the term conative

Liisa Berghäll liisa.berghall at GMAIL.COM
Wed Nov 28 09:10:09 UTC 2012

In the Mauwake grammar I have called by the name conative a periphrastic
structure, which might be more accurately called irresultative. It is used
in situations where a person attempts to do something but it does not

We tried to extinguish the fire but were not able to. 

When he was trying to hit the women, they (others) grabbed him.

He tried and tried to see them but no, he didn’t see them.


When the attempt is successful or the trying is either experimental or more
like practicing, a verb akim- ‘try’ is used.


If you are interested in the vernacular examples, I can send them to you.


Liisa Berghäll



Liisa Berghäll

Helmiäispolku 5 B 26

00530 Helsinki







From: Discussion List for ALT [mailto:LINGTYP at LISTSERV.LINGUISTLIST.ORG] On
Behalf Of Nigel Vincent
Sent: 27. marraskuuta 2012 2:43
Subject: the term conative


Dear Colleagues,
I'm interested in uses of the term 'conative'. I have seen it used to
describe case alternations equivalent to the difference in English between
'he shot the bear' and 'he shot at the bear', for example in languages like
Warlpiri, and Kiparsky has suggested an affinity between the Warlpiri
pattern and the alternation between accusative and partitive objects in
Finnish. The latter are also sometimes called irresultative. What I am
finding it harder to get examples of are instances of conative as a label
for verb inflections or periphrases. Matthews' Oxford Concise Dictionary of
Linguistics says the term can be used for verb inflections with the meaning
'try to' but he doesn't cite any languages which have this phenomenon. I'd
be grateful therefore for any other languages that colleagues can point me
to which exhibit a conative construction in this second sense. Aikhenvald's
grammar of Tariana identifies a complex predicate construction which she
calls 'irresultative' and which comes close: as she says such complex
predicates 'describe actions or states which do not quite amount to what
they ought to', though in her examples there doesn't seem to be any
necessary implication of trying. 
P.S. I'm assuming that Jakobson's use of the term 'conative' to describe one
of the functions of language is something altogether different.


Professor Nigel Vincent, FBA
Professor Emeritus of General & Romance Linguistics
The University of Manchester


Vice-President for Research & HE Policy, The British Academy


Linguistics & English Language
School of Arts, Languages and Cultures

The University of Manchester

Manchester M13 9PL


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