Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 363–422 | Cite as

Word formation is syntactic: adjectival passives in English

  • Benjamin BrueningEmail author


Since Wasow (1977), the differences between adjectival and verbal passives in English have been taken to motivate a division between lexical and syntactic word-formation processes. This paper shows with data from corpora that many accepted facts about adjectival passives are incorrect: adjectival passives can be formed from ECM/raising verbs, and they can also involve a subset of indirect or applied objects. On the other hand, adjectival passives do differ from verbal passives in special meanings and missing inputs. This means that the phenomena that are supposed to characterize syntactic versus lexical processes do not all pattern together: ECM/raising points to a syntactic derivation of adjectival passives, but special interpretations and missing inputs point to a lexical derivation. This paper instead proposes a purely syntactic account of adjectival passives that explains all of the facts, both the similarities and the differences between adjectival and verbal passives. This syntactic analysis also permits a simple account of the alleged class of non-intersective adjectives, and the predictions it makes provides support for the theory of applied arguments advanced by Bruening (2010).


Adjectival passives Lexicalism Lexical decomposition Applied arguments 



The bulk of this paper was written while the author was a Humboldt Fellow at the Zentrum für Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft (ZAS) in Berlin. The author would like to thank the Humboldt Foundation and ZAS for their generous support, and, for helpful discussions and comments, Uli Sauerland, Artemis Alexiadou, Elena Anagnostopoulou, Florian Schäfer, Andrew McIntyre, the anonymous NLLT reviewers, and audiences at Stuttgart and Georgetown.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Linguistics and Cognitive ScienceUniversity of DelawareNewarkUSA

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