Unaccusative verb

From Glottopedia
Revision as of 12:36, 10 June 2009 by Wohlgemuth (talk | contribs) (+ utrecht)
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Unaccusative verbs are a subclass of intransitives. Their single arguments denote direct objects in relational grammar and GB, instead of agent-like participants. Thus unaccusatives are defined syntactically rather than semantically as verbs that assign no external theta-role and no structural Case.

Its argument is in object position at D-structure, but has to move to subject position in order to receive (nominative) Case (from INFL). The syntactic behaviour of unaccusatives differs in various ways from non-unaccusative intransitive verbs ( unergative verbs). In languages that have a distinction between the perfective auxiliaries 'to be' and 'to have', the unaccusatives take 'to be', while the unergatives take 'to have'.


English unaccusatives are fall, arrive or melt. In German there are unaccusative verbs like entgleiten (slip) or zerbrechen (break).


the Italian sentences in (i) and the Dutch sentences in (ii) are examples.

(i)    a  ha telefonato Gianni
	  has telephoned G
       b  è arrivato Claudio
	  is arrived C
(ii)   a Jan heeft getelefoneerd
   	 J has telephoned
       b Klaas is gearriveerd
	 K has arrived

Furthermore, unaccusatives cannot be passivized, as opposed to unergatives (in languages with impersonal passives). This is shown by the contrast between the Dutch (iii) and (iv).

(iii)	er wordt door Jan getelefoneerd
	there is by J telephoned
(iv)   *er wordt door Klaas gearriveerd
	there is by K arrived

In Italian, a further diagnostic to distinguish unaccusatives from unergatives is the possibility of ne-cliticization.


In English as well as in German, unaccusatives differ from other verbs in the selection of their perfective auxiliary. The unaccusatives take a form of to be or sein, respectively, whereas the other verbs take a form of to have or haben, respectively.




The name "unaccusative" denotes that the single argument of the intransitive verb does not behave like the subject of a transitive verb, which would be expected in an accusative alignment. It was introduced by Perlmutter (1978), but originally coined by G. Pullum (cf. Pullum 1988).

See also


  • Burzio, L. 1986. Italian Syntax, Reidel, Dordrecht.
  • Bußmann, Hadumod. 2002. Lexikon der Sprachwissenschaft. Stuttgart: Kröner. (ISBN 3-520-45203-0)
  • Perlmutter, David M. 1978. "Impersonal passives and the unaccusative hypothesis." Berkeley Linguistic Society 4: 157-189.
  • Pullum, Geoffrey. 1988. Topic...Comment: Citation etiquette beyond thunderdome. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 6.4: 579-588.

Other languages

German unakkusativisches Verb