The effects of syntactic structure on letter detection in adjacent function words

Seth N. Greenberg, Asher Koriat, Anne Shapiro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the present study, we examined letter detection in very frequent function-word sequences. It has been claimed that such sequences are processed in a unitized manner, thus preempting access to their constituent letters. In contrast, we showed that letter detection in the words for and the (1) was no more difficult when the words appeared in adjacent locations in a sentence (familiar) than when they appeared apart (less familiar sequence) and (2) was contingent upon the words' syntactic roles within the phrase. Thus, letter detection in for was easier when the sequence was separated by a clause boundary than when the words were part of the same clause. The advantage derived from clause separation was strongest when a comma divided clauses. These results challenge the unitization account of the "missing-letter" effect in common phrases and support a position where this phenomenon is seen to reflect the extraction of phrase structure during reading.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)663-670
Number of pages8
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1992

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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