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Yearbook of the German Cognitive Linguistics Association

Editor-in-Chief: Stefanowitsch, Anatol / Schoenefeld, Doris

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Variation between singular and plural subject-verb agreement in German: A usage-based approach

Juliana Goschler
Published Online: 2014-12-16 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/gcla-2014-0012


At first glance, subject-verb-agreement seems to be straightforward in German: In the case of simplex NPs, the subject always agrees with the verb syntactically in person and number. However, with coordinated NPs in subject position, there is considerable variation in usage. If both conjuncts are singular NPs, the verb may display singular agreement - as would be expected, since coordinated structures inherit their syntactic properties from their individual components - but much more frequently, the verb displays plural agreement. On the basis of the LIMAS-corpus, a one-million-word corpus of written German, I will show that there is systematic variation between the two options. Among the determining factors are the position of the verb (preceding or following the subject), the type of NP (pronoun, proper name, lexical NP) and the internal syntactic structure of the subject (coordination of full NPs vs. coordination of partial NPs sharing a determiner, and definiteness vs. indefiniteness of the coordinated parts of the subject). I will discuss the results from the perspective of usage-based approaches and argue for an integration of semantic, pragmatic, and frequency factors in any theoretical approach to grammar.

Keywords : agreement; variation; alternation; construal; usage

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Published Online: 2014-12-16

Published in Print: 2014-11-01

Citation Information: Yearbook of the German Cognitive Linguistics Association, Volume 2, Issue 1, Pages 191–206, ISSN (Online) 2197-2796, ISSN (Print) 2197-2788, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/gcla-2014-0012.

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