LINGUIST List 12.2576

Tue Oct 16 2001

Sum: Imperative Unaccustives

Editor for this issue: Marie Klopfenstein <>


  1. Jasper Holmes, Imperative unaccusatives

Message 1: Imperative unaccusatives

Date: Tue, 16 Oct 2001 14:16:27 +0100
From: Jasper Holmes <>
Subject: Imperative unaccusatives

I thank the following for their interesting responses to my
query of last week on unaccusative imperatives:

Werner Abraham (hello Werner!)
Julian Bradfield
Esmail Hosseini
Michael Johnstone
Tom Joyce
Jeff Lilly
Margaret Lubbers
Andrew McIntyre
Peter A. Michalove
Bill Morris
Bert Peeters (hello Bert!)
And Rosta (hello And!)
Michael Swan
David Wilmsen

There was a high degree of agreement among respondents,
though some introduced ideas or arguments that no one else

The general conclusion is that (a) the suggested constraint
does not exist and (b) to the extent that it does it 
is 'pragmatic' rather than 'structural'.

In support of (a), many counterexamples were produced
including the following:

(2) Open Sesame.
(3) Get well soon.
(4) Wake up.
(5) Freeze!
(6) Die, you (dirty) dog!
(7) Fall off a cliff, you sleazoid scumbag!

(the _you X_ phrase appears a great facilitator of
acceptability, for reasons that remain unclear!)

Further, some respondents noted that (one argument) verbs of
motion are generally considered unaccusative, and that they
form imperatives freely. Levin (like some others) does not
count the verbs of motion among the change of state verbs:

(8) Come here.
(9) Go away.
(10)Arrive at noon.

In support of (b), it was pointed out that the behaviour of
the motion verbs rules out a purely structural account (at
least for believers in syntactic unaccusativity). The fact
that subjects of unaccusative verbs are projected from
internal arguments was held to rule out their referring to

However the semantic properties of unaccusative subjects are
determined, they are in conflict with those of the
'understood subjects' of imperative verbs, which typically
refer to (volitional) agents. Note that of the examples in
(2-7) all but one are addressed to humans and the remaining
one (2) is addressed to a magically autonomous door (I was
also referred to Star Trek style voice-activated doors).
Clearly, subjects of motion verbs can be construed as being
in (volitional, agentive) control of the motion, which
explains why the constraint does not apply to them.

It was suggested by a couple of respondents that examples
like (3) and my original (1) (_Boil you blighter!_)
represent a marginal (non-prototypical) class of imperatives
which refer to wishes rather than instructions.

I received one reference (relevant to the question whether
internal arguments can be agents):
Abraham, W. "The aspect-case typology correlation:
perfectivity and Burzio's generalisation." Eric Reuland
(ed). _Arguments and Case_. Amsterdam: John Benjamins,

Thanks again to all,


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