French orphan prepositions revisited

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In this article, I argue, contra Cervoni (1991), Olivier (2007) and others, that French does have prepositions without an overt complement that are syntactically transitive. That is, these prepositions take a syntactically projected, phonologically unrealized pronominal complement, as first hypothesized by Zribi-Hertz (1984), who coined them "orphan prepositions". I offer new evidence in favor of this view based on a number of tests that distinguish between various types of implicit arguments, among which (in)definiteness, the (un)availability of bound variable readings, scopal properties relative to operators such as negation and intensional verbs and the (un)availability of sloppy identity readings. I also show that the set of French orphan prepositions turns out to be much smaller than that envisaged by Zribi-Hertz in that some lexical prepositions can function as orphan prepositions in some uses but not others and some lexical prepositions have an intransitive use as well. The article also includes two appendices that lay out a number of reasons why orphan prepositions should not be assumed to be prepositions that have become adverbs through a process of grammaticalization nor should they be assumed to be relational definite descriptions that pragmatically link up to an antecedent via accommodation, as suggested by Olivier (2007).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)231-270
Number of pages40
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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