Friday, May 25, 2012

Two-Step Tough Movement?

The proper syntactic analysis of tough movement, illustrated in (2) below, has long been a matter of debate:

(1) It is difficult to get a handle on tough movement.
(2) Tough movement is difficult to get a handle on.

In (2), an object is missing within the non-finite clause, and this gap is related to the NP that appears in the matrix subject position. The NP in the matrix subject position in (2) takes the place of the expletive in (1), where there is no gap.

All analyses agree that the matrix subject in (2) needs to be related to the gap inside the non-finite clause. The point of debate is the nature of this relation. Early analyses, such as object deletion and one-step movement, have been discarded, since Chomsky (1977) showed that tough-movement has all the properties of successive-cyclic A-bar movement. Current analyses can be divided into two categories: those that posit base-generation of the matrix subject, relating it to a null operator that undergoes A-bar movement within the embedded clause (Chomsky 1977, 1981); and those that hypothesize two-step movement of the matrix subject: A-bar movement to the edge of the lower clause, followed by A-movement to the matrix subject position (e.g., Hicks 2009). This second type of analysis has to reject or reformulate the generally assumed ban on improper movement, which rules out A-bar movement followed by A-movement; or it has to hypothesize some way to get around that ban (Hicks 2009).

The two analyses make very different predictions concerning reconstruction effects and other diagnostics of movement. The null operator analysis says that the matrix subject never occupied a position in the embedded clause; it therefore predicts that it will never be able to reconstruct, and should fail diagnostics of movement. The two-step movement theory, in contrast, says that the matrix subject started out in the embedded clause, and so should be able to reconstruct, and should pass other diagnostics of movement.

Pesetsky (1987, 2012) presents data that he argues show that the matrix subject in tough movement can reconstruct for anaphor binding. The following examples are from Pesetsky (2012):

(3) [This aspect of herself] is easy [for Mary to criticize].
(4) [This side of herself] was tough [for John to get Mary to deal with].
(5)*[This aspect of herself] is easy [for [Mary's father] to criticize].
(6)*[This side of herself] was tough [for John to get [Mary's father] to deal with].

Pesetsky presents (5-6) as controls, to show that c-command is necessary for reconstruction and binding to go through.

The problem, though, is that this aspect of herself and this side of herself are picture-NPs. Anaphors inside picture-NPs are known to be exempt from the Binding Conditions, and subject instead to pragmatic phenomena like perspective (Pollard and Sag 1992, Reinhart and Reuland 1993). Pesetsky's examples in (5-6) are ungrammatical not because the intended antecedent does not c-command the anaphor, but because the animate NP father competes with Mary for perspective. Compare the following pair:

(7)*Clinton's wife carried a picture of himself in her purse.
(8) Clinton's car carried a picture of himself on the roof. (Hestvik and Philip 2001)

Wife competes with Clinton for perspective, decreasing the acceptability of the exempt anaphor taking Clinton as the perspective holder that provides its reference in (7). Since Clinton is in a less prominent position (it is only a possessor, while Clinton's wife is the matrix subject and topical), it is difficult to understand the perspective in (7) to be that of Clinton. In contrast, with an inanimate in (8), there is no other potential perspective holder, and the exempt anaphor can take Clinton as the holder of perspective to which it refers. Note that animacy makes no difference to an anaphor in argument position, which strictly requires a c-commanding antecedent:

(9)*Clinton's car backfired/collapsed/exploded behind himself. (Hestvik and Philip 2001)

To show whether c-command is necessary for reconstruction in Pesetsky's tough movement examples, then, we need to use inanimate NPs, or non-specific NPs that do not compete as perspective takers. When we do that, we see that c-command is not necessary at all:

(10) This side of herself will be easy for Sarah Palin's detractors to use against her.
(11) This aspect of herself was tough for Sarah Palin's autobiography to present in a good light.

This means that the "binding" in Pesetsky's examples is not binding, after all, and does not require that the antecedent c-command the anaphor. That being the case, these examples do not show that there is reconstruction in tough movement.

Reconstruction generally does not seem to take place. There is no reconstruction for Principle C (Pesetsky 2012), and reconstruction for variable binding also does not seem to be generally available (see Hicks 2009). Idiom chunks are not a valid diagnostic for movement, because the ones that can undergo tough movement can also antecede pronouns (and participate in control):

(12) Some strings are harder to pull than others. (Nunberg, Sag, and Wasow 1994)
(13) Kim's family pulled some strings on her behalf, but they weren't enough to get her the job. (Nunberg, Sag, and Wasow 1994)
(14) His closets would be easy to find skeletons in. (Nunberg, Sag, and Wasow 1994)
(15) There are a lot of old skeletons in his closets; there are even some new ones in there too.

Idiom chunks are compatible with the null operator theory: they would simply antecede the null operator, the same way they antecede the pronouns in (13) and (15).

The one diagnostic of movement that seems to be conclusive is expletives. Expletives cannot antecede pronouns, particularly null pronouns like PRO:

(16)*There occurred three more accidents without PRO being any medical help available on the premises. (Haegeman 1994)
(17)*It occurred to me that most people are greedy without PRO bothering me that they are.

If expletives appear displaced from the clause they are licensed in, then, they must have moved there.

It is telling, then, that expletives can never undergo tough movement:

(18)*There is hard to believe to have been a crime committed. (Chomsky 1981)
(cf. I believe there to have been a crime committed.)
(19)*It is impossible to stop from snowing in the Himalayas.
(cf. You can't stop it from snowing in the Himalayas)
(20)*It is difficult to think likely that two-step movement is involved.
(cf. I think it likely that two-step movement is involved.)

Postal (1974, page 199) claims that there is a contraint against multiple raising of expletives. Since most expletives are subjects, and tough movement cannot affect subjects, to test them in tough movement we have to first raise them to an object position in (18-20). They would then violate Postal's constraint: in all three examples, the expletive first raises to object, and then undergoes tough movement.

However, this constraint does not seem to be real. An anonymous reviewer for Language has pointed out numerous examples of multiple raising of expletives on the internet, all of which seem to be acceptable:

(21) UNICEF noted that there appear to continue to be extremely low literacy rates among the poorest 20 percent of the population.
(22) There seem to continue to be problems with the multiple ad presentation.

Since there is no such constraint, if the matrix subject started out in the embedded clause, the examples in (18-20) should all be grammatical. The fact that they are not is expected by the null operator theory, but not by the two-step movement theory.

The general lack of reconstruction effects in tough movement, and the ungrammaticality of tough movement of expletives, favors the null operator theory over the two-step movement theory. It also points to there being a ban on improper movement, since that ban rules out a two-step movement derivation of tough movement, and forces something like the null operator analysis.


Chomsky, Noam (1977), On WH-Movement. In Peter Culicover, Thomas Wasow, and Adrian Akmajian, eds., Formal Syntax, New York: Academic Press, pp. 71–132.

Chomsky, Noam (1981), Lectures on Government and Binding. Dordrecht: Foris.

Hestvik, Arild, and William Philip (2001), Syntactic Vs. Logophoric Binding: Evidence from Norwegian Child Language. In Peter Cole, Gabriella Hermon, and C.-T. James Huang, eds., Long-Distance Reflexives, San Diego: Academic Press, vol. 33 of Syntax and Semantics, pp. 119–139.

Hicks, Glyn (2009), Tough-Constructions and Their Derivation. Linguistic Inquiry 40: 535–566.

Nunberg, Geoffrey, Ivan A. Sag, and Thomas Wasow (1994), Idioms. Language 70: 491–538.

Pesetsky, David (1987), Binding Problems with Experiencer Verbs. Linguistic Inquiry 18: 126–140.

Pesetsky, David (2012), Phrasal Movement and Its Discontents: Diseases and Diagnostics. In Lisa Cheng and Norbert Corver, eds., Diagnostics in Syntax, Oxford: Oxford University Press, to appear.

Pollard, Carl, and Ivan Sag (1992), Anaphors in English and the Scope of the Binding Theory. Linguistic Inquiry 23: 261–303.

Postal, Paul M. (1974), On Raising: One Rule of English Grammar and Its Theoretical Implications. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Reinhart, Tanya, and Eric Reuland (1993), Reflexivity. Linguistic Inquiry 24: 657–720.


  1. Thank you for a clear and very helpful set of remarks on this topic. I am dipping my toe in the tough-movement waters to see if this is an area I'd like to specialize in.

  2. just as a remark: there is a NELS paper by den Dikken/Mulder from 1992 containing some examples with reconstruction for variable binding in tough-movement:
    i. pictures of himself/his wife nude are tough for me to think that any man would like
    It is thus not fully clear whether reconstruction is generally ruled out; things are quite clear with respect to scope, but the absence of scope reconstruction made be due to independent properties of the construction. If you're interested, some of this is addressed in my Syncom-chapter on "prolepsis"