Skip to main content Accessibility help

Adverbial and attributive modification of Persian separable light verb constructions



Persian makes extensive use of light verb constructions (LVCs) consisting of a non-verbal preverb and a semantically light verbal element. The current paper concentrates on LVCs with nominal preverbs (e.g. sedâ dâdan ‘produce a sound’, lit. ‘sound give’) which license an attributively used adjective intervening between the two components of the construction. Such LVCs are idiomatically combining expressions, in the sense of Nunberg, Sag & Wasow (1994: 496). The individual components of idiomatically combining expressions have an identifiable meaning and combine in a non-arbitrary way. Thus, they are conceived as being formed compositionally. Evidence for this view can be taken from the fact that the attributively used adjectives function as internal modifiers, targeting only the nominal component of the LVC.

As adjectives can also be used adverbially, two modification patterns emerge: The nominal preverb is modified by an attributive modifier, or the same adjective can be used as an adverbial modifier of the whole LVC. Two corresponding interpretation patterns arise: Attributive and adverbial modification either both result in the same, or in different interpretations.

The paper makes the following claims: First, only compositionally derived LVCs license attributive modification of their nominal preverb; and second, different interpretations of the two modification patterns only result if the light verb and the preverb each license a suitable property as a target for the modifier. If, on the other hand, such a property is only licensed by the preverb, adverbial and attributive modification result in the same interpretation.


Corresponding author

Author’s address: Abteilung für Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft, Heinrich-Heine Universität Düsseldorf, Universitätsstraße 1, 40225 Düsseldorf,
Author’s address: Sonderforschungsbereich 991, Heinrich-Heine Universität Düsseldorf, Universitätsstraße 1, 40225 Düsseldorf,


Hide All

This work was supported by the Collaborative Research Centre (SFB) 991 ‘The Structure of Representations in Language, Cognition, and Science’ financed by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). In addition, our research was funded by a grant from Heinrich-Heine University awarded to Jens Fleischhauer (Strategischer Forschungsfonds, F-2015/946-2). We would like to thank the audiences at the Event Semantics Workshop 2016 and CoSt 2016 – especially Thomas Gamerschlag, Sebastian Löbner, Albert Ortmann and Christopher Piñón – for their helpful comments and suggestions. We explicitly like to thank the anonymous reviewers of JL for their very valuable comments, which helped to improve the paper a lot.



Hide All
Aissen, Judith. 2003. Differential object marking: Iconicity vs. economy. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 21.3, 435483.
Alsina, Alex. 1996. The role of argument structure in grammar. Stanford: CSLI Publications.
Amberber, Mengistu, Baker, Brett & Harvey, Mark (eds.). 2010. Complex predicates: Cross-linguistic perspectives on event structure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bolinger, Dwight. 1972. Degree words. The Hague: Mouton.
Bossong, Georg. 1985. Empirische Universalienforschung: Differentielle objektmarkierung in den neuiranischen Sprachen. Tübingen: Gunter Narr.
Bowern, Claire. 2008. The diachrony of complex predicates. Diachronica 25.2, 161185.
Brugman, Claudia. 2001. Light verbs and polysemy. Language Sciences 23.4-5, 551578.
Butt, Miriam. 1995. The structure of complex predicates in Urdu. Stanford: CSLI Publications.
Butt, Miriam. 2010. The light verb jungle: Still hacking away. In Amberber, Baker & Harvey(eds.), 4878.
Butt, Miriam. 2013. Control vs. complex predication: Identifying non-finite complements. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 32.1, 165190.
Butt, Miriam & Geuder, Wilhelm. 2001. On the (semi)lexical status of light verbs. In Corver, Norbert & van Riemsdijk, Henk (eds.), Semilexical categories: On the content of function words and the function of content words, 323370. Berlin: Mouton.
Butt, Miriam & Lahiri, Aditi. 2013. Diachronic pertinacity in light verbs. Lingua 135, 729.
Butt, Miriam & Tantos, Alexandros. 2004. Verbal semantics via petri nets. In Butt, Miriam & King, Tracy Holloway (eds.), Proceedings of the LFG04 Conference, 123139. Stanford: CSLI Publications.
Cattell, Ray. 1984. Composite predicates in English. Sydney: Academic Press.
Chung, Sandra & Ladusaw, William. 2004. Restriction and saturation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Dabir-Moghaddam, M. 1997. Compound verbs in Persian. Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 27.2, 2559.
Dalrymple, Mary & Nikolaeva, Irina. 2011. Objects and information structure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dayal, Vaneeta. 2011. Hindi pseudo-incorporation. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 29.1, 123167.
Doetjes, Jenny. 1997. Quantifiers and selection. Dordrecht: Holland Institute of Generative Linguistics.
Ernst, Thomas. 1981. Grist for the linguistics mill: Idioms and ‘extra’ adjectives. Journal of Linguistic Research 1, 5168.
Everaert, Martin & Hollebrandse, Bart. 1995. The lexical representation of light verb constructions. In Proceedings of the Twenty-First Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society: General section and parasession on historical issues in sociolinguistics/social issues in historical linguistics, 94104. Berkeley: Berkeley Linguistics Society.
Fabregas, Antonio & Marín, Rafael. 2012. The role of Aktionsart in deverbal nouns: State nominalizations across languages. Journal of Linguistics 48.1, 3570.
Family, Neilou. 2006. Explorations of semantic space: The case of light verb constructions in Persian. Ph.D. dissertation, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Science Sociales.
Family, Neilou. 2011. Verbal islands in Persian. Folia Linguistica 45.1, 130.
Fleischhauer, Jens. 2015. Activation of attributes in frames. In Pirrelli, Vito, Marzi, Claudia & Ferro, Marcello (eds.), Word Structure and word usage: Representations and processes in the mental Lexicon, 5862.
Fleischhauer, Jens. 2016a. Degree expressions at the syntax-semantics interface. In Fleischhauer, Jens, Latrouite, Anja & Osswald, Rainer (eds.), Explorations of the syntax-semantics interface, 209246. Düsseldorf: Düsseldorf University Press.
Fleischhauer, Jens. 2016b. Degree gradation of verbs. Düsseldorf: Düsseldorf University Press.
Fleischhauer, Jens. 2018. Graduierung nicht skalarer Verben. Zeitschrift für germanistische Linguistik 46.2, 221247.
Fleischhauer, Jens, Gamerschlag, Thomas & Petersen, Wiebke. 2017. A frame-analysis of the interplay of grammar and cognition in emission verbs. In Hartmann, Stefan (ed.), Yearbook of the German cognitive linguistics association, vol. 5, 177194. Berlin/Boston: Mouton de Gruyter.
Folli, Raffaella, Harley, Heidi & Karimi, Simin. 2005. Determinants of event type in Persian complex predicates. Lingua 115.10, 13651401.
Gazdar, Gerald, Klein, Ewan, Pullum, Geoffrey & Sag, Ivan. 1985. Generalized phrase structure grammar. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Ghomeshi, Jila. 1997a. Non-projecting nouns and the Ezâfe construction in Persian. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 15.4, 729788.
Ghomeshi, Jila. 1997b. Topics in Persian VPs. Lingua 102.2-3, 133167.
Ghomeshi, Jila. 2003. Plural marking, indefiniteness, and the noun phrase. Studia Linguistica 57.2, 4774.
Ghomeshi, Jila. 2008. Markedness and bare nouns in Persian. In Karimi, Simin, Samiian, Vida & Stilo, Donald (eds.), Aspects of Iranian linguistics, 85111. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Ghomeshi, Jila & Massam, Diane. 1994. Lexical/syntactic relations without projections. Linguistic Analysis 24.3-4, 175217.
Glatz, Daniel. 2006. Funktionsverbgefüge – semantische Doubletten von einfachen Verben oder mehr?In Proost, Kristel, Harras, Gisela & Glatz, Daniel (eds.), Domänen der lexikalisierung kommunikativer konzepte, 129178. Tübingen: Gunter Narr.
Goldberg, Adele. 1996. Words by default: Optimizing constraints and the Persian complex predicate. Annual Proceedings of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, vol. 22, 132146. Berkeley: Berkeley Linguistics Society.
Goldberg, Adele. 2005. Argument realization: The role of constructions, lexical semantics and discourse factors. In Ostman, Jan-Ola & Fried, Mirjam (eds.), Construction grammars: Cognitive grounding and theoretical extensions, 1743. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Grimshaw, Jane & Mester, Armin. 1988. Light verbs and $\unicode[STIX]{x1D703}$ -marking. Linguistic Inquiry 19.2, 205232.
Hale, Kenneth & Keyser, Samuel Jay. 2002. Prolegomena to a theory of argument structure. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Heim, Irene. 1982. The semantics of definite and indefinite noun phrases. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Massachusetts.
von Heusinger, Klaus. 1997. Salienz und Referenz. Der Epsilonoperator in der Semantik der Nominalphrase und anaphorischer Pronomen. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.
von Heusinger, Klaus. 2000. The reference of indefinites. In von Heusinger, Klaus & Egli, Urs (eds.), Reference and anaphoric relations, 247265. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
von Heusinger, Klaus. 2011. Specificity. In von Heusinger, Klaus, Maienborn, Angelia & Portner, Paul (eds.), Semantics. An international handbook of natural language meaning, vol. 2, 10251058. Berlin: de Gruyter.
Isoda, Michio. 1991. The light verb construction in Japanese. In Dobrin, L., Nichols, L. & Rodriguez, R. M. (eds.), The 27th Regional Meeting of the Chicago Linguistics Society, 261275.
Jespersen, Otto. 1942. A modern English grammar on historical principles, part VI, morphology. Cogenhagen: Ejnar Munksgaard.
Karimi, Simin. 1990. Obliqueness, specificity, and discourse functions: Râ in Persian. Linguistic Analysis 20.3-4, 139191.
Karimi, Simin. 1997. Persian complex verbs: Idiomatic or compositional. Lexicology 3, 273318.
Karimi, Simin, Samiian, Vida & Stilo, Donald (eds.). 2007. Aspects of Iranian linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Press.
Karimi-Doostan, Gholamhossein. 2011. Separability of light verb constructions in Persian. Studia Linguistica 65.1, 7095.
Kennedy, Christopher. 1999. Projecting the adjective: The syntax and semantics of gradability and comparison. New York: Garland.
Lazard, Gilbert. 1992. A grammar of contemporary Persian. Costa Mesa, Cal./New York: Mazda Publishers.
Levin, Beth & Rappaport Hovav, Malka. 1995. Unaccusativity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Löbner, Sebastian. 2012. Sub-compositionality. In Werning, Markus, Hinzen, Wolfram & Machery, Edouard (eds.), The Oxford handbook of compositionality, 221241. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Löbner, Sebastian. 2014. Evidence for frames from natural language. In Gamerschlag, Thomas, Gerland, Doris, Osswald, Rainer & Petersen, Wiebke (eds.), Frames and concept types: Applications in language and philosophy, 2368. Dordrecht/Heidelberg/New York: Springer.
Lyons, Christopher. 1999. Definiteness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Megerdoomian, Karine. 2012. The status of the nominal in Persian complex predicates. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 30.1, 179216.
Modarresi, Fereshteh. 2015. Bare nouns in Persian: Interpretation, grammar and prosody. Ph.D. dissertation, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.
Mohammad, Jan & Karimi, Simin. 1992. Light verbs are taking over: Complex predicates in Persian. In Nevis, J. A. & Samiian, V. (eds.), Proceedings of the Western Conference on Linguistics, vol. 5, 195212. Fresno: California State University.
Morzycki, Marcin. 2016. Modification. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Müller, Stefan. 2010. Persian complex predicates and the limits of inheritance-based analyses. Journal of Linguistics 46.2, 601655.
Nicolas, Tim. 1995. Semantics of idiom modification. In Everaert, Martin, van der Linden, Erik-Jan, Schenk, André & Schreuder, Rob (eds.), Idioms: Structural and psychological perspectives, 233252. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Nunberg, Geoffrey, Sag, Ivan & Wasow, Thomas. 1994. Idioms. Language 70.3, 491538.
Ortmann, Albert. 2002. Kategorien des Nomens. Schnittstellen und Ökonomie. Tübingen: Niemeyer.
Pantcheva, Marina. 2009. First phase syntax of Persian complex predicates: Argument structure and telicity. Journal of South Asian Linguistics 2.1, 5372.
Parsons, Terence. 1990. Events in the semantics of English. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Partee, Barbara, ter Meulen, Alice & Wall, Robert E.. 1990. Mathematical methods in linguistics. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
Paul, Daniel. 2008. The individuating function of the persian ‘indefinite suffix’. In Karimi, Samiian & Stilo(eds.), 309328. Cambridge Scholars Press.
Potashnik, Joseph. 2012. Emission verbs. In Everaert, Martin, Marelj, Marijana & Siloni, Tal (eds.), The theta system, 251278. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Rappaport Hovav, Malka & Levin, Beth. 2000. Classifying single argument verbs. In Coopmans, Peter, Everaert, Martin & Grimshaw, Jane (eds.), Lexical specification and insertion, 269304. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Saeedi, Zari. 2017. Nominal predication in Persian. In Nolan, Brian & Diedrichsen, Elke (eds.), Argument realization in complex predicates and complex events, 373412. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Sag, Ivan, Baldwin, Timothy, Bond, Francis, Copestake, Ann & Flickinger, Dan. 2002. Multiword expressions: A pain in the neck for NLP. In Gelbukh, Alexander (ed.), Computational linguistics and intelligent text processing, 115. Berlin: Springer.
Samvelian, Pollet. 2007. The Ezâfe as a head-marking inflectional affix: Evidence from Persian and Kurmanji Kurdish. In Karimi, Samiian & Stilo(eds.), 339361.
Samvelian, Pollet & Faghiri, Pegah. 2014. Persian complex predicates: How compositional are they? Syntax-Semantics Interface 1.1, 4374.
Tabaian, Hessam. 1979. Persian compound verbs. Lingua 47.2-3, 189208.
Vahedi-Langrudi, Mohammad-Mehdi. 1996. The syntax, semantics and argument structure of complex predicates in modern Farsi. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Ottawa.
Wiese, Heike. 1997. Semantics of nouns and nominal number. ZAS Papers in Linguistics 8, 136163.
Wunderlich, Dieter. 1997. Argument extension by lexical adjunction. Journal of Semantics 14.2, 95142.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Linguistics
  • ISSN: 0022-2267
  • EISSN: 1469-7742
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-linguistics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed