Why You Can't Do So Into The Sink

Lakoff, Ross 1976

Lakoff and Ross propose a test for determining whether a phrase is VP-internal or not:

  • The phrase "do so" must be subsituted for a complete (nonstative) verb phrase. Thus, elements that may occur after "do so" are outside the VP; and elements that cannot occur after "do so" are inside it.

For example, time adverbials are outside the VP:

  1. John took a trip last Tuesday, and I'm going to do so tommorow.

But directional adverbs are inside the VP:

  1. John loaded a sack onto the truck, and I did so, too.
  2. * John loaded a sack onto the truck, and I did so onto the wagon.

Applying this test to a variety of cases, he makes the following conclusions:

  • Inside the VP:



    Direct Object

    John took the exam.

    Indirect object

    John gave a book to Pete.

    Directional adverb

    John loaded a sack onto a truck.

  • Outside the VP:



    Time adverbial

    John left yesterday.


    John ate because he was hungry.


    He will leave if she comes.

    Manner adverbial

    He flies carefully.

    Duration adverbial

    He worked for an hour.

    Frequency adverbial

    He worked once a year.

    Instrumental adverbial

    It was destroyed with bombs.

    Means adverbial

    It was destroyed by bombing.

    Purpose adverbial

    He did it to impress you.

    For someone's sake

    He did it for your sake.


    He arrived with Mary.

    Instead of

    He ran instead of walking.


    He ran without tripping.

It is worth noting that all but the first 3 outside-the-vp elements had previously been thought by Chomsky and others to be inside the verb phrase.


  author =       {George Lakoff and John Robert Ross},
  title =        {Why You Can't Do So into the Sink},
  booktitle =    {Notes from the Linguistic Underground},
  pages =        {101-111},
  publisher =    {Academic Press},
  year =         1976,
  editor =       {James D. McCawley},
  volume =       7,
  series =       {Syntax and Semantics},
  address =      {New York}