Vol. 53 No. 2 (2015)

The strange case of infinite as subject in Latin

Claudia Fabrizio
Università di Chieti-Pescara "G. D'Annunzio"

Published 2016-05-09


  • infinitives,
  • semantic alignment,
  • Aktionsart,
  • non-canonical subjects.


The paper takes into account the syntax of infinitives in subject function in Latin, arguing that it represents a plausible instance of a semantically-oriented coding strategy. A great number of occurrences demonstrates that Latin infinitives can only appear in subject function if the finite verb of the clause belongs to a restricted set of intransitive predicates (namely stative predicates, achievements and activity predicates in the passive voice), all taking non-agentive subjects. Conversely, infinitives cannot appear as subjects of unergative predicates and accomplishments. Therefore, the Aktionsart of the finite predicate happens to play a relevant role in their distribution as subjects. Some features of Latin infinitives (lack of case marking, neuter gender, availability as direct objects) are also discussed as further evidence for their status of non-canonical subjects. The analysis allows to conclude that infinitives are non-agentive verbal nouns functioning as non-canonical subjects within some specific constructions, thus instantiating a semantically-oriented pattern of alignment.