Case Marking on Objects of Infinitives in Lithuanian

Steven Franks, Indiana University, and James Lavine, Bucknell University

This paper examines the case of objects of infinitival complements in Lithuanian. It turns out that there is a surprising range of possibilities. As expected, direct objects, as in (1), are normally assigned accusative for all verb forms, finite or otherwise.

(1) Jie stengiasi [taisyti kelia].

they try to–repair road:ACC

'They are trying to repair the road.'

In addition, there are verbs that, as a lexical idiosyncrasy, select some other (quirky) oblique case on their objects (e.g., ieshkoti 'to look for' + GEN; vadovauti 'to lead, guide' + DAT). The Lithuanian case system also exhibits, however, syntactic idiosyncrasy, whereby infinitives in certain constructions are followed by a case other than the accusative. These cases appear to be structural, in the sense that they do not depend on a particular verb. It is this kind of syntactically motivated direct object case idiosyncrasy that is the focus of this paper.

There are three relevant phenomena to be considered, given in (2–4) below. These are (i) genitive objects, which appear with purpose clause infinitives following verbs of motion; (ii) dative objects, which appear with other types of purpose clauses; and (iii) nominative objects, which arise with psych verbs (experiencer predicates).

(2) Ishvazhiavo [kelio taisyti].

they–went road:GEN to–repair

'They went to repair the road.'

(3) Pastate darzhine [shienui sukrauti].

they–built hay–loft:ACC hay:DAT to–keep

'They built a hay–loft to keep hay.'

(4) Jam nepatiko [laukelis arti].

he:DAT not–like:3.PAST field:NOM to–plough

'He didn't like to plough the field.'

[Ambrazas 1997:557; 638]

The genitive governed by infinitives with verbs of motion (as in (2)) is a remnant of the old supine (originally a u–stem accusative noun). The supine, we maintain, though morphologically merged with the infinitive, still persists underlyingly in the contemporary language. We treat this form as a kind of adnominal genitive, reflecting its historical origins, and derive the OV word order just as with genitive premodifiers of nouns, otherwise attested in the language (roughly akin to "the road's repair").

The dative (in (3)), instead of the expected accusative, occurs in other infinitival purpose clauses. We propose that this dative object arises in the same way that dative subjects do, by virtue of infinitival –ti as a quirky dative case assigner (see Babby 1998 and Lavine 2000). Exploiting the same case–assigning mechanism available for dative subjects (found elsewhere in the language) also accounts for the OV word order. The object undergoes overt shift to a position to the left of V. Such dative assignment does not occur with the supine since the latter is interpreted as a nominal.

Nominative objects (as in (4)) occur with infinitival complements to psych verbs, where the matrix "subject" experiencer is dative. Here again, the object appears to be treated like a subject, shifting to the left of the infinitive to produce the OV order. Our analysis of this construction involves the entire infinitival clause being treated as the subject of the finite dative experiencer clause (yielding something like "[The field to plough] to him does not appeal.").

In conclusion, we examine four superficially similar constructions, arguing that in Lithuanian there are competing strategies for assigning case to the object of infinitival complements depending on underlying structure. Thus, rather than claim that the verb can canonically assign four different cases, it can, as in other languages, assign just one (the accusative), with hidden structures involved to handle the deviations from simple accusative objects. The language is unusual, however, is assigning case to direct objects using mechanisms ordinarily relegated only to subjects.


Ambrazas, Vytautas. (1997). Lithuanian Grammar. Vilnius: Baltos Lankos.

Babby, Leonard. (1998). "Subject control as direct predication: Evidence from Russian." In FASL 6: The UConn Meeting, ed. Zheljko Boshkovic Steven Franks, and William Snyder. Ann Arbor: Michigan Slavic Publications, 17–37.

Lavine, James. 2000. Topics in the Syntax of Nonagreeing Predicates in Slavic. Ph.D. Dissertation. Princeton University.