Reflexive verbs as null object licensers in Polish.

similarities between the reflexive się and small pro


Ewa Bułat (Wrocław)


This paper investigates the problem of object drop, with particular attention put on reflexive verbs in Polish. Following Rizzi (1986), null objects are phonologically empty but syntactically active elements and receive an “arbitrary” interpretation. However, Rizzi does not mention reflexive verbs as those which can allow null objects or pro. This presentation is a step toward accounting for null objects in Polish appearing after verbs taking the reflexive się thus extending the null object theory and its licensing schemata. The goal of this talk is to prove that we can have true object deletion after some reflexive verbs in Polish. Moreover, I suggest that in some of these cases the reflexive się shares certain properties with pro, a view compatible with that of Rivero and Sheppard (2003). I will attempt to compare and reconcile my proposal with theirs. My discussion of the narrow class of reflexive verbs will be also helpful in establishing further, more detailed criteria for what we can consider to be a true null object phenomenon.


It is well known that reflexive verbs can be analyzed in various ways, sometimes on a par with true null object constructions, where się - just as pro - refers to one, us or people (generic reference) or/and implies something that qualifies as a typical object of the verb (On się bije). In other cases się exhibits properties similar to those of overtly realized referential expressions or anaphora and thus we cannot refer to such instances as true object deletion constructions. Still in other cases we deal simply with lexically reflexive verbs which do not drop the object (opiekować się), się being just an integral and inseparable part of the verb. Obviously, here we must extend the theory of object drop to dyadic predicates whose internal argument is not necessarily in the accusative case. Summing up, we can divide reflexive verbs as follows:


I reflexive verbs licensing true null objects, which are understood as being typical of a particular verb: On się bije; Janek pakuje się; Staś bawi się.


II lexical reflexive verbs not allowing object deletion: *Zosia opiekuje się.


III reflexive verbs, whose reflexive has an antecedent in the same clause or sentence and thus functions as an overtly realized reflexive pronoun or anaphora: Marysia myje się.


I will provide evidence for the above division. The verbs from class one correspond to verbs participating in Levin’s (1993) Unspecified Object Alternation, since they delete the objects being typical of them. Focusing on reflexive verbs, I will postulate a similar alternation for Polish. My hypothesis concerning similarities between pro and się in some of the reflexive verbs included in this alternation may appear controversial, but the class of verbs considered here might help understand better the properties of null objects.




Levin, B. 1993. English Verb Classes and Alternations: a Preliminary Investigation, The University of Chicago Press.

Rivero, M. L. and Milojević Sheppard, M. 2003. “Indefinite Reflexive Clitics in Slavic: Polish and Slovenian”, Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 21: 89-155, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Netherlands.

Rizzi, L. 1986. “Null Objects in Italian and the Theory of pro”, Linguistic Inquiry 17, 501-557.