Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 543–592 | Cite as

Unagreement is an illusion

Apparent person mismatches and nominal structure
  • Georg F. K. HöhnEmail author


This paper proposes an analysis of unagreement, a phenomenon involving an apparent mismatch between a definite third person plural subject and first or second person plural subject agreement observed in various null subject languages (e.g. Spanish, Modern Greek and Bulgarian), but notoriously absent in others (e.g. Italian, European Portuguese). A cross-linguistic correlation between unagreement and the structure of adnominal pronoun constructions suggests that the availability of unagreement depends on whether person and definiteness are hosted by separate heads (in languages like Greek) or bundled on a single head (i.e. pronominal determiners in languages like Italian). Null spell-out of the head hosting person features high in the extended nominal projection of the subject leads to unagreement. The lack of unagreement in languages with pronominal determiners results from the interaction of their syntactic structure with the properties of the vocabulary items realising the head encoding both person and definiteness. The analysis provides a principled explanation for the cross-linguistic distribution of unagreement and suggests a unified framework for deriving unagreement, adnominal pronoun constructions, personal pronouns and pro.


Unagreement Subset control Pronominal determiners Adnominal pronouns Person mismatch Nominal structure Distributed Morphology Modern Greek 



This research originated from my UCL master’s thesis supervised by Andrew Nevins and the significant modifications and improvements it has undergone since were funded by the European Research Council Advanced Grant No. 269752 “Rethinking Comparative Syntax”. A special thank you to Ad Neeleman for recommending unagreement as a research topic. I am indebted to my language consultants for sharing their linguistic intuitions with me and to the many people who helped me with their comments or by providing relevant material, i.a. Klaus Abels, Rusudan Asatiani, Ioanna Balamoti, András Bárány, Hagit Borer, Cinzia Campanini, João Costa, Emilia Dimitrova, Carmen Dobrovie-Sorin, Maia Duguine, Ricardo Etxepare, Javier Fernández Sánchez, Ion Giurgea, Aritz Irurtzun, George Hewitt, Concha Höfler, Anders Holmberg, Gianina Iordachioaia, Beste Kamali, Katerina Danae Kandylaki, Vital Kazimoto, Thomas Leu, Giuseppe Longobardi, Cristina Isabel López Sanjurjo, Eleni Malideli, Simona Mancini, Nikoleta Mukareva, Andrew Nevins, Eleana Nikiforidou, Phoevos Panagiotidis, Konstantinos Papadopoulos, Marko Perić, Aurelio Romero Bermúdez, Anna Roussou, Andrés Saab, Giuseppina Silvestri, Ioanna Sitaridou, Sapfo Sitaridou, Stavros Skopeteas, Vassilis Spyropoulos, Melita Stavrou, Konstantinos Tsaltas, Arhonto Terzi, Julio Villa-García, Philipp Weisser and Christos Zarkogiannis. I am particularly obliged to Dimitris Michelioudakis for detailed discussions of various aspects of the phenomenon, to Melita Stavrou for written comments on an early version of the manuscript and to Theresa Biberauer, Ian Roberts and Michelle Sheehan for their support throughout the production of this article. Last but not least, I am very grateful to three anonymous NLLT reviewers whose detailed comments have helped greatly to improve the article. All remaining shortcomings are my own.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CambridgeCambridgeUnited Kingdom

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