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Professor Wasow's interests include English syntax, psycholinguistics, and philosophy of linguistics. Much of his research investigates what leads people to formulate a sentence one way, when there is another way of saying the same thing. In particular, he explores alternative word orders allowable in English and the use of the words "that" and "to" where they are optional, making use of annotated corpora of speech and writing. This has led him to some general conclusions about language production strategies that facilitate communicative efficiency.

Wasow has served on the editorial boards of a range of academic journals, including recent terms as an associate editor for both Cognitive Science and Language.
Wasow is a professor in both the linguistics and philosophy departments, and affiliated with the Symbolic Systems Program. He joined the Stanford faculty in 1973, after getting his Ph.D. in linguistics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1972. He is currently the chair of the Linguistics Department, and a Bass Fellow in Undergraduate Education. In 1983, he helped create the Center for the Study of Language and Information, a research center that studies how intelligent agents (both biological and artificial) process and use information, serving as its director from 1986-1987 and 2006-2007. He also led the establishment of the Symbolic Systems program, which he directed from 1992-2000 and 2001-2005.
Additionally, Wasow has been an active member of the Stanford administration, having served as the Dean of Undergraduate Studies and Associate Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences (both 1987-1991), the Associate Dean of Graduate Policy (1996-2000), Chair of the Faculty Senate (2003-2004), and President of Stanford’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter (2003-2006). In 1996, he received the Rhodes Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, and, in 2004, he received the Lloyd W. Dinkelspiel Prize for distinctive contributions to undergraduate education. He also served as Stanford's representative on the Coalition of Intercollegiate Athletics for many years.
Wasow is passionate about the issue of poverty in America, and serves on the Board of Directors of a nonprofit organization providing low-income housing and a variety of social and health services to needy people in the area. He previously served on a City of Palo Alto Task Force on Homelessness and on the Advisory Board of Urban Ministry of Palo Alto.

Key works

"A Corpus-driven Analysis of the Do-Be Construction" with Dan Flickinger. in The Core and the Periphery: Data-Driven Perspectives on Syntax Inspired by Ivan A. Sag, eds., Philip Hofmeister and Elisabeth Norcliffe 35-63. CSLI Publications, 2013

"The Appeal of the PDC Program" Frontiers in Language Sciences. 2013

"Performance-Compatible Competence Grammar" with I. Sag. Non-Transformational Syntax: Formal and Explicit Models of Grammar, eds Robert D. Borsley and Kersti Börjars. 359-377. Wiley-Blackwell, 2011

"Intensive and Quotative All: Something Old, Something New." With John R. Rickford, Isabelle Buchstaller, and Arnold Zwicky. American Speech 82.1.3-31, 2007

Syntactic Theory: A Formal Introduction, 2nd Edition. With I. Sag & E. Bender. Center for the Study of Language and Information (CSLI) Publications, 2003

Postverbal Behavior. Center for the Study of Language and Information (CSLI) Publications, 2002

Anaphora in Generative Grammar. Story-Scientia, 1979

Prof. Wasow in the News

Palo Alto Online, June 12, 2007
Stanford Report, October 31, 2007
Stanford Report, June 16, 2007


  • Cognitive Science
  • English Syntax
  • Grammar
  • Language Processing
  • Linguistic Methodology
  • Linguistics
  • Philosophy of Linguistics
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Syntactic Theory
  • Theory of Grammar

Contact information

Bldg 460, Rm 030B


Department Profile


B.A., Reed College, 1967
Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1972