pro-drop with predicate nominals

David Gil gil at EVA.MPG.DE
Tue Nov 24 14:03:22 UTC 1998

Reading Edith's comments brought home to me that I had not formulated my
original query sufficiently precisely.

Among predicate nominal constructions, it is necessary to distinguish
between those with and those without an intervening copula.  As for
languages, some "pure" languages may have just one type of construction,
whereas other languages may be split (eg. Hungarian, where, if I've got
the facts right, the copula can be omitted only in present indicative
3rd person).

Now for *either* construction, the question can be posed whether the
subject can be omitted -- and if so in what contexts.

My hunch is that the ommisibility of subjects across languages and
constructions would follow the following hierarchy:

verbal predicates >
nominal predicates with copula >
nominal predicates without copula

What this says is:

(1) if a language has all three constructions, and if it can omit
subjects at any point on the hierarchy (in a given context) then it can
omit subjects at all higher points.

Eg. in Hebrew, in which the copula can be omitted in present tense, the
subejct is optional in past tense (a) but obligatory in present tense

(a) (anaHnu) hayinu talmidim
    we be-PAST-1:PL student-PL
(b) anaHnu talmidim
    we student-PL

(2) among "pure" languages (those with either obligatory copula in all
contexts or no copula at all), omission of subject will be more frequent
in languages with copula than in languages without.

But these are just conjectures.  Does anybody have any comments /
references / counterexamples?

In particular, I would be interested in any examples of languages in
which subjects can be ommitted in predicate nominal constructions
without copulas, and in a wider range of contexts than "Knock Knock
Who's there?"


David Gil

Department of Linguistics
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Inselstrasse 22, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany

Telephone: 44-341-9952310
Fax: 44-341-9952119
Email: gil at

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