Auxiliary Verbs, Dictionaries and the Late Evolution of the Italian Language

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The use of BE as an auxiliary verb with intransitive verbs has declined in all the Romance languages over the past five centuries. Today, Spanish and Portuguese use only HAVE, in Catalan and Romanian BE occurs in marginal contexts, and in French, BE is used with approximately 40 verbs. Italian is a notable exception, since BE is still used as the auxiliary of nearly 300 intransitive verbs, as well as with all transitives in the passive and with all reflexives. This well-known fact is a notorious source of difficulty for language teachers and students, partly because there have been few adequate descriptions or even taxonomies of the semantic classes of intransitive verbs which take BE. This paper reports an attempt to describe the selection of auxiliary verbs in Italian in terms of contemporary dictionaries of Italian. The paper offers a description of auxiliary selection based on the Auxiliary Selection Hierarchy proposed by Sorace (2000), using some recent monolingual dictionaries as sources. This raises some issues about the use of dictionaries as source material for grammatical descriptions. (Contains 1 table.)
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-132
JournalAustralian Review of Applied Linguistics
Publication statusPublished - 2004


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