The following is the sentence I extracted from a book, Binding Theory, written by Daniel Burning.

The fact that a language like English, which lacks a simple reflexive, has extremely few reflexive verbs, and never uses a reflexive in inchoative constructions may well be related to the emphatic heritage of the reflexive form.

Inchoative verb, according to Wikipedia, sometimes called an "inceptive" verb, shows a process of beginning or becoming.

Then the following sentence just popped into my mind:

How did I get myself into the mess?

Is this sentence a causative construction? Does inchoative construction mean sentences with intransitive inchoative verbs?

  • inchoative means "starting with [action]". Some languages have prefixes or other (syntactic) constructions to express this semantics grammatically. I suppose your terms refers to those? Like the prefix (nonproductive) ont- in Dutch "ontbijten" (to eat breakfast), which etymologically is "ont- (start with, prefix) + bijten (bite, hence eat). Also present in "ontwaren (beginning to see)", "ontvangen(receive, etym. begining to catch)" and "antwoord" (answer). Jan 11, 2022 at 14:54
  • For really basic questions, please consider starting with Wikipedia or some other linguistic reference. Then you can ask a more specific question here. In this case it's not really clear what you're asking about (inchoative aspects? inchoative verbs?), and it's not clear what you don't understand.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 12, 2022 at 1:38
  • Right. Thank you for your comment! The question has been rewritten~
    – Buffoon
    Jan 12, 2022 at 10:49
  • Thanks, that is much better. But please add a citation for the quote.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 12, 2022 at 13:50

1 Answer 1


No one can tell you what construction means without some context. It's a very common word in syntax and generally refers to sentence constituents that may be more than one word. That's not very helpful.

However, inchoative (pronounced in KOE a tiv) has a very specific meaning -- Change of State. Which means beginnings, endings, and changes of all sorts; a pretty large semantic space, edging onto just about everything.

Inchoative and Causative are terms that are often used together; causative verbs like kill mean to cause some change to happen, and the change is an inchoative like die, which means 'become dead', while causative kill means 'cause to become dead'. Dead, die, kill are one triplet like that; white, whiten, whiten is another -- verb often the transitive causative has the same form as the intransitive inchoative.

Any verb that refers to a change of state is inchoative; frequently they're metaphors of motion verbs, like come and go. We use come to be and its contraction become as generalized inchoative markers -- He was tired ~ He became tired. In turn, come and go have their own causative relation with bring and take, respectively. Bring means 'cause to come' (Fred brought Alice/whisky/brownies/a gun to the party), and take means 'cause to go'.

The best example of inchoation (in ko A shun) in English is the verb get, which is the causative and the inchoative form of be:

  • He is tired (stative) ~ He got tired (inchoative) ~ They got him tired (causative)

as well as the causative and the inchoative form of have:

  • He has a new car ~ He got a new car ~ They got him a new car.

Since be and have constitute almost all the non-modal auxiliary verbs in English, that makes get very useful in all kinds of idioms that use those auxiliaries. This is where the famous equation of have got and have comes from, as well as the American use of gotten as an alternate past participle of get.

When I was learning Spanish in Mexico back in 1979-80, I was devastated to discover that, while it is otherwise an exemplary inflected language and a pleasure to speak, Spanish has no general inchoative verb, idiom, or other construction the likes of English get, which you can always mine for some way to indicate change of state.

  • 4
    Where do you get the notion that ‘inchoative’ means any aspect of change of state, comprising both beginning and end? Inchoation is specifically the beginning of a state or action, not its end. At a broader level, of course, every stage of everything is simultaneously beginning, middle and end of a state, but that’s completely irrelevant to what inchoative constructions are, since they are about which aspect of a state you focus on; otherwise the term would be meaningless. (Also, become isn’t a contraction of come to be in any sense of the word.) Jan 12, 2022 at 0:31
  • 1
    Obviously you use the term differently. Given the lack of sophistication in the question, I didn't think going into details any more than I did would be useful. And it's closed anyway.
    – jlawler
    Jan 12, 2022 at 2:41
  • Thank you for your illustration! Very understandable for beginners like me.
    – Buffoon
    Jan 12, 2022 at 10:39
  • 1
    "Obviously you use the term differently." This seems like a bit of a cop-out. If I use a term of art in linguistics in a way divergent to the community, I should not expect others to understand. All senses of "inchoative" in the literature that I'm aware of relate to the incipient phase of an action, and not simply a "change of state". Are you aware of any work that uses the term in the way you do?
    – jogloran
    Jan 12, 2022 at 21:03
  • It is generally the beginning that is noted, but the beginning of any state or action is the end of something else; there are terms for inceptive and terminative states and events. I consider them varieties of inchoation. When you get to causation, the plot thickens.
    – jlawler
    Jan 12, 2022 at 23:10

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