An impersonal construction is a clausal construction in which no subject is realized, or at least no referential subject.
The following examples are impersonal constructions from German:
Dancing is going on. (impersonal passive)
One wears white this summer. (construction with impersonal pronoun in subject position)
Japanese does not require an overt/dummy subject, as is demonstrated in this example:
We are closed on Sundays. (cited after Yamamoto 2006: 4)
In the recent linguistic literature, a clear distinction has been made between passives and impersonal constructions (cf. Blevins 2003, Yamamoto 2006).
- "Whereas passivization detransitivizes a verb by deleting its logical subject, impersonalization preserves transitivity, and merely inhibits the syntactic realization of a surface subject." (Blevins 2003).
The non-realized subjects of impersonals are often interpreted as indefinite human agents, thus those constructions are often only possible with verbs which select a human agent. In languages which require an overt subject (i.e. languages not allowing pro-drop) an expletive subject is used.
Other constructions that have been called "impersonal" are:
- constructions with an expletive subject (e.g. it is raining, Russian svetaet 'it dawns')
- "subjectless" experiential constructions with the experiencer in a non-nominative case (e.g. Latin me pudet 'I am ashamed', German mich friert 'I am cold')
- Blevins, James P. 2003. Passives and Impersonals. Journal of Linguistics 39: 473-520.
- Lambert, P.-Y. 1998. L’impersonnel. In J. Feuillet (ed.). Actance et valence dans les Langues de l’Europe. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 295-347.
- Yamamoto, Mutsumi. 2006. Agency and Impersonality. Their Linguistic and Cultural Manifestation. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Benjamins.
French construction impersonnelle
German unpersönliche Konstruktion