LINGUIST List 12.66

Fri Jan 12 2001

Sum: Get/Have Particles

Editor for this issue: Lydia Grebenyova <>


  1. Andrew McIntyre, Get/Have Particles

Message 1: Get/Have Particles

Date: Wed, 10 Jan 2001 21:45:49 +0100
From: Andrew McIntyre <>
Subject: Get/Have Particles

Dear Linguists,

This summarises the responses to my query from a goodly while ago on the
verbs _get_, _have_ and verb particles. The original query can be found

What I was interested in was literature dealing with the syntax and
semantics of _get_, which verb is closely related to the much-studied verbs
_be_ and _have_. Some uses of _get_ are inchoative versions of these verbs
(compare _I got/was cold, I got/had the book, we got/had them laughing, the
wall got/had mud on it_). The _get-have_ parallel is underlined by the fact
that more than a few uses of _have_ can be replaced by _have got_ (e.g.
_I've got the book, I've got to go_). Other parallels are seen in passive
(_he was/got killed_) and causative uses (_I had them sing/I got them to
sing_) and the inability of _get_ and _have_ to passivise in most uses (in
my variety, at least). Since there has been much work on _be_ and _have_,
one might expect much work on _get_, but the collective wisdom of the
Linguistlist membership has turned up little in the way of literature on
_get_ (apart from passives). The references which have anything to do with
_get_ which have reached me are given below. I haven't seen much of the
literature below yet; presumably these works will contain further

-Carter, R; McCarthy, M, The English get-passive in spoken discourse:
description and implications for an interpersonal grammar (English Language
and Linguistics - volume 3, issue 1)
- Downing, Angela. 1996. The semantics of get-passives. Carmel Cloran &
David Butt Ruqaiya Hasan (ed.), Functional descriptions: theory into
practice. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 179-207.
-Givon, T. and L. Yang (1994). The rise of the English get-passive. Voice:
Form and function. B. Fox and P. J. Hopper. Amsterdam, Benjamins: 119-149.
-Gronemeyer, C., 1999 On deriving complex polysemy: the grammaticalization
of get (English Language and Linguistics - volume 3 issue 1)
-Haegeman, L., 1985. The get-passive and Burzio's generalisation. Lingua
-Molnafi, L. (1997) He gets the problem solved -oor die funksionele
grammatikalisasie van get en kry in Engels en Afrikaans. South African
Journal of Linguistics 15(1), 18-26. (in Afrikaans, but has a long summary
in English).
-Pizzini, Quentin. 1975. Have and get in English syntax. Papers in
Linguistics 8.223-254.
-Richards, N., 2001? (New squib in Linguistic Inquiry on idioms with 'have',
'take', 'get' and 'give')
-Tobin, Yishai: Aspect in the English verb: Process and result in language.
1994. London: Longman (Chapter 11: The be versus have versus get system)
- Tripp, Raymond P., Jr. 1978 [?]. Remarks on the get-passive. In Papers of
the 1978 Mid-America Linguistics Conference at Oklahoma, ed. by Ralph E.
Cooley, Mervin R. Barnes & John A. Dunn, 183-192.

A fair few respondants commented on my remarks about the syntactic behaviour
of verb-particle constructions involving _get_ and _have_. Briefly: _get_
and _have_ are unusual in that they disallow the verb+particle+object order
possible with most verb-particle constructions, except with the use of 'get
out' (2c).
(1) a.*I got/had off the lid
b. I got/had the lid off
c. I prized off the lid
(2) a. *I got out the nail
b. I got the nail out
c. I got out my wallet

German can translate all uses of 'get' except (2c) with _kriegen_ (='get').

Suzette Haden Elgin comments that the examples rejected by me in my query
are ok in her variety. On the other hand, no other respondents queried my
judgements, and I have checked them with several Englisch, Australian and
American speakers. I would like to hear from anyone else who finds the
starred constructions acceptable. Perhaps some other difference (e.g. more
liberal use of so-called 'heavy NP shift'?) between the varieties might help
me finding what the data are trying to tell us.

Some respondants suggested that the impossibility of particle-before-object
order in the starred sentences might be due to ambiguity avoidance. Thus,
'the lid' in '*I got off the lid' might be parsed as complement of the
preposition rather than of a verb-particle construction (at least if we can
imagine the speaker standing on a lid). I remain sceptical regarding this
explanation. It doesn't work for combinations with 'have' and doesn't
explain the badness of '*I can't get out this nail', since the impossibility
of being inside a nail makes the PP reading unlikely, and since
complement-taking 'out' can only license its complement with recourse to
'of'-insertion (cf. 'I got out of the shed'), so the two interpretations
would be formally dissimilar. Perhaps ambiguity does exist with Doug
Wilson's examples 'I drove in the car' and 'I rolled in the cart', although
in spoken language the prosody of V+PP and V+particle+object is distinct.
Mike Maxwell noted the contrast 'the referee brought the boxer to' vs.
'*...brought to the boxer'. I have collected quite a few such cases. Some
intransitive prepositions (usually morphologically complex ones) like
'inside', 'outwards' and (in some varieties) 'around' resist going before
objects ('*she led inside/around the blind man'). Likewise 'back' in the
reciprocal reading ('*she didn't like back her admirer') and 'over' in the
repetitive reading ('*I started over my talk'). Often idioms containing
verb-particle constructions are lexicalised in one order or the other (e.g.
'pull your socks up' but not '...up your socks' in the sense 'get your act
together'). Some of these have been noted in the literature, but nobody in
the voluminous particle literature seems to have commented on cases where it
is the verb which disallows a particular sequence of object and particle.
Is the riddle of 'get/have' and particles likely to tell us anything
important? Perhaps. A number of authors have studied some peculiarities of
the syntax of 'have' in its various readings and have argued for a syntactic
decomposition of the verb into BE and a covert possessive preposition (cf.
the references in Heidi Harley's 1995 MIT dissertation and articles on her
homepage I assume the
behaviour of particles with 'get' and 'have' will help to elaborate on this
line of research and perhaps give an interesting argument for the need for
lexical decomposition in syntax. I haven't got the problem solved yet, but I
do appreciate the responses I got from the people below (order arbitrary):
Heidi Harley, Yishai Tobin, Larry ?, Doug Wilson, Diane Hirsch, Phil ?,
Susan Fischer, Mike Maxwell, Suzette Haden Elgin, Margaret Winters, Jed

Kind regards,

Dr. Andrew McIntyre
Universitaet Leipzig
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