Optional se constructions and flavours of applicatives in Spanish

Fabienne Martin, Sudha Arunachalam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper addresses Spanish optional se constructions, which host a reflexive clitic serving as a non-selected argument in transitive structures (comer(se) la manzana ‘eat.REFL the apple’). On the basis of new experimental data, we argue against the view that in such constructions se is similar to particles of exhaustivity such as up in English. We instead propose that se is a pronoun merged as an argument of a low applicative, conveying a locative relation ‘in(x, y, s)’ between the binder of the reflexive x and the nominative DP y (‘x is in y in s’), or, for a subset of speakers, as an argument of a high applicative, introducing a (direct) experiencer of the verbal event. It is shown how this proposal accounts for the variability in the acceptance of optional se constructions across speakers and verb types as well as for the inferences of enriched or unaided agency, affectedness and counter-expectation that have been argued to be triggered by the se-variant of these constructions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-34
Number of pages34
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2022


  • Spanish
  • aspectual se
  • experiencer applicative
  • high applicative
  • low applicative
  • optional se
  • telicity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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