UCL Module Catalogue


Introduction To Generative Grammar (PLIN0004)

Key information

Faculty of Brain Sciences
Teaching department
Division of Psychology and Language Sciences
Credit value
This is a year-long compulsory module and is only to be taken by Linguistics students in their first year.

Alternative credit options

There are no alternative credit options available for this module.


This year-long module introduces students to the scientific study of human language, with special emphasis on sentence structure. This is a compulsory module for the BA Linguistics.

In this module, we ask what sort of knowledge must be attributed to someone who "knows a language" and begin to answer that question by developing some of the essential building blocks of natural language grammars. Teaching is delivered as a mix of lectures (2/week) and backups (1/week). Student learning is based on solving homework problems in groups (2/week).  

The aims of the module are: to introduce students to the scientific study of the structure of sentences; to analyse data sets and formulate appropriate generalisations that characterise them; to discover how such generalisations can be captured by abstract linguistic principles. The module aims to foster an attitude of critical curiosity needed to appreciate, critique, defend, and develop proposals of an abstract, theoretical nature.

By the end of the module students will have solved problem sets concerning the structure of simple and complex clauses, noun phrases, the auxiliary system, subject-auxiliary inversion and wh-movement in English, as well as a series of problem sets concerned with the discovery of invariant constraints regulating the syntax of ‘dependent‘ elements, such as verbs (which select event participants), reflexives (such as ‘herself’, which require an antecedent) and the dependent silent categories left by movement (which must be linked to the moved category). They will be familiar with the following descriptive terminology and analytic tools of syntactic theory: word classes and grammatical categories, subcategorization, constituent structure, tree diagrams, thematic roles, grammatical function, control, raising, movement, binding, syntactic rule. At the end of the course, students will have a basic understanding of the grammatical mechanisms involved in simple declarative sentences and in questions in English and other languages. This should enable them to tackle intermediate work in syntax in year 2. Students will be able to defend their analyses by bringing diagnostic tools to bear directly and indirectly on the analysis. Students will have gained an understanding of the process of developing and defending abstract syntactic theories and will have begun developing a curious and critical stance towards novel data and theoretical claims.)

The module will sharpen students' analytical skills through problem discovery and problem-solving exercises.  The module will also enhance students' ability to work effectively as part of a team. 

Module deliveries for 2020/21 academic year

Intended teaching term: Terms 1 and 2     Undergraduate (FHEQ Level 4)

Teaching and assessment

Mode of study
Methods of assessment
50% Portfolio of coursework
50% Exam (3 hours)
Mark scheme
Numeric Marks

Other information

Number of students on module in previous year
Module leader
Dr Klaus Abels
Who to contact for more information

Last updated

This module description was last updated on 5th March 2020.