LINGUIST List 14.3283

Fri Nov 28 2003

Review: Syntax: M�ller (2002)

Editor for this issue: Naomi Ogasawara <>

What follows is a review or discussion note contributed to our Book Discussion Forum. We expect discussions to be informal and interactive; and the author of the book discussed is cordially invited to join in.

If you are interested in leading a book discussion, look for books announced on LINGUIST as "available for review." Then contact Sheila Dooley Collberg at


  • Miguel Ayerbe, Complex Predicates

    Message 1: Complex Predicates

    Date: Fri, 28 Nov 2003 15:47:34 -0500 (EST)
    From: Miguel Ayerbe <>
    Subject: Complex Predicates

    M�ller, Stefan (2002) Complex Predicates: Verbal Complexes, Resultative Constructions, and Particle Verbs in German, CSLI Publications, Studies in Constraint-Based Lexicalism.

    Announced at

    Miguel Ayerbe Linares, Faculty of Philology, University of the Basque Country (Spain).

    This book is a monograph study of the so-called Complex Predicates in German. In it the author examines linguistic phenomena such as auxiliary + verb combinations in future, perfect and passive constructions, causative constructions, subject and object predicatives, resultative constructions, and finally particle + verb constructions. As the author himself claims in the introduction of the book these constructions are studied based on a broad empirical basis, with data drawn from different sources like German newspapers (taz, S�ddeutsche Zeitung, and others), magazines (Der Spiegel, zitty), novels and scientific texts on linguistics. The author has also used data from electronic corpora such as the COSMAS Corpus, provided by the Institut f�r Deutsche Sprache in Mannheim, the NEGRA Corpus, annotated by the Computational Linguistics Department in Saarbr�cken, and the VERBmobil Corpus which consists of some CD-ROMs of spoken language. The way in which the analyses are carried out are formulated within the framework of Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar (HPSG).

    The book is divided into the following chapters:

    Introduction (pp. vii-xiii) 1)Background: The German Sentence Structure (pp. 1-36) 2)The Predicate Complex, Control, and Raising (pp. 37-115) 3)Passive (pp.117-172) 4)Depictive Secondary Predicates (pp. 173-207) 5)Resultative Secondary Predicates (pp. 209-251) 6)Particle Verbs (pp. 253-390) 7)A Comparison with Other Approaches to Complex Predicates (pp. 391-408) 8)Summary (pp. 409-410) References, Expression Index, Reverse Expression Index, Name Index and Subject Index

    In the Introduction, M�ller mentions the aim of his book and the various phenomena (already mentioned at the beginning) he is going to examine: that some constructions should be considered and treated as Complex Predicates.

    This part of the book is somewhat short but at the same time very well organized, since it presents -in general terms- not only the purpose of the author but also the way in which he is going to carry out the analysis, the sources from which he draws the data, and the extent to which previous studies have dealt with the object of his analysis and the results they have reached. In this sense, M�ller describes through several subsections what each chapter focuses on, the structure and the method he intends to follow in his analyses. In another subsection he also mentions the Corpora that he has used for his study, providing the electronic links.

    By describing the matter of each chapter the author points out the complexity of Particle Verbs (chapter 6) because of the controversy reflected in scientific discussions over the last decades. M�ller tackles the question of whether Particle Verbs as combinations are single morphological objects or whether they must be considered to be the result of a syntactic process. According to him the discussion about the combination of verbs with particles has become very complicated, and in spite of previous studies there are some claims that remain unclear or are wrong, for instance, that particles cannot be fronted nor modified. He states that a broad empirical study will prove that claims like this are wrong.

    The Introduction ends with a subsection in which the author expresses his acknowledgments to concrete persons and to his employer for their help, stimulating discussion, and opportunities to present his ideas in several events. At this point the author mentions the places where he has presented some issues and ideas dealt with in this book.

    In chapter one M�ller widely describes the German sentence structure, focusing on the analysis of verb placement in German. In this way he introduces what he calls the topological fields model in order to describe the structure of the German clause. This classification is made according to the position of the finite verb in the sentence: a) final position, b) initial position, and finally c) verb- second position.

    He also discusses the notion of sentence bracket that allows to divide the German sentence in the so-called parts: Vorfeld ('initial field'), Mittelfield ('middle field'), and Nachfield ('final field'). With the aid of several sentences he explain how each one of these topological fields are usually filled in the German sentence.

    After this description M�ller introduces the version of the Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar (HPSG) that he is going to assume throughout the book. He describes HPSG as a theory in the sense of Saussure (1915), consisting of linguistic signs building form/meaning pairs. After introducing the HPSG and its key concepts, he then turns to the analysis of German sentence patterns from this new perspective. In this analysis he describes the syntactic relations between heads and their dependents.

    Chapter two could be divided into the two following main subsections: the first one is devoted to the description of notions such as verbal complexes, coherent and incoherent constructions and their analysis. For this purpose M�ller refers to Bech (1955) concerning non-finite verbs in German. After introducing the phenomena and its terminology following Bech, the author deals with the so-called 'Tests of coherence' in order to distinguish between coherent and incoherent constructions in German: a) Scope of adjuncts, b) Permutation in 'middle field', c) Intraposition, d) Extraposition, and e) Fronting. He also applies these tests to the German sentence in order to show how coherent and incoherent constructions can be distinguished from each other in this language.

    But this is not the only goal of the chapter. M�ller also discusses the distinction between 'control verbs' and 'raising verbs' in German. According to him the main difference between them is that control verbs have an argument that is assigned a semantic role by the control verb and that is coreferent with the subject of the embedded predicate, whereas raising verbs do not assign a thematic role to an argument of the embedded predicate (p. 46). M�ller demonstrates this by analysing the sentence: 'weil Karl zu schlafen versucht' ('because Karl tries to sleep'). As it can be seen, the subject of the German verb 'versuchen' ('try')is assigned a semantic role and at the same time it is coreferent with that of the embedded verb 'schlafen' ('sleep'). Nevertheless this is not the case of verbs like scheinen ('seem'), because scheinen does not assign a role to its subject.

    Chapter three deals with the formation of Passive in German. M�ller begins with the description of the two main kinds of Passive in German: the agentive Passive ('Vorgangspassive' in German) and the stative Passive ('Zustandspassiv'), the former being formed with the verb 'werden' and the latter with the verb 'sein'. At this point it must be said that this initial description by M�ller is extremely useful because such a distinction is very important in German. It is only the terminology used in this study that is not satisfactory to a certain extent. There is no problem with speaking of 'stative Passive' when dealing with constructions formed with the verb 'sein' ('to be'), but it is the term 'agentive' when speaking of passive constructions using the verb 'werden' that is not adequate since the main reason for distinguishing in German between both kinds of Passive depends upon regarding the verb action either as one in progress (with 'werden') or as one already finished (with 'sein'). Therefore it would be better to speak of 'progressive Passive' rather than of 'agentive Passive'.

    Having introduced these two main kinds of Passive in German the author discusses the reasons for using the Passive, for instance the fact that the subject of the verb action may be of little relevance. M�ller also discusses the formation of Passive with verbs that do not select an accusative as object. This is the case of verbs like 'helfen' ('help'), 'dienen' ('serve'), that govern a dative object instead of an accusative one -in the active voice- which remains dative in the passive construction, as it can be seen in the sentence: 'Die Frau hilft dem Mann' ('the woman helps the man') to 'Dem Mann wird geholfen' ('the man is being geholfen'). Though not mentioned by M�ller there are also verbs in German that govern a genitive object, like 'gedenken' ('remember') in sentences like 'Wir gedenken des Toten' ('we remember the Dead') to 'Des Toten wird gedacht' ('the Dead is being remembered'). When dealing with the Passive in German M�ller distinguishes between personal Passive (cases where the verb has an accusative object that is realized as nominative or promoted to subject in the Passive voice) and impersonal Passive (cases where the verb in the active voice does not govern an accusative object). Therefore there is no nominative argument because neither the dative nor the genitive object are realized as nominative in the Passive so that the Passive construction in each case remains subjectless.

    After describing the Passive in German M�ller discusses several variants of the Passive, such as the agentive, stative, dative, 'lassen' Passive and modal infinitive with 'sein' as auxiliary. M�ller claims that the analysis of the German Passive interacts with that of predicative constructions (in the previous chapter) and that it is very important in the context of resultative constructions which are dealt with in chapter five.

    Chapters four and five are devoted to the analysis of Secondary Predication. Here M�ller distinguishes between Depictive Secondary Predicates and Resultative Secondary Predicates. The distinction lies, according to M�ller (p. 173), in whether the Secondary Predicate provides information about the state of the entity it refers to (Depictive) or about the result of a verb action (Resultative). After presenting this distinction M�ller claims that Depictive Secondary Predicates have to be analyzed as adjuncts whereas Resultative Secondary Predicates are, on the one hand, part of a predicate complex and, on the other hand, form a complex predicate with the matrix verb.

    By analyzing the Resultative Secondary Predicates (Chapter 5) M�ller points out another important difference between Depictive and Resultative Secondary Predicates: while Iteration -i.e. to have more than one predicate per verb- is possible in the former it is impossible in the latter. In other words, there can be at most one (resultative) predicate per base verb.

    Chapter six deals with the so-called Particle Verbs and it is the largest one in the book. Nevertheless it must be said that the extension of the Chapter is perfectly justified due to the nature of these verb constructions and to the excellent way in which the author analyzes them. For these reasons, especially for the last one, this chapter is doubtless easily understandable to the reader.

    In it M�ller claims that Particle verbs should also be analyzed as Predicate Complex since their syntactic properties resemble those of constructions analyzed in previous chapters. Here the author describes what a Particle verb is and the different kinds of particles that may appear with the base verb.

    In general terms it must be said that M�ller provides here a very useful study of German Complex Predicates, and there are several reasons that reinforce this consideration: it is not only the fact that the book is written in English but also the fact that M�ller always introduces to the reader the item he is going to analyze. This makes the understanding of German Predicate Structure much easier for readers who do not have any previous knowledge of this language. In other words, when M�ller talks about, for instance, Particle Verbs he begins with an introduction into the very basic concept of what a Particle Verb is in German.

    Another good point of this book is the fact that the author always supplies the reader with the English translation of the German examples he analyzes. And he does so in two ways: firstly the word-for-word translation and then the idiomatic version in English, according to English syntax.

    Another good advantage of this book is the fact that the author always provides the English translation of the German examples, he analyzes. And he does it in two ways: firstly the word for word translation and then the logical version in English, according to the normal English syntax.

    One is aware of the relevance one of the issues -the Particle Verbs- has in the book, as M�ller himself seems to justify the fact of beginning this study with the description of verb placement in German by stressing its importance when discussing Particle Verb constructions (see page 1 and also the number of pages devoted to it). This can be considered to be a second call to the reader in order to draw their attention to this sort of verb combination, after referring to its complexity already in the introduction of the book.

    At this point it can be said that the structure of the book is very well organized. The chapters are rightly connected to each other since the first ones are presented as an introduction to the last ones. So one can understand why the Particle Verbs are analyzed at the last place: once the reader has understood and analyzed other well-known sorts of Complex Predicates, one can understand why Particle Verbs can also be considered and treated as Complex Predicates.

    Due to the structure of the book and to the way in which M�ller carries out the analysis of Complex Predicates in German, this book is highly recommendable for scholars of German Linguistics, especially for those who are working on verb constructions in German.


    Saussure, Ferdinand de (1915) Grundfragen der allgemeinen Sprachwissenschaft, Walter de Gruyter & Co.

    Bech, Gunner (1955) Studien �ber das deutsche Verbum infinitum, Max Niemeyer Verlag, Historisk-filologiske Meddekekser udgivet af Det Kongelike Danske Videnskabernes Selskab 35/36.


    The reviewer works at the Department of English and German Philology at the University of the Basque Country (Spain). He has studied German Philology in Seville, Cologne and Munich. His research interests include the historical development of Germanic languages and historical mutual influences between Germanic and Romance languages, especially in their oldest stages, from the perspective of Areal Linguistics.