This document provides a description of the format of dependency structures that are used as the input for the Alpino chart generator. Dependency structures describe grammatical dependency relations between lexical items, and the constituents dominating over lexical items. Since dependency structures for generation can contain less information than dependency trees that are produced as a side effect of parsing, we call them abstract dependency trees (ADTs).

While different input formalisms have been proposed for sentence realization in the past, such as minimal recursion semantics (MRS), we have chosen to use a different input format that describes the grammatical dependencies of the to-be generated sentence. The rationale for this format is:

  • ADTs can be derived from (Alpino) dependency trees with ease.

  • Most other input formalisms would require rather extensive changes to the lexicon and grammar.

  • Prior work with Alpino dependency trees has shown that (abstract) dependency trees provide sufficient abstraction for tasks where a generation component is desired.

This document describes the format of ADTs, including the representation of ADTs as Prolog terms and XML documents. The procedure for deriving an ADT from a normal Alpino dependency tree is also described.

ADT is an abstraction of the dependency structure format of Alpino (and the Lassy corpora). The Lassy Annotation Manual is therefore required in combination with the present document in order to understand the representation in full detail.



An abstract dependency is a directed acyclic graph that models the grammatical relations between lexical items and categories built from lexical items. The generator creates realizations for abstract dependency trees that describe at least one possible sentence. An abstract dependency tree can consist of four node types:

  • Category (interior) nodes.

  • Lexical (leaf) nodes.

  • Indexed nodes.

  • Reference nodes.

Edges between nodes have a dependency label, where hd indicates the head of a grammatical relation. Figure [dtree] shows a dependency tree for the sentence "De boeken kosten ons een klein fortuin". For interior nodes, the dependency label is shown as the first element, and the category as the second.

Figure 1. Dependency tree for "De boeken kosten ons een klein fortuin"

Possible dependency labels are listed in [deplabels]. In the following sections, the node types will be described in more detail.

TableDependency labels
Dependency label Description
app apposition
body body (with complementizer)
cmp complementizer
cnj conjunct
crd coordinator
det determiner
dlink discourse-link
dp discourse-part
hd head
hdf closing element of a circumposition
ld locative or directional complement
me measure phrase complement
mod modifier
mwp part of a multi-word-unit
nucl nucleus discourse unit
obcomp object of comparative
obj1 direct object
obj2 secondary object (indirect object, . . .)
pc prepositional complement
pobj1 provisional direct object
predc predicative complement
predm predicative modifier
rhd head of a relative clause
sat satellite discourse unit
se inherently reflexive complement
su subject
sup provisional subject
svp separable verb particle
tag discourse tag
vc verbal complement
whd head of wh-question


All nodes are associated with a category. All possible categories are listed in table [categories]. Note that this is different from Alpino dependency structures, in which only interior nodes are associated with a category.

TableCategory labels
Category label Description
ap adjective phrase
advp adverb phrase
ahi aan het-infinitive group
conj conjunction
cp phrase started by a subordinating conjunction
detp word group with a determiner as the head
du discourse unit
inf bare infinitive group
np noun phrase
oti om te-infinitive-group
ppart passive/perfect participle
pp prepositional phrase
ppres present participle group
rel relative clause
smain declarative sentence (verb at the second position)
ssub Subordinate clause (verb final)
svan van-sentence
sv1 verb-initial sentence (yes/no question, imperatives)
ti te-infinitive group
whrel relative clause with embedded antecedent
whsub embedded question
whq WH-question

Lexical nodes

Lexical nodes are leaf nodes that provide an abstracted representation for (surface) words. As a minimum a lexical node should specify:

  • The word sense. The sense of a word is the root of a word, possibly with additional information to select for a specific reading.

  • An Alpino part of speech tag.

  • A set of attribute/value pairs.

Part of speech tags and possible attributes are discussed in more detail below.

Alpino part of speech tags

Table [postags] lists all possible Alpino part of speech tags for lexical items.

TablePOS tags
Tag Meaning
adj Adjective
adv Adverb
comp Complementizer
comparative Comparative
det Determiner
fixed Fixed part of a fixed expression
name Name
noun Noun
num Number
part Particle
pron Pronoun
prep Preposition
punct Punctuation
verb Verb
vg Conjunction


In addition to the Alpino part of speech tag, some additional information is normally required to determine the semantics embodied by an ADT. In particular, the number for nouns, and the tense and inflection for verbs should be known.

  • The number of a noun may be specified with the rnum attribute, which can have one of the following values: sg, pl. If the attribute is not specified, the generator will attempt to produce both singular and plural variants for this noun.

  • The tense of the (finite) verb should be specified with the tense attribute, which can have one of the following values: present, past, subjunctive. If the attribute is not specified, the generator will attempt to produce both present and past tense, but not subjunctive.

  • The sentence type can be specified using the attribute stype associated with the head of the sentence (the finite verb). Possible values are ynquestion, whquestion, declarative, imparative, topic_drop. If the attribute is not specified, the generator will attempt to generate any sentence type.

  • Pronominals can be associated with the attributes per, def and refl to indicate person, reduction, definiteness and reflexiveness. The attribute def has values def, indef. The attribute per has values fir, je, thi, u, u_thi. The attribute refl has a single possible value refl. The attribute wk has a single attribute yes to indicate that the pronominal is in reduced form (as in we versus wij, me versus mij, etc.). If the attributes are not given, the generator will attempt to generate all consistent pronominals.

  • Adjectives can be associated with the attribute aform with values base, compar and super to differentiate neutral, comparative and superlative adjectives. If the attribute is not given, the generator will attempt to generate with any of the forms.

  • The attribute pron=true can be associated with determiners to distinguish, for example, iedere and ieders. If the attribute is not specified, the generator will only use lexical entries which do not have pron=true.

  • Names can be associated with the attribute neclass with values 'LOC', 'PER', 'ORG', and 'MISC' . Unfortunately, the single quotes are currently part of the value.

  • The attribute personalized=true is used to distinguish nominalized adjectives as in "de snelste" versus "de snelsten". If the attribute is not given, then only lexical entries are used by the generator which do not have personalized=true.

  • The attribute iets=true is associated with adjectives to distinguish "iets lekkers" from "lekkere iets". If the attribute is not given, then only lexical entries are used by the generator which do not have iets=true.

Currently, the category, relation name, and postag must be specified for any category.

Some attributes need to be specified in the input, in order that Alpino will allow corresponding lexical entries to be considered for generation. These attributes are:


TODO: table of attributes with allowed values

TODO: table of attributes with default values

Index nodes

Indexed nodes are nodes associated with a specific index so that the node can be referred to by a reference node. For instance, in the sentence Ik heb de trein gemist both ik-heb and ik-gemist have a subject-head relation, while gemist is the head of a vc of heb. To allow for such representations, co-indexation is required.

Reference nodes

Reference nodes only have an index, and no additional content nor sub-structure. The additional content can be found at the Index node with the same index.


The current assumption is, that no punctuation is specified in the ADT. The generator will add a minimum amount of obligatory punctuation for a given ADT.

Separable Verb Prefixes

To allow for an abstract description of verbs that have a separable particle, it is allowed to omit particles with the svp relation in an ADT. If such particles are not included as nodes in the ADT, the generator will attempt both to generate sentences with a separate particle as in ik bel hem op and a sentences in which the particle is not separated as in omdat ik hem opbel.

ADT formats


An ADT can be stored as a Prolog term that consists of recursive tree terms. The basic format is:


Where Relation is a relation term, and Daughters is a list of daughter nodes, or the empty list for leaf nodes. A relation has the following form:


Type indicates the type of relation, such as su, obj1, or mod. The label comes in four types: interior nodes, leaf nodes, index nodes and reference nodes. An interior node uses a p/1 term, for instance,


is a node of the category ppart with a vc relation.

Lexical nodes use a adt_lex/5 term as their label:


Here the category, root, sense, POS tag, and attributes of a lexical item are noted. The sense of a lexical item can contain additional information about a lexical item to select for a specific reading. For instance, for words with fixed parts, the fixed parts are often listed in the sense. E.g. the sense of rood aanlopen is rood-loop_aan. The sense can be omitted by replacing it with a variable (e.g., _).

This is an example of a lexical node:


This describes a noun with the root trein and an attribute (rnum=sg) with the head (hd) relation.

An index node is represented as:


where Label is an interior node or a leaf node.

Reference nodes are represented by


For instance, we can refer to




Combined, we can construct ADTs as Prolog terms for all grammatical sentences. E.g., the ADT term for the sample discussed above is:



ADTs can also be represented as XML documents to allow for easy querying and manipulation outside the Alpino environment.

The dependency tree is represented in XML as a recursive structure of node elements. Each node has an identifier (id) and relation (rel). Category nodes have a cat attribute that specifies the category. For instance:

<node cat="ppart" id="4" rel="vc">

Every lexical node has the root, sense, and postag attributes for respectively describing the word root, sense, and part of speech tag. E.g.:

<node gen="de" id="8" num="sg" cat="np" pos="noun" rel="hd" root="trein"
  sense="trein" type="adt_lex"/>

Lexical nodes have other attributes, as described in the previous sections. For instace, here the num and gen attributes are also listed for the noun number and gender.

A node can be co-indexed by adding the index attribute to a lexical node:

<node id="2" index="1" root="ik" sense="ik" [...] />

The referring node also contains an index attribute, but no other information specific to a lexical node. For example:

<node id="5" index="1" rel="su"/>

As an example of a full ADT, we include an ADT for the same sentence used in the Prolog ADT:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="ISO-8859-1"?>
<alpino_adt version="1.3">
  <node cat="top" id="0" rel="top">
    <node cat="smain" id="1" rel="--">
      <node def="def" id="2" index="1" rnum="sg" cat="np"
        per="fir" pos="pron" rel="su" root="ik" sense="ik"/>
      <node id="3" pos="verb" rel="hd" root="heb" sense="heb" tense="present"/>
      <node cat="ppart" id="4" rel="vc">
        <node id="5" index="1" rel="su"/>
        <node cat="np" id="6" rel="obj1">
          <node id="7" pos="det" rel="det" root="de"
          <node id="8" rnum="sg" pos="noun" rel="hd" root="trein" sense="trein"/>
        <node id="9" pos="verb" rel="hd" root="mis" sense="mis"/>

How to obtain ADT structures

There are two approaches. First, you can take a dependency structure, as produced by Alpino, and convert it to a ADT (using Alpino). Second, you can parse sentences with Alpino, and request an ADT as output. The format of the ADT is either Prolog or XML - as explained in a previous section.

ADT as Alpino output format

The Alpino option end_hook=adt_prolog will generate an ADT in Prolog format for every parse.

Likewise, the Alpino option end_hook=adt_xml will generate an ADT in XML format.

As a special case, the option end_hook=gen_suite(best_score) can be used to generate an ADT for the parse which resembles most the gold standard parse for the input sentence (obviously this assumes that we are parsing sentences for which the gold standard parse is available). The ADT uses the Prolog format in this case.

ADT from DT

This is currently not functioning properly. Perhaps this is not such a good idea anyway.