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Abstract Hoffmann

Preposition stranding in English: What does a Construction Grammar explanation look like?

An interesting area of syntactic variation within the English language is the placement of prepositions. As the following examples show, English has two types of constructions in which a preposition occurs without an overt complement ("preposition stranding"): those in which the preposition can alternatively appear in front of the co-indexed phrase ("pied piping", cf. 1b) or those where stranding is obligatory (cf. 2b).


a. Whati will he talk abouti?

b. [About what]i will he talki


a. Strandingi has been talked abouti enough

b.*[About stranding]i has been talkedi enough

From a cognitive perspective it would obviously be appealing if the distribution of stranded prepositions in English could be captured by a single "stranded preposition" construction (cf. Goldberg 2003). Drawing on empirical data (i.e. a GOLDVARB-analyis of data from the British English component of the International Corpus of English and an on-line Magnitude Estimation experiment), I will argue for such a construction and present its lexical constraints. Furthermore, I will show that in constructions where there is a choice between stranding and pied piping, the processing complexity of a construction (as defined by Hawkins 2004) can account for apparently idiosyncratic effects. Finally, however, I will also present evidence that certain idiosyncratic effects require larger, clause-type specific constructions (e.g. for wh-relative clauses).



Goldberg, Adele E. 2003. ”Constructions: A new theoretical approach to language”. TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences 7,5:219-224.

John A. Hawkins. 2004. Efficiency and Complexity in Grammars. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sag, Ivan A. 1997. ”English relative clause constructions”. Journal of Linguistics 33:431-484.