Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 403–450 | Cite as

The case of PRO

  • Halldór Ármann SigurðssonEmail author
Original Paper


Icelandic case agreement suggests that nominative case is active in PRO infinitives in much the same way as in finite clauses, thus posing a difficult and a long-standing problem for generative (GB and minimalist) case theory and the PRO Theorem. In this article, I examine the Icelandic facts in detail, illustrating that the unmarked and common nominative morphology in Icelandic PRO infinitives is regular structural nominative morphology, suggesting that PRO cannot be reduced to a copy. What went wrong in the GB approach to PRO was not PRO itself but the binding theoretic and ‘Case’ theoretic conception of it. PRO is an empty category that is simultaneously a reference variable (like overt pronouns and anaphors) and a phi-feature variable (unlike overt expressions). Due to this unique combination of variable properties, PRO cannot be deduced from other traits of grammar, such as movement, nor can it possibly be lexicalized. Importantly, also, the facts studied here suggest that case is a post-syntactic category, assigned in morphology. In contrast, Person is evidently a syntactically active category, having some of the properties and effects that have commonly been attributed to ‘Case’.


Agreement Case Case transmission Control Icelandic Person PRO 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.SOL, Centre for Language and LiteratureLund UniversityLundSweden

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