Talk:Unaccusative verb

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The title[edit]

I have just moved the text below from Talk:Ergative verb, which is now a redirect to this page. In part, it justifies my decission to make the redirect, but it is also very informative. --Pablo D. Flores 11:50, 23 May 2005 (UTC)

Some linguists would definitely take issue with the definition of "ergative verb" given in the article of that title (henceforth refered to as That Article.) Here's why. In morphosyntax, the term "ergative" can be used for the A argument (in the A/S/P schema explained in the article "Morphosyntactic Alignment.") And in semantics, the term "ergative" is best used, if at all, for an actor performing some act (usually on purpose) that affects something else. But neither of these uses is well illustrated in the five sentences which That Article gives as examples of so-called ergative verbs:
"I think.
I see.
I understand.
I experience.
The door opens.
I ate."
All these verbs can be used transitively, so there seems no point in saying (as That Article says) that the first four are "ergative-only" and the last two "ergtative or transitive." More importantly, the verbs have differing semantic and syntactic characters. When the verb "open" switches from transitive to intransitive use, underlying P is recast as S and underlying A is lost: transitive "Someone(A) opened the door(P)" becomes intransitive "The door(S) opened." But with the other five verbs, underlying A is recast as S and underyling P is lost: transitive "John(A) thought/saw/understood/experienced/ate it(P)" becomes intransitive "John(S) thought/saw/understood/experienced/ate." This is a major difference, and the term "ergative verb" doesn't do justice to it.
Is there a better term?
In languages where the P role is granted its own special case, that case is called accusative, so some linguists say that verbs like "open" (which can recast P as S) are _unaccusative_ when used intransitively. (Other examples of unaccusative verbs: "Plates break easily," "The weight will drop quickly." If these statements were turned into transitives, the S's would be put into the P slot and some A would have to be named. Alternately, unaccusative verbs can usually be reformed as passives: "is opened," "is broken," "is dropped.")
If "open" is an unaccusative verb when used intransitively, what about intransitive "think, see, understand, experience, eat," and other verbs like them? As mentioned, these verbs delete underlying P and recast underlying A as S when they become intransitive. In languages where the A role has its own special case, that case is called ergative; so it has been suggested that these verbs be called "unergative." The term does them more justice on all counts than "ergative" does.
Sources on ergativity theory: see R. M. W. Dixon, _Ergativity_. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Should have seen this while ago. I've just (inadvertently) created unaccusative verb and unergative verb. This article should be merged with the former, and the whole ergative verb and also intransitive verb should de-emphasize English usage (see Countering Systemic Bias).--Pablo D. Flores 22:13, 16 May 2005 (UTC)

Merge with Unergative Verb[edit]

PS: My comment still holds. --Pablo D. Flores 11:50, 23 May 2005 (UTC)

Yeah, I think this article should be merged with Unergative verb. They're both short, and since they are mutually exclusive types of intransitive verbs, they can be treated together quite nicely. I think I'll add the merge template. Torgo 20:51, 7 April 2006 (UTC)
Consensus in the other articles was against merge. Tag deleted. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Comhreir (talkcontribs) 02:34, 16 November 2009 (UTC)
The consensus was against merging everything into Intransitive verb, but people were mostly in favor of the original proposal of merging the two smaller articles, both here and somewhat more actively at Talk:Unergative verb#Merge discussion. CapnPrep (talk) 03:04, 16 November 2009 (UTC)

Middle voice?[edit]

Isn't these verbs the lexical counterparts of the middle voice forms of average verbs? They very much seem to function like those, don't they? Adam78 19:36, 26 April 2006 (UTC)

Passivization example is cheating.[edit]

It's cheating to say that "Unaccusative verbs cannot be passivized, due to the fact that their subject is not a semantic agent" and give English examples of the ungrammatical constructions that would supposedly result, because in English, no intransitive verb can be passivized. Some languages, like German and Dutch, do allow intransitive verbs to be passivized, but the example "*I am coughed" is a bad one even then, because the passive form of an intransitive verb is an impersonal verb (see Impersonal passive voice). And is it necessarily the case that such languages forbid the passivization of unaccusative verbs? Ruakh 19:03, 11 June 2006 (UTC)

Unexplained, unglossed addition[edit]

The following was recently added to the article:

Japanese: [using Kunrei-style romanisation]
太郎が窓を閉めた。Taroo-ga mado-o simeta. "Taro closed the window."
窓が閉まった。Mado-ga simatta. "The window closed."

Since it's not explained or glossed in any way, and in particular no reason is given to think that "simatta" isn't simply "simeta"'s passive-voice counterpart, I've removing it until someone can explain it — confirm that it's appropriate to this article, and add gloss and whatnot so that a reader can benefit from its inclusion.—RuakhTALK 22:29, 9 December 2006 (UTC)

I'm not an expert on Japanese verbs, but I know enough to say that "shimatta" definitely isn't passive. It's clear to me that "shimeta" comes from "shimeru", whose passive form would be "shimerareru" (which would conjugate in the past tense as "shimerareta"). "Shimatta" could only come from "shimaru", which is likely just the form of the verb that applies to inanimate objects, just like "hajimeru" ("to start", such as a person) versus "hajimaru" ("to start", such as a school year). Anyway, with an explanation provided, I think this would be a good example, if it is indeed an example of unaccusativity (I'm actually still struggling to understand the difference between unaccusativity and ergativity!) NoriMori (talk) 04:10, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
To put it simply, the difference between "shimaru" and "shimeru" (and, therefore, "shimatta" and "shimeta") is that the former is intransitive and the latter is transitive. NoriMori is correct that the passive of "shimeru" is "shimerareru"; the passive voice doesn't enter into it. - furrykef (Talk at me) 02:31, 10 May 2010 (UTC)

John dined full?[edit]

What does this sentence mean?

John dined full/to death/two pounds heavier.

Do the slashes indicate alternatives? John dined full? John dined two pounds heavier? --Austrian (talk) 08:02, 12 August 2009 (UTC)

Oh good, so I wasn't the only one who didn't get that. Yeah, I don't get why that example's there. It doesn't make any sense. NoriMori (talk) 04:10, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
The slashes indicate alternatives. The "*" indicates that all the alternatives are bad. The example illustrates a contrast with unaccusative verbs. Does that make any sense? CapnPrep (talk) 15:31, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
Not really; it's hard to explain, but that sentence just doesn't make any sense at all. I really don't get what it's trying to demonstrate. I keep reading that sentence over and over, and my brain just keeps drawing a giant "?". Total blank. I don't get it. NoriMori (talk) 00:06, 19 November 2009 (UTC)
That's just because your brain's parsers go crazy trying to understand phrasings that are fundamentally bad grammar. But here's what's trying to be said: John eats till he's full/till he dies/till he's two pounds heavier.Eru·tuon 20:31, 24 January 2010 (UTC)

Definition of unaccusativity[edit]

" unaccusative verb is an intransitive verb whose (syntactic) subject is not a (semantic) agent..." If the above is true, then verbs such as "to break" and "to melt" should not be used as examples. I know that in the examples given they are used intransitively, but the fact is that they can also be transitive, and so the fact is that they do not fit with the definition given here. A more flexible definition, or more appropriate examples, should be given. For instance, the following example contradicts the definition:

   * unaccusative: the melted snow, the departed guests, the fallen soldiers
   * unergative: *the shouted victim, *the slept child, *the hesitated leader

In the first case, the only truly unaccusative verb is "fallen"; "melt" and "depart" can both be used transitively — "fall" cannot. And "depart" doesn't even fit with the "subject ≠ agent" requirement — even if the verb is used passively, it is still the guests who initiated the departure; according to the article on intransitive verbs (Intransitive_verb#Unaccusative_and_unergative_verbs), this makes it unergative. Also, being able to use a verb in this example does not make it unaccusative, nor vice versa; for example, you can't use "to die": "the died men" doesn't work. On the whole, I don't think this example is very valuable. Maybe we should just get rid of the example altogether? XD NoriMori (talk) 04:10, 27 October 2009 (UTC)

When used transitively, those verbs are not unaccusative. I have problems with the theory behind this concept, but the transitivity of 'break' isn't the issue. kwami (talk) 07:12, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
The definition in the lead (and at Intransitive_verb) is necessarily simplified. Various complications are introduced later in the article, and it is acknowledged that the classification is not always clear-cut, and that the tests are not 100% reliable and consistent. Maybe we should just get rid of the article altogether? CapnPrep (talk) 15:38, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
Pyahaha. Oh wait, were you making fun of me? *confused* Maybe we should just use examples of unaccusative verbs that are ALWAYS intransitive? Like "fall"? And "die". Even if "die" can't be passivizedd, it can still be used in another example. Uh...another example..."live"!!! MUAHAHAHAHA! I mean, I guess one could say that the subject of "live" is the agent, but it doesn't initiate the action of living. Could "live" be unaccusative? Eh, I'll leave that for others to decide. In the meantime I'll try to think of more... NoriMori (talk) 16:01, 27 October 2009 (UTC)
Many unaccusative verbs have transitive uses. In fact, that is one of the tests presented in the article. Yes, that adds a layer of complexity to the interpretation of the examples, but that's because this complexity exists in the language. Verbs that are strictly intransitive therefore "fail" one of the tests for unaccusativity, which makes them less than ideal example. I agree with you about "depart"; the article does mention that verbs of motion are problematic. CapnPrep (talk) 17:21, 27 October 2009 (UTC)

Example in "Deriving unaccusativity"[edit]

The first example (given in "Deriving unaccusativity") doesn't mention the language it's taken from. The washing line seems to indicate some language spoken in or around India, but which one? -- UKoch (talk) 13:25, 20 September 2011 (UTC)

It is unclear how this example illustrates the derivation of an unaccusative transitive construction. The English gloss doesn't include an overt object. Is the interpretation supposed to be "The weather flipped itself again" where weather is agent and patient? What is the role of the form glossed as ate? --Optative.mood (talk) 20:25, 20 May 2013 (UTC)

I agree. The example given is too obscure, and depends on too much knowledge - that Hindi and related languages are ergative in the past tense, that the verb 'ate' is used as an auxiliary, etc. - by the time the reader has worked all that out, the example ceases to be useful. Can no one replace it? Kanjuzi (talk) 09:53, 15 January 2016 (UTC)

Opening explanation too difficult[edit]

This is one of those articles accessible only to those who already know a lot about the topic (and quite possibly don't need it). I think that at least the opening sentences of Wikipedia articles ought to be understandable to a moderately well-educated but non-specialist reader, even if this involves simplifications that will need qualification in later paragraphs. I know I'll be shot down in flames, but could the opening not say something like this: "Unaccusative verbs are a type of intransitive verb where the 'subject' does not cause the action of the verb"? This should be followed immediately by an example, such as "The snow fell". Then the article could go on to explain that the term "subject" is not ideal here, but should be replaced by "argument" and then add other qualifying refinements. APW (talk) 08:32, 20 September 2012 (UTC)

I quite agree. The opening paragraph is far too complex. All these technical words should come later in the article. APW's suggestion is a good one. (Although I don't see why 'subject' should be replaced by 'argument' - that just adds complication again.) Kanjuzi (talk) 09:49, 15 January 2016 (UTC)