The road to auxiliariness revisited: The grammaticalization of finish anteriors in Spanish

Malte Rosemeyer, Eitan Grossman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Auxiliary verbs are known to grammaticalize from lexical verbs, but how do lexical verbs acquire verbal complements to begin with? This article provides an account of the semantic and pragmatic basis of grammaticalization of the Spanish anterior ('perfect') [acabar + de + infinitive] from a lexical source construction meaning finish. Based on a description of finish in terms of its qualia structure, we argue that verbs meaning finish are lexically unsaturated, with an event variable that must be assigned a value, whether implicitly by inference or explicitly by a verbal complement. We show on the basis of historical corpus data from the 13th-18th centuries that overt lexical verb complements are initially motivated by informativity: The infinitive is used to describe the event when the type of event is unexpected. However, this original constructional meaning is eventually lost due to the process of overtification, which has not been discussed in the literature on language change. Writers started using the infinitive in contexts in which the finished event is not unexpected. The subsequent development of the temporal meaning is motivated by the failure of listeners to accommodate too-costly presuppositions in a particular syntactic context, leading to the reanalysis of the constructional meaning. Consequently, overtification was a necessary condition for the subsequent temporalization of the construction. These findings shed light on possible reasons for the grammaticalization of auxiliary verb constructions, at both early and later stages in their developmental histories.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)516-558
Number of pages43
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© John Benjamins Publishing Company.


  • Auxiliary verb constructions
  • Diachronic corpus linguistics
  • Grammaticalization
  • Informativity diachronica
  • Overtification
  • Perfect
  • Pragmatics
  • Spanish


Dive into the research topics of 'The road to auxiliariness revisited: The grammaticalization of finish anteriors in Spanish'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this