Indirect Passives in English and Greek

Morgan Macleod, Elena Anagnostopoulou, Dionysios Mertyris, Christina Sevdali

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The indirect passive construction (e.g. I was given a book) is ungrammatical
in many languages; however, it is found in both English and
Ancient Greek. Much previous work on indirect passives seeks to explain
their origin in terms of language-specific developments, and thus has difficulty
accounting for the substantial parallels between indirect passives in
languages as different typologically as English and Ancient Greek. Using
corpus data, we show that in both English and Ancient Greek the acceptability
of indirect passives varies widely across different lexemes, a variation
that can be predicted only in part by the thematic roles of the arguments in
question. The data also show that in both languages, indirect passives occur
earliest and most productively in verbs with multiple, potentially ambiguous
argument structures; we propose that indirect passives in English and
Ancient Greek may have originated in the reanalysis of what were originally
direct (i.e. theme-subject) passives. Despite these similarities, indirect passives
in English and Greek ultimately followed different diachronic paths,
becoming increasingly productive in English but being lost in Greek; some
of the factors potentially responsible for this divergence are also examined.
Original languageEnglish
Article number12
JournalJournal of Historical Syntax
Issue number6-19
Early online date27 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished online - 27 Sept 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
∗ We are grateful to the reviewers for their valuable comments, as well as to the audiences at LAGB (September 2019) and DiGS (May 2021) for their feedback on this work. This research was carried out as part of the project ’Investigating Variation and Change: Case in Diachrony’, funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AH/P006612/1).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Macleod et al.


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