acquisition of relative clauses. Hesketh (2006) shows that, in a narrative task, the production of reduced relative clauses by two groups of English-speaking children with language impairment, ages 6–7 and 8–11, is very high: 72% and 53%, respectively. Reduced relative clauses are preferred above full relative clauses by the children in this task.

Translation of participial relative clauses is also a topic that is discussed in the literature, showing that languages other than English may prefer alternative strategies. One such study is Cosme (2008), in which it is shown, on the basis of a corpus analysis, that English adnominal present participle clauses are translated in 60% of the cases by alternative constructions in French, and in 84% of the cases in Dutch. Adnominal past participle clauses are rendered by equivalent constructions in 62% of the cases in French and in 49% of the cases in Dutch.

The study of new Englishes shows the amount of dialectal variation and ongoing changes in the use of participial relative clauses (e.g., Newbrook, 1998).


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