Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Subject restrictions, particle verbs, and consumption verbs

Many people have noted that certain transitive verbs in English require intentional subjects:

(1) (Folli and Harley 2005, ex 1b)
a. The groom ate the wedding cake.
b.#The sea ate the beach.

(Example numbers from Folli and Harley 2005 come from the prepublication version available at Folli and Harley typically judge the inanimate subjects as "*," but I do not think it is appropriate to view them as ungrammatical. Rather, the sentence imputes intention to the subject, which is not usually appropriate with an inanimate subject. Hence, I prefer to mark them as "#.")

Both Folli and Harley (2005) and Ramchand (2008) claim that the class of verbs that require an intentional subject is the class of consumption verbs. This class is supposed to take an "incremental theme" object, the kind whose quantizedness in the sense of Krifka (1992) makes a difference for telicity:

(2)a. He ate three pieces of wedding cake in/??for an hour. (quantized object: telic)
b. He ate wedding cake for/??in an hour. (non-quantized object: atelic)

However, the class of verbs that require an intentional subject is clearly not the same as the class of consumption verbs. Here is the list of verbs given by Folli and Harley (2005):

(3) (Folli and Harley 2005, ex 24)
a.#The sea ate the beach.
b.#The wind carved the beach.
c.#Erosion nibbled the cliff.
d.#The washing machine chewed the laundry.

(4) (given for Italian by Folli and Harley 2005, ex 25)
a.#The sun drank the lake.
b.#Inflation sucked our savings.

While eat, carve, and drink take incremental theme objects, nibble, chew and suck do not:

(5)a. The child nibbled the cookie for/??in an hour. (quantized object but atelic)
b. The cowboy chewed two pieces of beef jerkey for/??in an hour. (quantized object but atelic)
c. The child sucked a lollipop for/??in an hour. (quantized object but atelic)

Conversely, there are consumption verbs like devour that take incremental themes, but have no subject restriction:

(6)a. I devoured two pies in/??for half an hour. (quantized object: telic)
b. I devoured pies for/??in half an hour. (non-quantized object: atelic)
c. The tsunami devoured the coastal resort.

Moreover, Folli and Harley (2005) claim that adding a particle or other resultative phrase makes the subject restriction disappear:

(7) (Folli and Harley 2005, ex 24)
a. The sea ate away the beach.
b. The wind carved the beach away.
c. Erosion nibbled away the cliff.
d. The washing machine chewed up the laundry.

(8) (given for Italian by Folli and Harley 2005, ex 25)
a. The sun drank up the lake.
b. Inflation sucked up our savings.

Folli and Harley therefore design a constructional theory of verb meaning wherein consumption verbs combine with a light verb, vDO, which requires animate agents. When they combine with a resultative particle, in contrast, they combine not with vDO but with vCAUSE, which requires only a causer, animate or inanimate.

However, it is not true that verb-particle combinations uniformly lack subject restrictions. Consider the consumption particle verb put away. With this verb, the subject restriction actually holds of the particle use, and not the non-particle use:

(9)a. His phone records put the suspect in Manhattan at 12:03 AM. (inanimate subject OK)
b. The groom put away thirteen helpings of wedding cake.
c.#The sea put away the beach. (=/= The sea ate up the beach.)

Other particle verbs also have subject restrictions:

(10)a. The authorities locked me up.
b.#The earthquake locked me up. (situation: I'm touring a jail with self-locking doors when an earthquake hits, causing the door of the cell I'm in to close)

(11)a. The gangster bumped off his rivals.
b.#The tsunami bumped off the sunbathers.

(12)a. The speaker explained away the exceptions.
b.#That theory explains away the exceptions. (OK if understand that theory to mean "advocates of that theory")

Therefore, the constructional theories designed by Folli and Harley (2005) and Ramchand (2008) will not work. They predict that all and only verbs that take incremental theme objects will show subject restrictions, and no verb-particle combination will. Both predictions are false. Moreover, Folli and Harley (2005) note that there are other verbs that require intentional subjects, but they offer no constructional account of these:

(13)a. Sue/#The tornado murdered someone. (Folli and Harley 2005, ex 21f)
b. The warden/#Sickness jailed Andrew. (Folli and Harley 2005, ex 21h)

Since these are not "consumption" verbs, they do not fall under Folli and Harley's theory. The quantizedness of their objects does make a difference for telicity, but in this they do not differ from close synonyms like kill and imprison, which have no subject restrictions:

(14)a. The tornado killed someone.
b. Sickness imprisoned Andrew.

Factually, then, subject restrictions do not line up nicely according to other verb classifications. Verbs that take incremental themes may or may not impose subject restrictions. Verb-particle combinations that encode something like a cause and a result state also may or may not impose subject restrictions. There seems to be no independent classification of verbal phenomena that correlates with subject restrictions.

Rather, it seems to me that a verb taking only an intentional subject is simply part of our lexical knowledge of that particular verb, in combination with world knowledge. Take the difference between kill and murder. Aspectually these two verbs are identical, but the former imposes no restriction on its subject while the latter does. This is clearly because of the lexical meaning of murder: it includes intentionality in its meaning. Turning to consumption verbs, verbs like eat also seem to require intentionality of their subjects; presumably eat means something like "consume with a mouth," which requires that its subject have a mouth that the subject controls. Adding a particle appears to refocus the meaning of the verb on the resulting state of the object, with the effect that the subject restrictions disappear. However, with put away the opposite happens: put by itself only involves changing (or specifying) something's location, with no intentionality involved. But adding away to create a resultative consumption verb adds the implication of desire and volition.

In summary, although there appear to be generalizations regarding which verbs impose restrictions on their subjects, this is not true; if one looks around, one discovers exceptions in every possible way.


Folli, Raffaella, and Heidi Harley (2005), "Flavors of v." In Paula Kempchinsky and Roumyana Slabakova, eds., Aspectual Inquiries, Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 95–120.

Krifka, Manfred (1992), "Thematic Relations as Links between Nominal Reference and Temporal Constitution." In Ivan Sag and Anna Szabolcsi, eds., Lexical Matters, Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications, pp. 29–53.

Ramchand, Gillian Catriona (2008), Verb Meaning and the Lexicon: A First-Phase Syntax. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Resultatives: Exceptions to the Direct Object Restriction

Wechsler (2005) claims that the direct object restriction on resultative secondary predicates is not real, and that resultatives can be predicated of deep subjects if the conditions are right. His claimed counterexamples include unergative verbs of motion like the following:

(1) She danced/swam free of her captors. (from Levin and Rappaport-Hovav 1995, p. 186)
(2) However, if fire is an immediate danger, you must jump clear of the vehicle. (State of Illinois, Rules of the Road; cited in Levin and Rappaport-Hovav 1995, p. 186)
(3) The driver and the fireman had jumped clear before the crash. (Thomas the Tank Engine; Wechsler 2005 ex. 33c)

Resultatives can also be predicated of subjects of transitives, according to Wechsler:

(4) The wise men followed the star out of Bethlehem. (Wechsler 2005, ex. 34a)
(5) The sailors managed to catch a breeze and ride it clear of the rocks. (Wechsler 2005, ex. 34b)
(6) He followed Lassie free of his captors. (Wechsler 2005, ex. 34c)

These examples are very suspicious, however. First, example (4) is simply a directional PP: it can be replaced with any such PP (through the pass, under the archway). Second, the only adjectives that can be used like this are free and clear, and they can be used adverbially with a meaning that is clearly not resultative:

(7) Stand clear of the moving doors. (subject does not become clear as a result of standing)

Other adjectives that generally make good resultatives (as in example 8) cannot be used with these verbs:

(8) She wiped the table clean/dry.
(9)a. *The sailors rode the breeze dry.
(9)b. *The sailors jumped clean/dry.

(And note that clean and dry are closed-scale adjectives, so they should be fine as resultatives modifying selected arguments of the verb, according to Wechsler. See more below on closed- vs. open-scale adjectives.)

So, an alternative explanation for all of Wechsler's putative counterexamples to the direct object restriction is that they are directionals, basically like a PP. That is, free and clear can be used like a PP as directional modifiers. As such, they modify the main predicate: verbs of motion regularly allow specification of starting points, paths, and end points. But these are not resultatives at all, which are secondary predicates and not modifiers of the main predicate.

Evidence that this is correct comes from conjunction possibilities. Free and clear can be conjoined with directional PPs with these verbs:

(10) They jumped clear of the vehicle and through the hoop.
(11) She danced free of her captors and into the next room.
(12) They rode the waves clear of the rocks and onto the beach.

This is not possible with APs that are clearly resultatives, even when the PP by itself is fine with the verb:

(13) She pounded the metal through the hoop.
(14) She pounded the metal flat.
(15)*She pounded the metal flat and through the hoop.

A second piece of evidence comes from pseudoclefting. Wechsler's free and clear examples allow pseudoclefts with where, like directional PPs, but true resultatives do not:

(16) Free of her captors is where she danced (to).
(17) Clear of the rocks is where they rode the waves (to).
(18)*Flat is where they pounded the metal (to).
(19)*Clean is where they wiped the table (to).

A third piece of evidence comes from co-occurrence with starting point and path PPs. Endpoints regularly occur with both of these:

(20) The sailors rode the breeze off the rocks, along the shore, and out into the open sea.

So do clear and free, again acting like directional PPs:

(21) The sailors rode the breeze through the narrow gap and clear of the rocks.
(22) She danced out of her captor's arms and free of their grasp.

But true resultatives do not:

(23) I kicked the box out the door, down the hall, and into the trash.
(24) I kicked the box to pieces.
(25) I kicked the box (*to pieces) out the door (*to pieces) and down the hall (*to pieces).
(26) I danced myself dry (*from soaking wet).
(27) I laughed myself silly (*from perfectly lucid).

I conclude, therefore, that Wechsler's putative counterexamples to the direct object restriction are not real counterexamples. They are not resultatives at all: they are directionals. When they specify the endpoint of a path, they might seem to have the semantics of a resultative, but they have very different grammatical properties from true resultative secondary predicates.

More generally, I conclude that there are no real counterexamples to the direct object restriction, which stands as a significant generalization about resultatives.

Moreover, Wechsler claims that examples like (28) are ungrammatical because resultatives that are predicated of arguments of the verb must be closed-scale adjectives. (29) is grammatical because there is no such requirement on non-selected NPs:

(28)*We danced tired.
(29) We danced ourselves tired.

This is not a good enough explanation for the contrast between (28) and (29), however. Sentences like (28) are still bad with closed-scale adjectives like dry and clean:

(30)*We danced dry/clean.

There is no way to predicate a true resultative of an underlying subject without a fake reflexive as in (29). Again, the direct object restriction stands.


Levin, Beth and Malka Rappaport-Hovav (1995), Unaccusativity: At the Syntax-Lexical Semantics Interface. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Wechsler, Stephen (2005), Resultatives Under the Event-Argument Homomorphism Model of Telicity. In Nomi Erteschik-Shir and Tova Rapoport (eds.), The Syntax of Aspect: Deriving Thematic and Aspectual Interpretation. Oxford University Press. pp. 255-273.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Adjacency Requirement on Appositives

This second post also addresses Christopher Potts' book, The Logic of Conventional Implicatures (OUP, 2005). In chapter 4, Potts discusses various kinds of supplements, including appositive relative clauses. A general feature of supplements, according to Potts, is that they must be strictly adjacent to what they modify (the example number is that from Potts, page 104):

(4.29a) *We spoke with Lance before the race, who is a famous cyclist, about the weather.

However, the adjacency requirement appears to me to be relaxed just when another supplement is embedded in the non-local one:

(1) We spoke with Lance before the race, who, as far as I could tell, was primed and ready to go.
(2)??We spoke with Lance before the race, who was primed and ready to go.
(3) Bob Scalpbender came by, who, as you know, endorses phrenology.
(4)??Bob Scalpbender came by, who endorses phrenology.

The non-local supplement also has to occur rightmost; adding "about the weather" to (1), as in (4.29a), renders the sentence unacceptable.

This relaxation of the adjacency requirement is a rather odd fact, one which I have no account of.

First post! Expressive attributive adjectives

I'll inaugurate Linguistics Commentary with some observations on Christopher Potts' book The Logic of Conventional Implicatures (OUP, 2005).

In Chapter 5 (section 5.3.1), Potts argues that Expressive Attributive Adjectives (EAs) like damn and f-cking have a completely standard syntax, and are garden-variety attributive adjectives. It seems to me that this is not true; EAs have a number of properties that distinguish them from other adjectives. (I use f-cking in all the examples below, but any other EA will work as well, like damn.)

First, EAs can modify other adjectives, but most adjectives cannot; they need to be turned into adverbs:

(1) That's a f-cking big insect!
(2) That insect is f-cking huge!
(3) That's a horrendously/*horrendous big insect!
(4) That insect is horrendously/*horrendous big!

Second, EAs can modify an adjective that appears before them, unlike other adjectives:

(5) That's a big f-cking insect! (what's shocking is how big it is)
(6) That's a big horrendous insect! (horrendous does not modify big)

Third, modifiers of adjectives (adverbs) allow the head adjective to elide, but this is not possible with an EA:

(7) Are you hungry? Terribly!
(8) Are you hungry? *F-cking! (vs. I'm f-cking hungry!)

Similarly, as adjectives, EAs do not allow one-replacement:

(9) He's a conservative Republican, and she's a moderate one.
(10)*He's a f-cking Republican, and she's a f-cking one too.

Fifth, EAs have a different intonation pattern from other adjectives/adverbs. They cannot take the main stress (stress indicated by CAPS):

(11) I'm TERRibly hungry!
(12)*I'm F-CKing hungry!
(13) I'm f-cking HUNgry!
(14) That's a big UGly bug!
(15)*That's a big F-CKing bug!
(16) That's a BIG f-cking bug!
(17) I was hit by a CRAzy madman!
(18)*I was hit by a F-CKing madman!
(19) I was hit by a f-cking MADman!

Relatedly, they cannot be contrastive, unlike regular adjectives:

(20) The CONSERvative Republicans tried to kill this bill, not the moderate ones.
(21)*The F-CKing Republicans tried to kill this bill, not the ones I like.

Hence, EAs cannot perform the function of restricting reference, unlike regular adjectives.

While some of these properties probably follow from the theory of EAs that Potts gives, some others don't: property (i), they can modify adjectives directly; (ii) in prenominal position they can modify the adjective that precedes them; (iii-iv) they do not allow ellipsis or one-replacement.

That's it for the first post! I hope someone can take up these properties and explain them.