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Wh-in-situ is a wh-element which has not been moved overtly. In some languages (Japanese for instance), all wh-elements appear in situ; in languages with overt movement of one wh-element (like English), the other wh-elements stay in situ.


what in (i) cannot move because its landing site is taken by who.

(i)  I wonder who has bought what?

There is a debate as to what mechanism is responsible for the interpretation of wh-elements in situ. Maybe what in (i) is fronted and adjoined to the embedded clause at LF. This operation is called Wh-raising (in contradistinction to wh-movement, or QR (of non-wh operators)). Another approach is to interpret wh-in-situ without LF-movement, via choice functions. Cases of wh-in-situ are not to be confused with echo-questions like John bought WHAT?: here what's landing site has not been taken by another wh-element.



  • Chomsky, N. 1986b. Barriers, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.
  • Chomsky, N. 1981. Lectures on Government and Binding, Foris, Dordrecht.
  • Lasnik, H. and M. Saito 1992. Move alpha: conditions on its application and output, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.
  • May, Robert 1985. Logical form, MIT Press
  • Reinhart, T. 1993. Wh-in-situ in the framework of the Minimalist Program, OTS Working papers in linguistics, Utrecht University.
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