Sorry if this is a duplicate, but I couldn't figure out how to search for this, especially since my only example involves two function words.

In English, we can say "I have not eaten." "Have" here is being used in a different sense than "to have."

The interesting thing is that in Chinese you can also say "我没有吃饭” (I have not eaten) but also it happens that 没有 can mean to "not have" in the sense of not possessing something.

So both have and 有 share these two distinct senses in the two different languages. I know I've noticed other examples of this multi-sense matching before, but I think of any right now. Is there some term I can search for to find more examples? I'm especially interested in cases where one of the senses is more of a grammatical/function word than a content word.

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    Does this answer your question? Relationship between possession ("to have") and tenses ("I have seen") Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 21:43
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    @SirCornflakes that is highly relevant, although it seems that the answers focus on the particular example of "to have," whereas I'm interested in the phenomenon more generally. My question would definitely be better if I had two examples rather than one though... Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 21:49
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    I’m not convinced ‘coincidence’ is the best description of this particular overlap. It’s neither universal nor mandatory in any way, but making a connection between possessing an object and seeing the completed state of an action as something you can ‘possess’ is quite a likely thing to do. In broader terms, the phenomenon shows up more commonly than coincidence would dictate. It’s very obvious in much of Europe (all Germanic, Romance and some Celtic languages), but it also appears in Chinese (as you note), Japanese, Inuit languages (more obscure), and probably others. Commented Mar 4, 2023 at 1:11
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    Principled polysemy in cognitive linguistics? These phenomena are also often described as Lakoffian metaphors but that doesn’t make it much easier to search for them.
    – Keelan
    Commented Mar 5, 2023 at 7:31
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    Cross-linguistic colexification?
    – alephalpha
    Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 8:12

1 Answer 1


I'm especially interested in cases where one of the senses is more of a grammatical/function word than a content word.

Recent studies of this phenomenon in Chinese use the term “coverb”:

This phenomenon is highly prevalent in the Indo-Aryan languages, none of which have a verb “to have” as far as I know, but in which the andative and venitive verbs (verbs of coming and going) as well as the verbs of giving and taking fulfill grammatical roles. (To a more limited extent English verbs in these categories are also used like this, as in “go running,” or “take care.”) The term coverb has been extended to Indo-Aryan in some studies such as:

Nespital’s Dictionary of Hindi Verbs is a monumental work on such verbs in Hindi which has not been replicated in scope as far as I know. He uses the terms Verbal Expression (VE) for “compounds” involving coverbs, and “second-member verbs” for coverbs which is a bit language specific as the order is not what is significant about them. His work is in turn inspired by analyses of verbs in Slavic languages. Chatterji & Friedrich’s Aspect and Meaning in Slavic and Indic offers a comparative overview of verbal constructions in the two subfamilies.

  • This doesn't answer the question.
    – Nardog
    Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 5:04
  • @Nardog It does, but is there a problem with this answer? I was taking into consideration the fact that this question was labeled as a reference request. There is more than one way to answer this question, and some notable ones are addressed in these sources. Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 15:48
  • When I search for "coverb" I find definitions similar to: "Coverbs (CV) are transitive verbs which do not stand alone but precede and are secondary to the main verb of the sentence." This doesn't sound like it's the right concept. Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 22:04
  • @DavisYoshida Yeah I don't think that's a helpful definition. In Urdu grammar there is a term "imdadi fael" which is defined like this and it doesn't really match usage at all. The way coverbs are described in some of the papers above, and by Miriam Butt in her work on complex predicates is more fitting ling.sprachwiss.uni-konstanz.de/pages/home/butt/main/papers/… Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 23:49

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