Simplifying the theoretical treatment of wager verbs

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Since at least Postal (1974. On raising. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press), English has been assumed to possess a class of verbs that does not syntactically tolerate an overt noun phrase in the "usual"subject position of an infinitival complement clause but will allow one if it has undergone passivization, Wh-formation, Heavy-NP Shift, etc. This class of verbs has been variously described as Derived Object Constraint (DOC) verbs (Postal, Paul. 1974. On raising. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, Postal, Paul. 1993. Some defective paradigms. Linguistic Inquiry 24(2). 347-364), ECM-with-Focus verbs (Rooryck, Johan. 2000. Configurations of sentential complementation: Perspectives from Romance languages. London & New York: Routledge), and wager-class verbs (Pesetsky, David. 2019. Exfoliation: Towards a derivational theory of clause size. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Unpublished ms., Version 2.0. (accessed 26 April 2022)). Based on the author's own judgments, supplemented by the results of an acceptability survey conducted at an American university, this paper makes the novel claim that an English verb class with these grammatical properties does not exist, a finding that significantly reduces the inventory of grammatical mechanisms needed to account for complementation types generally. In addition, this paper develops new accounts of two distributional characteristics of the wager verbs that certain other Raising to Object (RO)/Exceptional Case Marking (ECM) verbs do not exhibit. First, infinitival complements to wager verbs are argued to be aspectually linked to the matrix verb, while those of predict-type verbs are not. This explains a well-known stative restriction on complements to this verb class, which includes believe. Second, judgments of unacceptability previously attributed to Postal's DOC or its counterpart in other theories are argued to result from three pragmatic usage preferences involving register and atypical degree that are encoded by the selection of the marked RO option with this verb class, preferences that play out differently for believe as opposed to wager verbs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)461-497
Number of pages37
JournalLinguistic Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

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