I'm having difficulty understanding what are inchoative verbs and how they are different from unaccusative verbs. Is it generally the case that inchoatives are subsumed under unaccusatives?

Verbs of motion, "roll" for example, show the causative/inchoative alternation. But I assume it is not an unaccusative verb. Then is it okay to say the intransitive use of the verb roll is inchoative, but its subject is not a patient, hence not an unaccusative verb?

eg. The ball rolled down the hill.

How about the verb 'fall'? It's an unaccusative verb. Is it an inchoative verb?

eg. Susan fell.

And 'suffocate' as in 'Many dogs have suffocated in hot cars.' The subject is a patient. Is it an unaccusative verb? and inchoative as well?

  • You can't really consider the verbs out of context. Can you please edit this to give example sentences for each verb you want to discuss? Also, please be careful with your terminology - verbs aren't called 'accusatives' for example.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Mar 19, 2015 at 11:58
  • I made some mistakes. sorry. Is that okay now? I'm not a language student so I understand if my question doesn't make sense and it's hard to answer the question. (I'm not a native speaker either.)
    – Haan
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 13:33
  • That's much better thanks :) Now what makes you think that 'fell' is unaccusative? It's intransitive, so it can't be unaccusative.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 13:40
  • Because the subject of 'fall' isn't an agentive, self-initiative subject? The subject can be answered to a question, "what happened to Susan?" instead of "what did Susan do?". And the underlying subject is maybe gravity or just some natural force that is not identified in the realization of the verb meaning(?) Therefore the sentence takes on sort of 'an event happens by itself' sense. I think I've seen it treated as an unaccusative verb. Is it not?
    – Haan
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 16:25
  • 1
    I dig a little and found that David Purlmutter, to whom the birth of "unaccusative hypothesis" is attributed, in his 1978 paper, took 'fall' into the category of unaccusatives (p.162) But I can see a different point of view can result in a different analysis so you might have yet another category for 'fall', as you put it, "just intransitive", maybe? Anyway all these terms are helluva confusing and making me throw up already!
    – Haan
    Commented Mar 21, 2015 at 7:17

1 Answer 1


Unaccusativity is a syntactic notion: a predicate has a single argument position.

Inchoativity is a semantic notion: a predicate denotes the beginning of an event.

Some verbs are inchoative and unaccusative (e.g., the sauce thickened), but this is a coincidence, not a significant fact.

  • can you please provide some references on which you based your claims?
    – Tsutsu
    Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 10:49

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