On Bare Noun Phrases in Object Position of DO-Verbs in Russian

Irina Agafonova, Michigan State University

As there are no articles in Russian, there is an interpretation problem of “bare” (determinerless) noun phrases in this language. The question arises as to what is the range of interpretation of Russian noun phrases with no articles. It is proposed in the literature (Gerstner and Krifka 1993, Filip 1999), that bare noun phrases are ambiguous between a definite and an indefinite interpretation as shown in (1).

(1)        On       pil                     čaj

            he         drink.past         tea.sg.acc

He drank tea./He was drinking the tea.

In the sentence in (1), the undetermined mass noun phrase čaj is ambiguous between the definite reading ‘the tea’ (quantized) and the indefinite reading ‘tea’ (cumulative).

In this paper, I examine the behavior of noun phrases in a context in which the ambiguity disappears. Verbs with the DO prefix create such a context as illustrated in (2).

 (2)        On       do-pil                           čaj

            he         perf.drink.past              tea.sg.acc

He drank *tea/the tea up.

In the sentence in (2), the indefinite reading ‘tea’ (cumulative) is excluded.

I propose a syntax-semantics for the prefix DO and bare object noun phrase that can account for the lack of ambiguity. I test Borer’s (2004) exo-skeletal approach for bare noun phrases. I show that the presence/lack of ambiguity as in (1) and (2) is determined structurally. The exo-skeletal approach for bare noun phrases supports the fact that DO-prefix, unlike other perfective prefixes that allow non-definite readings (e.g. in the sentence On po-ljubil čaj. ‘He liked tea.’), forces the definite reading of bare noun phrases in Russian.


Borer, Hagit. Structuring Sense: in Name Only. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Filip, Hana. Aspect, Eventuality Types and Nominal Reference. New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1999.

Gerstner, Claudia, and Manfred Krifka. “Genericity.” Handbuch der Syntax. Berlin: de Gruyter (1993): 966-978.