LINGUIST List 13.2304

Fri Sep 13 2002

Sum: Nested Restructuring in Italian

Editor for this issue: Steve Moran <>


  1. Eva-Maria Remberger, Nested restructuring in Italian

Message 1: Nested restructuring in Italian

Date: Thu, 12 Sep 2002 07:39:09 +0000
From: Eva-Maria Remberger <>
Subject: Nested restructuring in Italian

Dear Linguists,

August 15th I posted a query about nested restructuring constructions
in Italian (Linguist 13.2093). I am here posting the summary. Thanks a
lot to those who were so kind to reply, namely:

Giampaolo Poletto
Giancarlo Buoiano
Cristiano Broccias
Roberta D'Alessandro
Philippa Cook

The answers given did not really solve my problem because the data
really seem to be quite controversial amongst the native speakers of
Italian. One fact appears to be clear: Not all speakers accept Burzio
(1986)'s example (1). The problem seems to be more complex then he

Giampaolo Poletto presents a variation of (2) involving a
non-argumental reflexive clitic which seems to be acceptable: 
(3) Maria se li sarebbe voluti andare a prendere lei stessa.

Giancarlo Buoiano judges (2) hard but grammatical, while (1) seems
ungrammatical to him. He also presents a variation to (2) with
_dovere_ instead of _volere_ judged equally ungrammatical: (2') *Maria
li sarebbe dovuti tornare a prendere lei stessa while the same variant
of (1) seems acceptable in many contexts: (1) Maria li avrebbe dovuti
tornare a prendere lei stessa

Cristiano Broccias says that (1) sounds perfect to him, whereas (2),
on first reading, sounded unacceptable (i.e. he agreed with Burzio's
judgments). However, after having read (2) a second time and having
"understood" that _sarebbe_ is there because of _andare_, the sentence
sounded much better. The more you repeat (2), the more it becomes
acceptable as is often the case with contrived sentences.

Roberta D'Alessandro judges (1) as completely ungrammatical, while (2)
is acceptable to her, although the only way she would utter that
sentence is (interestingly, with the clitic half way up):

(iii) Maria avrebbe voluto andarli a prendere lei stessa.

She thinks that the varying judgements depend on the area a native
speaker is from because there is a lot of variation in the field of
clitic climbing.

Concerning restructuring in a sequence of verbs which select
AVERE-ESSERE-ESSERE where the clitic climbs from the deepest embedded
clause to the matrix she proposes the following example:


(iv) Si sarebbe potuto andare a lavare
(v)* Si avrebbe potuto andare a lavare

Philippa Cook's comments gave me insights in the related phenomenon of
coherent/non-coherent infinitives in German. Anyway, her detailed
explanations would go beyond the concerns of this summary.


- The sequence "li sarebbe voluti" in example (2) sounds in fact very
- rare to Italian speakers because the auxiliary ESSERE automatically
- is associated with an internal argument (direct object) which has
- been raised to subject position. The accusative clitic therefore
- contradicts the reader's expectation of a raised object. (Just note:
- reflexives are less hard to accept because they probably are
- connected mainly to the subject-theta-role.) This might suggest that
- the judgements above could be independent from the hierarchy of
- nested restructuring proposed by Burzio. Regional variation may in
- fact be the reason for the controversial judgements: Following the
- Grande Grammatica di Consultazione, in Central Italy and Toscana,
- both the restructured derivation as well as the non restructured
- derivation, seems to be accepted. In Northern Italy only the
- unrestructured derivation seems to be in use (the restructured one
- having a high stylistic connotation) while in Southern Italy the
- more common construction is the restructured one. Therefore it can
- be supposed that regional variation in judgements about nested
- restructuring varies even more (Renzi/Salvi, GGIC, vol.II:514).

Further comments are welcome.

Best wishes and thanks again to those who replied,
Eva-Maria Remberger 

Subject-Language: Italian; Code: ITN 
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue