In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Agreement

  • Introduction
  • Foundational Works and Case Studies
  • Textbooks
  • Edited Collections
  • Bibliographies
  • Databases
  • Phi Features
  • Long-Distance Agreement
  • Intervention in Agreement
  • Agreement Restrictions
  • Clitic Doubling
  • Sign Languages
  • Proposed Correlates of Agreement
  • Agreement and Agreement-Like Morphology on Nonverbal Categories
  • Complementizer Agreement
  • The Interaction of Agreement and Scope
  • Semantic Agreement
  • Agreement Resolution in Coordinations
  • Recruiting Agreement as an Explanation of Other Phenomena

Linguistics Agreement
Omer Preminger
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0118


Agreement is a phenomenon in natural language in which the form of one word or morpheme covaries with the form of another word or phrase in the sentence. For example, in the English sentence John walks Fido every morning, the form of “walks” is conditioned by features of the subject, “John.” This can be seen by replacing “John” with an element whose relevant features are different, as in We walk Fido every morning, which results in a change in the form of “walks” to “walk” (or alternatively, a change of “-s” to an empty morpheme, Ø). Agreement is perhaps the quintessential morphosyntactic phenomenon, since it involves the morphological expression of a relation that most researchers take to be a syntactic one (though not entirely without dissent; see Morphologically Oriented Approaches). In contemporary linguistic literature, the term agreement is (somewhat unfortunately) used to refer alternately to the phenomenon itself, and to the hypothesized grammatical mechanism that gives rise to it. Unless otherwise noted, the term will be used here in the theory-neutral, descriptive sense only. Another point of terminological variability concerns the identity of the grammatical elements that enter into agreement. Canonically, the term is used to describe morphological covariance between some verbal element in a clause (typically, the bearer of tense/mood/aspect morphology) and a nominal argument in the same clause; but the term has also been used to describe many other pairings of covarying elements (e.g., nominals and their adjectival modifiers, nouns and their possessors, pre-/postpositions and their complements, etc.; and more recently, sequence-of-tense effects, pronouns and their antecedents, and even the relationship between multiple negative elements in a single clause; see Recruiting Agreement as an Explanation of Other Phenomena). Agreement is cross-linguistically very common; at the same time, languages of the world can differ quite dramatically in the amount of agreement morphology they exhibit. On one end of the scale, a language like Mandarin has nary any canonical agreement to speak of; while languages like Abkhaz, Basque, Icelandic, and others exhibit robust patterns of agreement between verbs and their arguments, nouns and their modifiers, and so forth.

Foundational Works and Case Studies

Isolating the list of works that should be considered “foundational” in any given field or sub-field is obviously a highly subjective matter, where consensus can be difficult (if not impossible) to find; nevertheless, these works hopefully represent some, if not all, of the works on agreement that would deserve such designation (see also Chomsky 2000 and Chomsky 2001, both cited under Probe-Goal). Moravcsik 1978 is a pioneering typological examination of agreement across a large typological sample. George and Kornfilt 1981, Fassi Fehri 1988, Bobaljik 1995, Chung 1998, and Rackowski and Richards 2005 are ostensibly case studies on agreement in particular languages (or language families), but have proven quite influential and important to the development of the theory of agreement in general. Schütze 1997 brings together research on agreement in the adult language with the study of language acquisition. Anagnostopoulou 2003 is an innovative case study on how agreement (as well as Clitic Doubling) can inform one’s understanding of the syntax of a particular construction, in this case the ditransitive verb phrase. Wechsler and Zlatić 2003 presents a theory of agreement situated within the head-driven phrase structure grammar (HPSG) and lexical-functional grammar (LFG) frameworks, paying particular attention to discourse phenomena, as well as Agreement Resolution in Coordinations.

  • Anagnostopoulou, Elena. 2003. The syntax of ditransitives: Evidence from clitics. Berlin: de Gruyter.

    This detailed exploration of the interaction of clitics and agreement in the domain of ditransitives (and their interaction with passivization/raising), based primarily on data from Greek and Romance languages, has also paved the way for a considerable amount of research at the juncture of agreement and clitic doubling.

  • Bobaljik, Jonathan David. 1995. Morphosyntax: The syntax of verbal inflection. PhD diss., Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    A comprehensive treatment of the morphosyntax of Germanic inflectional systems, couched in distributed morphology (DM; see Noyer 1997, cited under Morphologically Oriented Approaches; and Morris Halle and Alex Marantz, 1963, “Distributed Morphology and the Pieces of Inflection,” in The View from Building 20: Essays in Linguistics in Honor of Sylvain Bromberger, edited by Kenneth L. Hale, Samuel Jay Keyser, and Sylvain Bromberger, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 111–176). While not exclusively about agreement (but rather, inflection more generally), this work is quite seminal in establishing the division of labor between morphology and syntax when it comes to formal treatments of agreement within a minimalist/DM framework.

  • Chung, Sandra. 1998. The design of agreement: Evidence from Chamorro. Chicago: Chicago Univ. Press.

    In this thorough investigation of agreement in Chamorro (Malayo-Polynesian), Chung challenges and refines certain aspects of the standard minimalist treatment of agreement, suggesting that what we conceive of as agreement should in fact be broken down into two separate relations: one responsible for entering two syntactic elements into a formal relation with one another, and a second that is responsible for the actual morphological covariance (where observed).

  • Fassi Fehri, Abdelkader. 1988. Agreement in Arabic, binding and coherence. In Agreement in natural language: Approaches, theories, descriptions. Edited by Michael Barlow and Charles A. Ferguson, 107–158. Stanford, CA: Center for the Study of Language and Information.

    A study in the agreement patterns found in Arabic, particularly relevant for agreement asymmetries in SV versus VS word orders (see also Agreement Resolution in Coordinations).

  • George, Leland, and Jaklin Kornfilt. 1981. Finiteness and boundedness in Turkish. In Binding and filtering. Edited by Frank Heny, 105–129. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    A groundbreaking work on Turkic syntax in general, this paper includes some of the first detailed formal analysis of agreement within the nominal domain.

  • Moravcsik, Edith A. 1978. Agreement. In Universals of human language. Vol. 4, Syntax. Edited by Joseph H. Greenberg, 331–374. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

    One of the earliest large-scale typological surveys on universals, tendencies, and markedness hierarchies in the behavior of agreement cross-linguistically. Advances the thesis that the processes that create agreement markers and those that create pronouns are intrinsically similar (a thesis that is resumed in much of the more recent work on clitic doubling).

  • Rackowski, Andrea, and Norvin Richards. 2005. Phase edge and extraction: A Tagalog case study. Linguistic Inquiry 36:565–599.

    DOI: 10.1162/002438905774464368

    Though its name does not immediately reveal it, this paper is a case study on the interaction of verbal agreement in Tagalog with the syntax of long-distance extraction, providing an intriguing perspective on the oft expressed intuition that certain kinds of agreement are necessary precursors to certain kinds of syntactic movement.

  • Schütze, Carson T. 1997. INFL in child and adult language: Agreement, case, and licensing. PhD diss., Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    A proposal regarding the interaction of case, agreement, tense, and the licensing of subjects, based on data both from adult language and from language acquisition.

  • Wechsler, Steven, and Larisa Zlatić. 2003. The many faces of agreement. Stanford, CA: Center for the Study of Language and Information.

    A comprehensive theory of agreement couched within a hybrid HPSG/LFG framework. One of the central empirical issues brought to bear is how agreement with gender-mismatched conjuncts is resolved (see also Agreement Resolution in Coordinations).

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