Verb prefixation in Russian as lexical subordination

Andrew Spencer, Marina Zaretskaya

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


We argue that a large class of Russian prefixed verbs has essentially the same semantic structure as resultative constructions in English of the type paint the door green. We analyze both phenomena as instances of lexical subordination: although it is syntactically a secondary predicator, green expresses the primary ("core") semantic predication, while paint is a secondary subordinated semantic predicate. The expression therefore means 'cause to become green by painting'. In the Russian vyteret' stol 'wipe down the table' (literally 'out-wipe table'), the prefix vy- is semantically primary and the verb stem is subordinated. By virtue of this shared semantic structure, Russian prefixation can only access internal arguments (objects, or subjects of unaccusatives) and Russian prefixed verbs may support "fake" or unselected object constructions, akin to English resultatives such as drink the pub dry or sing oneself hoarse. From pisat' 'write' we have ispisat' ručku 'out-write pen', 'to run out of ink (of a pen)', in which the direct object 'pen' is not selected by pisat' 'write'. Since these unselected objects are arguments of the prefixed verb complex, we conclude (with Goldberg 1995, against Levin and Rappaport Hovav 1995) that unselected objects in English resultatives are also arguments (of the construction). We extend our analysis to the steal/rob alternation and offering an explanation of why in some languages, verbs of manner of motion (e.g. run) behave like unergative verbs while the same verbs with directional complements/adjuncts (e.g. run into the room) behave like unaccusative verbs. We discuss the repercussions for the interpretation of notions such as "complex predicate" and "construction."

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-39
Number of pages39
Issue number353
StatePublished - 1998


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