A preliminary analysis of causative verbs in English

Beth Levin*, Malka Rappaport Hovav

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


This paper investigates the phenomena that come under the label 'causative alternation' in English, as illustrated in the transitive and intransitive sentence pair Antonia broke the vase / The vase broke. Central to our analysis is a distinction between verbs which are inherently monadic and verbs which are inherently dyadic. Given this distinction, much of the relevant data is explained by distinguishing two processes that give rise to causative alternation verbs. The first, and by far more pervasive process, forms lexical detransitive verbs from certain transitive verbs with a causative meaning. The second process, which is more restricted in its scope, results in the existence of causative transitive verbs related to some intransitive verbs. Finally, this study provides further insight into the semantic underpinnings of the Unaccusativity Hypothesis (Perlmutter 1978).

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)35-77
Number of pages43
Issue numberC
StatePublished - Apr 1994
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
* This work was presented at the Workshop on the Acquisition of the Lexicon at the University of Pennsylvania in January, 1992. We would like to thank the other workshop participants and particularly Tony Kroch, the paper’s discussant, for their comments. This work was also presented at Hebrew University in March, 1992; we are grateful to the audience for their comments. This paper has also benefited from the comments of Mary Laughren, Steve Pinker, Betsy Ritter, and an anonymous reviewer. We would like to thank John Wickberg for helping us find relevant examples in on-line texts. This research was supported in part by NSF Grant BNS-89 19884.


Dive into the research topics of 'A preliminary analysis of causative verbs in English'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this