German Passives and English Benefactives

The Need for Non-canonical Accusative Case


  • Vera Lee-Schoenfeld University of Georgia
  • Nicholas Twiner Stanford University



double object construction, benefactive, passive, English, German, case


In both English benefactive constructions (John baked Mary a cake) and German kriegen/bekommen-passives (Er kriegte einen Stift geschenkt ‘He got a pen gifted’), the theme argument is accusative-marked but has no way of getting structural accusative case. In English benefactive constructions, this is because the beneficiary argument intervenes between the voice head and the theme, and in German kriegen/bekommen-passives, it is because there is no active voice head. This paper proposes that, in both languages, the applicative head introducing the beneficiary/recipient (more generally, the affectee argument), comes with an extra case feature that can license case on the theme argument. In English, this non-canonical accusative case feature comes with the regular applicative head introducing the beneficiary argument. In contrast, in German, it comes with a defective applicative head which introduces the recipient but is unable to assign to it the inherent dative case that normally comes with the Affectee theta-role. The paper offers a unified analysis of English and German double object constructions and also of German werden (‘be’) and kriegen/bekommen (‘get’)-passives.