Adverbs and Adverbials

Alan R. King mccay at REDESTB.ES
Thu Dec 17 06:55:48 UTC 1998

(I sent this two days ago but it seems not to have reached the list, so I'm
re-sending it.  Apologies if this results in a duplicate posting.

I can introduce some interesting comments about Basque regarding the
accusative-adverb question that was raised.

As a rule, adverbials in Basque are marked by a case suffix or a
postposition.  Direct objects have case zero, the absolutive, which is also
used for subjects of intransitive verbs and citation forms and similar.
Thus while there is no accusative marker in Basque, morphologically an
ergative language, there is a characteristic "form", the absolutive, which
characterizes direct objects (and some subjects).

Now there ARE certain types of adverbial which consist of a noun phrase in
the absolutive case.  Morphologically, then, such noun phrases look like
they should be direct objects.  This applies mostly to certain adverbials
expressing duration such as "bi egun" "two days" in predicates such as:

bi egun itxaron
"to wait (for) two days"

bi egun iraun
"to last (for) two days"

bi egun gelditu
"to stay (for) two days"

But this construction seems to be restricted to certain duration
predications, or to the duration complements of certain verbs.  In a recent
discussion with colleagues on a Basque grammar committee I attend, I
suggested (as a non-native speaker) that perhaps the absolutive
construction is limited to verbs which express or select duration concepts
inherently, as the three verbs above do.  That is why we do not say, for

*bi ordu irakurri
*"to read two hours"

For other duration phrases an adverbial case marker is used; this is
sometimes the instrumental (ending in -z) or the inessive (ending in
-(a)n), with to some extent a geographical (or stylistic) distribution
between the two, although other factors may be involved.  Thus e.g.

bi orduZ irakurri
"to read for two hours"

Notice that in English too, the preposition "for" can be omitted in the
first three glosses but not with, e.g., "read".  And in Basque too it is
possible to use the instrumental in the first examples, although the
absolutive usage may be considered preferable, at least with some of the

As the above examples show, the absolutive duration construction may occur
with intransitive verbs.  It also occurs with verbs like iraun which are
"morphologically" transitive, in that they are used with the transitive
auxiliary forms and their subject takes the ergative case.  Now transitive
verbs agree morphologically with their objects, but not of course in
"deponent" type verbs (those that are syntactically and semantically
intransitive - have no direct object -  but possess the features just
enumerated for "iraun" - transitive conjugation, ergative subjuct), since
these haven't got an object.  The interesting point here is that although
"iraun", as a formally transitive verb, has the morphological ability to
agree in number with a direct object, it does not usually do so, suggesting
that the duration phrase should not be considered a direct object of
"iraun" but an adverbial (verbs do not agree morphologically with
adverbials).  So compare:

Liburu bat erosi zuen.
book one buy AUX
"He/She bought one book."

with the AUX "zuen" unmarked (normally singular) for the number of the
direct object (thus agreeing with the direct object, "one book");

Bi liburu erosi zituen.
two book buy AUX
"He/She bought two books."

with the AUX "zituen" for a plural direct object ("two books").  Actually

Bi liburu erosi zuen.

is also possible in Basque, because such numeral expressions may optionally
be treated as singular for agreement purposes.  This option is not there
for some plural NPs, e.g.

Liburu batzuk erosi *zuen / zituen.
book some buy AUX
"He/She bought some books."

where the AUX must agree with the plural object.  Okay, now for "iraun":

Egun bat iraun zuen.
"It lasted one day."

Bi egun iraun zuen.
"It lasted two days."

Egun batzuk iraun zuen.
"It lasted some days."

In the last two I think "iraun zituen" may be (marginally?) possible, but I
think "zuen" is the norm, even in the last example where "egun batzuk" is
unambivalently plural in Basque grammar.

The tentative conclusion (Basque grammarians are still studying this
construction) would be, for the present discussion, that such duration
constructions as "bi egun", where they can be used, are in the same CASE as
direct objects (the closest Basque equivalent to an accusative case) but
for most purposes are not actually direct objects in other respects.  Very
much like "two days" in English in expressions like "wait/last/stay two
days", but English lacks one means available in Basque to test the
objecthood of the phrase, making the English phrases (by default, as it
were) one step more object-ish in (external?) appearance.

Alan R. King, Ph.D.
alanking at
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PHONE: +34-943-134125   /   FAX: +34-943-130396
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