How many theta roles in a reflexive verb?

Alexis Dimitriadis, Martin Everaert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


While purely syntactic approaches to reflexivization have characterized reflexive verbs in terms of detransitivization, we show that there is a discrepancy between syntactic and semantic arity. Reflexive verbs are syntactically intransitive, but semantically they are two-place predicates: both semantic roles of the base verb are syntactically encoded and accessible. We show that detransitivizing reflexivization must involve the assignment of both roles to the same individual, along the lines of the argument-structure operation of bundling (Reinhart & Siloni 2005), which combines two semantic roles into a single complex role. This allows the bundled roles to be assigned to a single syntactic argument, without special syntactic measures and without violating the theta criterion. We will give empirical support for this analysis by recalling evidence that reflexive verbs are intransitive, and by demonstrating that both theta roles are present in reflexive predicates and are syntactically accessible.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247–269
Number of pages22
JournalActa Linguistica Hungarica
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • verbal reflexive
  • theta roles
  • Theta System
  • event semantics


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