2016 | 64 | 11: Anglica | 25-39
Article title

Unaccusative or unergative: The case of the English verb to die

Title variants
Nieakuzatywny czy nieergatywny – analiza angielskiego czasownika TO DIE ‘umrzeć’
Languages of publication
The study examines the class status of the verb TO DIE in English. The verb under scrutiny (treated as a member of a semantically coherent class of disappearance verbs, together with disappear, expire, lapse, perish, vanish ) is tested against the six syntactic unaccusativity diagnostics valid for English. It is shown that three diagnostics do not work for the verb TO DIE, i.e., (1) auxiliary selection (inapplicable to all verbs in Modern English), (2) causative alternation, e.g., Philip died./ *The soldier died Philip, since the verb TO DIE belongs to a non-caused disappearance verb class, as argued by Levin (1993) and Levin and Rappaport Hovav (1995, 281–283), and (3) resultative constructions (although some collocations would be theoretically permissible, e.g., *He died stiff, no such sentences appear in the language corpus). On the other hand, the remaining three diagnostics yield positive results, i.e., (4) the occurrence of the adjectival participle, but with a reservation that it must be placed in a post-nominal position (*a DIED uncle / an uncle DIED in an accident), (5) there-insertion (the only existing example from the COCA Corpus: There DIED a myriad), and (6) the locative inversion diagnostics (the only instance found in the literature by Levin and Rappaport Hovav (1995, 303): (…) this year also DIED the possibility of turning the cup races (…)). Since only three unaccusativity tests out of the six mentioned above seem to work for the verb TO DIE, it might be problematic to treat it as a member of the unaccusative class. Additionally, the instances provided to illustrate the three diagnostics valid for the verb TO DIE rarely occur in the literature and the available corpora, and therefore they should rather be viewed as exceptions, which would cast serious doubt on the unaccusative status of the verb TO DIE. This would lead us to the conclusion that the verb TO DIE should be regarded as a real example of an Unaccusative Mismatch (Levin 1986), i.e., a clash between the results of two or more unaccusative diagnostics (discussed in Grimshaw 1987; Zaenen 1993; Levin and Rappaport Hovav 1995).
Celem niniejszego artykułu jest zbadanie, do jakiej klasy czasowników nieprzechodnich należy czasownik TO DIE ‘umrzeć’ w języku angielskim, który jest zaliczany do semantycznie spójnej grupy tzw. czasowników znikania (obok czasowników takich jak: disappear, expire, lapse, perish, vanish). Aby określić czy badany czasownik jest nieakuzatywny czy nieergatywny, został on poddany powszechnie uznanym testom na nieakuzatywność (Perlmutter 1978; Burzio 1986; Levin i Rappaport Hovav 1995). Na podstawie wyników sześciu przeprowadzonych testów diagnostycznych pokazane jest, że badany czasownik w języku angielskim nie spełnia większości kryteriów na nieakuzatywność, a raczej reprezentuje grupę czasowników o niejasnym statusie syntaktycznym. Może być on zatem przykładem tzw. Unaccusative Mismatch ‘Rozdźwięku w nieakuzatywności’ (Levin 1986), tj. zjawiska, w którym dwa lub więcej testów diagnostycznych potwierdzających nieakuzatywność nie jest spełnionych przez dany czasownik (por. Grimshaw 1987; Zaenen 1993; Levin and Rappaport Hovav 1995).
Physical description
  • PhD student in the Department of Theoretical Linguistics, Institute of English Studies, John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin,
  • Alexiadou, Artemis, Elena Anagnostopoulou, and Martin Everaert (eds.). 2004. The Unaccusativity Puzzle: Explorations of the Syntax-Lexicon Interface. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Al-Jubouri, I. M. N. 2010. Islamic Thought: From Mohammed to September 11, 2001. London: Xlibris Corporation.
  • Baker, James. 2013. “Diagnostics of unaccusativity in English and the Auxiliary Selection Hierarchy (unpublished draft).” Available at unaccusativity.pdf
  • Birner, Betty. 1994. “Information status and English inversion.” Language 70: 233–259.
  • Borgonovo, Claudia, and Sarah Cummins. 1998. “Predictable Participles.” Proceedings of the West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics 17.
  • Bowerman, Melissa, and William Croft. 2008. “The acquisition of the English causative alternation.” Crosslinguistic Perspectives on Argument Structure: Implications for Learnability. Mahwah, edited by Melissa Bowerman, and Peneloppe Brown, 279–306. New Jersey: Erlbaum.
  • Braine, Martin D.S., and Patricia J. Brooks. 1995. “Verb argument structure and the problem of avoiding an overgeneral grammar.” In Beyond Names for Things: Young Children’s Acquisition of Verbs, edited by Michael Tomasello and William E. Merriman, 352–376. Hillsdale: Erlbaum.
  • Burzio, Luigi. 1986. Italian Syntax: a Government-Binding Approach. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
  • Chomsky, Noam. 1981. Lectures on Government and Binding. Hawthorne, Westchester, New York: Foris Publications.
  • Chomsky, Noam. 1986. Knowledge of Language: Its Nature, Origin, and Use. New York: Praeger.
  • Chomsky, Noam. 1995. The Minimalist Program. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Everaert, Martin. 1996. “The encoding of the lexical semantic structure of verbs: the case of the auxiliary selection in idioms.” In Lexical Structures and Languages Use, edited by Edda Weigand and Franz Hundsnurscher, 27–37. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer.
  • Google Books Corpus. Available at:
  • Grewendorf, Günther. 1989. Ergativity in German. Dordrecht: Foris.
  • Grimshaw, Jane. 1987. “Unaccusatives – an Overview.” In Proceedings of NELS 17, 1986, edited by Joyce McDonough and Bernadette Plunkett, 244–58. Vol. I. Amherst, MA: GLSA.
  • Grimshaw, Jane. 1990. Argument Structure. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Hoekstra, Teun. 1984. Transitivity: Grammatical Relations in Government-Binding Theory. Dordrecht, Holland; Cinnaminson, N.J., U.S.A: Foris Publications.
  • Hoekstra, Teun. 1988. “Small clause result.” Lingua 74: 101–139.
  • Kitagawa, Yoshihisa. 1986. Subjects in Japanese and English. PhD Thesis. Massachusetts: Amherst.
  • Koopman, Hilda, and Dominique Sportiche. 1991. “The position of subjects.” Lingua 85 (2/3): 211–258.
  • Kuroda, Shige-Yuki. 1988. “Whether we agree or not: a comparative syntax of English and Japanese.” Lingvisticae Investigationes 12: 1–47.
  • Landau, Idan. 2003. “Unaccusatives, Resultatives, and the Richness of Lexical Representations.” Introduction to Syntax, MIT, Fall 2003.
  • Larson, Richard. 1988. “On the double object construction.” Linguistic Inquiry 19(3): 335–391.
  • Lee, Chang-Su. 1995. “Resultative and Depictive Constructions in English.” The Snu Journal of Education Research 1: 55–90.
  • Levin, Beth. 1993. Causative Alternation. English Verb Classes and Alternations. Chicago: University Press of Chicago.
  • Levin, Beth, and Malka Rappaport Hovav. 1995. Unaccusativity: At the Syntax-Lexical Semantic Interface. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Levin, Beth, and Malka Rappaport Hovav. 2005. Argument Realization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Levin, Lori. 1986. Operations on Lexical Forms: Unaccusative Rules in Germanic Languages. Ph.D. Thesis. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Mallory, James Patrick, and Douglas Q. Adams. 1997. Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture. London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers.
  • Matushansky, Ora, Dooren van Annemarie, and Lotte Hendriks. 2012. “A path to the result(ative).” Paper presented at the Rencontres d’Automne de Linguistique Formelle, November 29–30, 2012.
  • Online World Heritage Encyclopedia. Available at 0001895040/unaccusative%20verb
  • Perlmutter, David M. 1978. “Impersonal Passives and the Unaccusative Hypothesis.” Proceedings of the 4th Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society 4: 157–190.
  • Pesetsky, David. 1982. “Complementizer-Trace Phenomena and the Nominative Island Condition.” The Linguistic Review 1: 297–343.
  • Rappaport Hovav, Malka, and Beth Levin. 2001. “An event structure account for English resultatives.” Language 77: 766–797.
  • Rosen, Carol. 1984. “The interface between semantic roles and initial grammatical relations.” In: Studies in Relational Grammar 2, edited by David Perlmutter and Carol Rosen, 38–77. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Schäfer, Florian. 2009. “The causative alternation.” Language and Linguistics Compass 3.2: 641–681.
  • Shardl, Anisa (2010) “Variable Unaccusativity and Verb Classes.” Available at http://people. (accessed 9.05.2015).
  • Simpson, Jane. 1983. “Resultatives.” In Papers in Lexical-functional Grammar edited by Lori Levin, Malka Rappaport, and Annie Zaenen, 143–157. Bloomington: Indiana University Linguistics Club.
  • Sorace, Antonella. 2000. “Gradients in auxiliary selection with intransitive verbs.” Language 76 (4): 850–890.
  • The Dublin Review, XLII. 1857. London: Thomas Richardson and Son. Available at:
  • Van Valin, Robert D. 1990. “Semantic parameters of split intransitivity.” Language 66(2): 221–260.
  • Williams, Edwin. 1981. “Argument Structure and Morphology.” The Linguistic Review 1: 81–114.
  • Williams, Edwin. 1983. “Against small clauses.” Linguistic Inquiry 14: 287–308.
  • Zaenen, Annie. 1993. “Unaccusative Verbs in Dutch: An Integrated Approach.” In Semantics and the Lexicon, edited by James Pustejovsky, 129–161. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Document Type
Publication order reference
YADDA identifier
JavaScript is turned off in your web browser. Turn it on to take full advantage of this site, then refresh the page.