Ex : They scared me / I scare easily / but not * I scared last night.

My first question was not ask properly so I tried again.

  • Julien, is this question asking about the same thing you asked in your previous question? I think it would have been faster and better for you to just edit the old question. :D You even had a vote already! You just needed to delete the part where you where asking for opinions and ask the one you asked here. :P Just saying... If you want I can undelete your other one and fix it. You can let me know here. :)
    – Alenanno
    Aug 28, 2013 at 16:24
  • First, say where you got the concept of "the ergative schema", and what you think it means. Second, same for "the mediopassive (middle) schema". This is not standard terminology and sounds like a private term in one grammar text. Anyway, you're not going to get a useful answer until you explain what you mean instead of attaching labels to it.
    – jlawler
    Aug 28, 2013 at 16:49
  • Well, I am french and we call these "schema ergatif" & "schema mediopassif".Apparently an ergative verb should be a verb that can be transitive or intrasitive, and whose subject when intransitive corresponds to their direct object when transitive. Ex: it broke the car / the car broke. The mediopassive form is the form between active and passive forms such as : I opened the door easily (active)/ The door was opened by me easily (passive)/ The door opened easily (middle/medipassive). Mediopassive form is when the verb has a stative meaning and the actor is not expressed. Does that make sense? Aug 28, 2013 at 18:00
  • Sorry Alenanno, it is ok. I'll keep that one :) Aug 28, 2013 at 18:03
  • Where do the terms come from? The descriptions do not describe natural classes, at least not in English. Perhaps French uses these terms in school grammars.
    – jlawler
    Aug 28, 2013 at 23:44

1 Answer 1


The answer to your question, properly generalized, is the object of much active research. Of course, one can make lists of verbs allowing active, unaccusative (or ergative) and mediopassive constructions in a given language, but the theoretical generalizations allowing one to predict what will be in these lists does not exist, as far as I know.

To give a flavor of the difficulty, notice that given an appropriate context, French transitive verbs tend to accept a mediopassive construction, even those like kill which resist it strongly in Germanic languages. UPDATE: Contrast for instance

I sell apples/I kill ants.

Apples sell easily/*Ants kill easily.


Je vends des pommes/Je tue des fourmis.

Les pommes se vendent bien/Les fourmis se tuent facilement.

where the last sentence is perhaps a bit strange out of context but perfectly OK embedded in an appropriate discourse e.g

J'ai de gros problèmes de fourmis dans mon jardin. Les fourmis noires sont absolument increvables mais heureusement les fourmis rouges se tuent assez facilement. (I have huge ant problems in my garden. Black ants are absolutely indestructible but fortunately red ants kill rather easily).

This is even more so in other Romance languages (the Spanish equivalent of Ants kill easily, for instance, seems quite natural). On the other hand of the spectrum, all Japanese transitive verbs have an ergative form.

For recent research on the topic, you can read the work of Artemis Alexiadou, for instance.

  • "French transitive verbs tend to accept a mediopassive construction, even those like kill which resist it strongly in Germanic languages" - could you perhaps provide examples contrasting French and a Germanic language? That would really help me (and perhaps others) follow your explanations.
    – robert
    Sep 5, 2013 at 13:49
  • Done. Apparently, the English situation is general within the Germanic (and maybe Slavic) languages.
    – Olivier
    Sep 5, 2013 at 15:03
  • Thanks! (+1) I don't know about Slavic languages in general, but in Polish such constructions are often possible: "Mrówki się zabija bez problemów" - 'Ants can be killed easily' (however, the verb doesn't agree with 'ants' but with 'się', a reflexive pronoun).
    – robert
    Sep 5, 2013 at 15:08
  • Very interesting fact robert! It is a quite general phenomenon that impoverished reflexive pronouns (of the sich/sig variety in Germanic for instance) have interesting syntactic relations with agreement but I didn't know about this Polish fact, and find it fascinating.
    – Olivier
    Sep 5, 2013 at 16:41

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