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date: 09 December 2022

Passive Periphrases in the Romance Languagesfree

Passive Periphrases in the Romance Languagesfree

  • Adam LedgewayAdam LedgewayUniversity of Cambridge


Romance periphrastic passives are valency-reducing constructions, involving detransitivization of the clause which is variously manifested in: (a) the defocusing of the Agent through its suppression or demotion to an oblique adjunct; (b) the topicalization and subjectization of an affected non-Agent; and (c) the stativization of the predicate through the use of dedicated verb forms consisting of an auxiliary and nonfinite verb form (viz., participle) which mark the perfective-resultative aspect of the denoted event. Standard and nonstandard Romance varieties present a wealth of periphrastic passive constructions which exhibit a great deal of microvariation, both within individual varieties and across larger areal groupings, in the various formal dimensions of use, meaning, formation, and distribution of the periphrastic passive. These parameters of varation include, among other things, some quite remarkable degrees of diachronic, diatopic, diamesic, and diastratic variation in the distribution and frequency of individual passive periphrases; the choice of passive auxiliary which, in accordance with various syntactic, semantic, and lexical factors, can variously surface as be, become, stay, have, come, go, see, make, remain/stay, want; the distribution of the defocused Agent, especially in relation to a general preference for the so-called short passive, and variation, both diachronic and synchronic, in the formal marking of the defocused Agent both within and across individual Romance varieties; the range and availability of different arguments to undergo subjectization (Theme/Patient > Recipient/Benefactive); the availability and formal properties of the impersonal-passive which, to varying degrees, may enter into competition with a number of the available passive periphrases; the formal licensing conditions operative on participle agreement, in a number of cases linked to the choice of passive auxiliary and the semantic role of the subjectized argument; and the distribution and availability of formal distinctions in the participle to mark the active–passive opposition.


  • Historical Linguistics
  • Language Families/Areas/Contact
  • Syntax

1. Introduction

Following standard typological assumptions,1 the Romance periphrastic passive, an unaccusative valency-reducing operation, involves detransitivization of the clause variously manifested in: (i) defocusing of the Agent, which is either superficially suppressed (1a) or, less frequently, demoted to an oblique adjunct (1b), yielding the so-called short and long passives, respectively; (ii) topicalization and concomitant subjectization of an affected non-Agent, prototypically the Patient/Theme (1a-b,d), more rarely a Recipient/Benefactive (1c); (iii) stativization of the predicate through dedicated forms, namely auxiliary (typically be) and past participle, which mark the perfective-resultative aspect of the denoted event (1d).


The Romance periphrasis continues an original Latin construction which, unlike its Romance reflex, was restricted to making the perfective paradigms of the middle voice (2a), with a synthetic formation in -r marking the imperfective paradigms (2b):


With the loss of the synthetic formation (Cennamo, 2016),2 the be-periphrasis was generalized with concomitant temporal reinterpretation, such that the perfective reading came to be marked on the auxiliary, rather than by the presence of the perfective participle (in conjunction with esse ‘be’) as in Latin; for example, Lat. iuvatus est ‘he has been helped (lit. he is helped)’ vs Ro. este/a fost ajutat ‘he is/has been helped.’ However, this temporal reinterpretation was gradual, since with telic predicates in earlier stages of Romance, reflexes of forms such as iuvatus est often retain the ambiguity that they must have had in late Latin between the original perfective (‘he has been helped’) and the innovative imperfective (‘he is (being) helped’) readings:3


Below a number of parameters of variation found across Romance in relation to passive periphrases are explored from a comparative perspective, including distribution and frequency (Section 2), auxiliary choice (Section 3), expression of agent (Section 4), subjectization of different argument types (Section 5), distribution of impersonal-passive (Section 6), and licensing of participle agreement and competing participle forms (Section 7).

2. Distribution

2.1 Absence and Unpopularity

It is commonplace in treatments of the Romance passive to consider it little used, at least in spoken registers. Indeed, there are some nonstandard varieties with little or no established written tradition, especially in Italy, where the canonical be-passive is reported to be entirely absent, despite the relevant varieties displaying all the necessary ingredients (auxiliary be and participle),4 for example, dialects of the province of Bari (Imperio, 1990, p. 202, paceLopez, 1952, p. 36); Montegiorgio and Fermo (Cennamo, 1997, p. 148); San Tommaso and Genoa (Bentley, Ciconte, & Cruschina, 2013, pp. 26, 31); Polia (Marchese, 2016, p. lxxii); Bova (Squillaci, 2017, pp. 74–79); and Pantelleria (Loporcaro, Kägi, & Gardani, 2018). In other nonstandard varieties, by contrast, although the existence of the passive is acknowledged, it is described as very rare or even as an affectation of formal (written) registers,5 where it is generally limited to inanimate (or at least nonhuman) subjects (Cennamo, 1997, p. 148, 2016, p. 975):


Consequently, examples of animate subjects such as the following prove rare:


2.2 Competition from Active Structures

Bentley (2016, p. 827) notes that resistance to the passive periphrasis (6a) “is widespread across Romance, especially in informal registers,” where active strategies (6b) are preferred (Cennamo, 1997, p. 147; Chapman, 2017, p. 31; Ledgeway, 2016a, pp. 225–226, 2016b, p. 266; Leone, 1995, p. 42 n.80; Pittau, 1972, p. 51):

(6) Galician (Bentley, 2016, p. 827)

The passive periphrasis is therefore commonly in competition with a whole series of active structures (which also allow a broader range of arguments other than just Patients/Themes to be topicalized), including clitic left-/right-dislocation of the non-Agent (7); 3pl verb forms with a generic null subject (8); a third-person reflexive construction, generally with suppression of the underling Agent (9); and a number of indefinite structures variously headed by a 3sg reflexive subject (10a), reflexes of Lat. (ille/unus) homo ‘(the/a) man’ (10b) and unus ‘one’ (10c), and generic DPs meaning ‘the person/people’ (10d).6





2.3 Frequency, Register, and Restrictions

While there is some truth to claims about the unpopularity of the Romance passive, it would be rash to dismiss it since, in the right context and under the appropriate pragmatic circumstances, especially in the standard languages, the distribution of the passive periphrasis can be quite productive. Such is the case in journalistic prose where, under supposed English influence, its use is apparently increasing in Spanish (De Bruyne & Pountain, 1995, p. 462) and Catalan (Wheeler, Yates, & Dols, 1999, pp. 507–508). Romanian is also of interest since in the written language, under probable influence from French and Italian, the passive is more common than the reflexive se construction which prevailed in earlier stages of the language (Vasilescu, 2016, §; Zafiu, 2012, § By contrast, in earlier stages of the dialects of southern Italy (Formentin, 1998, p.445; Ledgeway, 2009, p. 665; Mocciaro, 2010, §3, 2013) the (short) passive was much more common than the reflexive se/si-passive, representing the unmarked means of topicalizing the non-Agent (perhaps a residue of a former V2 syntax).

Although the passive in the standard languages generally proves more frequent in (formal) written registers than in the spoken language (Ayres-Bennett & Carruthers, 2001, p. 240; Badia i Margarit, 1994, p. 290; Butt & Benjamin, 1994, p. 363; Dubert & Galves, 2016, p. 426), its use is far from rare in the spoken language. Indeed, Ball (2000, p. 107) notes that the difference between written and colloquial French is not so much the frequency of the passive, but the near absence of the long passive in the latter, citing as frequent structures in spoken French examples such as la sonorisation avait été cassée la veille ‘the sound system had been broken the day before.’ Similarly, Nouveau and Riegel (2016, p. 141) maintain that in the spoken French of the Bas-Rhin (Alsace) the passive “is not as rare as may be claimed,” while Rossi-Gensane (2016, p. 99), following Blanche-Benveniste (2000), goes so far as to claim that some verb classes such as those expressing emotions are frequently used in the passive in spoken French. Also of interest is the distinctive colloquial passive structure found with the restructuring aspectuals commencer ‘begin’ and finir ‘finish,’ where the passive reading of the infinitival complement is marked on the aspectual (cf. also Salvi, 2010, §2.4 for old Tuscan):


For Spanish, Butt and Benjamin (1994, p. 363) observe that the passive is found in spontaneous speech particularly in Latin American varieties, for example Argentinian Sp. La película se ve que fue hecha en Alemania, ‘It’s clear that the film was made in Germany.’ Another notable case is spoken Brazilian Portuguese where, given the development of a very rigid SVO order, Thomas (1969, p. 95) maintains that various pragmatic interpretations achieved through a more flexible word order in other Romance varieties have to be realized through the passive in Brazilian Portuguese.

Consequently, the use of the passive in spoken Romance is hardly negligible. Indeed, in her comparative study of the distribution of the passive in Tuscan, Abruzzese (Tollese), and Sicilian (Palermitan), Chapman (2017) finds that, although the use of the passive generally proves unpopular in speech—with greater restrictions in Abruzzese and, in particular, Sicilian than in Tuscan—its acceptability is much improved when used in conjunction with verbs with highly agentive Actors. In particular, verbs which rank high (12a) on Hopper and Thompson’s (1980) Transitivity Hierarchy (in terms of such semantic parameters as volitionality, telicity, punctuality, agency of subject, and affectedness of object) are more susceptible to passivization than those which rank lower (12b):

(12) Palermitano (Chapman, 2017, p. 76)

This conclusion holds more broadly across Romance, including in the standard languages where higher transitivity of the verb correlates with greater acceptability (cf. Cennamo, 2016, p. 975). For instance, Judge and Healey (1983, pp. 209–210) observe that in French the passive 13a is preferred over the active 13b, in which the Patient/Theme is mapped onto an animate argument and the Agent onto an inanimate (cf. Manoliu Manea, 1989, p. 110):

(13) French

The relevance of transitivity also explains the widely reported: (i) ungrammaticality of the passive in conjunction with statives, modals,7 verbs of measurement, and unergatives with cognate internal objects (14a), all predicates characterized by low transitivity (Dragomirescu, 2013, p. 169; Fagyal, Kibbee, & Jenkins, 2006, p. 129; IEC, 2016, p. 887; Manoliu Manea, 1989, p. 111; Rowlett, 2007, p. 44 n.34); (ii) degraded nature of the passive with by-phrases containing one/two-person pronouns (14b), prototypical Agents (Ayres-Bennett & Carruthers, 2001, p. 240; Butt & Benjamin, 1994, p. 366; IEC, 2016, p. 890; Wheeler et al., 1999, p. 509); and (iii) greater acceptability, especially in Ibero-Romance (14c), of the passive with (és)ser ‘be’ in perfective/punctual temporal contexts (Badia i Margarit, 1994, p. 290; Butt & Benjamin, 1994, p. 364; IEC, 2016, p. 888; Wheeler et al., 1999, p. 509).


3. Auxiliary Choice

3.1 Be: *ˈɛssere, Fire

The Romance passive auxiliary par excellence is be, a reflex of esse(*re) (> IbR./ItR. (és)ser/esse(re), Fr. être), suppletively blended with reflexes of stare ‘stand’ in some parts of the paradigm outside of Ibero-Romance (cf. Fr./It. était/stato ‘be.pst.ipfv.3sg/be.ptcp.msg’) and, in Daco-Romance, with reflexes of fieri ‘become’ (cf. Ro. fi ‘be.inf’). However, in some early Romance varieties, as well as late Latin (Cennamo, 2003, §3), reflexes of *ˈɛssere and fieri had not yet (completely) merged, with the two showing partly specialized and complementary uses (cf. essere vs venire in Italo-Romance in Section 3.3). For example, Cennamo (2003, §4.2) demonstrates how in the old Lombard of Bonvesin esse may occur in both imperfective and perfective parts of the passive paradigm (15a–b), as well as in copular uses (15c), whereas fir is restricted to licensing strictly dynamic readings in the imperfective passive (15d).

(15) old Lombard (Cennamo, 2003, §4.2)

Today, Gallo- and Daco-Romance varieties do not display any such aspectual distinction in the passive auxiliary, with indiscriminate use of be in both imperfective and perfective contexts, including, where available, in the so-called surcomposés forms (Ayres-Bennett & Carruthers, 1992, p. 220; Benincà, Parry, & Pescarini, 2016, pp. 204–205; cf. also example 63c).

Despite the lexical aspectual split between esse and fir reviewed above for old Lombard, Abeillé and Godard (2000, pp. 5–6, 2002, pp. 407–408) argue that in French, Italian, and Romanian passive and copular instantiations of be constitute one and the same verb distinct from be qua perfective auxiliary. Strong morphological evidence in this regard comes from Romanian, where in the subjunctive passive/copular be (16a) presents a fully inflected paradigm whereas the perfective auxiliary be occurs in uninflected form (16b).


Other evidence for the formal identification of the passive auxiliary with the copula, rather than the perfective auxiliary, comes from the: (i) distribution of initial consonantal lengthening, so-called raddoppiamento/rafforzamento fonosintattico (RF) ‘phonosyntactic doubling/strengthening,’ in dialects of central-southern Italy (Biberauer & D’Alessandro, 2006; Ledgeway, 2018, forthcoming, a) where passive/copular be, but not perfective be, triggers RF (17); (ii) ability to pronominalize and cleft participial/adjectival predicates of passive/copular be (18a), but not active participles of auxiliary be (18b).


(18) French (Abeillé & Godard, 2002, p. 407)

3.2 Be: *ˈɛssere vs Stare

Ibero-Romance and most dialects of the upper south of Italy present two be copulas derived from *ˈɛssere and stare.8 Simplifying a rather complex distribution, further complicated by often subtle diachronic and diatopic variation, the distinction between the two essentially reduces to an individual- vs stage-level opposition (Carlson, 1977), with reflexes of *ˈɛssere and stare licensing intrinsic/permanent and extrinsic/accidental interpretations, respectively. These varieties therefore draw a formal distinction between a dynamic and resultant-state passive through the respective selection of the two auxiliaries,9 which, in turn, may align with different participial types (Section 7.2):


On the whole, the verbal passive with essere proves most felicitous with the eventive readings of the preterite, pluperfect, future/conditional perfect, and the infinitive, and much less so with the present and imperfect which, by contrast, are more amenable to occurring in the resultative passive with stare (cf. 14c). Formally, it is unclear whether the latter constitutes a genuine passive or a simple resultative copular construction (viz., adjectival passive), witness the felicity of the translation ‘remain’ in 20. Evidence in favor of the latter interpretation also comes from the fact that by-phrases generally prove ill formed (though see De Bruyne & Pountain, 1995, p. 464)


3.3 Be (*ˈɛssere) vs Come (Venire)

As with the modern varieties seen in Section 3.1, in its earliest attestations the passive auxiliary in old Tuscan is always essere ‘be’ in both perfective and imperfective contexts (Salvi, 2010, §2.2), displaying the aspectual ambiguity typical of the early Romance imperfective forms noted in Section 1. From around the 14th century probable contact with Venetan varieties led to the adoption and gradual grammaticalization in Tuscan, and subsequently Italian, of venire ‘come’ as a passive auxiliary (Giacalone Ramat & Sansò, 2014). For example, as demonstrated in Cennamo (2003, §4.1), old Venetian had three passive auxiliaries, essere ‘be,’ venire ‘come,’ and, more marginally, fire ‘become.’ Rather like what was observed for old Lombard in Section 3.1, in old Venetian the first was found predominantly in perfective paradigms, whereas the latter two, and venire in particular, were deployed to mark the dynamic passive in imperfective paradigms, typically the present and imperfect indicative. The net result is an increasingly specialized aspectual opposition between essere ‘be’ marking the perfective and venire ‘come’ (more rarely fire ‘become’) licensing imperfective readings (cf. also Meyer-Lübke, 1900, §308). This is also more or less an accurate description of the distribution of essere and venire in the Italian passive today (Maiden & Robustelli, 2007, pp. 282–284; Remberger, 2006a, pp. 185–187; Vincent, 1987, 2014, pp. 18–19), where the former most naturally licenses a durative/resultative reading (21a) rather than a dynamic/eventive reading which is most readily expressed by the latter (21b). This, in turn, explains why venire never penetrated compound perfective paradigms such as 21c, where the punctual interpretation of essere is robust, and why both auxiliaries overlap in the preterite whose punctual interpretation exceptionally forces an eventive reading of essere (21d).

(21) modern Italian

This distribution of come as a dynamic passive auxiliary,10 although not particularly popular, is not unknown in the dialects of Italy (22a; Rohlfs, 1969, p. 129),11 and has even penetrated the Catalan dialect of Alghero (22b).


To a much lesser extent come is also attested in Romanian. Whereas in the written formal language veni ‘come,’ probably under the influence of Italian (Dragomirescu & Nicolae, 2014, p. 71), largely equates with fi ‘be’ in all relevant respects (Dragomirescu & Nicolae, 2012, p. 80), including its compatibility with by-phrases (23a), in the spoken language, especially in south(eastern) Romania, veni equates more readily with the reflexive se-passive (Dragomirescu & Nicolae, 2012, pp. 76–78, 2014, pp. 72–76; Iordan, 1950, pp. 277–279). Consequently, on a par with the se-passive, in the spoken language the veni-passive proves incompatible with by-phrases and licenses a weak deontic or iterative reading (23b), which, in turn, renders it incompatible with the compound perfective paradigms (Dragomirescu & Nicolae, 2012, p. 77, 2014, p. 92).

(23) Romanian (Dragomirescu & Nicolae, 2014)

However, the greatest expansion and grammaticalization of come is found in Raeto-Romance (Anderson, 2016, p. 177; Haiman & Benincà, 1992, p. 108; Meyer-Lübke, 1900, §308), where reflexives of venire have entirely ousted *ˈɛssere, a usage restricted to noncompound paradigms in many Romansh varieties and in Fassano and Livinallese (24a), where *ˈɛssere is retained only in compound paradigms (24b). In other varieties, by contrast, venire is extended also to compound paradigms, optionally in Engadine and Friulian (24c; Haiman & Benincà, 1992, p. 108) and obligatorily in Gaderano and Gardenese (24d; Salvi, 2016, p. 166).


The expansion of come in this way appears to be an areal feature, inasmuch as veri ‘come’ (alongside fi ‘be’) is attested, including, significantly, also in compound paradigms, in the northern (25a) and, above all, southern (25b) varieties of Istro-Romanian (Dragomirescu & Nicolae, 2012, p. 78, 2014, p. 79; Geană, 2017, pp. 38–39; Timotin, 2000, pp. 487–488), which have variously been influenced in their history by the nearby Italo-/Raeto-Romance varieties spoken just beyond the Italian-Croatian border (Kovačec, 1984, p. 577).

(25) Istro-Romanian

3.4 Have (Habere)

Quite remarkable, not just within Romance but more broadly, are a number of dialects spoken in the Pugliese province of Bari and southeastern Lucania, where the passive auxiliaries *ˈɛssere ‘be’ and venire ‘come’ alternate to varying degrees with habere ‘have’ (Cennamo, 1997, p. 150, 2016, p. 975; Loporcaro, 1988, pp. 291–299, 2012, pp. 179–180).


Representative is the Pugliese dialect of Altamura (Loporcaro, 1988, pp. 291–299) where, as noted in note 10, the passive auxiliary is lexicalized as venire ‘come’ in the dynamic paradigms of the present, indicative, and preterite (27a), with *ˈɛssere occurring only in the compound paradigms and the preterite (27b), in the latter case overlapping with venire (27c).

(27) Altamurano (Loporcaro, 1988, pp. 291, 296)

Essentially, *ˈɛssere is excluded in the present and imperfect for independent historical reasons arising out of a variable pattern of perfective auxiliary alternation (Loporcaro, 1988, pp. 292–293), since present and imperfect forms of *ˈɛssere—largely in free variation with habere12 license active perfective structures in conjunction with the participle (Loporcaro, 1988, pp. 278ff., 1998, p. 65).13 However, *ˈɛssere may occur in the preterite since there is no competing active past anterior tense.

It is presumably thanks to this pattern of predominantly free variation between *ˈɛssere and habere in active perfective structures that habere was also subsequently extended to the passive where *ˈɛssere was already independently established (Loporcaro, 1988, pp. 295–296), a hypothesis supported by the observation that, as a passive auxiliary, habere appears to be limited to those Pugliese and Lucanian varieties displaying free alternation of both auxiliaries in the active. Thus, alongside venire and *ˈɛssere in 27a–c, we also find passive auxiliary habere in the same contexts, namely present and imperfect (28a), compound tenses (28b),14 and preterite (28c).

(28) Altamurano (Loporcaro, 1988, p. 292)

Also noteworthy is the fact that Altamurano allows subjectization of Recipients/Benefactives (cf. Section 5), a structure which Loporcaro (1988, pp. 295–296) retraces to resultative copular structures with a predicative participle (29a). Following the aforementioned extension of habere to the passive, these became amenable to reanalysis as genuine passive structures, which, in turn, could also be constructed with essere (29b) given the now free variation of both auxiliaries in the passive along the lines of the active model.

(29) Altamurano

This grammaticalization process from the original resultative structure also played a significant role in the expansion of have as a passive auxiliary: the have-passive is essentially restricted to animate subjects (30a), with inanimate and nonhuman subjects proving ungrammatical or, at best, marginal, forcing the use of the be-passive (30b; cf. Loporcaro, 1988, pp. 297–298). This otherwise unexpected animacy restriction represents a residue of the copular resultative structure 29a, in which the surface subject is invariably a Recipient/Benefactive, a role prototypically associated with animates. However, this animacy restriction is suspended in 30c where, as observed, the be-passive is excluded in the present, licensing have (or come) as a last-resort mechanism.

(30) Altamurano (Loporcaro, 1988, pp. 293, 298)

A quite different case is found in the southern Calabrian dialect of Polia (31; Marchese, 2016, pp. xviii–xix). Unlike the previous examples of the have-passive, there is no free variation in active auxiliary selection in this dialect, which generalizes avire ‘have’ in all cases (Marchese, 2016, p. XVIII), and the subject of the have-passive shows no animacy restrictions.


3.5 See (Vedere)

Though displaying varying degrees of grammaticalization, vedere ‘see’ in its reflexive form proves a common passive auxiliary across Romance (Giacalone Ramat, 2017, §6) and, especially, in journalistic and literary styles, e.g. Fr. Anne se voit offrir le prix ‘Anne is offered (lit. sees herself offer.inf) the prize’. As this example illustrates, in French see is typically followed by the infinitive which, despite any overt marking for voice, receives a passive interpretation (cf. note 2) and, unlike the be-passive, allows subjectization of Recipients/Benefactives. This construction, attested since at least the 17th century (Price, 1984, p. 236), also exhibits a more recent and less grammaticalized variant in which see is followed by the participle, but differs from the more frequent infinitival variant in emphasizing end result (Giacalone Ramat, 2017, pp. 171–172), for example Il se voyait envahir/envahi par un sentiment d’échec ‘He was being/was taken over (lit. saw himself invade.inf/ptcp) by a sense of failure.’ In the infinitival construction, see is widely recognized to be fully grammaticalized (cf. Giacalone Ramat, 2017, p. 171; Price, 1984, pp. 236–237), since it has been bleached of its original semantic value, witness its use with verbs of saying (e.g. M. Boulganine se serait vu suggérer de prendre sa retraite ‘M. Bouganine was apparently advised [lit. would have seen himself suggest.inf] to retire’) and inanimate subjects (e.g. Le premier … se voit attribuer un champ beaucoup plus vaste que le second ‘The first [process] is assigned [lit. sees itself attribute.inf] to a much wider field than the second’).

In other standard Romance varieties, only the participial construction is regularly found, thereby excluding the subjectization of Recipients/Benefactives. In both Portuguese (Giacalone Ramat, 2017, pp. 172–173; Lehmann, Pinto de Lima, & Soares, 2010) and Spanish (Butt & Benjamin, 1994, p. 368) the construction enjoys a highly grammaticalized status, as in French, inasmuch as see admits concrete inanimate subjects where the original sense of perception has been lost, for example Pt. Na década de 80 a sua obra viu-se adaptada para o cinema ‘In the 80s his work was (lit. saw itself) adapted for cinema,’ Sp. Mis ingresos eran reducidos, ya que se veían afectados por la piratería informática ‘My earnings were low as they were (lit. saw themselves) affected by software piracy.’

The equivalent construction in Italian, the earliest stages of which Giacalone Ramat (2017, p. 162) can be traced to the 14th century with examples such as da Sapor re si vide preso e vinto (Dittamondo 2, 40,11) ‘(Valerian) by King Sapor saw himself (was?) caught and defeated,’ displays a lower degree of grammaticalization, although in many respects still equivalent to the be-passive. Among other things, it does not admit by-phrases in the modern language unless the latter express an inanimate cause rather than an animate Agent (Giacalone Ramat, 2017, pp. 152–153), for example, Le librerie italiane si videro sommerse dalle richieste delle poesie di Walt Whitman ‘Italian bookshops were inundated by/with requests for Walt Whitman’s poems’; it only admits sentient animate subjects in accordance with the original semantics of see (Giacalone Ramat, 2017, p. 155), for example, *Tutta la torta si è vista mangiata (dai bambini) ‘All the cake was (lit. saw itself) eaten (by the children)’; and it is restricted to predicates which involve a negative (more rarely beneficial) effect on the subject (Giacalone Ramat, 2017, pp. 154–155), for example, Il presidente si è visto costretto a dare le dimissioni ‘The president was (lit. saw himself) forced to resign,’ but not *Maria si vide incontrata da Paolo ‘Maria was (lit. saw herself) met by Paolo’. The Catalan construction with veure’s appears to be constrained by the same restrictions as in Italian, judging by examples such as Tot el país s’ha vist sacsejat per vents fortíssims ‘The whole country (=nation) has been (lit. has seen itself) buffeted by extremely strong winds’ (Wheeler et al., 1999, p. 512; cf. Giacalone Ramat, 2017, p. 173).

In Romanian, Giacalone Ramat (2017, p. 173) reports the construction to be limited to the written language, and it certainly seems that a se vedea is particularly common in journalese, though not excluded from the spoken language. On the one hand, its distribution parallels that of the less grammaticalized constructions of Italian and Catalan in only readily admitting sentient (hence animate) subjects and verbs which imply adverse consequences for the subject, but on the other shows a greater degree of grammaticalization than these two varieties in readily allowing by-phrases, although, as M. Maiden (p.c.) points out, in the following examples the use of the by-phrase is also compatible with the original lexical meaning of see, for example David s-a văzut abandonat și uitat de Dumnezeu ‘David was (lit. saw himself) forsaken and forgotten by God’.

3.6 Make (facere)

Even the highly transitive make may function as a passive auxiliary, a development which Cennamo (2003, §3) links to the partial merger and equivalence of facere ‘make’ with copular fieri ‘become’ in late Latin, for example quomodo aliis facitis, sic et faciet vobis (Clem. Epist. Ad Cor. 13, 2) ‘As you do unto others, so it will be done (lit. makes) unto you’. Given the expansion of fieri into the passive, as already observed in the early vernaculars of northern Italy (cf. Sections 3.1, 3.3), the analogical extension of facere into the passive follows straightforwardly. This is at least what we find in old Logudorese (Blasco Ferrer, 1995; Cennamo, 2003, §4.3, 2006; Meyer-Lübke, 1902) where fakere occurs in the third persons of the synthetic perfect (32a) and pluperfect (32b), including sometimes with a by-phrase (32a):

(32) old Logudorese

Beyond old Sardinian, reflexes of facere, this time in its reflexive form, are widely found in colloquial registers of French in the so-called pseudo-passive structure with the infinitive (Ball, 2000, p. 108; Cabredo Hofherr, 2017, pp. 245–247; Price, 1984, p. 236). Whereas in standard French and other Romance varieties the same construction licenses a canonical causative structure (33), in the pseudo-passive construction se faire does not imply any sense of causation or volition on the part of the subject, witness its compatibility with predicates that imply adverse consequences for the subject (34a–b). Just like the canonical be-passive, this construction also allows the expression of the Agent with a by-phrase (34b), but, unlike the latter, also admits subjectization of Recipients/Benefactives (34a).


(34) colloquial French

3.7 Verbs of Motion

Alongside the use of come as a genuine alternative to passive auxiliary be in Italo-, Raeto-, and Daco-Romance (cf. Section 3.3), it is also found in Ibero-Romance in a less grammaticalized guise in conjunction with the participle where its original lexical meaning is still to a certain extent evident (Meyer-Lübke, 1900, §308), for example Pt. Entre os segredos favoritos dele está um que veio escrito num copo da rede de cafeterias Starbucks ‘Among his favorite secrets there was one which was (or came?) written on a Starbucks cup.’ In Spanish, for instance, the use of venir implies a resultative reading (Giacalone Ramat & Sansò, 2014, pp. 37–38; Green, 1982), generally involving a participant that is negatively or positively affected by the event, for example Las cartas le vinieron devueltas sin más explicación ‘The letters were (lit. came) returned to him without any further explanation’. In more literary styles, however, this affected reading is not necessary (Butt & Benjamin, 1994, p. 368), for example Como viene dicho en el párrafo anterior ‘As is (lit. comes) stated in the previous paragraph.’ Revealing is the following Portuguese example where vir ‘come’ is placed alongside passive ser ‘be’ in the same sentence, suggesting their near equivalence, although a more literal reading, viz., ‘come with solutions.’ cannot be ruled out: Pt. 90% deles não vêm resolvidos e quando são resolvidos, boa parte deles vem apenas com o gabarito ‘90% of them [=maths exercises] are not solved and when they are, most of them only come with an answer key.’

The other main verb of motion go is also found as a passive (semi-)auxiliary in conjunction with the participle, albeit with a range of values (Meyer-Lübke, 1900, §309). In old French, where it occurs in reflexive form, it typically marks progressive aspect, for example comme ce rôti s’en allait cuit ‘as this roast was being (lit. was going) cooked’ (Meyer-Lübke, 1900, p. 345). By contrast, in Spanish and Portuguese go, usually lexicalized by ir but sometimes by andar ‘walk’, marks durativity and continuity (Cennamo, 2016, p. 976; Green, 1982, pp. 114, 123), just like andare ‘go’ in old Tuscan (Salvi, 2010, §2.2), for example Pt. Eu ando muito enganado ‘I am (lit. go/walk) very mistaken.’ Often its original lexical meaning still remains in evidence, for example Sp. El monarca iba acompañado de dos secretarios ‘The monarch was being (or went around?) accompanied by two secretaries.’

The most productive passive use of go is found in Italo-Romance, where after an initial stage in which it marked durativity and continuity (Meyer-Lübke, 1900, p. 345; Salvi, 2010, §2.2), it developed two other uses. In the first, andare ‘go’ licenses a resultative passive restricted to participles of verbs indicating a negative irreversible state (35a) (Mocciaro, 2014), whereas in the second it gives rise to a deontic passive of necessity (35b), a usage also found in the dialects (Benincà & Poletto, 1997, §3.2; Cennamo, 1997, p. 151). As these examples illustrate, both constructions are generally restricted to the third person, but differ in that only the first may occur in compound tenses and only the second may (marginally) occur with a by-phrase. Nonetheless, both uses can ambiguously merge in certain circumstances (35c; Remberger, 2006a, pp. 187–190).

(35) Italian

3.8 Verbs of Location/Position

Apart from IbRo./ItR. estar/stà(re) (< Lat. stare ‘stand, stay’) considered in Section 3.2, various other verbs of continuation of physical and abstract location and position are also found as semi-auxiliaries in constructions often traditionally listed as passives, namely remain (Cat./Sp. quedar(se), Pt./(O)Sp. ficar/fincar, ItR./Ro. rimanere/rămâne, ItR. restare), leave/continue (Pt./Sp. deixar/dejar, Pt./Sp. continuar), result/finish (ItR./Sp. risultare/resultar, ItR. finire), and find oneself (Cat. trobar-se, Ro. a se afla/găsi).15 In many cases, however, it is not obvious that the relevant constructions exhibit all the properties of true verbal (viz., eventive) passives, witness their general incompatibility with by-phrases; certainly, in some cases they might be more accurately treated as resultative copular constructions (viz., adjectival passives).


3.9 Want

Italo-Romance and Sardinian dialects, which otherwise make very limited or indeed no use of the canonical be-passive (Section 2.1), frequently employ want (ItR. *voˈlere, Srd. kérrere) in one of three distinct, but related, passive constructions (Ledgeway, 2000, chapter 7, 2016b, p. 267, forthcoming, b; Remberger, 2006b, forthcoming).


As indicated by their translations, all three uses of the want periphrasis have a clearly passive value, representing complex complementation structures in which the embedded participial clause represents a nonfinite canonical passive, witness also the option of a by-phrase. In the first two examples, want has a volitional reading, whereas in the third it acquires a distinctly deontic interpretation (cf. ItR. go-passive in Section 3.7). As for the identity of the passivized subject, this is variously evidenced in each case by participle agreement and the presence/absence of auxiliary be. In the object-raising construction 37a-a', the passivized subject corresponds to the Patient/Theme of the embedded participle with which it agrees, whereas in the subject-control structure 37b-b' the subject is interpreted as the Recipient/Benefactive of the embedded participle with which it agrees in Cosentino-style dialects, but not in Neapolitan-style dialects, where coreferentiality is marked through the presence of auxiliary be (crucially absent in 37a). Finally, 37c-c' instantiate a subject-raising structure in which the Patient/Theme of the embedded participle, with which it agrees, is promoted to matrix subject, triggering again in Neapolitan-style dialects the presence of be.

In northern Italo-Romance varieties want-passives are quite rare and limited to Venetan and Friulian where they are restricted to the deontic construction (38a), as is also the case in Sardinian (38b; cf. Jones, 1993, p. 125; Mensching & Remberger, 2016, pp. 286–287).16 In Italian too want-passives are not particularly popular (38c), but when they do occur they are limited to the object-raising and deontic types in predominantly literary registers (Ambrosini, 1982, pp. 67–71; Salvioni, 1912, p. 378).


It is in southern Italian dialects where all three want-passive constructions prove most common (for full bibliography, see Ledgeway, 2000, chapter 7, n.7), witness the following representative examples:


Indeed, even those southern varieties such as Bovese (40a) and Pantesco (40b), which otherwise lack a canonical passive, exhibit a want-passive:


4. Expression of the Agent

In certain cases Romance passives may occur with overt expression of the Agent (or an inanimate cause; cf. 41c) realized as an oblique adjunct variously marked by reflexes of per ‘for, through’ (41a), de ‘of, from’ (41b–c), and de+ab (> ItR. da/ra) ‘from’ (41d).


In line with a cross-linguistic tendency (Siewierska, 1984, p. 35), long passives prove rare across Romance (Ayres-Bennett & Carruthers, 2001, p. 243; Badia i Margarit, 1994, p. 289; Cennamo, 2003, 2016, p. 967; Mocciaro, 2010, §3), typically restricted to written (formal) registers (Ball, 2000, p. 107; Rowlett, 2007, p. 44 n.35; Vasilescu, 2016, §, with spoken registers preferring the short passive and, where the Agent needs to be expressed, active dislocation structures (cf. 6–7). In certain cases long passives simply are not available, as noted above in Sections 3.1–9 in relation to different passive auxiliaries such as the be-/come-passive in Istro-Romanian (Geană, 2017, p. 43), stare-passives, and the Romanian colloquial come-passive (but not its formal written variant). In many standard and nonstandard spoken varieties by-phrases also prove ungrammatical, or at the very least highly unnatural, in the canonical be-passive if the subjectized Patient/Theme is animate and/or the Agent is pronominal (42; cf. Cennamo, 2016, p. 975; Chapman, 2017, pp. 23–24; Hončová, 2012, pp. 170–171; Sansò, 2011), since in such cases the unmarked mapping of the core arguments is typically expected to yield an active structure in languages with a nominative-accusative alignment (cf. 14b). Indeed, the rarity or ungrammaticality of by-phrases in many Italian dialects leads Chapman (2017, p. 24) to conclude that the passive has the discourse function of not only demoting the Actor, but also of completely suppressing it.


When by-phrases are licensed, they can also show variation in choice of preposition. In some varieties such as old Italo-Romance this variation seems to be entirely free, witness the alternation between per, de, and da in old Lombard (Cennamo, 2003, §4.2) in 43a–c, and between per and da in old Tuscan (Salvi, 2010, §2.3) in 44.

(43) old Lombard (Bonvesin, Passione)


Yet, Mocciaro (2009, 2010, 2013) argues for early Italo-Romance, and old Sicilian in particular, that the use of different prepositions expresses different degrees of Agent defocusing. In particular, she claims, based on etymological evidence (viz., di < de, da < de+ab), that di and da represent stylistic lexical variations of a single preposition unambiguously conveying agentive readings, while per licenses secondary agentive readings, often highlighting the participant’s different position in the causal chain (e.g. cause, instrument). This explains the alternation between the marking of animate Agents with da (or di) and inanimate causes with per in the old Sicilian example in (45). At the same time, this might also explain the use of per in the old Lombard example 43a if la leze de deo is interpreted as an inanimate instrument.


In other cases variation is diatopic (cf. Nap. ’a ‘from’ vs Cos. ’i ‘of’ in 37a-c). For instance, in Sardinian by-phrases are introduced by de ‘of’ in Campidanese varieties, but by dae ‘from’ elsewhere (Jones, 1993, p. 124). Analogously, in Algherese Catalan by-phrases are invariably introduced by de ‘of, from’ (46a; Palomba, 2000, pp. 195–196), with a similar distribution in Balearic varieties (Wheeler et al., 1999, p. 506), whereas in standard Catalan the Agent is typically marked by per ‘for, through’ (46b).


However, alongside per in 46b, standard Catalan also optionally admits the use of de ‘of, from’ with stative verbs denoting acquaintance and affective attitude, as well as with verbs of accompaniment (Hualde, 1992, p. 298; Wheeler et al., 1999, p. 506), a pattern widespread in other Ibero-Romance varieties (Da Silva Dias, 1918, p. 127; De Bruyne & Pountain, 1995, p. 464) and Gallo-Romance (Fagyal et al., 2006, p. 129; Jensen, 1994, pp. 200–201; Jones, 1996, pp. 108–109; Rowlett, 2007, p. 44 n.35). Although in such cases de marks a reduced degree of agency, most probably to be interpreted as examples of the adjectival stative passive (Martins & Nunes, 2016, p. 321), this is not necessarily the case in Catalan where in the verbal passive the Agent can be optionally marked by de also with fer ‘do, make’ and other verbs denoting literal ‘making’ (Wheeler et al., 1999, p. 506). This increased agentive reading of de in Catalan is also supported by the observation that, unlike other Romance varieties, when the Agent is realized by a pronoun, the preposition is substituted by the possessive in the 1/2nd persons (47a) and optionally in the case of the 3rd persons (47b):

(47) Catalan

In Romanian too diachronic and synchronic variation is found in the expression of the Agent. In older stages of the language the Agent was variously introduced by de (la) ‘from (at)’, din/den ‘from in(side),’ and pentru ‘for’ (Vasilescu, 2016, §; Zafiu, 2012, §3.10). Of these de continues into the modern language, where it represents the most common marker of dethematicized Agents, as well as instruments and causes (cf. 41c). From the second half of the 17th century it begins to find itself in competition with de către ‘from towards’ (Dragomirescu, 2013, pp. 170–171; Vasilescu, 2016, §, for example Copilul este lăudat de (către) părinți ‘The child is praised by his parents.’

5. Arguments Amenable to Subjectization

In the unmarked case subjectization under passivization targets the Patient/Theme role, typically encoded as the direct object and marked accusative in active structures. There are, however, a small number of well-known exceptions with tri-/bivalent verbs such as (dis)obey, forgive, ask, command, teach, and thank which today are generally constructed with an indirect (viz., dative) object, variously expressing a Patient/Theme, Source, or Goal role, but which in the past were (often) used transitively, for example OTsc. Domandò la sposa novella (Novellino 57, r.9) ‘He asked his new bride.’ Consequently, in previous stages of the language they are also found in the passive (48a–c; cf. Brambilla Ageno, 1964, pp. 46, 48; Formentin, 1998, p. 387; Jensen, 1994, pp. 188, 201; Jezek, 2010, §§5.2, 6.1; Ledgeway, 2009, pp. 667–668, 843; Salvi, 2010, §2.1), a structure which continues as a lexicalized syntactic residue in modern French (49a; Ayres-Bennett & Carruthers, 2001, p. 240; Rowlett, 2007, p. 44 n.34) and, to a more limited extent, in literary Portuguese (61b; Da Silva Dias, 1918, p. 100).



Even today in Ibero-Romance, especially in journalese, the indirect object of ask, be that preguntar/perguntar ‘enquire’ or pedir ‘request,’ is sometimes passivized (50a–b). A similar case is found with reply in Corsican (50c).


Beyond these lexical exceptions, subjectization of Recipients/Benefactives is only found with any real productivity in southern Italy (Cennamo, 1997, p. 150; Ledgeway, 2016b, p. 267). Particularly striking in this respect is Altamurano (Loporcaro, 1988, pp. 292–293) where, as noted in Section 3.4, thanks to a pattern of free variation in active auxiliation and the grammaticalization of an original resultative copular construction (cf. 29a–b), indirect object passives are today extremely common and productive (51a–b), including with ditransitives and unergatives.

(51) Altamurano (Loporcaro, 1988, pp. 292–293)

Elsewhere in the south Goal-passives are also found, but are much more restricted. Typically they occur with unergatives such as shoot, telephone, spit, cook, laugh, reply, write, and speak (Loporcaro, 1988, pp. 271–275, 1998, p. 175; Leone, 1995, §54; Ledgeway, 2000, §, §2.3.2, 2009, pp. 844–847), where the animate indirect object, due to formal overlap with animate direct objects which are differentially marked with the same preposition a ‘to’ as indirect objects when realized as lexical DPs, can optionally assume the direct object function and be referenced by a (doubling) accusative clitic. Consequently, they are also amenable to subjectization under passivization (52).


In some cases it is doubtful that the original indirect > direct object advancement giving rise to such Goal-passives is still synchronically productive (Ledgeway, 2009, pp. 844–845), inasmuch as certain predicates such as telefonà ‘telephone,’ bussà ‘knock up,’ and citofonà ‘call over intercom’ are today predominantly, if not always, used transitively in most parts of southern Italy (cf. Cos. u/*cci telefunu/bussu/citofonu ‘I’ll phone/ring (/on intercom) him/to him’). Furthermore, in specific cases the transitive use, and hence also the passive, acquire a different, though related, meaning with respect to the unergative use. For example, in many dialects the passive, and hence also transitive use, of speak and laugh in 52 is usually interpreted to mean ‘acknowledge, give time of day,’ and ‘mock,’ respectively, whereas their literal meanings are conveyed by the unergative use (with dative clitic) and hence not available in the passive.

A different case arises with want-passives which, as noted in Section 3.9, readily license subjectization of Recipients/Benefactives across the entire south of Italy in the subject-control construction (cf. 37b,b', 39a,c). Although they occur most frequently with want, they are also licensed more generally whenever embedded under any subject-control predicate where the subject-coreference requirement of the matrix predicate can only be satisfied by subjectization of the Recipient/Benefactive argument (Ledgeway, 2009, pp. 843–844, forthcoming, b, §4.2):


Finally, in the Romanian double-object construction only the accusative-marked Recipient/Benefactive of the corresponding active structure, but not the Patient/Theme, can be passivized, for example Copilul a fost rugat ceva de (către) părinți ‘The child has been asked for something by his parents’ (Dragomirescu, 2013, p. 170).

6. Impersonal-Passive

Alongside the personal passive constructions considered so far, Gallo- and Raeto-Romance varieties and, to a much more limited extent central-southern Italo- and Daco-Romance, also display, especially in formal registers, an impersonal-passive construction,17 in which the grammatical subject is realized by a covert (54a) or overt (54b) dummy/impersonal subject controlling default 3(m.)sg agreement on the auxiliary (be, come, want, must) and the participle (Cennamo, 2016, p. 977). As with the personal passive, the construction proves most felicitous in conjunction with perfective aspect.


From a discourse perspective, the function of structures such as 54a–b is to allow the predicate, including the Patient/Theme, if present, to remain focal, an effect achieved in lower registers and in Ibero-, central-southern Italo-, and Daco-Romance through use of the reflexive se/si-passive or other impersonal strategies (cf. 10a–d). Given this focal reading of the postnominal Patient/Theme, in most varieties impersonal-passives with transitives typically show a strong indefiniteness restriction (55a; cf. also 54b), including in examples like 55b where the postnominal Patient/Theme is grammatically definite (viz., introduced by the definite article), but semantically indefinite, namely ‘some callouses.’ However, even where definiteness effects do obtain, for example in French, these can be overridden if the nominal represents partially new information (Cennamo, 2016, p. 978), witness the rescuing effect of the relative clause in 55c.


Some varieties further allow unergatives (56a) and, much more rarely, unaccusatives (56b), although in Friulian (Benincà & Vanelli, 2016, p. 150) and Romanian (Nicolae, 2015, p. 91 n.43) both classes are frequently found with deontic auxiliaries want and must (56c).


As 56b illustrates, by-phrases are also licensed in some varieties, but not, for example, in French (Rowlett, 2007, p. 45 n.37) and Old Neapolitan (Ledgeway, 2009, pp. 671–672).

7. Participle

7.1 Agreement

Irrespective of auxiliary choice, the passive participle generally shows robust agreement (in gender and/or number) with the subjectivized Patient/Theme, including in those Daco-, Ibero-, and Italo-varieties which have otherwise lost active participle agreement. This includes those varieties which display distinct agreement forms for mass number (57).

(57) Asturian (ALlA, 2001, p. 188)

One obvious exception to this generalization is Brazilian Portuguese where, for some speakers, the participle lacks number agreement when the subject is preverbal (58a), and both number and gender agreement when postverbal (58b). However, as Martins and Nunes (2016, p. 321–322) note, this is not a property of the passive per se, but reflects the general weakening of plural marking, including in adjectival copular constructions, in Brazilian Portuguese.

(58) Brazilian Portuguese

A plausible explanation for structures such as (58b) is to assume an impersonal-passive analysis with a null preverbal masculine singular expletive subject, as evidenced by the 3sg form of be. Indeed, as already noted in Section 6 (cf. 54b, 55a–c), in the impersonal-passive the participle fails to agree with the postnominal Patient/Theme (Benucci, 2009, pp. 71, 74–77; Brambilla Ageno, 1964, p. 159; Ledgeway, 2009, p. 672; Parry, 2010, §2). In the core case, the default gender agreement feature of the (null) preverbal 3sg expletive is masculine (cf. 54b), but in old Romanian it is also reported (Vasilescu, 2016, § to be feminine in some cases (59).


Another interesting, but very different, case of nonagreement is found in Fassano and Livinallese Ladin varieties where in compound tenses the passive auxiliary is be (Section 3.3), but which, unlike the lexical participle, fails to show agreement occurring in the default masculine singular form (Salvi, 2016, p. 166; cf. 30d).

Finally, we turn to Goal-passives. In Altamurano (Loporcaro, 1988, p. 297), subjectized Recipients/Benefactives with the be-/have-/come-passive fail to control agreement, inasmuch as the participle agrees with the Patient/Theme:


This same pattern of Patient/Theme-controlled agreement obtains in want-passives (Section 3.9) in those dialects that license be with the participle (cf. 37b), but not in those where be is not licensed which show participle agreement with the subjectized Recipient/Benefactive (cf. 37b'). Revealing in this respect is the dialect of San Biase which optionally allows both patterns:


7.2 Specialized Forms

In most varieties and in most cases, the Romance participle does not formally distinguish between active and passive (cf. also note 2), with the relevant voice distinction variously marked through auxiliary choice, form of auxiliary be (cf. 16) or have (Loporcaro, 1988, p. 292), participle agreement, phonosyntactic doubling (cf. 17), and restriction of the passive to specific persons (cf. note 13); only extremely rarely does there arise formal ambiguity between active and passive readings:


A partial exception to this generalization are the subdialects of Romanian spoken in northern Transylvania, Crișana, and Maramureș (Urițescu, 2007), where in active perfective paradigms the masculine singular form of the participle (in -t(u)) is used in conjunction with have (63a) and the feminine singular form (in -tă) with be (63b). By contrast, in passive clauses the participle shows the usual Patient/Theme-controlled agreement. In these varieties, then, a formal voice distinction arises in the participle which, when employed with active be, invariably surfaces in -tă, but shows referential agreement in conjunction with passive be. Consequently, in the double-compound analytic form of the pluperfect passive in (63c) containing as many as three participles, the first occurrence of participial auxiliary be (=active) surfaces in the masculine singular fost (with possible phonetic weakening of the coda) since it is introduced by active perfective auxiliary have (viz., o), whereas the second instance of participial auxiliary be (=passive) occurs in the feminine singular form foastă since it is introduced by active perfective auxiliary be, with only the final lexical participle showing referential agreement (Urițescu, 2007, §2.2.2).

(63) Romanian of Crișana (Urițescu, 2007)

Furthermore, unlike standard Romanian where in the subjunctive the distinction between active and passive is marked in the respective uninflected/inflected forms of auxiliary be (cf. 16), in the subdialect of Crișana, where active be shows full agreement in the subjunctive, the relevant voice distinction, except with feminine singular subjects, is marked in the form of the participle (64; cf. Urițescu, 2007, §2.2.2).


A genuine formal voice distinction in the participle finds a more robust, though lexically limited and unstable, opposition in many Ibero-Romance and southern Italo-Romance varieties (cf. Loporcaro, Pescia, & Ramos, 2004). Simplifying a complex situation, many of these varieties show a series of participle doublets instantiating inherited irregular and innovative regular participle forms, for example Sp. corrupto/corrumpido ‘corrupted,’ Pt. incluso/incluido ‘included,’ Cos. spasu/spannutu ‘hung out,’ Nap. víppeto/vevuto ‘drunk,’ Sic. ruttu/rumputu ‘broken.’ Alongside these, many of the same (western) Ibero-Romance varieties also show in regular verbs (especially of the first conjugation) a novel formal opposition between a regular ‘long’ participle and a ‘short’ form consisting of the verb root followed by a number/gender formative, for example Pt. gastado/gasto ‘spent.’18 As a generalization, the regular or long forms tend to specialize as active participles and the irregular or short forms as passive variants (as well as adjectival participles), thereby giving rise, though with many exceptions and considerable diatopic and idiolectal variation, to a novel lexical or derivational voice distinction.19 Exemplary is the contrast in 65 from Sicilian, where the active aligns with the regular participle and the (adjectival) passive with the irregular form.20

(65) Sicilian (Bentley & Ledgeway, 2015, §4)

In Spanish, irregular/regular pairs are today most productive in Latin American varieties, with the regular forms having largely ousted the older irregular variants in modern peninsular usage (Butt & Benjamin, 1994, p. 294). Once again, the irregular variants in Latin America are found both in the passive and as adjectives (66a), whereas their regular pendants occur in the active (66b).

(66) Latin American Spanish

However, even Peninsular Spanish exceptionally marks a voice distinction in the particple of matar ‘kill’ (Butt & Benjamin, 1994, p. 295; De Bruyne & Pountain, 1995, p. 430), which presents the suppletive pair matado, the regular participle employed in the active, and muerto, the irregular participle borrowed from morir ‘die’ employed in the passive, at least with human referents. A partially similar distribution of active matado ‘killed’ and passive morto ‘killed’ (also adjectival ‘dead’) occurs in Portuguese, with the difference that morto is replaced by the regular morrido ‘died’ in the active (Mattoso Câmara, 1972, p. 139; Willis, 1971, p. 364). However, these irregular/regular and short/long participial doublets prove most frequent and productive in Portuguese where once again, as a very broad generalization, the latter are employed in the active (67a), while the former occur in the passive (67b) and as adjectives (Dubert & Galves, 2016, p. 437; Martins & Nunes, 2016, p. 334 n.4; Nunes, 1933, pp. 317–318; Thomas, 1969, p. 223; Willis, 1971, pp. 362–365).

(67) Portuguese (Willis, 1971, p. 363)

In the spoken language, the number of such doublets is even larger, including such substandard forms as BPt. pego ‘taken,’ EPt. fixe ‘fixed,’ encarregue ‘entrusted’ (for standard pegado, fixado, encarregado; Mattoso Câmara, 1972, p. 139), and in the Algarve corto ‘cut,’ repeso ‘repented,’ de(s)boto ‘discolored’ (for standard cortado, arrependido, desbotado; Brazão Gonçalves, 1996, p. 196).

In the standard language, the number of such doublets and their distribution represents a very complex and often still fluid situation (Teyssier, 1984, pp. 241–245), including some overlap, among some speakers, in the use of the two forms between the active and passive. An examination of the individual active and passive uses recorded by Teyssier for the extensive number of participial doublets he lists reveals: (a) ‘textbook’ cases where the irregular/short participle is limited to the passive and the regular/long pendant is restricted to the active (e.g. aceso/acendido ‘lighted, switched on,’ limpo/limpado ‘cleaned’); (b) ‘conservative’ cases where the irregular/short participle is used not only in the passive, but also in the active, while the innovative regular/long pendant remains limited to the active (e.g. Eu/BPt. aceite/aceito // aceitado ‘accepted,’ entregue/entregado ‘handed over’); and (c) ‘innovative’ cases where the irregular/short participle is limited to the passive, whereas its regular/long variant has been extended from the active to include the passive (e.g. assente/assentado ‘absented,’ enxuto/enxugado ‘dried’). Consequently, we never find participial doublets which can be used indifferently in either the active or the passive; there is always one of the pair which is restricted, such that if the irregular/short form still includes the active, then the regular/long form is restricted to the active. Conversely, if the regular/long form is extended to the passive, then the short form is limited to the passive.


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  • 1. Cf. Givón (1981, p. 168), Siewierska (1984), Shibatani (1985, p. 837), Haspelmath (1990), Cennamo (1997, p. 145, 2016, p. 967), Abraham (2006), Keenan and Dryer (2007), Alexiadou (2017).

  • 2. Despite the loss of passive morphology, the Romance past participle and, in particular, infinitive, both synthetic formations, may license passive readings in specific contexts (Butt & Benjamin, 1994, pp. 366–367; Granatiero, 1987, p. 80; IEC, 2016, p. 894; Jensen, 1994, pp. 217–218; Jones, 1993, p. 125; Ledgeway, 2009, p. 665 n.1; Loporcaro, 1988, p. 262; Raynaud de Lage, 1990, p. 154), for example Cat. Un text fàcil d’entendre ‘A text easily understood (lit. easy of understand.inf),’ Nap. Cafè senza mmacenà ‘Unroasted coffee (lit. without roast.inf),’ Sp. Una camisa sin planchar ‘An unironed shirt (lit. without iron.inf),’ OFr. fu mis en cele yglise pour enseingnier ‘he was placed in that church to be educated (lit. to teach.inf),’ Pt. O carro está por consertar ‘The car remains to be repaired (lit. is for repair.inf),’ OOcc. un om senza raubar non passava ‘no man passed by who wasn’t robbed (lit. without rob.inf),’ Mtn. Na cammise senza sciaquete ‘This shirt hasn’t been washed/An unwashed shirt (lit. without washed.fsg).’ Also relevant here is the passive interpretation of the gerund in Brazilian Portuguese (cf. Cyrino, 2007) in such examples as A revista está xerocando ‘The magazine is being photocopied (lit. is photocopying),’ a property related to the strong topic-prominence of this variety.

    Evidence like this suggests that these three synthetic verbal categories (infinitive, participle, gerund) are underspecified for voice, with the relevant active or passive interpretations licensed by the overall constructions in which they are used. The novel development of a lexicalized synthetic distinction between active and passive participles through a regular/long vs irregular/short participial opposition in some Romance varieties is discussed in Section 7.2.

  • 3. See Kontzi (1958, pp. 12ff.), Brambilla Ageno (1964, pp. 177ff.), Vincent (1988, p. 58, 2016, p. 41), Cennamo (2003, §3, §4.3, 2016, p. 970), Ledgeway (2009, p. 666), Squartini (2010, §, Renzi and Salvi (2011, pp. 50–51), Salvi (2011, §3.4.2), Vasilescu (2016, §

  • 4. Though many of these same dialects do exceptionally display a want-passive (cf. Section 3.9).

  • 5. Cf. Bichelli (1974, pp. 155, 157), Giammarco (1979, p. 206), Loporcaro (1988, pp. 290–291), Doria (1989, p. 524), Jones (1993), La Fauci and Loporcaro (1993, p. 192 n.23), Cennamo (1997, p. 147), Ledgeway (2000, p. 30, 2009, p. 667, 2016b, p. 266), Parry (2005, p. 205), Hončová, (2012, pp. 170–171), Chapman (2017, p. 31), Geană (2017, p. 37). As Loporcaro (1988, p. 291) observes, the details of the syntax of the passive of nonstandard Romance varieties like the dialects of southern Italy are poorly understood.

  • 6. For further discussion of these active constructions, see Barrett Brown (1931, 1936), Marchetti (1974, pp. 243, 348), Harris (1978), Stefanini (1983), Loporcaro (1988, p. 291), Hastings (1994), Leone (1995, p. 42 n.80), Cennamo (1997, pp. 147, 159–160, 2016, pp. 979–980), Parry (1998), Welton-Lair (1999), Egerland (2003, 2010), Manzini and Savoia (2005, II, pp. 74, 568–573), Martins (2005), D’Alessandro and Alexiadou (2006), D’Alessandro (2007, 2014), Giacalone Ramat and Sansò (2007a, 2007b, 2011), Mendikoetxea (2008), Ledgeway (2009, pp. 677–681), Marchese (2016, pp. lxxii–lxxiv), Chapman (2017, pp. 46–58), Geană (2017, pp. 39–43).

  • 7. Although traditional grammars generally state that restructuring predicates such as causatives and verbs of perception and movement do not passivize, actual usage shows a lot of hesitation and variation between and within varieties (Rowlett, 2007, pp. 169–70; Sheehan, 2016, p. 991).

  • 8. See Peral Ribeiro (1958, pp. 163–165), Rohlfs (1969, §734 n.1), Pountain (1982, 2020), Loporcaro (1988, pp. 302–305), Formentin (1998, pp. 449–450), Ledgeway (2008, 2009, chapter 16), Bentley and Ciconte (2016, pp. 848–852).

  • 9. See Loporcaro (1988, pp. 302–305), Hualde (1992, p. 298), Butt and Benjmain (1994, p. 367), De Bruyne and Pountain (1995, p. 463), Ledgeway (2008, pp. 298–299, 2009, p. 668, 2016b, p. 266), Bentley and Ciconte (2016, pp. 850–851).

  • 10. Unlike Italian, in the dialect of Altamura venire is not just preferred over essere, but is obligatory when the auxiliary occurs in the present and imperfect (Loporcaro, 1988, p. 291), since (1/2 person) present and imperfect forms of *ˈɛssere with the participle are interpreted as active structures.

  • 11. Cennamo (1997, p. 149) reports in the dialect of Volturino an innovation whereby mmǝ'ni ‘come’ has specialized as a retrospective aspectual passive auxiliary, for example u ssasˈsinǝ ɛ mmǝˈnutǝ kundanˈnætǝ a tʧiŋk ˈannǝ ‘the killer has just been (lit. come) sentenced to five years.’

  • 12. The complication here is the present perfect where 3sg subjects of unaccusatives license exclusively be and 3pl subjects of transitives/unergatives license have.

  • 13. As noted in Section 3.1 (cf. 17), potential ambiguity between active and passive readings in central-southern dialects which generalize be to many persons (typically 1/2 persons) of the active perfective paradigm may be resolved through variable application of RF. Other dialects resolve the potential ambiguity by simply limiting the be-passive to the third persons, which typically license have in the active (Manzini & Savoia, 2005, II, pp. 733–734).

  • 14. The sole exception is the pluperfect where, inexplicably, only be, but not have, is licensed (Loporcaro, 1988, p. 292).

  • 15. See Meyer-Lübke (1900, pp. 310–311), Thomas (1969, pp. 196–197), Willis (1971, p. 359), Teyssier (1984, pp. 200–201), Butt and Benjamin (1994, pp. 367–368), Wheeler, Yates, and Dols (1999, p. 512), Martins and Nunes (2016, p. 320), Vasilescu (2016, §

  • 16. A near-identical deontic passive construction is found in Romanian with trebui ‘be necessary’ (Nicolae, 2015, p. 91 n.43).

  • 17. See Loporcaro (1988, p. 299), Jones (1993, p. 124), Jensen (1994, p. 201), Cennamo (1997, 2000, 2003, §4.3), Rowlett (2007, pp. 45–46), Ledgeway (2009, pp. 671–672), Parry (2009), Salvi (2010, §2.1, 2011, §3.4.2), Martins and Nunes (2016, p. 334 n.2).

  • 18. Many similar long and short forms are found in (Tuscan-)Italian and Corsican, for example It. stancato/stanco ‘tired,’ guastato/guasto ‘broken’; Cor. cercato/cerco ‘sought,’ tornato/torno ‘returned.’ Whereas in Corsican they occur in free variation in active and passive constructions, in Italian the short forms are specialized in marking a resultative-stative value in copular constructions (Ledgeway, 2016a, p. 221). Asturian too displays several irregular/regular participial pairs (e.g. ensuchu/ensugáu ‘dried,’ cochu/cocío ‘cooked,’ encesu/encendíu ‘lighted, switched on’) as well as a larger number of long/short participles (e.g. pagáu/pagu ‘paid,’ cansáu/cansu ‘tired,’ fartáu/fartu ‘filled,’ llimpiáu/llimpiu ‘cleaned’ (ALlA, 2001, p. 201). While the regular and long participle forms are used both in active and passive verbal periphrases and adjectivally, the irregular and short forms only function as adjectives. Also relevant here are Spanish long/short pairs such as despertado/despierto ‘woken/awake’ and descalzado/descalzo ‘unshoed/barefoot,’ where the former aligns with the active and passive (and hence with haber/ser ‘have/be’) and the latter with the resultative copulas tener/estar ‘have/be,’ for example Estaba despierto porque había sido despertado por una voz de hombre ‘He was awake (=short) because he had been woken up (=long) by a man’s voice’ (Butt & Benjamin, 1994, 367).

  • 19. Piques and Saint-Raymond (n.d., p. 144) report for Savésien Gascon an identical isolated distinction with code ‘cook,’ which presents the irregular participle coueit employed in the (adjectival) passive and regular coudut used in the active.

  • 20. See Ledgeway (2000, pp. 302–303, 2009, pp. 582–585, 633, 2016b, p. 262), Bentley and Ledgeway (2014, 2015, §4), Maiden (2016, pp. 716–717).