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Government is a structural relation between a governor (a head or maximal projection) and a governee. Government is usually considered to be a necessary condition for case-marking and for proper government (see ECP). A range of near-identical definitions have been proposed, with slightly different empirical predictions in these and other areas. (i) is a typical example of such a definition.

(i) alpha governs beta iff alpha c-commands beta
    and there is no barrier for beta that excludes alpha

The core case of government is the relation between a head and its complement; this case is captured by every existing definition. Thus, in (ii),

(ii)	XP
  	| \
	X  YP
 	  / |
        ZP  Y'
            | \
            Y  WP
	      / |
            UP	W'

X governs its complement YP, hence can case-mark it (if X is a case-assigning head) and properly govern it (if X is a lexical head). Depending on the definition of barrier, X may or may not govern ZP (with possible consequences for the treatment of Exceptional Case Marking). The definition of government will usually exclude X governing UP (allowing UP to be an (ungoverned) PRO subject), but sometimes allows ZP to govern UP (allowing ZP to properly govern UP, if they are coindexed). The c-command (sometimes m-command) clause prevents W from governing ZP, with consequences for the proper government of subjects.


Utrecht Lexicon of Linguistics


  • Aoun, Y. & D. Sportiche 1983. On the formal theory of Government, The Linguistic Review 2/3, pp. 211-236
  • Chomsky, N. 1986b. Barriers, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.
  • Chomsky, N. 1981. Lectures on Government and Binding, Foris, Dordrecht.