Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Christina Tortora

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


spatial prepositions, locatives, clitic-doubling, possession, boundedness, Spanish


In this work I investigate the syntax and semantics of two groups of spatial prepositions in Spanish. The first group, which I term “small Ps,” includes forms like bajo ‘under’ (e.g. bajo la mesa ‘under the table’), tras ‘behind’ (e.g. tras la columna ‘behind the column’) and ante ‘front’ (e.g. ante la catedral ‘front the cathedral’). The second group, which I term “big Ps,” is made up of the morphologically-related prepositions debajo ‘DE.under’ (e.g. debajo de la mesa ‘DE.under of the table’), detrás ‘DE.behind’ (e.g. detrás de la columna ‘DE.behind of the column') and delante ‘DE.L.front’ (e.g. delante de la catedral ‘DE.L.front of the cathedral’). In this thesis I describe the different behaviors of the Ps in these two groups, illustrating first and foremost that “small” versus “big” Ps display a series of syntactic and semantic asymmetries, such as the ability (or lack thereof) to take bare nominals; the (un)availability of coordination and adverb intervention; and the (un)bounded interpretation of the nominal (among other differences). I propose that all of these apparently unrelated contrasts can be derived under the hypothesis that “small” versus “big” Ps project different structures. Specifically, I propose that “small” Ps select a single nominal complement, whereas “big” Ps select a more complex “Possessor-Possessum” structure, where the nominal occupies a specifier position, acting as a possessor of a silent PLACE element (in the spirit of Kayne 2004). Finally, I relate the contrast between “small” and “big” Ps to the contrast found with non-clitic doubled structures (e.g. Vi a María ‘saw.1sg A María’) versus their clitic-doubled counterparts (e.g. La vi a María ‘clacc saw.1sg A María’), showing that more abstractly, the syntactic and semantic parallels found across these seemingly unrelated phenomena further support the promise of the present proposal.