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chapter 6

Causativity and psychological verbs


Jos Luis Cifuentes Honrubia

This paper analyzes the transitive/intransitive alternation in class 2 psychologi-

cal verbs of Belletti and Rizzi. The transitive variant implies an agentive subject
and an aspectual change of state. The intransitive variant implies a cause and a
locative state. Spanish class 2 psychological verbs are causative due to the cause
component conflated in the verbal structure which gives rise to the verb: most
of the psychological verbs with a transitive/intransitive alternation are denomi-
nal or deadjetival causative verbs from Romance origin. Some others come from
a Latin denominal or deadjectival structure or from a causative meaning which
comes as a result of an evolution in their meaning (usually agentive and local).
Psychological verbs result from a conflation process by means of which the verb
semantically incorporates the psychological element as it results from a verbal
lexicalization of the emotional or psychological noun or adjective, thus shaping
a complex predicate. Psychological verbs are consequently complex predicates
with a semantically incorporated psychological element.

Keywords: causativity, psychological verb, dative

1. Introduction

A paradigmatic study about psychological verbs carried out by Belletti and Rizzi
(1987) established a triple distinction in Italian according to the syntactic position
occupied by the experiencer argument; and the equivalents in Spanish follow the same
distinction drawn for Italian:
a. the first class of verbs for which temere acts as a model have a subject as the
experiencer, and the direct object as the theme, thus sharing the syntactic pattern
of transitive constructions with an agentive subject, and belonging to the category
of states: Juan teme a las mujeres [Juan fears women].

* This research is supported by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, under
grants FF2010-19946 and FFI2013-45693-R.

doi 10.1075/ivitra.9.06cif
2015 John Benjamins Publishing Company
Chapter 6. Causativity and psychological verbs inSpanish 111

b. The second class and also the most problematic one is defined from the exam-
ple of preoccupare; that is to say, it has a theme as the subject and an experiencer as
the direct object. Now then, Pesetsky (1995) argues that these verbs may show two
argument structures: (a) a stative and unaccusative one; and (b) another eventive
one with no unnacusative properties. The eventive structure appears transitively,
with a subject that causes the state and which, in the opinion of many authors, is
likely to have an agentive interpretation: Bea preocupa a Juan [Bea worries Juan].
The unaccusative structure occurs with a dative as the experiencer and a theme as
the subject, as explained above: A Juan le preocupa la crisis [Juan is worried about
the crisis] with the peculiarity that this kind of subject-theme may be character-
ized by means of various features, such as involuntariness or inagentivity.
c. The third class has piacere as its model, although its examples are not numerous
in any language. This class is characterized by a dative experiencer and a theme as
the subject, with no transitive alternation: A Juan le place sentarse en el porche por
la tarde [Sitting at the porch in the evening pleases Juan].
The present chapter has as its aim to report the differences in meaning which can
derive from class 2 alternations. Our approach will consist in defending a cause-
component within the argument structure of the state intransitive variant. Such com-
ponent will result from a semantic conflation process determined by the origin of the
verbal formation: noun and adjective, essentially.

2. Aspectual alternations and values

Type 2 permits the transitive-intransitive alternation, with the added inconvenience

of an extremely common fluctuation in the use of clitics and their differentiation as
datives or direct objects. In any case, it seems clear to us that Belletti and Rizzis type2
has a transitive variant and an intransitive or stative one the latter becoming very
obvious when the (syntactic) subject is expressed in the form of an infinitive or a
subordinate noun clause. When that subject is non-animate and lacks the control and
agentivity features, it apparently tends to combine with a stative dative construction
(that is definitely our perception); however, a large number of speakers are bound to
have interferences with transitive constructions, especially when direct object topicali-
zation takes place in the transitive construction.
Juan alegr a todos los presentes > los alegr
(1) a. 
[Juan made everyone present happy > made them happy].
b.  A Juan le alegra cantar/ *a Juan lo alegra cantar
[Singing makes Juan happy].
c.  A Juan le alegra que le hagan la pelota/ *a Juan lo alegra que le hagan la
pelota [It makes Juan happy when people suck up to him].
d.  A Juan le alegran las cosas bien hechas /??a Juan lo alegran las cosas bien
hechas [Things well done make Juan happy].

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112 Jos Luis Cifuentes Honrubia

Therefore, this verb class generally makes three types of alternating constructions pos-
sible: (a) transitive; (b) intransitive with a dative experiencer; and (c) inchoative:
(2) a. Juan enfureci a su mujer [con su impuntualidad]
[Juan infuriated his wife [with his unpunctuality]].
b. A Juan le enfurece la impuntualidad [Unpunctuality infuriates Juan].
c. Juan se enfureci con las tontas preguntas de su vecino
[His neighbors stupid questions made Juan furious].
The contrast between the different constructions implies a series of dissimilarities
which have been attributed to a variety of factors, and more specifically to two of
them: (a) the subjects degree of agentivity (Campos 1999; Gutirrez Ordez 1999);
and (b)the aspectual content of predication (Parodi and Lujn 2000; Di Tullio 2004).
On the whole, it can be stated that, if the subject is an animate entity, the experi-
encer appears in the accusative case; instead, the dative case is preferred with a non-
animate entity as the subject with even fewer doubts regarding the tendency to use
the dative when it is an infinitive or a subordinate noun clause that act as the subject.
Nevertheless, it is also frequently possible to find inanimate, non-intentional subjects
in the transitive structure, which highlights the fact that alternation cannot be exclu-
sively based on the subjects features:
(3) Y en ese rato tuvo un sueo espantoso que logr aterrorizarla [And, during
that period, she had a dreadful dream which eventually terrified her].
Somehow, and regardless of the aspectual values that will be dealt with below, the con-
struction itself imposes a pattern upon syntactic structures with psychological verbs.
Thus, if the construction has an OVS pattern, there is a high likelihood of identifica-
tion with the intransitive construction; however, an SVO order favors the adoption of
a transitive construction, essentially reflected on the exposed clitic irrespective of
type of subject.

2.1 The aspectual content of predication

The pages written on the aspectual content of psychological are somewhat chaotic.
Most authors analyze experiencer subject verbs (Belletti and Rizzis class 1) as states
(Vanhoe 2002) and, in some cases, they even consider them unbounded states (Marn
2001)1 which does not exclude the possibility of some author describing them as

1. Robinson (1994) was the first to propose the distinction between bounded and unbounded
states which is to some extent equivalent to the distinction originally drawn by Carlson (1977)
between individual-level predicates and stage-level (or episodic) predicates: certain (stative)
predicates denote properties of individuals that are valid for any time interval, whereas other
predicates (also stative) denote properties of individuals that only apply to a specific time inter-
val. Marn (2001:57) links the preceding subdivision with the tradition to distinguish two states:
momentary and non-momentary, perfective and imperfective, dynamic and non-dynamic, rela-
tive and non-relative to an interval, or permanent and transitory.
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Chapter 6. Causativity and psychological verbs inSpanish 113

bounded states (Wanner 2001). Starting from Marn, Vanhoes test analysis (2002:158
163) clearly seems to prove that they are bounded states.
Few authors mention class 3 verbs, those with a dative experiencer, perhaps due to
their little clarity in English, but those who do mention these verbs seem to character-
ize them as states. Both Grimshaw (1990:29) and Marn (2001) explicitly characterize
them as states, although Marn further specifies them as unbounded states. The analy-
sis carried out by Vanhoe (2002:163165) seems to suggest that they are unbounded
states, although he highlights the peculiar functioning of delimitation tests. Kailuweit
(2007) has no doubts either about their being states, but he leaves the possibility for
them to be either bounded or unbounded.
Class 2 verbs are the most difficult ones to classify from an aspectual point of
view, mainly due to the lack of unanimity in the linguistic bibliography dedicated
to this matter. The vast majority of authors analyze class 2 verbs as delimited verbs,
though sometimes failing to specify whether they are achievements or accomplish-
ments. Other authors simply state that they are causative verbs (Pustejovsky 1995;
Van Valin and LaPolla 1997, etc.), even though causativity seems to imply an aspec-
tual delimitation. Van Voorst (1992) analyzes such verbs as achievements, whereas
Grimshaw (1990) and Wanner (2001) consider them accomplishments. In turn, Marn
treats them as bounded states, while Tenny (1994) and De Miguel (1999) argue that
these verbs can express a change of state, which entails seeing them as delimited verbs
(achievements or accomplishments).
The analysis presented here does not start from a unitary treatment of class 2;
instead, our approach insists on the need to give a differentiated treatment to each one
of the different alternations which they make possible in Spanish: inchoative; transi-
tive, and intransitive.
The intransitive alternation, with a dative experiencer the same as in construc-
tions with class 3 psychological verbs is understood as a state. These are construc-
tions with a non-human subject, an infinitive clause or a subordinate clause. Marn
(2001) sees them as bounded states.
The transitive variant in class 2 seems to be commonly characterized as a change-
of-state construction, especially because it appears with agentive animate subjects,
their aspectual delimitation as achievements or accomplishments remaining unclear.
Marn (2001) regards this group of verbs as bounded states, though.
Our proposal can be basically summarized from Parodi and Lujn (2000), and
it deserves to be mentioned that transitive constructions mean a change of state in
the object; they are consequently dynamic, whereas intransitive constructions with
a dative experiencer conceptualize the scene using location as a reference point; in
turn, the stimulus or cause (the syntactic subject) originates a state in the experiencer
(the dative), and it is this local-emotional state that is transmitted. Somehow, the con-
struction with a dative marks the origin and the inception of the new state, unlike the
transitive construction, which transmits a change of state, a new state, in the experi-
encer. This approach is grounded on the subjects agentivity, whereas the intransitive
construction tends to include non-animate and inagentive subjects that do not control
the situation, and finds its ultimate expression not so much in constructions with a

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114 Jos Luis Cifuentes Honrubia

subject in the infinitive or a subordinate clause but rather on impersonal construc-

tions, while transitive constructions usually have animate subjects which cause an
(emotional) change of state in the experiencer. The action is moved in both types of
constructions: towards the change of state in the transitive construction; and towards
the inception or origin of the state in the intransitive one insofar as a new state is
located in the experiencer.
The aforesaid new state in the intransitive construction is discursively defocal-
ized, since the construction tends to highlight (in word-order as well as in the syn-
tactic structure) the location and possession of this new state in the experiencer. In
other words, together with the idea of agentivity mentioned above, the other essential
element in the interpretation of the aforesaid constructions is the experiencers role
as a locator of emotions and feelings.2 The scene focuses not on the change of state, of
emotion or sentiment (transitive variant), but on the personal location or possession
of that new sentimental state. The consideration of the verb as one conflated with a
cause component acquires great importance in this respect because the subject is
not agentive and, therefore, does not provoke a change of state in the experiencer;
instead, it causes a state in the experiencer. A sort of metonymic relationship some-
how exists between these two alternations: the intransitive variant implies the incep-
tion of the state; something causes a state in the experiencer, whereas the transitive
variant entails the result of the state because the direct object suffers a change of state.
In spite of the obvious differences, it is our conviction that the ingressive character
mentioned by Vanhoe (2002) could be reinterpreted for this purpose in the previous
sense, which would explain why there is a stative interpretation in some cases and a
rather punctual one in others. The intransitive variant expresses the entry into a new
state the one which the dative has or possesses. A change of state in the direct object
(DO) occurs in the transitive variant.
The case of inchoative alternation is even less clear. What seems clear indeed is
the need to distinguish two types of reflexive psychological verbs within class 2 (Marn
and McNally 2011; Marn 2011; Fbregas, Marn and McNally 2012): those which have
aburrirse [to get bored] as their model, essentially stative, and those grouped together
around enfadarse [to get angry], mainly punctual. It seems clear that if we say that
somebody se est aburriendo [is getting bored], est aburrido [(he) is bored]; however,
if we say that someone se est enfadando [is getting angry], no est todava enfadado
[(he) is not angry yet]. The aforementioned authors establish a set of tests to prove
that verbs belonging to the aburrirse-type are neither telic nor dynamic, which is why
they can be understood as states, whereas those belonging to the enfadarse-type are
rather situated in the sphere of achievements, because they are not telic but they are
indeed punctual. More precisely, those included in the group of enfadarse would be

2. For Landau (2010), all the experiencers are mental locations, since the experiencer owns a
certain psychological state. Jackendoff (1990), Bouchard (1995), Baker (1997), Arad (1998) or
Becerra (2007), amongst others, also claim that stative subject-experiencer verbs denote locative

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Chapter 6. Causativity and psychological verbs inSpanish 115

represented as the initial limit of a state, unlike those grouped together around abur-
rirse, which would indicate not only the initial limit but a state interval. Therefore,
reflexive verbs would not reflect a change of state.
In the transitive variant, there is an agent subject because he is the one who enfada
[angers] or aburre [bores] someone else. This change of state in the DO is carried out
by the subject voluntarily or involuntarily, and, anyway, it always responds to some
added motivation which can appear in the form of an oblique object. That is to say, the
subject does algo [something] (voluntarily or involuntarily) which causes the change
of state in the DO: lo enfad/aburr con mis historias [I angered/bored him with my
stories]; in other words, a metonymic link exists between the subject and the motiva-
tion for the change of state.
In the intransitive variant, though, the agent subject disappears from the scene and
the external motivation provoking the state appears as the subject: a Juan le enfadan/
aburren mis historias [My stories anger/bore Juan]. This is a construction where the
dative is the locator, the container of a state caused by a non-animate subject. Both
the subjects non-animacity and the OVS syntactic arrangement lead us to believe that
the subject does not exactly provoke a change of state but simply presents the scene as
an abstract locative state, an abstract stative possessive location, insofar as it causes a
state in the dative; hence what was said above in relation to the inception of the state.
The animate subject of the inchoative variant can neither control nor govern a
state on its own, since it cannot aburrir or enfadar [to get bored or angry] at will and
be responsible for it (unless they are lying and, then, the psychological predication
expressed is not true). The inchoative can only cause a psychological affection in the
event that external motivation exists over which the subject has no control and for
which the subject is not responsible either. If yo me enfado cuando me tocan las orejas
[I get angry when somebody touches my ears] or yo me aburro con las pelculas de la
tele [I get bored with the films on TV], yo [I] is the one who carries out the action, but
the motivation is external: the cause will be internal, but the motivation is external and
totally uncontrolled by the subject. The motivation remains external in the transitive
variant, but a metonymic link exists with the subject; hence our conviction that it is
an agent subject, even though the subject may not be necessarily aware of it. There is
no link whatsoever between the external motivation and the subject in the inchoative
variant: they are independent.
As for the aspectual type of the inchoative variant, the aforesaid proposal made
by Marn and McNally could be admitted, because a part of them (the non-punctual
ones) might be understood as states, more specifically as the initial limit of the state
and a state, while the rest (the punctual ones) would be achievements and would thus
simply represent the initial state limit. Nevertheless, in our opinion, doubts arise about
many of the examples given by the authors. In any case, they are arguably located
at an intermediate point between the intransitive variant (an abstract locative state
which expresses the inception or causation of a state) and the transitive variant, which
implies a change of state.

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116 Jos Luis Cifuentes Honrubia

Therefore, class 2 verbs have the possibility to be constructed transitively, Juan

enfureci a su mujer [Juan infuriated his wife], with an agent subject that causes a new
state in the theme direct object; or intransitively, A Juan le enfurece la impuntualidad
[unpunctuality infuriates Juan], with a theme subject characterized by the lack of agen-
tivity and involuntariness (and which constitutes the cause of experimentation), and a
dative which experiences the state.
Another alternation also becomes visible, namely the one established from a con-
struction with se and, generally, an object which identifies the origin or the cause of
the state, and which can be often introduced by de [of/from], por [by] or con [with],
that all the previous verbs also permit:
Juan enfureci a su mujer [con su impuntualidad]
(4) a. 
[Juan infuriated his wife [with his unpunctuality]].
b. A Juan le enfurece la impuntualidad [unpunctuality infuriates Juan].
c.  Juan se enfureci con las tontas preguntas de su vecino
[Juan became furious with his neighbors stupid questions].
d. ?Juan enfureci con las tontas preguntas de su vecino
[Juan became furious with his neighbors stupid questions].
e. A Juan se le enfurece fcilmente [Juan can be easily infuriated].
As can be checked through the oblique variant, the theme subject in the dative con-
struction causes a state in the dative experiencer. That is why the experiencer is con-
ceived as a locative, because the change of state takes place there. It would be possible
to think of an origin that transmits a change of state in the dative, which is the recipi-
ent of the said change of state. However, the truth is that the dative currently tends to
be conceived as the locative in which that change of state takes place, with marks in
analytic paraphrases:
(5) A Juan le enfurece la impuntualidad [unpunctuality infuriates Juan]/
la impuntualidad [caus/ocasion] una gran furia en l [unpunctuality
[caused/provoked] (a) great fury in him]/ la impuntualidad le [caus/
ocasion] una gran furia [unpunctuality [caused/provoked] him (a) great
In other words, the dative construction implies an originally local conceptualization
of the scene, since the experiencer is the element where the new state is located. That
new state comes or originates from an involuntary or inagentive external causation
which is transmitted to the experiencer. The transitive construction Manuel enfureci a
Juan [Manuel infuriated Juan] shows a change of state, but the scene has been slightly
modified because location is no longer used as a reference point. Furthermore, the
subject is agentive and the DO could consequently be regarded as a theme or patient
rather than as an experiencer.
The conception of the experiencer as a location additionally allows us to easily
understand the subsequent possession relationship, insofar as what is located inside
oneself, one has it; one owns it.

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Chapter 6. Causativity and psychological verbs inSpanish 117

Transitive constructions are agentive, as shown by the fact that they admit the
imperative construction, the appearance of will verbs, and the possibility of adding
(6) a. Enfurcela! [Infuriate her!].
b. La enfureci deliberadamente [He deliberately infuriated her].
c.  La enfureci para que cometiera un error
[He infuriated her to cause her to make a mistake].
Intransitive constructions with verbs of psychological affection and dative, where the
subject is obligatorily non-human, represent a metonymic movement from the action
to the cause. There is not an agent carrying out a change of state in the DO, which
appears as the object affected by the action; instead, the intransitive construction con-
ceptualizes the causation of an affection in the person (in the dative case).
Since the communicated content is the causation (through a local schema for
state location), it should not consequently surprise us to check that the group of verbs
expressing psychological affection in Spanish are causative. There are three main types:
denominal causatives, deadjectival causatives, and Latin causatives. Many authors
point out that the essential distinction between temer-type psychological verbs and
preocupar-type psychological verbs is due to a difference in causativity (Vanhoe 2002).
The generativist tradition has argued that all the predicates in the group of preocupar
include an underlying causative predicate. Nevertheless, this approach has a serious
problem (Vanhoe 2002:178): how could it be explained that verbs such as asustar have
only two arguments and not three, like periphrastic causative predicates? Our response
to the problem mentioned by Vanhoe lies in the conflation processes4 as explained
by Talmy (2000) that preocupar-type verbs show, because they are all denominal

3. F. Martin (2010:372 and ff.) remarks that not all the psychological verbs (type 2) in French
are agentive. And this authors analysis is most probably appropriate for French. Nevertheless,
in the case of Spanish, in my opinion, it is still possible to maintain that transitive constructions
are agentive, in some high degree, because even a verb like preocupar, which parallels one of the
examples suggested by Martin, may show agentivity:
La preocup deliberadamente para que cometiera un error [He deliberately worried her to
cause her to make a mistake].
Preocpala con historias del pasado! [Worry her with stories from the past!]
Le orden que la preocupara para que olvidara lo ya hecho. [He ordered him to worry her to
cause her to forget what had already been done].
4. The idea that two or more singular thematic roles (or conceptual components) may conflate
seems firmly rooted in the linguistic tradition. Vogel (1998:169) even stated that he had not
heard of any thematic theory questioning that possibility. Vid. Cifuentes 2004 in this regard.
Bouchard (1995:274275) even suggests the possibility of a conceptual incorporation, but
without developing it in a theoretical way, confronting examples such as Pedro teme a Mara
[Pedro fears Mara] and Pedro tiene miedo/temor de Mara [Pedro is afraid of/has fear of Mara],
where the psychological affection may be explicit or incorporated into the verb.

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118 Jos Luis Cifuentes Honrubia

and deadjectival causatives, and the psychological state caused in the experiencer has
conflated with the actual verb in all of them; and that would be third argument put
forward by Vanhoe.
Psychological verbs make explicit a change of state carried out by the subject
as it is generally a psychological state. However, that change of state has its origin
in an external cause, the latter being the factor which triggers the change of state in
the subject. In the construction with dative, the external cause appears as a syntactic
subject, and the experiencer of the new state is shown as a dative (a Juan le enfurece
la tensin del ftbol [Football tension infuriates Juan]). This type of construction per-
mits the alternation with se (Juan se enfurece por/de/con la tensin del ftbol [Juan
becomes furious because of/at/with football tension]), where the experiencer appears
as the subject of a reflexive passive construction that expresses a state caused or origi-
nated by an oblique object, the external cause, and conceptual independence exists
between the subject and the external motivation. The verb in such constructions also
permits patterns where a slight change of scene can occur, mainly as a result of the
subjects agentive nature (with control and voluntariness) (Juan lo enfureci con tanta
tensin futbolstica [Juan infuriated him with so much football tension]), which turns
the hypothetical experiencer into the affected object, theme or patient, of the action,
expressing what was the external cause in the previous constructions (given either as
a subject or as a prepositional object) as the instrument or means through which the
agent achieves his aim, whether it is consciously or unconsciously and, in any case, a
metonymic dependence between the subject and the external motivation is required.
Obviously, and due not only to leistic variations, the thin conceptual boundary that
separates constructions often causes overlaps on one side or the other.
Therefore, psychological verbs result from a conflation process by means of which
the verb semantically incorporates the psychological element as it results from a
verbal lexicalization of the emotional or psychological noun or adjective, thus shaping
a complex predicate. Psychological verbs are consequently complex predicates with a
semantically incorporated psychological element.

3. Denominal causatives

A verb like emocionar implies the argument conflation causar emocin [to cause emo-
tion], the psychological affection or state being the noun from which the verb derives
(emocin [emotion]):
(7) Juan emocion a Pepe [con su llanto] [Juan moved Pepe [with his tears].
Lavale Ortiz (2013) organizes denominal causative verbs into 5 main groups:
i. The first group is formed by causative-locative verbs. These verbs conflate two
semantic contents: causativity or the externally caused physico-material change of
state and the location or expression of a spatial position. These predicates denote

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Chapter 6. Causativity and psychological verbs inSpanish 119

verbal actions through which an external entity provokes a physical or material change
in another entity, and a local content is implied in this process. Such verbs can in turn
be subdivided depending on whether it is a locatum or location schema:
a. The locatum ones indicate the action of constructing something in one place;
and the action can only be performed by agentive entities. Its argument structure
follows the pattern [hacer-causar algo [to make-cause something] (the conflated
noun, and the derivation base, is the figure) in DO (location ground)]; in other
words, they conflate the figure or element which moves with the action and the
connecting factor (which may be explicit as a prefix or implicit) in the denominal
verb, the location ground appearing as a direct object:
(8) Abarranc el terreno [He ravined the land]: [to make-build ravines in the
The change of state takes place in the location base (DO): the ground now has/
owns ravines which are formed or built into it.
b. The location ones, which conflate in the verb the ground that serves as a location
reference and the local link between the figure (which appears as a direct object
in this case) and the ground. Their argument structure follows the pattern [hacer-
causar en algo [to make-cause in something] (the conflated noun from which
the verb derives is the ground) + DO (location figure)], that is, they conflate the
ground or target element of the movement and the connector (which may be
explicit as a prefix or implicit) in the denominal verb, the location figure appearing
as a direct object:
(9) Los rompi y los amonton [He broke them and piled them up].
[hacer-localizar en montones [to make-locate in piles] + los [them]].
The change of state takes place in the location figure (DO), since it is positioned
by the ground in the aforesaid way.
The set formed by this subgroup of causative-locator verbs is not constructed
with the subject-cause + dative-experiencer schema, since it seems pragmatically
difficult to conceptualize a person as a location ground in the action. Moreover,
these would be physical actions, not psychological states. There could be some
isolated example which could pragmatically allow it, though: A Juan le agrieta el
fro [Juan is chapped by the cold].
ii. The second group that of causative-inchoative denominal verbs includes a
series of predicates where two clearly semantic contents conflate and coexist: the
change of state that is typical of causativity and the transformation with conversion
that characterizes inchoativity. Unlike what happens in the previous group, a trans-
formation instead of a location is involved in the causation process this time. The
aim is to cause-convert an entity into something else either totally or partially. Among
those describing a total conversion are the ones which express the division of an entity

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120 Jos Luis Cifuentes Honrubia

into fragments (fragmentar, desgajar, despedazar, etc.: [hacer-convertir en fragmentos

un elemento [to make-convert an element into fragments]); whereas those involving a
partial conversion include similative verbs: [hacer algo como X [to do something like
X]: its shape, aspect, property, etc.: enrollar: dar a algo forma de rollo [to give some-
thing the shape of a roll].
Very few verbs can select a person as the DO. To this must be added that, because
these verbs are considered resultative, it seems very difficult to separate a cause-expe-
riencer construction from the agent-theme transitive tendency, which makes the DO
clitic become the preferred one and, if anything, hesitation becomes visible in the
use of the pronominal forms le/lo:
Jos animaliz a Pepe con los secretos de su mujer
(10) a. 
[Jos animalized Pepe with his wifes secrets].
b.  A Pepe le/lo animalizaron los secretos ocultos de su mujer
[Pepe was animalized with his wifes hidden secrets].
c.  Pepe se animaliz con los secretos de su mujer
[Pepe became animalized with his wifes secrets].
It becomes really hard to distinguish convertir a alguien en un animal [to turn some-
body into an animal] (lo animaliz) from causar convertir a alguien en un animal [to
cause to convert somebody into an animal] (le animaliz), as the verbs perfective ten-
dency privileges the agentive value of the affected object. Nevertheless, if the semantic
evolution suffered by any of these verbs results in the emergence of new meanings
linked with the physical or psychical affection, the likelihood for the appearance of
a causative structure with an experiencer is inescapable (cabrear, abrasar, enrollar,
emputecer, etc.):
Cabrear: hacer que alguien se comporte como una cabra [to make someone behave
as a goat > goats are irascible > hacer que alguien se comporte de forma irascible [to
make somebody behave in an irascible way].
(11) a. Juan cabre a Pepe con sus chistes [Juan annoyed Pepe with his jokes].
b.  A Pepe le cabrea que Juan cuente chistes
[That Juan tells him jokes annoys Pepe].
c. *A Pepe lo cabrea que Juan cuente chistes
[That Juan tells him jokes annoys Pepe].
d.  Pepe se cabrea con los chistes de Juan
[Pepe becomes annoyed with Juans jokes].
Abrasar: hacer-convertir en brasas X [to make-convert X into embers] > embers are
caused by fire > fire burns > quemar [burn] > to burn physically and emotionally:
(12) a. Juan abras a Pepe con las ascuas [Juan burned Pepe with the embers].
b.  A Pepe le abras por dentro conocer los secretos de su mujer
[Knowing about his wifes secrets burnt Pepe inside].

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Chapter 6. Causativity and psychological verbs inSpanish 121

c. *A Pepe lo abras por dentro conocer los secretos de su mujer

[Knowing about his wifes secrets burnt Pepe inside].
d. Pepe se abras por dentro al conocer los secretos de su mujer
[Pepe burnt inside when he knew about his wifes secrets].
Enrollar: hacer algo como un rollo, dar forma de rollo [to do something like a roll, to
give the shape of a roll] > a roll is easy to unfold > easiness also means a tendency and
predisposition to it > to have a predisposition to (and, in excess, to be a bore):
Juan enroll a Pepe con sus aventuras y disparates
(13) a. 
[Juan got Pepe involved with his adventures and silly things].
b.  A Pepe le enrollan mucho las salidas nocturnas
[Pepe really loves nights out].
c. *A Pepe lo enrollan mucho las salidas nocturnas
[Pepe really loves nights out].
d.  Pepe se enrolla con las salidas nocturnas que no veas
[You cant imagine how much Pepe gets into nights out].
iii. The third group of denominal causative verbs is that of sensitive-emotional ones.
Because the argument structure of these verbs is causar-provocar una determinada
sensacin, sentimiento, etc., en una entidad humana o animada [to cause-provoke a cer-
tain sensation, feeling, etc. in a human or animate entity] their derivation base noun
being the sensation, feeling, etc. it seems logical to conclude that most of these verbs
permit the agent-theme/cause-experiencer alternation. These verbs can somehow be
placed on a level with causative-locative ones, though with a twofold difference: this
is a metaphorical location in a subject and not a location in an object/place; and the
located object is a sensation, feeling, etc. and not a physical object, which is why it
must have a human being as its ground:
Juan atemoriz a todos los presentes con su comportamiento extrao
(14) a. 
[Juan frightened everyone present with his strange behavior].
b.  A Juan le atemoriza tener que hablar en pblico
[Having to speak in public frightens Juan].
c. *A Juan lo atemoriza tener que hablar en pblico
[Having to speak in public frightens Juan].
d.  Juan se atemoriz con el extrao comportamiento de Pepe
[Juan became frightened with Pepes strange behavior].
e. A Juan se le atemoriza fcilmente [Juan is easily frightened].
iv. The so-called creative ones are the fourth group differentiated by Lavale Ortiz
within denominal verbs. They are characterized by the common feature of implying
the creation of a specific entity; hence their appearance in transitive patterns. Entity
creation is interpreted as a kind of causativity in a broad sense, which marks the pas-
sage from non-existence to existence, even though the originator of a creative action
is always an agentive entity. Three subtypes are distinguished in this section: (a) verbs

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122 Jos Luis Cifuentes Honrubia

with a created object (analizar, sopar) and with a performed act (confeccionar, paro-
diar); (b) local construction creative verbs where an object is created following a con-
struction or manual type of activity; they are therefore created-object verbs, but a clear
local value is added to these ones (alcantarillar, festonear, alomar, coleccionar); and
(c)verbs expressing the creation of an act of speech or writing, that is, verbs dicendi
and scribiendi (atildar, escoliar, biografiar, piropear, parafrasear).
The set formed by these verbs does not permit the dative-experiencer/ subject-
cause schema. Even though they are transitive, it turns out pragmatically very difficult
to be able to conceive an object affected by this type of action as a person with the
aforesaid verbs. Maybe because these are activities typically carried out by humans, it
is impossible to conceive a cause which locates a physical affection in a subject. There
are some examples which contradict the above, such as amenazar [to threaten], but it
becomes necessary to consider that threats can not only be physical, which is why it
makes sense to think of affection causes because they create a psychological state in
the experiencer:
(15) a. A Juan su pasado le amenaza con sacar historias turbias
[His past threatens Juan with bringing out murky stories].
b. A Juan se le amenaza fcilmente [Juan is easily threatened].
v. The last distinct group is that of agentive-inchoative verbs expressing a change of
state. Agentive-inchoative denominal verbs are the semantic counterparts of causa-
tive-inchoative denominal verbs. The difference lies in the type of process expressed
as well as in the entity acting as the initiator: on the one hand, causative-inchoative
verbs combine causativity and inchoativity or transformation into a new state, whereas
those involved in agentive-inchoative ones are agentivity and inchoativity processes;
and, on the other hand, the entity acting as the initiator in causative-inchoative verbs
was a cause which could appear as an agent or as a force, unlike what happens in
agentive-inchoative ones, where it is always going to be an exclusively agentive entity
that performs the action in an intentional, deliberate way. Therefore, these predicates
cannot alternate with an intransitive, non-agentive construction.

4. Deadjectival causatives

In parallel to denominal verbs, a deadjectival verb such as entristecer [to sadden]

entails the argument conflation X hace que Y est/sea triste [X makes Y be sad], as a
result of which Y has/owns the quality or state described by the adjective:
X entristeci al nio con historias pasadas
(16) a. 
[X saddened the child with past stories].
b. Al nio le entristecen las historias pasadas [Past stories sadden the child].
c.  El nio (se) entristecer con historias pasadas
[The child will become sad with past stories].

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Chapter 6. Causativity and psychological verbs inSpanish 123

Once again, the same as in causative denominal verbs, the possibility exists to find
inchoative pronominal constructions showing a new state in the subject but an exter-
nally motivated one. Nevertheless, curiously enough, despite seeming to be the usual
one, the pronominal construction may alternate with non-pronominal intransitive
structures: el nio (se) entristeci de/con/por las historias narradas [the child became
sad at/with/by the narrated stories], which did not happen in the case of denominal
verbs:?el nio emocion de/con/por las historias narradas [The child was moved at/
with/by the narrated stories].
A particularly important issue when it comes to deadjectival verbs is the border
line separating physical and psychical affection, which is not discreet among the verbs
belonging to this group apart from the fact that many elements may convey both
types of affections. There are many physical-affection deadjectival verbs, insofar as
they express the causation of a state or physical quality and no longer psychical.
Their behavior will be exactly the same as that of psychological-affection verbs:
La madre engorda al nio con pastelitos
(17) a. 
[The mother fattens the child with small cakes].
b. Al nio le engordan los pastelitos [Small cakes fatten the child].
c.  El nio engorda con pastelitos de crema
[The child gets fat with cream cakes].
d. ?El nio se engorda con pastelitos de crema
[The child gets fat with cream cakes].
As shown by these examples, the main difference seems to be found in the construc-
tion with se which sounds a little odd and intransitive constructions without se
seem preferable. They consequently allow the transitive affected element and change
of state alternation with the dative-experiencer causative construction. The intransi-
tive construction with a subject experiencer and an oblique cause is possible as well
but not the pronominal construction. The impersonal construction is feasible too.
Similarly, sympathetic partitive constructions either transitive or intransitive ones
may be common.
The following scale-like tendency seems to exist:
Psychical denominal verbs: they tend to use pronominal constructions with se.
Psychical deadjectival verbs: they show a proneness to the alternation of pro-
nominal constructions with and without se, although they apparently prefer the
construction with se.
Physical deadjectival verbs: they are prone to adopt the construction without se.
Deadjectival verbs imply an argument structure of four types (Cifuentes 2011).
Nevertheless, they all share the same type of argument conflation: attributive confla-
tion. All the cases analyzed show the assignment of a property, quality or state to an
attribution base, the difference consisting in the type of base and the type of process
involved. Every example reveals some type of attributive/predicative pattern, either
with a subject or a DO, and the same thing can be highlighted on the conceptual level:

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124 Jos Luis Cifuentes Honrubia

a single argument schema exists, which is the attributive one, with differences accord-
ing to the process involved and the attribution base.
The argument configuration of deadjectival verbs in Spanish is organized here
from the following categories and intermediate points:
a. It is possible to define a stative argument structure, infrequent in Spanish, where
it sometimes becomes necessary to distinguish a perfective behavior as opposed
to another imperfective one, represented by paraphrases with ser and estar, but
where the usual thing will be a diffuse zone when it comes to delimiting that dif-
ferentiation. These are intransitive constructions where the impact of attribution
falls upon the subject.
b. There is a second type of argument structure, a causative one, which can para-
phrased by hacer X a Y [to make X get Y], from which aspectual variants can be
developed that lead to the stative argument structure, and thus somehow act as
intermediaries with them: it is the case of paraphrases with dejar X a Y [to leave
X to Y], as well as the frequentative or ingressive values which are very often indi-
cated by verbs.
c. and d. The imperfective argument structure, hacerse X [to become X], and the
perfective argument structure, comportarse como X [to behave like X] are not
separated by clearly-defined border lines. These two structures are related to sta-
tive constructions by means of formations indicating the idea of result, with the
variant quedarse [to become], or an ingressive aspect, which constitute the bridge
or intermediate point towards the state. These are all intransitive constructions,
with or without pronominalization, where the attribution base is the subject.
Constructions with comportarse como X [to behave like X] also clearly make possi-
ble argument patterns requiring a patient that is affected by the process developed
through the verb, making the construction transitive in this case.
In short, and despite the argument diversity described above, it is consequently possi-
ble to understand the existence of a single argument schema for deadjectival construc-
tions in Spanish: the attributive schema. The differences between the aforesaid patterns
come from the impact that the schema has on the subject and the DO, as well as from
the previously mentioned aspectual variations, and from the possibility of additional
arguments being found.
a. Those deadjectival verbs which imply the conflation estar/ser X [to be X], whether
it is a physical or a mental change of state, do not permit the dative structure with
causation and experiencer; thus, there is obviously not a change of state, but a state, as
these are intransitive verbs:
(18) Juan cojea, ronquea, rojea [Juan limps, be hoarse, be red].
As the possibility of causation does not exist, it becomes impossible to locate a state
in the animate being (dative).

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Chapter 6. Causativity and psychological verbs inSpanish 125

b. The second schema, X causa a [Y llegar a ser/estar Z(adjetivo)] [X causes [Y to

become Z(adjective)], stands out as the most common one in Spanish. Because it is
a causative pattern, it makes sense to conclude that if the verb can combine with a
person as a DO as it does happen in most cases chances exist for the appearance of
a cause as the subject and a dative as an experiencer. They can reflect both a physical
and a psychical state:
Luis acobard al nio con los gritos
(19) a. 
[Luis intimidated the child with the (his) shouts].
b.  Al nio le acobarda que le griten
[That they shout at him intimidates the child].
c.  El nio se acobard con los gritos
[The child became intimidated by the shouts].
d. ?El nio acobard con los gritos
[The child became intimidated by the shouts].
c. The third schema is Y se comporta como X [Y behaves like X]. The verbs belong-
ing to this set must be divided into two groups: the pronominal ones (acanallarse,
agringarse, etc.); and the strictly speaking intransitive ones (bobear, bufonear, etc.). In
the case of intransitive verbs, there are no possibilities for the appearance of a cause as
the subject and a dative as an experiencer:
Rafa bobea cada vez que te ve
(20) a. 
[Rafa is fascinated every time he sees you].
b. *A Rafa le bobea que aparezcas en escena
[That you come into the scene fascinates Rafa].
This intransitive construction has an agent subject which could under no circum-
stances be regarded as the experiencer of an action.
By contrast, if the verb is pronominal, even though the clitic always agrees with
the subject, it still expresses affected element and result of the change of state, which
is why it is possible to find constructions containing an experiencer and a cause of
the action:
Juanito se ha agringado con tanta hamburguesa
(21) a. 
[Juanito has become gringoed with so many hamburgers].
b. ?Juanito te ha agringado con tanta hamburguesa
[Juanito has gringoed you with so many hamburgers].
c.  A Juan le agringa su pasin por las hamburguesas
[His passion for hamburgers gringoes him].
d. The last schema is the one illustrated by a set of verbs constructed from the confla-
tion hacerse X [to become X]. Most of these verbs are pronominal, although some are
simply intransitive (amarillecer, empalidecer, enflacar, etc.). Evidently, being pronomi-
nal, it is possible for them to be constructed with the subject-cause/dative-experiencer

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126 Jos Luis Cifuentes Honrubia

(22) a. Juan se bestializ [Juan became brutalized].

b. A Juan le bestializa su manera de comer [His way of eating brutalizes him].
As for the intransitive ones, they show a considerable degree of confusion, since the
few visible cases raise plenty of doubts. For example, enflaquecer [to get thin] and
encanecer [to get grey (hair)] appear as intransitive verbs in the DRAE, but examples
of transitive uses can be found in the CREA and the CORDE.
In fact, both group (c) and (d) show a lot of confusion because the verb has a per-
fective behavior, which is why the action implies an affected element; hence the great
difficulty to draw a distinction between the conceptualization of the affected state and
the result in the transitive construction, and the cause of the state in the intransitive
construction. Since the predicate always refers to the result derived from the change of
state, it becomes very difficult to distinguish causation. For that reason, the presence of
dative clitics is anecdotal, the presence of the DO prevailing to a larger extent even
with non-animate subjects.

5. Latin causative verbs

Many psychological and physical affection verbs express the alternation agent-subject
and DO-theme vs. subject-experiencer and dative-cause, which have a Latin origin.
They can be grouped together into three sets: (a) Latin deadjectival/denominal verbs;
(b) verbs with a causative meaning not given through denominal or deadjectival deri-
vation; and (c) verbs with a confusing etymology.

a. Deadjectival/denominal verbs
This is a very large group of verbs: alterar, cegar, conturbar, enervar, envanecer, exas-
perar, extraar, inquietar, moderar, obcecar, ofuscar, perjudicar, perturbar, turbar, etc.
The explanations for them follow the same patterns as the ones seen for Spanish. For
Cegar [to make blind]: According to Corominas and Pascual (1987), it comes from
Latin caecare, with the same meaning. Ernout and Meillet (1985) accredit that the
verb caec5 is deadjectival, coming from caecus, -a, -um, ciego [blind], which can
therefore mean a causative argument conflation similar to hacer ser ciego a Y [to make
Y be blind].
Conturbar [to perturb]: According to the RAE, it comes from Latin conturbre (con-
+ turb). Ernout and Meillet (1985) accredit turb as being derived from turba, -ae,

5. It was clearly transitive in Latin, and the causative meaning can be clearly identified in OLD
(Glare 1980): 1. to make blind, deprive of sight; (phr.) astu, ~are, to throw dust in the eyes of,
deceive. b (fig. phr.) ~are oculum, to choke the eye or bud (of a plant). 2. to make morally blind;
obscure the judgement of. 3. to make obscure.

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Chapter 6. Causativity and psychological verbs inSpanish 127

agitacin, desorden [agitation, disorder], and would have the causative meaning of
causar desorden, agitar [causing disorder, agitate]. In other words, this would be a
locative denominal causative: causar desorden en [to cause disorder in].
Enervar [to enervate]: According to Corominas and Pascual (1987), it comes from
nerure, with the same meaning. OLD seems to construct the transitive verb neru
from the adjective neruis, is, e, with the meaning of weak of energy, without strength,
languid, It would therefore be a deadjectival causative: hacer ser/estar dbil a Y [to
make Y be weak].

b. Verbs with a causative meaning

There are various examples in which, the same as in Spanish, the psychological value of
the verb is given by a metaphorical-metonymic motivation, normally from an agentive
meaning and a physical action, very common in the local context: cansar, conmover,
corromper, divertir, excitar, incitar, indisponer, influir, joder, ofender, satisfacer, sorpren-
der, etc. It becomes evident in all cases that they were originally transitive verbs with
an agentive subject. The metonymic-metaphorical link from an agent subject to subject
cause, along with the evolution of the actual meanings in the verbs considered, makes
it clear that they all have a causative meaning. For instance:
Divertir [to amuse]: According to Corominas and Pascual (1987) it comes from Latin
duertere (dis- + uert) apartarse [to move away], and from there distraerse [to dis-
tract oneself]. The meaning of affection is consequently not the original one; instead, it
is provoked from movement, mainly by means of metonymic relationships: apartarse
[to move away] > distraerse fsicamente [to distract oneself physically] > distraerse
mentalmente [to distract oneself mentally]. OLD highlights the confusion between
diuerto and deuerto, in relation to the value of movement, but its transitive functioning
is made clear; hence the possibility for a non-animate cause as the subject.
Joder [to fuck]: According to Corominas and Pascual (1987) it comes from Latin
ftre practicar el coito [to have sexual intercourse], with an easily understandable
broadening of meaning: tener sexo con una mujer [to have sex with a woman] >
mancillar fsica y emocionalmente a esa persona [to sully that person physically and
emotionally] > molestar [to disturb]. Ernout and Meillet (1985) do not clarify the
etymology of the Latin verb, undoubtedly linked with *ft to hit.

c. Verbs with a confusing etymology

There are some cases about which one cannot to give an explanation due to the confu-
sion derived from its Latin etymology. These are only a few, though: aburrir, afligir,
deprimir, estremecer, irritar, preocupar, tentar, and some others. The cases described
below can serve as examples:
Aburrir [to bore]: According to Corominas and Pascual (1987), it comes from Latin
abhorrre tener aversin (a algo) [to have an aversion (to something], derived from

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128 Jos Luis Cifuentes Honrubia

horrre erizarse [to get goose-bumps]: ab- + horre. The etymology of horre is inse-
cure; OLD assures that it comes from Sanskrit, but Ernout and Meillet (1985) present
its etymology as insecure, even with the possibility of a popular etymology between
horre and hordeum cebada [barley].
Afligir [to afflict]: According to Corominas and Pascual (1987), it comes from Latin
affligre golpear contra algo [to hit (against) something], abatir [to knock down] (ad
+ flg), and the latter from fligre golpear [to hit]. The metaphorical link between
the physical affection and the emotional and moral one (which already existed in
Latin) is quite simple. Its etymology also seems unclear, since Ernout and Meillet
(1985) consider it very rare and archaic, connected with the noun flctus, -s, choque,
golpe [crash, blow], equally rare and archaic, but no proof exists about the existence
of a denominal causative link between them, although there is indeed evidence of its
transitive, agentive value.
The conclusion drawn from our analysis is that, with the exception of those cases
where no clear proof exists about their etymology, Latin verbs have a causative value
due to several factors: denominal formation; deadjectival formation; and the evolution
of meaning from an agentive value until reaching the psychological affection causative

6. Conclusions

1. The transitive/intransitive alternation in class 2 psychological verbs is essentially

determined by three factors: the subjects degree of agentivity; the aspectual con-
tent of predication; and the order of elements in the construction.
2. The transitive variant in class 2 psychological verbs implies a subject agent and an
aspectual change of state.
3. The intransitive variant in class 2 psychological verbs implies a cause and a loca-
tive state.
4. In Spanish, class 2 psychological verbs are causative because of the cause compo-
nent conflated in the verbal formation which gives rise to the verb.
5. Most of the psychological verbs with a transitive/intransitive alternation are
denominal or deadjetival causative verbs of Romance origin. The remaining ones
find their origin in a Latin denominal or deadjectival formation or in a causative
meaning which comes as a result of an evolution in their meaning (usually agen-
tive and local).
6. Many physical verbs follow a pattern resembling that of psychological ones when
it comes to the appearance of the dative.

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Chapter 6. Causativity and psychological verbs inSpanish 129


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