Ask Your Question

Verb Structure

asked 2015-03-19 12:50:07 -0400

anonymous user


Are there intransitive verbs that are neither unergative (dance laugh) nor unaccusative? What are they? Can one provide me a useful reference.

Yasapala Perera

(Transferred from old LINGUIST List Ask-a-Linguist site)

edit retag flag offensive close merge delete

2 answers

Sort by ยป oldest newest most voted

answered 2015-05-28 00:46:16 -0400

Norvin Richards gravatar image

Suppose that "intransitive" means "lacks a surface object". And suppose that "unaccusative" means "has a subject that begins in object position," and "unergative" means "has a subject that begins in the same position as a transitive subject."

Then I can think of two imaginable kinds of intransitive verbs that are neither unaccusative nor unergative, though whether either of them is attested I don't know.

One would be a verb with neither an underlying subject nor an object. Verbs like 'rain' (as in, "it's raining") might be candidates for this, depending on what we thought about the word 'it' in that kind of sentence.

Another would be a verb with an underlying subject that began in some position other than the usual ones for transitive subjects and objects. So called 'psych-verbs', which have meanings like 'worry', 'be bored', etc., might be a candidate for this kind of verb; in many languages, such verbs assign odd cases to their subjects, so they are unusual in at least that respect.

How these kinds of verbs behave with respect to classic unaccusativity diagnostics would be a natural next question, to which I don't know the answer. It might be worth looking at Levin and Rappaport Hovav's classic 1995 book 'Unaccusativity'.

edit flag offensive delete link more

answered 2015-10-17 10:32:05 -0400

If such an intransitive verb exists, we would have to rethink the whole theory of transitivity. The fact is that most intransitives in English are derived by conflation (see Hale and Keyser ). Rain as in 'It is raining' cited in the answer above cannot be an example the type of intransitive you are looking for. 'It' in 'it is raining is only there because of the requirement that the subject cannot be empty in English which is not a pro drop language. The verb 'rain' is derived via the conflation of the noun rain in the object position. That ends the story. But an English sentence must have a non-empty subject position; English is not a pro drop language. A semantically 'inert' it is inserted into the subject position to get a grammatical sentence. In a more analytical language, the story is a little different. Consider Igbo, a language of southeastern Nigeria, for example. In this language the verb rain is 'doo miri'. It will share the 'abstract' structure [V rain/miri] with English. In order to get the verb, English takes the synthetic path and conflates the 'object' noun, rain, with the category V and we have the verb 'rain' (cf. Clark and Clark (1979), 'When nouns surface as verbs, in Language, Vol. 55). At this point the whole English VP is constituted by the derived 'rain'. Igbo remains analytic hence the VP has both V and N in it. Igbo is also non pro drop language. The noun 'miri' raises to the subject position and we have 'Miri do-ghe (lit. water falling') 'it is raining. In summary an intransitive verb that is neither unergative nor unaccusative would be hard to conceptualize. Unaccusativity, in my opinion, is indicative of the fact that natural language favors more transitivity and not less.

edit flag offensive delete link more
Login/Signup to Answer

Question Tools

1 follower


Asked: 2015-03-19 12:50:07 -0400

Seen: 218 times

Last updated: May 28 '15