infinitive < fixed case form?

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Gavril, Apr 16, 2013.

  1. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA

    In many languages, the verb form known as the “infinitive” is thought to have originated as the frozen case form of a verbal noun. Below, I’ve listed all the historical examples I can think of right now; what other examples do you know of?


    - Greek infinitives in -ai (iénai “to go”, boúlesthai “to want”, etc.) may all come from forms ending with the locative singular suffix *-i or from forms with the dative sg. suffix *-ei. Infinitives in -ein (pémpein “to send”, lipeîn “to have left”, etc.) may also contain a locative suffix -i with a secondary -n added to mark the end of a vowel-final word (cf. the 3pl. endings -ousi/-ousin)

    - Latin infinitives in -re/-se (esse “to be”, venire “to come”, etc.) are thought (at least by some) to be from *-si, containing the locative suffix *-i, and the Latin passive infinitive in -(r)i (amari “to be loved”, capi “to be taken”) is traced to a form with dative *-ei.

    - The Baltic and Slavic infinitive suffix -ti (Slovene iti, Lithuanian eiti “to go”) is thought to be from *-tei, the locative of a verbal noun formation in -ti-.

    - English and Romanian (and probably many other languages) have incorporated a preposition meaning “to” into the basic form of their infinitives: English to do, to be, Romanian a face “to do”, a fi “to be”, etc.

    - The Finnish infinitive suffix -(t)a (juosta “to run”, puhua “to speak”) is thought to reflect a form *-tak containing the lative suffix *-k (meaning “(in)to” or similar).


    - Germanic infinitives in -an (Old English beran, Gothic bairan “to carry”) are traced back to *-anan, the accusative singular of a verbal noun in *-ono- (or possibly the nominative of this verbal noun, if its gender was neuter).
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2013
  2. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Well, the infinitive is a verbal noun, even today.
    Case inflection of the infinitive was still active in older Germanic languages. Old English had to morphologically distinct forms: nominative/accusative (-an) and dative (-anne). An earlier genitive infinitive which still existed in Old High German has already lost in Old English. Modern German distinguishes two forms: nominative/accusative/dative -(e)n and genitive -(e)ns.
  3. DrWatson

    DrWatson Senior Member

    A small remark: The older form of the suffix is reconstructed as -tak (on the basis of Balto-Finnic, Sámi, Hungarian and Mansi), where the /k/ is thought to be a lative case suffix, meaning ”(in)to”, instead of ablative/partitive ”of/from”, in spite of the apparent similarity with the modern Finnish infinitive morpheme.
  4. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    It's possible to draw a distinction. Celtic languages such as Welsh, for example, are considered to have verbal nouns, but not infinitives.
  5. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    Thanks, I'll correct what I wrote above.
  6. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    I didn't say the to categories where co-extensive. I said an infinitive is a verbal noun. I didn't say that only infinitives were verbal noun. There are also other kinds of verbal nouns.

    My remark was in reply to your statement the verb form known as the “infinitive” is thought to have originated as the frozen case form of a verbal noun. I wanted to highlight that infinitives not only originate from verbal nouns but that they are verbal nouns and that they are declinable (i.e. not "frozen") in Germanic.
  7. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA

    When you wrote, Well, the infinitive is a verbal noun, even today, it sounded as though you were disagreeing with something specific I said, when the original post didn't assert that infinitives couldn't be regarded as verbal nouns.

    Is this generally true, though, of Germanic languages that have an infinitive suffix (you only mentioned OE, OHG and modern German)? It isn't true as far as I know for, e.g., the North Germanic infinitive in -a.
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2013
  8. Ёж! Senior Member

    I can't say for any other languages, but in Russian (a Slavic language) the infinitive is not a verbal noun at all. It cannot be used as a noun in a sentence, and it doesn't decline like any noun should. Not that this remark is very important, but...
  9. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Comparing sentences like он так любит петь (he loves to sing) and он так любит цветы (he loves flowers) structurally, the Russian infinitive seems like a verbal noun to me.
  10. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    Also, I don't think it's entirely invalid to call the modern German infinitive a frozen case form. If I correctly understood this thread from the German language forum, when the infinitive of a transitive verb appears in the genitive case -- the only case for which it has a unique inflectional form -- its object also appears in the genitive, not the accusative.

    In other words, insofar as the German infinitive is still inflected as a noun, it seems to lack one of the properties of many (if not most) forms that are called infinitives: the preservation of the case form that the object of the corresponding finite verb would appear in. Compare English I found him vs. I want to find him or To find him would be difficult, where the object (him) remains in the accusative regardless of whether the verb (find) is finite or non-finite.
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2013
  11. Ёж! Senior Member

    The infinitive would have to appear in the accusative case in order to be able to be perceived as a nominal object in phrases like this one, but in reality it is immutable and cannot be assigned a case. No infinitive can be defined by adjectives or Genitive nouns like any noun can, and no infinitive can take a verbal predicate the way nouns can. So, the similarity that you mention looks to me almost the only one, and even this similarity is imperfect for the reason stated above. Usually (always?) such combinations are called compound verbal predicates in Russian grammars (составные глагольные сказуемые) — as opposed to simple (verbal) predicates and [compound] nominal predicates; the logic of perception is that two verbs go in a row, and only one of them needs to carry grammatical information. Not to mention that for me it was very hard until now to associate any thingy with a verbal infinitive, it is always understood like an action.
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2013

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