To be or to have? That is the question

Auxiliary Selection in Italian



For the first time, systematic research of auxiliary selection in Italian is proposed using corpus analysis and natural language processing (NLP). By combining these methods, we seek to find the most significant factors that influence the choice of auxiliary in intransitive verbs with double auxiliation. These verbs have often been studied in the literature (e.g., peripheral verbs [Sorace 2000]), but they have never been addressed in a comprehensive way (Giancarli 2015). The findings emphasize the most significant factors influencing the choice of ‘be’ or ‘have’ based on semantic, syntactic, and morphological aspects. On the basis of corpus analysis and statistical tools (CHAID and Random Forest) evidence, we propose the internal cause and the human trait as the possible factors useful in untangling the knot of auxiliary selection within Italian verbs with double auxiliation. This article also presents a reflection on semi-auxiliary verbs, a particular group of Italian verbs that operate as semi-auxiliary by being followed by an infinitive. For this group of verbs, we propose that auxiliary selection depends not only on the semantics of the verb or of the subject, but mainly on the auxiliary selection of the infinitive.


auxiliary selection, Italian, NLP, morphosyntax, semantics


Ackema, Peter, & Antonella Sorace. 2017. Auxiliary selection. In M. Everaert, & H. van Riemsdijk (eds), The Blackwell Companion to Syntax. 2nd ed., 424–455. Wiley-Blackwell.

Amato, Irene. 2022. Auxiliary selection is Agree: person-driven and argument-structure-based splits. In O. Matushansky, L. Roussarie, M. Russo, E. Soare, & S. Wauquier (eds), Selected papers from Special issue of Isogloss Open Journal of Romance Linguistics 8(2)/10: 1–20.

Barbiers, Sjef, & Rint Sybesma. 2004. On the different behavior of auxiliaries. Lingua 114(4): 389–398.

Bentley, Delia, & Thórhallur Eythórsson. 2004. Auxiliary selection and the semantics of unaccusativity. Lingua 114(4): 447–471.

Breiman, Leo. 2001. Random Forests. Machine Learning 45: 5–32.

Burzio, Luigi. 1986. Italian syntax: A Government-Binding approach. Dordrecht: Springer.

Carlier, Anna, & Laure Sarda. 2010. Le complément de la localisation spatiale: Entre argument et adjoint. In F. Neveu., V. Muni-Toké., J. Durand., T. Klingler, L. Mondada, & S. Prévost (eds), Actes du CMLF’10, 2057–2073. Paris: ILF.

Cinque, Guglielmo. 2004. “Restructuring” and Functional Structure. In A. Belletti (ed.), Structures and Beyond: The Cartography of Syntactic Structures, vol. 3, 132–191. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

D’Alessandro, Roberta. 2017. When you have too many features: auxiliaries, agreement and clitics in Italian varieties. Glossa: A Journal of General Linguistics 2(1): 50, 1–36.

DeLancey, Scott. 1984. Notes on Agentivity and Causation. Studies in Language 8(2): 181–213.

Dowty, David R. 1979. Word Meaning and Montague Grammar. The Semantics of Verbs and Times in Generative Semantics and in Montague’s PTQ. Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Company.

Ferrer i Cancho, Ramon, & Ricard V. Solé. 2003. Least effort and the origins of scaling in human language. PNAS 100(3): 788–791.

Finocchiaro, Chiara. 2002. Sensitivity to the verb [±agentive] feature: the case of an aphasic subject. Journal of Neurolinguistics 15(3/5): 433–446.

Flaux, Nelly, & Danièle Van de Velde. 2000. Les Noms en Français: Esquisse de Classe. Collection L’essentiel français. Paris: Ophrys.

Giancarli, Pierre-Don. 2015. Auxiliary Selection with intransitive and reflexive verbs: the limits of gradience and scalarity, followed by a proposal. In M. Rosemeyer, & R. Kailuweit (eds), Auxiliary Selection Revisited. Gradience and Gradualness, 79–123. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Gillmann, Melitta. 2015. Auxiliary selection in closely related languages. The case of German and Dutch. In M. Rosemeyer, & R. Kailuweit (eds), Auxiliary Selection Revisited. Gradience and Gradualness, 333–358. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Grimshaw, Jane. 1990. Argument Structure. The MIT Press. CA: Massachusetts

Jakubíček, Miloš, Adam Kilgarriff, Vojtěch Kovář, Pavel Rychlý, & Vít Suchomel. 2013. The TenTen corpus family. 7th International Corpus Linguistics Conference CL: 125–127.

Kass, Gordon V. 1980. An exploratory technique for investigating large quantities of categorical data. App. Statist 29(2): 119–127.

Keller, Frank, & Antonella Sorace. 2003. Gradient auxiliary selection and impersonal passivization in German: an experimental investigation. Journal of Linguistics 39(1): 57–108.

Kuhn, Max. 2008. Building Predictive Models in R Using the caret Package. Journal of Statistical Software 28(5): 1–26.

Ledgeway, Adam. 2019. Parameters in the development of Romance perfective auxiliary selection. In M. Cennamo, & C.Fabrizio (eds), Historical Linguistics 2015: 22nd International Conference on Historical Linguistics. Naples July 2015, 343–384. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing.

Legendre, Geraldine. 2007. Optimizing auxiliary selection in Romance. Split Auxiliary Systems: A cross-linguistic perspective. In R. Aranovich (ed.), 145–180. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Levin, Beth, & Malka Rappaport Hovav. 1995. Unaccusativity. At the Syntax-Lexical Semantics Interface. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Levin, Beth, & Malka Rappaport Hovav. 1998. Building verb meanings. In M. Butt, & W. Geuder (eds), The Projection of Arguments: Lexical and Compositional Factors, 97–134. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications.

Liaw, Andy, & Matthew Wiener. 2002. Classification and Regression by RandomForest. R News 2(3): 18–22.

Martin, Fabienne. 2020. Aspectual differences between agentive and non-agentive uses of causative predicates. In E.A. Bar-Asher Siegal, & N. Boneh (eds), Perspectives on Causation: Selected Papers from the Jerusalem 2017 Workshop, 257–294. Cham: Springer.

Martin, Fabienne, & Florian Schäfer. 2017. Sublexical modality in defeasible causative verbs. In A. Arregui, M. Rivero, & A. Salanova (eds), Modality Across Syntactic Categories, 87–108. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mateu, Jaume. 2009. Gradience and auxiliary selection in Old Catalan and Old Spanish. In P. Crisma, & G. Longobardi (eds), Historical Syntax and Linguistic Theory, 176–193. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McFadden, Thomas. 2007. Auxiliary selection. Language and Linguistics Compass 1(6): 674–708.

McLendon, Sally. 1978. Ergativity, case, and transitivity in Eastern Pomo. International Journal of American Linguistics 44(1):1–9.

Perlmutter, David M. 1978. Impersonal passives and the Unaccusative Hypothesis. Proceedings of the 4th Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, 157–190.

Reinhart, Tanya. 2016. The theta system: syntactic realization of verbal concepts. In M. Everaert, & M. Marelj (eds), Concepts, Syntax, and Their Interface: The Theta System, 1–112. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press Scholarship Online.

Reinhart, Tanya. 2002. The theta system: an overview. Theoretical Linguistics 28(3): 229–290.

Rizzi, Luigi. 1982. Issues in Italian Syntax. Dordrecht: Foris.

Sorace, Antonella & Legendre, Géraldine. 2003. Auxiliaries and intransitivity in French and in Romance. (English version of ‘Auxiliaires et intransitivité en français et dans les langues romanes’). In D. Godard (ed.), Les Langues Romanes: Problèmes de la Phrase Simple, 243–268. Paris: CNRS Edition.

Sorace, Antonella. 2015. The cognitive complexity of auxiliary selection: from processing to grammaticality judgements. In M. Rosemeyer, & R. Kailuweit (eds), Auxiliary Selection Revisited. Gradience and Gradualness, 23–43. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Sorace, Antonella. 2000. Gradients in auxiliary selection with intransitive verbs. Language 76(4): 859–890.

Talmy, Leonard. 1988. Force dynamics in language and cognition. Cognitive Science 12: 49–100.

Tenny, Carol L. 1994. Aspectual Roles and the Syntax-Semantics Interface. Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Ter Meulen, Alice G. B. 2004. The dynamic semantics of aspectual adverbs. In O. Bonami, & P. Cabredo Hofherr (eds), Empirical Issues in Formal Syntax and Semantics 5: 241–253.

Van Valin, Robert D. 1993. Advances in Role and Reference Grammar. Amsterdam/ Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Van Valin, Robert D. 1990. Semantic parameters of split intransitivity. Language 66(2): 221–260. Linguistic Society of America.

Veecock, Candace. 2012. Agentivité, Modalités de Contrôle et Subjectivité. Ph.D. thesis. Université Michel de Montaigne – Bordeaux III. HAL Id : tel-00910818 version 1

Vendler, Zeno. 1957. Verbs and times. The Philosophical Review 66(2): 143–160.

Vlach, Frank. 1993. Temporal adverbials, tenses and the perfect. Linguistics and Philosophy 16: 231–283.

Washio, Ryuichi. 2004. Auxiliary selection in the East. Journal of East Asian Linguistics 13: 197–256.

Zipf, George Kingsley. 2016. Human Behavior and the Principle of Least Effort: An Introduction to Human Ecology. Ravenio Books.




Download data is not yet available.