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Obviation in Hungarian: what is its scope, and is it due to competition?


Anna Szabolcsi

New York University, US
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According to the classical description of obviation, the subject of a subjunctive is disjoint in reference from the attitude-holder subject of the immediately higher clause.


*Je veux que  je  parte.
  I   want  that I   leave.SUBJ
  ‘I want for me to leave’


Inspired by Ruwet (1984/1991) and Farkas (1988; 1992), I present data from Hungarian where obviation in certain subjunctives is plainly lifted, and data where obviation occurs in indicatives. I argue that obviation is not the result of competition with another construction, and point to promising potential accounts in terms of a clash in semantics or pragmatics. My aim is to contribute desiderata for a theory of obviation and exemptions from obviation in fairly informal terms.

How to Cite: Szabolcsi, A. (2021). Obviation in Hungarian: what is its scope, and is it due to competition?. Glossa: A Journal of General Linguistics, 6(1), 57. DOI:
  Published on 26 Apr 2021
 Accepted on 05 Apr 2021            Submitted on 31 Aug 2020

According to the classical description of obviation, the subject of a subjunctive is disjoint in reference from the attitude-holder subject of the immediately higher clause. Inspired by Ruwet (1984/1991) and Farkas (1988; 1992), I present data from Hungarian where obviation in certain subjunctives is plainly lifted, and data where obviation occurs in indicatives. I argue that obviation is not the result of competition with another construction, and point to promising potential accounts in terms of semantics or pragmatics. My aim is to contribute desiderata for a theory of obviation and exemptions from obviation. The discussion centers on new data from Hungarian and does not attempt to provide final answers or a novel formalization. However, it pays close attention to pertinent semantic and pragmatic literature (Searle 1969; Shoemaker 1996; Schlenker 2005; 2011; Kaufmann 2019; 2020) and makes critical use of it.

The structure of the discussion is as follows. Sections 1 and 2 introduce Ruwet’s (1984/1991) and Farkas’s (1992) classical approaches to obviation in subjunctives. In particular, Farkas (1992) proposes that obviation obtains when the individual linked to the subjunctive subject is the intentional initiator of the event (bears RESP) and is weakened otherwise. She attributes the effect to the blocking of the subjunctive by a semantically better-suited infinitive. Section 3 explains why Hungarian offers a good testing ground for this theory, and Section 4 confirms the correctness of the RESP insight.

Section 5 presents new data that are problematic for the other half of the theory, namely, blocking. I show that obviation-like effects exist in indicative complements of ‘hope’ and ‘regret’ that have no competitors in Hungarian. The effects are sensitive to RESP and, under ‘hope,’ also to direct experience. They are not predicted by a blocking account, or indeed by any account that treats obviation as a specialty of subjunctives.

Section 6 turns to promising semantic and pragmatic approaches. Kaufmann (2019; 2020) proposes an account of obviation in directives (imperatives that are inflected for person and number). She attributes obviation to a clash between the director’s uncertainty regarding the truth of the imperative proposition and, if the director is identical to the instigator of the event in the imperative, the same person’s certainty that this proposition will be true in all the relevant worlds. This account easily carries over to subjunctives under ‘want.’

Sections 7 and 8 present the core of my proposal. Kaufmann’s account is extended, mutatis mutandis, to indicatives under ‘hope.’ But the case of ‘regret’ is different, because the regretter is not uncertain about the truth of the (indicative) complement. I assimilate the case of ‘regret’ to the absurdity of the negation of sincerity conditions of illocutionary acts, Moore’s paradox among them. However, based on Shoemaker’s (1996) insight, I propose to exploit it with reference to thoughts and not specifically acts. One major task for further research is to find a proper conceptual unification of these clashes.

Section 9 returns to ‘want’ and links the semantic difference between the infinitival and subjunctive complements to the presence vs. absence of an event de se reading (internal perspective of the event), following Schlenker (2005; 2011). I then ask what the grammatical correlates of the internal perspective are and examine a few challenges. Another major task for further research is to answer this question. Section 10 concludes.

The Appendix discusses issues that are important but have been withheld so as not to disrupt the flow of the argument above. Section A.1 discusses directives that are encouragements and not commands; Section A.2 an effective preference presupposition that subjunctives but not infinitives carry under ‘want,’ and Section A.3 subjunctive complements of subject control verbs that do not select for infinitives, overt subjects in the complement, and quantificational binding.

1 Ruwet (1984/1991)

The classical, though not the first work to address obviation in Western Romance is Ruwet (1984), a piece that is often referenced but, being difficult to obtain, probably rarely read. Fortunately, with the ingenious collaborative translation of John Goldsmith, the University of Chicago Press published a collection of Ruwet’s articles in 1991. This contains a version of the 1984 article, with some added comments regarding English. I immediately note that throughout the translated article, the subjunctive is rendered with the for NP to VP construction, which enables the non-French-speaking reader to easily grasp and appreciate the observations and arguments, despite the fact that present-day English barely uses a formal subjunctive.1 For ease of reference, this section retains the example numbering in Ruwet (1991).

Ruwet offers a rich catalog of data, both for vouloir ‘want’ and for other verbs that select the subjunctive in French: ‘fear’, ‘regret’, ‘wish’, ‘demand’, ‘deserve’, ‘wait’, ‘admire’, ‘notice’, etc. Here is my own summary of what I take to be Ruwet’s core intuition.

(1) a. The two coreferential occurrences of the subject in sentences with subjunctive complements “iconically” convey a discontinuity between the will and the actions of a person.
  b. If it is mind-boggling how such a discontinuity could exist, disjoint reference arises.
  c. Obviation is weakened (the sentence becomes acceptable) when, for some rea-son or other, that discontinuity makes sense.

[37] a.   Je veux partir.
      I want to leave.
  b. *Je veux que je parte.
      I want for me to leave.

Ruwet lists the following kinds of syntactic or lexical modification which, applied to the complement, create a distancing effect that, he claims, makes the coreferential reading of the subjunctive more or less acceptable in French: the use of passive, pouvoir, perfective, coordination [which I think is really a case of contrast], stative predicates, psychological predicates, negation (of vouloir), polar reinforcement, the pourquois veux-tu que construction, and viewing one’s action from the perspective of another. The assessment of acceptability of the English counterparts comes from Ruwet (1991).

[39] a. ?Je veux que je sois enterré dans mon village natal.
      I want for me to be buried in my native village.

[41] a. ?Je veux que je puisse attaquer à l’aube.
    ?I want for me to be able to attack at dawn.

[46] b. Ah! Je voudrais que je sois déjà parti!
    Oh! I would like for me to be already gone!

[49]   Je veux que tu partes et que je reste.
    I want for you to go and for me to stay.

[56] a. ?Dites-lui bien que je veux que je reçoive son message dans les plus brefs délais.
    ??Do be sure to tell him that I want for me to receive his message without delay.

[68] a. Je veux que je sois très amusant ce soir.
    I want for me to be quite amusing tonight.

[80] b. ?Je ne veux pas que je me trompe de clé (encore).
    ?I do not want for me to mix up the keys (again).

[82] a. Je veux absolument que j’amuse ces enfants.
    I absolutely want for me to amuse the children.

2 Farkas (1988; 1992)

Farkas (1992) proposes a theory that captures Ruwet’s generalizations and also makes cross-linguistic predictions. The theory has two critical components. One is the RESP[onsibility] relation that she had introduced in connection with controller choice, and the other is the infinitive-subjunctive rivalry.

(2) RESP(i, s) holds between an individual i and a situation s just in case i brings s about, i.e. just in case s is the result of some act performed by i with the intention of bringing s about. If so, s is called the (possibly) intentional situation and i its initiator. The initiator is similar but not identical to an agent. (Farkas 1988: 36)

Farkas (1988) proposes that when there are two possible controllers in an obligatory control configuration, the controller must be chosen so that RESP holds between it and the complement situation, accounting for the contrast between promise (subject control) vs. persuade (object control). With RESP-inducing matrix verbs, whose meanings require that one of the participants be the initiator of the complement situation, the unmarked controller is the initiator participant. The present paper is not concerned with controller choice and merely uses RESP, following Farkas (1992).

Farkas (1992) observes that binding theoretic accounts of obviation2 cannot explain the Ruwet-style cases of exemption from obviation, and the fact that Balkan subjunctives and Hungarian object-controlled subjunctives are not obviative. Her account is in terms of the rivalry between infinitives and subjunctives. She proposes that the infinitive is the preferred expression of canonical control. If a language has an infinitive in the given construction, it is to be chosen. When however the language lacks infinitives in general (as Romanian and Serbo-Croatian do) or in the given construction (as Hungarian does with many object-control verbs, e.g. rábeszél ‘persuade’), then the subjunctive option is the only one and there is no obviation.

(3) Canonical control: Both the participant linked to the complement subject and the participant linked to the matrix argument that controls it bear the RESP relation to the complement situation.

(4) Obviation: In subjunctive complements that conform to the canonical control case, the infinitive blocks the subjunctive, if it is available in the language. More formally,
  “In world-dependent complements [subjunctives] that conform to the canonical control case [have RESP], the form used to mark Su[bject] dependency [infinitive, if there is one] blocks the form used for world-dependency.” (Farkas 1992: 102–104)

3 Probing the predictions in Hungarian

We now probe Farkas’s predictions using Hungarian. One prediction is that subjunctive obviation correlates with RESP. Section 4 examines and confirms this.

The other prediction is that obviation is the result of blocking (competition from infinitives). This rests on the assumption that obviation is specific for subjunctives or, more generally, for moods that have competitors. But is it? If not, then its explanation should cover the whole natural class. Starting with Section 5 we start making steps in this direction. The jumping-off point is that obviation-like effects exist in indicatives that do not have any competitors.

What is the advantage of using Hungarian in this investigation? One advantage is that the acceptability contrast between RESP and non-RESP subjunctive complements of ‘want’ is very sharp: the non-RESP cases are perfect. This is useful because, with the exception of [49], the French speakers whose judgments I have received, directly or indirectly with the kind help of Vincent Homer, do not report a strong improvement in the examples where Ruwet claimed there is one. Hungarian has a similar advantage over English, with for NP to VP in the place of the formal subjunctive, although here the improvement seems more pronounced than in French. Thus, the use of Hungarian in the subjunctive domain provides cleaner data in Section 4 and gives us more confidence in the claim that RESP triggers obviation but non-RESP does not. (Why the strength of these contrasts differs across languages is a big and important question that I have to leave open for the time being.)

The other advantage of Hungarian pertains to mood selection. Hungarian is indicative-heavy. Unlike Balkan languages, Hungarian has infinitives alongside subjunctives, but both of these have a much narrower distribution than in Western Romance. Thus we find many indicatives, for example under emotive-factives, that do not have any competitors. If they exhibit effects that belong under the same larger umbrella as classical subjunctive obviation, then competition cannot be the critical factor. Starting with Section 6, a semantic-pragmatic explanation will be sought, inspired by Kaufmann (2019).

4 Hungarian subjunctives under akar ‘want’: Obviation iff RESP

We start with the simplest cases. When the verb in the subjunctive complement is agentive, and the sentence is understood to describe “normal circumstances,” the subject of the subjunctive is an initiator that bears the RESP relation to the situation, and obviation occurs. When the verb is not agentive, there is no RESP and no obviation.3 The desideratives kíván ‘wish’ and szeretne ‘would like’ behave identically to akar.

English speakers inform me that the judgments for the for NP to VP translations fundamentally replicate the Hungarian judgments, although the contrasts are not as sharp as in Hungarian, as was mentioned in Section 3. Bear in mind that the focus of this paper is Hungarian.

(A)      Agentive verbs in complement – obviation (under normal circumstances!)

    1. (5)
    1. #Azt
    2.   it.ACC
    1. akarom,
    2. want.1SG
    1. hogy
    2. that
    1. távozzam.
    2. leave.SUBJ.1SG
    1.   ‘I want for me to leave’
    1. (6)
    1. #Azt
    2.   it.ACC
    1. akarom,
    2. want.1SG
    1. hogy
    2. that
    1. meg-látogassam
    2. PFX-visit.SUBJ.1SG
    1. Marit.
    2. Mary.ACC
    1.   ‘I want for me to visit Mary’

(B)      Non-agentive complements – no obviation

    1. (7)
    1. Azt
    2. it.ACC
    1. akarom,
    2. want.1SG
    1. hogy
    2. that
    1. good
    1. jegyeket
    2. grades.ACC
    1. kapjak.
    2. get.SUBJ.1SG
    1. ‘I want for me to get good grades’
    1. (8)
    1. Azt
    2. it.ACC
    1. akarom,
    2. want.1SG
    1. hogy
    2. that
    1. egészséges
    2. healthy
    1. legyek.
    2. be.SUBJ.1SG
    1. ‘I want for me to be healthy’
    1. (9)
    1. Azt
    2. it.ACC
    1. akarom,
    2. want.1SG
    1. hogy
    2. that
    1. ne
    2. not
    1. essek
    2. fall.SUBJ.1SG
    1. le.
    2. down
    1. ‘I want for me not to fall’

The “non-normal circumstances” fall into two classes. In the first class, the sentence describes an urge, a mistake, or an accident, and obviation vanishes, even if the verb is agentive in the usual grammatical sense.4

(C)      Urges, mistakes, accidents, even if the complement verb is agentive – no obviation

(10) Magasságiszonyom van. Nem megyek fel a toronyba, nem akarom, hogy leugorjak.
  ‘I have the fear of heights. I’m not going up the tower, I don’t want for me to jump’

Fear of heights presents an urge to jump; I do not want to give in to that urge.

(11) Nem megyek el az ülésre. A főnök ostobaságokat fog beszélni, nem akarom, hogy ellentmondjak neki.
  ‘I’m not going to the meeting. The boss will speak nonsense, I don’t want for me to contradict him’

The use of the subjunctive makes it clear that if I were at the meeting, I would be burning to contradict the boss, but I do not want for that to actually happen.5

Likewise, there is no obviation when an otherwise perfectly agentive event would obtain by accident or mistake. Note that the subjunctive suffices to indicate that this is so, even without adding an adverb like ‘accidentally.’

(12) Nem akarom, hogy (véletlenül/tévedésből) az egészséges lábat amputáljam.
  ‘I don’t want for me to (accidentally/by mistake) amputate the healthy leg’

In the second class, a situation involves a dependence on authorities or the co-operation of others. RESP is likewise absent here, which explains why obviation does not occur.

(D)      Dependence on authorities or on the co-operation of others – no obviation

(13) (to fairy offering to grant wishes) Azt akarom/kívánom, hogy megöljem a sárkányt és feleségül vegyem a királylányt.
  ‘I want/wish for me to kill the dragon and marry the princess’

The “actor negotiates with director” context is an inexhaustible source of examples with agentive verbs that happily occur in the subjunctive under desideratives.

(14) (actor to director) Azt szeretném, hogy táncoljak a következő jelenetben.
  ‘I would like for me [=my character] to dance in the next scene’

Finally, contrastive focus on the subjunctive subject pronoun eliminates obviation in all languages that I am aware of. Recall that among Ruwet’s examples, [49] was the most acceptable for the French speakers I have received judgments from.

[49] Je veux que tu partes et que je reste.
  I want for you to go and for me to stay.

Likewise, Kempchinsky (2009: 1792) finds the example below quite good (without saying why focus makes a difference):

(15) %La ministra insiste en que ELLA / ella misma preside la sesión.
    ‘The minister insists that SHE / she herself chair(subj) the session’

Hungarian demonstrates the same effect. Contrastive foci in the language are recognizable by their immediately preverbal position, in addition to bearing primary stress (É. Kiss 2002; Horvath 2010):

    1. (16)
    1. Azt
    2. it.ACC
    1. szeretném,
    2. like.COND.1SG
    1. hogy
    2. that
    1. (csak/ne)
    2. (only/not)
    1. ÉN
    2. I.NOM
    1. látogassam
    2. visit.SUBJ.1SG
    1. meg
    2. PFX
    1. Marit.
    2. Mary.ACC
    1. ‘I would like for it to be (only) me who visits Mary’ /
    2. ‘I would like for it (not) to be me who visits Mary’

I place this case in the “need the co-operation of others” class, because the individual corresponding to the subject of the subjunctive obviously cannot, by himself or herself, bring about the desired situation. In the positive cases, other individuals must refrain from performing the action; in the case of focus negation, other individuals must perform it instead. It seems natural to say that these are instances of non-RESP. Z. Gendler Szabó (p.c.) warns that construing RESP as “sole responsibility” is philosophically suspect, similarly to reference to “the cause,” as Lewis (1987) observes in connection with causation. But for our purposes it suffices to distinguish between the possibility of sole responsibility and the guaranteed absence of sole responsibility. In the last batch of examples above, either the context or the linguistic form guarantees the absence of sole responsibility.

Unfortunately, subsuming the focus case under non-RESP does not explain why it is so much more felicitous in Western Romance than the other, non-agentive non-RESP cases. So, the role of focus may have to be reassessed.

To summarize, all the cases in which the subjunctive is not obviative are characterized by the fact that the individual corresponding to the subject does not stand in a RESP relation to the complement situation, in the sense that this individual either does not intentionally bring about that situation at all, or he/she needs the authority or cooperation of others to bring it about. With this understanding of non-RESP, Farkas’s prediction is exactly borne out.6

It is worth emphasizing that the non-RESP character of the complements in (C)-(D) is not characterizable in overt syntactic terms. Ruwet’s own non-obviative examples involve non-agentive predicates or passives and ability modals; Costantini (2005) offers a like-minded account of Italian, according to which auxiliary constructions (complex tenses, passives, modals) evade obviation. Hungarian does not even have some of those syntactic devices, and (C)–(D) definitely do not use any of them. Out of the blue, these complements are expected to be RESP-ful. The fact that they are in the subjunctive signals that they are not RESP-ful. As they present an expected initiator as a non-initiator, the interpreter must either reject them as contradictory, or contend that the context is not normal and the expected initiator is indeed not one. Adverbs like ‘accidentally’ or information about the speech situation may justify that; otherwise the co-operative interpreter must volunteer their own justification. The fact that RESP status is so highly amenable to contextual considerations indicates that its role is eminently semantic-pragmatic in nature.

5 What is the scope of obviation? From subjunctives to indicatives

We now leave the realm of subjunctives and proceed to a more provocative new question. Is obviation limited to subjunctives? If it occurs elsewhere, is it explained by competition?

5.1 Briefly on cross-linguistic differences in mood choice

The reader will recall that, according to Farkas, her theory reproduces Ruwet’s generalizations; the difference lies in how they are explained. Although Ruwet’s explanation is very informal, it is thoroughly semantic. It does not only refer to semantic notions, it attributes obviation to a semantic clash, and absence of obviation to the absence of such a clash. In contrast, whereas Farkas refers to a more formal and rigorous semantic notion, RESP, her explanation of obviation itself is not semantic but functional.

(17) Farkas: Obviation from competition with infinitives (i.e. blocking)
  “In world-dependent complements [subjunctives] that conform to the canonical control case [have RESP], the form used to mark Su[bject] dependency [infinitive, if there is one] blocks the form used for world-dependency.” (Farkas 1992: 102–104)

The competition account is especially natural if we combine it with mood choice. Schlenker (2005) argues that the French subjunctive is a typical elsewhere mood: it has many uses and no unitary semantics. In fact, it is semantically vacuous. Adding Farkas’s (1992) observation that canonical-control infinitives require RESP, it is now straightforward that (in languages like French) infinitival control blocks subjunctives in RESP cases. The account also predicts that when RESP is absent, both the subjunctive and infinitival control are good (no obviation). Likewise, the absence of obviation is predicted for a language that has no infinitives (Modern Greek, Serbo-Croatian).

In Section 5.2, I point out the presence of obviation in certain indicatives in Hungarian that do not have any kind of competitors, neither infinitival nor subjunctive. Comparable data have not, to my knowledge, been considered in the literature.

Regarding mood choice in French, Schlenker (2005) partially bases his theory on Farkas (2003). Farkas considers two hypotheses, (i) A complement that is true in the world of a context is in the indicative, and (ii) Complements involving an evaluative component are in the subjunctive. But, she says, these do not correctly predict the Romanian, French, and Spanish facts. Therefore she abandons both hypotheses, although they are attractive, and makes an Optimality Theoretic proposal instead. This involves two features: (a) A sentence is +Assert iff its Context Change Potential is assertive, and (b) A sentence is +Decided iff it is decided in the context to which it is added. Thus, +Assert entails +Decided, and if the sentence is presupposed, it is +Decided and –Assert. She proposes two constraints, her [49a,b]:

(18) *SUBJ / +Decided
  *IND / –Assert

The Romanian ranking is *SUBJ/+Decided ≫ *IND/–Assert, and the French-Spanish one is the opposite. However, Farkas notes that in fact, in French the two constraints are quite close, allowing for variation, but with the subjunctive winning. In Spanish, however, the subjunctive is the only good choice here.

Mood distribution in Hungarian is very different from Western Romance. Unlike Balkan languages, Hungarian has both controlled infinitives and subjunctives; however, their territory is much narrower than in French, Spanish, or Italian. A small sample below illustrates that Hungarian is indicative-heavy.7

(19) The complements of the counterparts of some English subject-control verbs
  a. akar ‘want’ infinitive subjunctive  
  b. követel ‘demand’   subjunctive  
  c. elhatároz ‘decide’     indicative
  d. remél ‘hope’     indicative
  e. sajnál ‘regret’     indicative
  f. utál ‘hate’ infinitive   indicative

One consequence is that it would be difficult to regard the subjunctive as a default mood in Hungarian; another is that the infinitive rarely competes with another form. Most importantly to us, Hungarian offers new testing ground for attributing obviation to competition.

5.2 Obviation-like effects exist in Hungarian with remél ‘hope’ and sajnál ‘regret’ that only take indicative complements

The literature typically reserves the term “obviation” for an effect pertaining to the pronominal subject of a subjunctive. I will now point out that a similar effect presents itself in certain indicatives in Hungarian that are complements of verbs like remél ‘hope’ and sajnál ‘regret.’ The effect is similar to obviation in subjunctives in that to a significant, although interestingly not full extent it is predictable by the RESP vs. non-RESP distinction, and that all the sentences would be fine if the coreferential/bound subject in the complement were replaced by the name of a different person. E.g. ‘I hope that I’m jumping around’ is bad, but ‘I hope that Mary is jumping around’ is impeccable.

From the competition perspective, the interest of these data stems from the fact that remél and sajnál only take indicative complements in Hungarian. In other words, (i) the complements at hand are not subjunctives, and (ii) there is simply no competing shape for the complement in the language. Therefore, whatever will turn out to be the correct explanation for why some of the sentences below are weird or unacceptable, it cannot be blocking by infinitives or by some other mood.

English translations will serve to give a sense of the Hungarian facts. I believe English exhibits similar effects but, as above, the actual claims are about Hungarian.

Two pieces of background information are in order before the examples are presented:

First, many Hungarian verbs have prefixless and prefixed versions. Prefixed verbs are typically perfective and, with present tense morphology, futurate. Prefixed verbs will be avoided, because the simultaneous present vs. future distinction is of importance to us. The prefixless present tense form comes close to the English simple present for statives and present progressive for eventives.

Second, as was noted in connection with (16), a contrastively focused complement or adjunct in Hungarian does not only bear primary stress but occupies a designated preverbal position (É. Kiss 2002; Horvath 2010) and so it is easily identifiable. Contrastive focus will always be highlighted by CAPs in the examples. In the absence of caps, the reader should be sure to assume that neither a complement/adjunct nor the verb bear contrastive focus. Again, this is important to us, because gradable predicates like lucky, certain, hope, regret, etc. are focus sensitive.8

5.2.1 Remél ‘hope’ (complement in the simultaneous, episodic present)

The most relevant and clearest cases for remél ‘hope’ are provided by complements in the simultaneous, episodic (non-habitual) present. All the examples are to be read as reports of what the speaker thinks about their ongoing situation.9

(20) a.   Remélem, hogy benne vagyok a csapatban. ‘I hope that I’m on the team’
  b.   Remélem, hogy nem untatlak. ‘I hope that I’m not boring you’
  c.   Remélem, hogy biztonságban vagyok. ‘I hope that I’m safe’
  d.   Remélem, hogy egyenesen állok. ‘I hope that I’m standing straight’
  e. #Remélem, hogy fél lábon állok. ‘I hope that I’m standing on one leg’
  f. #Remélem, hogy (nem) szédülök. ‘I hope that I (don’t) have vertigo’
  g. #Remélem, hogy (nem) fázom. ‘I hope that I’m (not) cold’
  h. #Remélem, hogy ugrándozok. ‘I hope that I’m jumping around’
  i. #Remélem, hogy próbálok segíteni. ‘I hope that I’m trying to help’
  j. #Remélem, hogy simogatom a macskát. ‘I hope that I’m stroking the cat’
  j.’   Remélem, hogy a MACSkát simogatom. ‘I hope that what I’m stroking is the cat’
  j.”   Remélem, hogy SImogatom a macskát. ‘I hope that what I’m doing is stroking’

Examples (a)-(b)-(c) have non-RESP complements, and they are not obviative. Examples (h)-(i)-(j) clearly have RESP complements, and they are obviative. In (i), ‘trying to help’ ensures that the hope does not concern the success of helping. These contrasts are familiar from subjunctives. But the behavior of (d)-(e)-(f)-(g) is novel.

In (d)-(e), standing straight and standing on one leg are both intentional actions. However, the agent may easily be uncertain whether they are successful in standing straight, whereas they are unlikely to be uncertain whether they are standing on one leg or both. We find that, under normal circumstances, the former is non-obviative and the latter obviative. The observation is reinforced by (f)-(g) that involve classical predicates of direct experience, having vertigo and being cold. The subject is the best and, most likely, the only reliable judge of these, and they are obviative.

What these examples highlight is that, under ‘hope,’ both the complement subject’s intentional action (RESP) and their internal certainty matter, and sometimes plain (un)certainty is decisive. Our task will be to unify RESP with direct perception as a category that violates the uncertainty condition that Anand & Hacquard (2013) attribute to English hope (an emotive doxastic item in their terminology).10

The default expectations in (d)-(e) can be overridden when the agent is standing in front of a mirror or inside a contraption that may be taking over weight from one of their legs. It is significant that such accidental aspects of the situation matter, but this should not obscure the fact that the agent’s own certainty is at stake. The contrastive focus versions of (j), (j’) and (j”) square with this. They invite us to consider situations where something prevents the agent from being certain of what they are actually doing: Is it the cat that I am stroking in the dark? Is it stroking what I am doing with heavy gloves on? If the agent is not sure what they are doing, obviation disappears.

Notice that subjunctive obviation exhibits a similar sensitivity to “non-normal circumstances.” Recall the actions that would be perfectly RESP-ful if, in the given situation, they were not due to urges, mistakes, accidents, or did not require the authority or co-operation of others.

5.2.2 Remél ‘hope’ (complement in the past or in the future)

The past complement versions of the above examples yield the same patterns if they involve the immediate, easy-to-recall past. But they are more vulnerable to contextual considerations: exactly what is the hoper expected to know or remember? This leads me to replace the # marking with a uniform question mark ?, which should be read as an indicator of weirdness, not of mild deviation. Because the patterns are the same as above, I only give a small sample of examples:

(21) a.   Remélem, hogy bekerültem a csapatba. ‘I hope that I got on the team’
  f. ?Remélem, hogy (nem) szédültem. ‘I hope that I had (didn’t have) vertigo’
  g. ?Remélem, hogy (nem) fáztam. ‘I hope that I was (not) cold’
  h. ?Remélem, hogy ugrándoztam. ‘I hope that I was jumping around’
  i. ?Remélem, hogy próbáltam segíteni. ‘I hope that I was trying to help’

When the complement pertains to the near and foreseeable future, the direct experience effect disappears and (f, g) pattern with other non-RESP cases.

(22) a.   Remélem, hogy benne leszek a csapatban. ‘I hope that I’ll be on the team’
  b.   Remélem, hogy nem foglak untatni. ‘I hope that I won’t be boring you’
  c.   Remélem, hogy biztonságban leszek. ‘I hope that I’ll be safe’
  d.   Remélem, hogy egyenesen fogok állni. ‘I hope that I’ll be standing straight’
  e. ?Remélem, hogy fél lábon fogok állni. ‘I hope that I’ll be standing on one leg’
  f.   Remélem, hogy (nem) fogok szédülni. ‘I hope that I will (not) have vertigo’
  g.   Remélem, hogy (nem) fogok fázni. ‘I hope that I will (not) be cold’
  h. ?Remélem, hogy ugrándozni fogok. ‘I hope that I’ll be jumping around’
  i. ?Remélem, hogy próbálni fogok segíteni. ‘I hope that I’ll be trying to help’
  j. ?Remélem, hogy simogatni fogom a macskát. ‘I hope that I’ll stroke the cat’
  j.’   Remélem, hogy a MACSkát fogom simogatni. ‘I hope that what I’ll stroke is the cat’
  j.”   Remélem, hogy SImogatni fogom a macskát. ‘I hope that what I’ll be doing is stroking’

5.2.3 Sajnál ‘regret, find regrettable, wish [it] weren’t the case’

The sentences below are to be read as thought-reports, not as apologetic utterances. First-personal ‘I regret that…’ may tempt apologetic interpretations, but they should be resisted. Switching to Mary and she would eliminate this problem, but it would introduce new ambiguities that can be avoided by sticking with the 1st person.

The reader should bear in mind that, as indicated in the section heading, sajnál doesn’t mean exactly the same thing as English regret. For example, at the end of a beautiful concert it is natural to say, Sajnálom, hogy vége van, literally, ‘I regret that it is over.’ The sentence really means, ‘It’s a pity it’s over’ or ‘I wish it wasn’t over.’ This is relevant, because English regret might produce confounding effects that Hungarian sajnál luckily does not.

Sajnál ‘regret’ being factive, uncertainty is not involved here, and so direct experience is not a discriminating factor. Weirdness (notated, again, with a ?) correlates fairly systematically with RESP. The past tense complements are uniformly good: whatever happened, the individual corresponding to the complement subject can no longer do anything about it. In the episodic present and future cases, they may be able to. Intuitively, the source of weirdness is the fact that the same person is performing or planning to perform an action that she is the sole instigator of and wishes that she were not instigating it.

If the complement subject is merely an agent but not RESPonsible initiator, obviation goes away, much like we saw in connection with ‘want’+subjunctive. In what follows, I will assume that the sentences describe “normal circumstances” and not urges or mistakes, for example.

I list the examples in the same present, past, future order as with remél ‘hope’ above. The translations employ the verb regret, with the caveat noted above.

(23) a.     Sajnálom, hogy benne vagyok a csapatban. ‘I regret that I’m on the team’
  b.     Sajnálom, hogy untatlak. ‘I regret that I’m boring you’
  c.     Sajnálom, hogy biztonságban vagyok. ‘I regret that I’m safe’
  d. (?)Sajnálom, hogy egyenesen állok. ‘I regret that I’m standing straight’
  e.   ?Sajnálom, hogy fél lábon állok. ‘I regret that I’m standing on one leg’
  f.     Sajnálom, hogy (nem) szédülök. ‘I regret that I (don’t) have vertigo’
  g.     Sajnálom, hogy (nem) fázom. ‘I regret that I’m (not) cold’
  h.   ?Sajnálom, hogy ugrándozok. ‘I regret that I’m jumping around’
  i.   ?Sajnálom, hogy próbálok segíteni. ‘I regret that I’m trying to help’
  j.   ?Sajnálom, hogy simogatom a macskát. ‘I regret that I’m stroking the cat’

(24) a. Sajnálom, hogy bekerültem a csapatba. ‘I regret that I got on the team’
  f. Sajnálom, hogy (nem) szédültem. ‘I regret that I had (didn’t have) vertigo’
  g. Sajnálom, hogy (nem) fáztam. ‘I regret that I was (not) cold’
  h. Sajnálom, hogy ugrándoztam. ‘I regret that I was jumping around’
  i. Sajnálom, hogy próbáltam segíteni. ‘I regret that I was trying to help’

(25) a.   Sajnálom, hogy benne leszek a csapatban. ‘I regret that I’ll be on the team’
  f.   Sajnálom, hogy (nem) fogok szédülni. ‘I regret that I will (not) have vertigo’
  g.   Sajnálom, hogy (nem) fogok fázni. ‘I regret that I will (not) be cold’
  h. ?Sajnálom, hogy ugrándozni fogok. ‘I regret that I’ll be jumping around’
  i. ?Sajnálom, hogy próbálni fogok segíteni. ‘I regret that I’ll be trying to help’

5.2.4 What is the source of obviation(-like) effects with remél and sajnál?

The explanation why some of the sentences with remél and sajnál are weird or unacceptable cannot be blocking by infinitives or some other form in the complement, since there are none.11 More precisely, if obviation is explained by competition, competition cannot be restricted to forms that co-exist within a particular language, as is traditionally understood. Going beyond a particular language would make sense in that gradable predicates like ‘hope’ and ‘regret’ take subjunctive complements in some languages (e.g. Spanish, see Villalta 2008), and there they may have infinitival competitors. Indeed, Buccola, Križ & Chemla (2018) and Charlow (2019) argue, in connection with other phenomena, that the competitors may co-exist in what they call the language of thought.12 I will not pursue this approach here.

The hypothesis that I will pursue is related to my reading of Ruwet’s intuition:

(26) Mind-boggling meanings arise from the combination of the semantics of the matrix verb and the subject’s relation to the complement situation. The critical relation has to generalize over responsibility and direct experience (perhaps also other things) and over verbs of the type of want/hope and regret (and perhaps others).

6 Mind-boggling meanings

6.1 Kaufmann (2019) on directive obviation

For such an approach, we can look to Kaufmann (2019). Kaufmann proposes an explicit semantic-pragmatic theory of a related phenomenon: directive obviation. The relevant directives are matrix or complement imperatives with person-number agreement. For Slovenian embedded directives, Kaufmann follows Stegovec (2019), who rejects a blocking account mostly for lack of a suitable competitor.

Some examples involving directive obviation are as follows (Kaufmann 2019: 642–643). I set aside directives in interrogatives, which involve the usual Speaker/Addressee flip; they do not seem to present extra challenges.

(27)   Main clause directive: anyone but first person exclusive
  *Naj pomagam! *Naj pomagamo!
    SUBJ help.1SG     SUBJ help.1PL.EXCL
    intended ‘I should help’     intended ‘We (excl.) should help’

(28) Embedded directive: anyone but attitude holder
  a. I said that *I/you/he should…
  b. You said that I/*you/he should…
  c. (S)hei said (to Y) that I/you/(s)he*i/j should …

    1. (29)
    1. *Rekel
    2.   said.M
    1. sii,
    2. are.2
    1. da
    2. that
    1. več
    2. more
    1. telovadii.
    2. exercise.IMP.(2)
    1.   intended ‘You said that you should exercise more’

Directive obviation is alleviated if the subjunctive subject lacks control, i.e. RESP. Kaufmann cites Oikonomou (2016) on directive na-subjunctives in Greek; Oikonomou judges the example below to be acceptable when uttered by a person without an alarm clock to her mother, who is known to wake up early. Kaufmann reports that Stegovec shares the same judgment for the Slovenian counterpart:

    1. (30)
    1. Avrio
    2. tomorrow
    1. na
    2. SUBJ
    1. ksipniso
    2. wake.1SG
    1. stis
    2. at
    1. 6:00am.
    2. 6:00am
    1. ‘Tomorrow I should wake up at 6’

Kaufmann (2019: 651–655) gives the gist of her proposal as follows:

“Generally, directive speech acts with content p can be performed only if (i) [director] d does not take p for granted; in the semantics of the imperative, this surfaces as the Epistemic Uncertainty Condition (EUC); and (ii) d possesses the relevant authority; in the semantics of the imperative, this surfaces as a combination of Epistemic Authority Condition (EAC) and Decisive Modality (DM). The main idea of the semantic-pragmatic account for directive obviation is that the conventional meaning expressed by directive clauses with the respective subject settings is at odds with the contextual requirements for the felicitous use of a directive.”

Directive obviation reflects a contradiction that arises, if the director is identical to the instigator, between the director’s epistemic uncertainty and public commitment to believing that p will come true once the instigator has received the directive. According to the former belief, it is possible for p to be false, and according to the latter, p is necessarily true, in the same worlds.

(31) Epistemic Uncertainty Condition (EUC)
  In uttering a sentence translated as □R p, speaker S holds possible both p and ¬p:
  Bs p ∧ ◊Bs ¬p

(32) Director’s Anticipation
  If director d is publicly committed to believing that instigator a believes that p ∈ Δ is R-necessary, then d is publicly committed to believing that p will come true:
  PBdBaR p → □PBd p

See Kaufmann (2019) for definitions and proofs.13

Although Kaufmann does not discuss the weakening of obviation in the absence of control in detail, it is clear that a directive subject that does not stand in the RESP relation to the content p of the directive clause is not an instigator, so Director’s Anticipation does not arise, and there is no contradiction. This is supported by Hungarian imperatives which, somewhat similarly to Slovenian, involve a version of the morphological subjunctive,14 exhibit directive obviation in the presence of RESP, and offer straightforward examples of exemption from obviation in the absence of RESP.15

    1. (33)
    1. (Azt
    2. it.ACC
    1. mondtam,
    2. said.1SG
    1. hogy)
    2. that
    1. #
    1. Tornázzak
    2. exercise.SUBJ.1SG
    1. többet!
    2. more
    1. (# RESP)
    1. intended: ‘(I said that) I should exercise more’
    1. (34)
    1. Aztán
    2. then
    1. kapjam
    2. get.SUBJ.1SG
    1. meg
    2. PFX
    1. holnapra
    2. by.tomorrow
    1. a
    2. the
    1. pénzt!
    2. money.ACC
    1. (non-RESP)
    1. ca. ‘I get the money by tomorrow, understood?’
    1. (35)
    1. Csak
    2. only
    1. legyek
    2. be.SUBJ.1SG
    1. megint
    2. again
    1. egészséges!
    2. healthy
    1. (non-RESP)
    1. ca. ‘May I just be healthy again!’
    1. (36)
    1. Vakuljak
    2. go.blind.SUBJ.1SG
    1. meg /
    2. PFX /
    1. pusztuljak
    2. perish.SUBJ.1SG
    1. el,
    2. PFX
    1. ha
    2. if
    1. hazudtam!
    2. lied.1SG
    1. (non-RESP)
    1. ca. ‘May I go blind/perish if I lied’

6.2 Kaufmann (2020) on ‘want’+subjunctive

If uncertainty on behalf of the director or, more generally, the immediately higher attitude-holder, is a critical factor in directive obviation, then Kaufmann’s account promises to extend to the obviative instances of ‘want’+subjunctive.16 The wanter shares the director’s uncertainty, and the individual linked to the subjunctive subject, the instigator’s certainty.17 Kaufmann (2020) indeed proposes that her analysis of directive obviation extends to subjunctives under desideratives, as anticipated in Kempchinsky (2009). I will accept this analysis for ‘want’+subjunctive, and move directly to the new indicative data introduced in this paper.

7 The need to go beyond the directive obviation model

Kaufmann’s analysis serves as a proof of concept, even as a model, for an account of obviation and exemption from obviation in purely semantic and pragmatic terms, without reference to competition. But there are reasons that compel us to go beyond it. In line with the main focus of this paper, I now consider the case of remél ‘hope,’ sajnál ‘regret,’ and some of their relatives. Another issue that calls for comments is directive obviation in imperatives expressing encouragements, which I argue are not necessity modals; the discussions of this is delayed to the Appendix.

Recall that the indicative complements of remél ‘hope’ and sajnál ‘regret’ exhibit obviation-like effects without there being any mood competitor in the language; this converges with Stegovec’s (2019) observation about Slovenian directives, although the specific moods and the exact meanings are different.

Hoping and regretting clearly do not involve directives, but the general spirit of Kaufmann’s contradiction account of obviation may extend to these cases.

7.1 ‘Hope,’ uncertainty, and direct experience

As was discussed in Section 5.2.1, it is well-established that the hoper is uncertain whether the complement proposition is true. This parallels the director’s uncertainty (EUC) in Kaufmann’s analysis. If the director’s anticipation (DA) can be successfully replaced by some other consideration that guarantees that, when the hoper is identical to the individual linked to the complement subject, the hoper is certain that the complement proposition is/was/will be true, then Kaufmann’s contradiction account can be replicated.

The main interest of the ‘hope’ data is is that here, not only RESP-ful complements but also ones describing direct experience cause unacceptability. In the case of direct experience, the individual linked to the complement subject is the one and only reliable judge of the truth of the complement; this clearly confirms that a conflict between certainty and uncertainty is at stake.

(37) #Remélem, hogy (nem) szédülök.
    ‘I hope that I (don’t) have vertigo’

This situation also suggests that RESP itself is relevant in two different ways. The initiator of an intentional situation has an equally first-personal access to it as the experiencer of a direct experience. One might say that in the context of ‘hope,’ the relevant aspect is “intentional action as direct experience.” But in other contexts, ‘want’ and ‘regret’ among them, when direct experience does not cause obviation and only RESP does, intentional action as such is relevant.

7.2 ‘Regret’ and a counterfactual desire

Kaufmann’s approach to directive obviation does not carry over to ‘regret’ as easily as it does to ‘hope.’ The regretter does not share the uncertainty of the director, wanter, and hoper. But we find a promising source of a contradiction if we recall the following:

(38) #Sajnálom, hogy ugrándozok.
    ‘I regret that I am jumping around’
    I wish I weren’t jumping around

(39) I wish I weren’t jumping around
  If it were up to me whether I am jumping around, I would not be jumping around
  AND I am jumping around (per factivity of ‘regret’/‘I wish I weren’t’)
  AND It is up to me whether I am jumping around (per RESP)

Although the counterfactual reasoning ought to be properly formalized, the entailments of the ‘regret’ sentence have an appropriate whiff of contradiction to them.

7.3 Illocutionary relatives (thought relatives)

Z. Gendler Szabó (p.c.) observes that a whole class of felicity condition violations represent clashes similar to the effect with ‘regret’ right above.

(40) a. #I promise to join but I don’t intend to.
  b. #It is raining but I don’t believe it.
  c. #I don’t want to know but who killed the lady?
  d. #Turn left but it’s a bad idea.

As Searle (1969, 62) puts it, [The speaker] could not say without absurdity, e.g. “I promise to do A but I do not intend to do A.”

The conditions whose violation leads to absurdity above are sincerity conditions in Searle’s theory of illocutionary acts. A sincerity condition specifies a psychological state, and the performance of the illocutionary act counts as the expression of the psychological state. Here is a sample:

(41) Illocutionary act Sincerity condition
  a. Request S wants H to do A.
  b. Assert, state (that), affirm S believes p.
  c. Question S wants this information.
  d. Thank (for) S feels grateful or appreciative for A.
  e. Advise S believes A will benefit H.
  f. Warn S believes E is not in H’s best interest.

From our perspective, the act aspect of the phenomenon is not critical. (40b) exemplifies Moore’s paradox, which can be seen here to violate the sincerity condition of assertion (41b). But Shoemaker (1996, 74–76) argues that asserting (40b) is not needed for (40b) to be paradoxical. “What seems to me too little noticed is that there is something paradoxical or logically peculiar about the idea of someone’s believing the propositional content of a Moore-paradoxical sentence, whether or not the person gives linguistic expression to this belief. What really needs to be explained is why someone cannot coherently believe that it is raining and that she doesn’t believe that it is, despite the fact that the conjuncts of this belief can both be true… Consider the proposition that is the conjunction of [“It is raining, but I don’t believe that it is raining”] and the proposition that the speaker believes this proposition… That is self-contradictory… So it is a feature of the contents of Moore-paradoxical sentences that if they can be believed at all, the subject of such a belief could not, logically, believe that she had it.”18 This qualification is important, because I would like to maintain that the problem with the conjunctions in (40) is grounded in semantics.19

Let me add that outright negating a sincerity condition is not necessary for absurdity. Calling it into question by adding an epistemic modal will do:

(42) a. #I promise to join but I may not intend to.
  b. #It is raining but it may/might not be raining.
  c. #I may not want to know but who killed the lady?
  d. #Turn left but it may not be a good idea.

8 Self against self: a family of contradictions

Below is a list of the cases discussed above. The English translations are assumed to have the same status as the Hungarian originals.

(43) a.   Moore’s paradox
    #It is raining, but I don’t believe that it is raining.
  b.   Paradoxical promise
    #I promise to join, but I don’t intend to join.
  c.   Directive obviation
    #Üljek le!
      ‘Myself sit down’
  d.   ‘Want’+subjunctive obviation
    #Azt akarom, hogy meglátogassam Marit.
      ‘I want for me to visit Mary’
  e.   ‘Regret’+indicative obviation
    #Sajnálom, hogy ugrándozok.
      ‘I wish I weren’t jumping around’
  f.   ‘Hope’+indicative obviation
    #Remélem, hogy ugrándozok        / nem szédülök.
      ‘I hope that I’m jumping around  /  don’t have vertigo’

Although I am not in a position to offer a unitary analysis at this point, the items in the list bear, at least, a family resemblance. They are characterized by the following kind of contradiction, or conflict: the speaker or matrix attitude-holder denies, or exhibits uncertainty of, something that she has immediate certainty of or control over.20

The exact nature of the contradiction, or conflict, seems to correlate with the varied attitudinal contexts. Focusing on immediate certainty or control, our cases involve different sources for it. In (a)-(b), the source is the fact that the speaker performs an illocutionary act, or a “thought act,” that carries a sincerity condition that specifies the speaker’s own psychological state (self-knowledge, in Shoemaker 1996). In (c, d e), the RESP-ful individual intentionally brings about a situation. In (f), with ‘hope,’ the source may be that this individual is the direct experiencer of a state. ‘Hope’ is equally sensitive to direct experience and RESP in the complement. I interpret this as indicating that RESP itself plays a role in two ways. In (c, d, e), initiatorhood is specifically relevant. But in (f), probably all that matters is that engaging in a reliably identified intentional action entails the same kind of immediate certainty as directly experiencing a state; this is contradicted by the uncertainty inherent in hoping.

The similarity in the status of direct experience and RESP-ful action is illustrated by modifying both types of propositions by epistemic modals and attempting to turn them into information-seeking questions:

(44) a. #I may have vertigo, I may be cold, I may be itching.
  b. #I may be jumping around, I may be scratching.

(45) a. #Do I have vertigo ?(fine as a rhetorical question)21
  b. #Am I jumping around ?(fine as a rhetorical question)

9 What does the internal perspective correlate with in the grammar?

Farkas (1992) proposed that infinitives are better suited for the expression of canonical control than are subjunctives. This is correct, even if the unacceptability of ‘want’+subjunctive is not due to blocking by the infinitive, but to a semantic-pragmatic clash. The reason why the clash occurs with the subjunctive and not the infinitive is that the two do not mean the same thing.22 The infinitive has a kind of de se reading that offers an “internal perspective” of the event and is thus well-suited to RESP-ful action, whereas the subjunctive does not offer an “internal perspective.”

De se readings are typically discussed in connection with DP arguments. Regarding the subject, not only PRO in the infinitive but also the pronominal subject of the subjunctive has a solidly de se reading in the cases that are of interest to us:

(46) Azt pro1sg akarom, hogy pro1sg jó jegyeket kapjak / pro1sg egészséges legyek.
  ‘I want for me to get good grades / for me to be healthy’

(47) Minden lányi azt akarja, hogy proi jó jegyeket kapjon / proi egészséges legyen.
  ‘Every girl wants for her to get good grades / for her to be healthy’

There is absolutely no possibility of error through misidentification, which is what we would expect if the subject pronoun were read de re.23 The attitude-holder is fully aware that his/her desire pertains to his/her own self. However, Schlenker (2005; 2011) argues that in the infinitive, the event argument is also read de se, in contrast to the subjunctive, where the event argument has a de re reading.

For concreteness, below is a direct adaptation of Schlenker’s (2011: 1596) formalization to our cases. The complementizer is a simultaneous λ-abstractor over individuals, events and possible worlds.

(48) ⟦ that x_i, e_k, w_n F ⟧c,s = λx′e λe′i λw′s ⟦F ⟧c, s[x_i →x′, e_k →e′, w_n →w′]

(49) I want to leave / be healthy.
  w* e* I want that x_i, e_k, w_n [(ek) (PROi leave / be healthy)]

(50) a. #I want for me to leave.
      w* e* I want that x_i, e_k, w_n [∃em: em≈ ek] [(wn) (em) (Ii leave)]
  b.   I want for me to be healthy.
      w* e* I want that x_i, e_k, w_n [∃em: em≈ ek] [(wn) (em) (Ii be healthy)]

In infinitival (49), ek on the complementizer directly binds the clause-internal ek. (The event de se reading probably always goes with a subject individual de se one.) By contrast, in subjunctival (50), em is bound by the existential at the clause edge and is only indirectly identified with ek on the complementizer: emek indicates that the events em and ek occur at the same time; the interpretation is only individual de se.

Going beyond want, Schlenker (2011, 1595–96) comments on remember examples originating with Higginbotham (2000) and goes on to amplify the argument with a direct experience case from French. “Most adults are in a position to utter [our 51b] truly, but very few have such a good memory that they could assert [our 51a], which requires that one actually remembers the event of walking [or, falling] rather than the general fact that one did walk [or, fell] in the past.

(51) a. I remember walking to school in the 5th grade / falling downstairs.
  b. I remember that I walked to school in the 5th grade / that I fell downstairs.

(…) In a situation in which I see myself in a mirror, realize that this is me, and get the impression that the person I see is shivering, it is possible to use the full complement, as in [our 52b], but it is far less natural to use the infinitive, as in [our 52a]. No such contrast obtains if I have an internal feeling of shivering (if anything, the infinitive is more natural in this case). Importantly, the fact that PRO is read de se is unlikely to explain this contrast: in both cases, I have full knowledge of the identity of the person under discussion. Rather, we appear to obtain a de se / de re contrast, not with respect to the individual argument of the verb, but with respect to its event argument.”

(52) a. J’ai l’impression de greloter.
    ‘I have the impression to shiver’
  b. J’ai l’impression que je grelotte.
    ‘I have the impression that I shiver’

These observations hold out the hope that grammatical (syntactic and semantic) correlates of the internal perspective can be identified. I admit that this task must be accomplished by future research. I briefly indicate some of the challenges below.24

On the interpretive side, clauses with RESP and clauses describing direct experience critically require an internal perspective. If the notion of event de se is suitable to capture those, does that approach extend to Searle’ sincerity conditions?

On the syntactic side, the examples in the present section might suggest that the internal perspective is available in infinitives and gerunds, but not in finite clauses. Recall, however, that the critical ‘hope’ and ‘regret’ complements discussed in the preceding sections are indicatives and yet, they appear to offer an internal perspective.

Likewise, perhaps the most clearly grammaticized case involving an internal perspective requirement, so-called conjunct marking in Kathmandu Newari, obtains in tensed indicative clauses: past and future tense verbs have “conjunct” or “disjunct” endings. Zu (2018) argues in careful detail that conjunct marking requires (i) the binding of the subject by the seat of knowledge (a discourse participant or an attitude-holder), (ii) a RESP relation of the individual linked to the subject to the situation described by the clause with the conjunct-marked verb, and (iii) an internal perspective of the content of that clause. One critical piece of data Zu (2018: 121) discusses for (iii) is our (53): “In the following context, the individual identity holds between baby Shyam, the toy breaker, and adult Shyam, the attitude holder. Shyam is both the seat of knowledge and the responsibility holder for the attitude complement. But the adult Shyam is not reporting his in-body experience of the toy-breaking event, rather, he takes a spectator’s perspective as if he is watching someone else breaking the toy. In this context, the use of the conjunct verb is not appropriate.”

    1. (53)
    1. Scenario: Shyam is watching baby videos of himself. In one video, the six-month-old Shyam throws his toy truck to the wall and as a result the toy truck breaks into pieces. He says to his wife, “I really was a trouble maker. I broke a toy just like that.”
    1. Shyam-a
    2. Shyam-ERG
    1. [wã: (s)
    2. he.ERG
    1. nheba
    2. toy
    1. *tachyan-ā
    2. break-PST.CONJ
    1. /tachyat-a
    2. /break-PST.DISJ
    1. dhakā:]
    2. that
    1. dhāla.
    2. said
    1. ‘Shyam1 said that he1 broke a toy’

I conclude, therefore, that there is no reliable correlation between the non-finite vs. finite character of the clause and the internal perspective vs. the lack thereof. The absence of a reliable correlation is confirmed, from the other direction, by Hungarian infinitival control clauses that exhibit overt nominative personal pronoun subjects, discussed in detail in Szabolcsi (2009). These invariably have an individual de se reading but, I judge, not an event de se one. In this respect, infinitival (54) and subjunctive (16), repeated here as (55), are very much alike:

    1. (54)
    1. Szeretném
    2. like.COND.1SG
    1. (csak)
    2. (only)
    1. ÉN
    2. I.NOM
    1. meg-látogatni
    2. PFX-visit.INF
    1. Marit.
    2. Mary.ACC
    1. ‘I would like for it to be (only) me who visits Mary’
    1. (55)
    1. Azt
    2. it.ACC
    1. szeretném,
    2. like.COND.1sg
    1. hogy
    2. that
    1. (csak)
    2. (only)
    1. ÉN
    2. I.NOM
    1. látogassam
    2. visit.SUBJ.1SG
    1. meg
    2. PFX
    1. Marit.
    2. Mary.ACC
    1. ‘I would like for it to be (only) me who visits Mary’

Trying for another surface syntactic correlate, the non-overtness of the subject may seem like an important facilitator of the internal perspective. However, subject pronouns in Newari appear to be invariably overt. Witness one of the impeccable conjunct-marked examples from Zu (2018: 5):

    1. (56)
    1. Shyam-a
    2. Shyam-ERG
    1. [wa
    2. (s)he.ABS
    1. bwye wan-ā
    2. run.away-PST.CONJ
    1. dhakā:]
    2. that
    1. dhāla.
    2. said
    1. ‘Shyam1 said that he1/*2 ran away’

And conversely, Hungarian is a null subject language and the subjunctives and indicatives we have surveyed all have null subjects (unless the subjects are specifically focused). So the non-overtness of the subject is not critical, either. (Some further related issues are discussed in A.3.2-3 in the Appendix.)

Getting a grip on grammatical correlations is one of the big tasks for further research.

10 Conclusion

This paper examined the claim in Farkas (1992) and Schlenker (2005) that obviation in subjunctives under desideratives is due to competition: blocking by an infinitival construction that is better suited to carry the intended meanings. I largely confirmed the semantic description in terms of a RESP relation between the individual linked to the subject and the event in the subjunctive clause and in terms of the absence of an event de se reading that these works offered. However, novel data from Hungarian led me to reject the blocking account. Hungarian exhibits obviation-like effects in indicatives under ‘hope’ and ‘regret’ that do not have competitors (either infinitives or subjunctives).

I followed Kaufmann (2019; 2020), who derives the obviation effect in directives from a semantic clash that obtains, when the director and the instigator are identical, between the director’s Epistemic Uncertainty and the director’s Anticipation that the subjunctive proposition will be true in all worlds. But especially the fact that ‘regret’ does not involve uncertainty led me to place this clash in a wider family, one that includes, among other things, Moore’s paradox and negations of the sincerity conditions of illocutionary acts. The clash obtains when an internal perspective of the “obviative clause” is at stake: the speaker or matrix attitude-holder denies, or exhibits uncertainty of, something that she has immediate certainty of or control over. I finally asked whether the internal perspective has an identifiable grammatical correlate, and enumerated a number of descriptive challenges. The conceptual unification and the proper grammatical characterization of obviation effects is a major task for further research.


1I am not aware of any systematic discussion of the for-infinitive--subjunctive connection. R. Kayne (p.c.) suggests that his 2017 argument that for is (a piece of) a wh-phrase may offer a syntactic starting point. The link to subjunctive may even extend to cases like For him to have said that in public was a mistake, insofar as French usually has subjunctive in subject sentences, no matter what the predicate.

2The binding theoretic account is this. Something in subjunctives causes I to move to C. According to Picallo (1984); Salamanca (1981), the reason is that subjunctives have no independent tense; but Suñer & Padilla-Rivera (1984) and Zaring (1985) show that there is no notion of dependent tense which isolates the right class of clauses in French, Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese. Kempchinsky (1985) assumes that the subjunctive operator forces I-to-C. In either case, I-to-C extends the domain within which the complement pronominal subject cannot be bound to include the immediately higher clause, and so the unacceptability of a sentence like Hei wanted that hei visit MoMA is a Principle B effect, or perhaps an Avoid Pronoun effect since an anaphor would be possible (Bouchard 1984). Avrutin & Babyonyshev (1997) argue, based on Russian, that AgrS and not the pronominal subject is subject to the Principle B effect in subjunctives. See Citko (2012) for a more semantically flavored syntactic account.

3The examples in the first two sets, (A) and (B) are fully glossed, but often only full-sentential translations are given in (C) and (D), because the details of agglutinative morphology play no role and might be distracting.

4The class of urges, mistakes, and accidents distinguishes itself by the way it interacts with polarity, independently of exempting subjunctives from obviation. Positive polarity items (PPIs) do not like to be in the immediate scope of a negation in the same tensed clause. Szabolcsi (2004: fn. 10) observed that PPIs in infinitival complements of not want do not behave alike. The ¬∃ reading is fine in infinitives describing involuntary actions, but not when the action is understood to be voluntary.

(i) I don’t want to { offend someone / break something }. ✓ not > some
(ii) I don’t want to { call someone / eat something }. ?? not > some

Goncharov (2020) finds that strong NPIs like a red cent present a mirror image of Szabolcsi’s observation, which is rather natural, since their distribution is the mirror image of that of PPIs: they want to be in the immediate scope of clausemate negation.

(iii) a. This investment is too risky. I don’t want to lose { any money / ?? a red cent} on it.
  b. I don’t want to win { any money / ??a red cent } in this lottery.
(iv) a. The company wants to harvest new ideas, but doesn’t want to spend { any money/ a red cent } on this.
  b. I don’t want to give { any money / a red cent } to the beggar.

Goncharov proposes an account in terms of dynamic epistemic logic.

5I thank one of the reviewers for this example. The two desires are not two plainly contradictory. Z. Gendler Szabó (p.c.) suggests that the contrast can be described as having a pro tanto desire to contradict but not an all things considered desire to contradict.

6Farkas (1988: 36–38) makes a careful distinction between the initiator and the (intentional) agent, but does not consider our “non-normal circumstances.” The proper characterization of the cross-linguistically relevant demarcation line between RESP and non-RESP calls for further research, including comparison with Aristotle’s notion of involuntary action in Book III of Nicomachean Ethics (I thank J. Knobe for pointing this out).

7When the complement of sajnál ‘regret’ is infinitival, the matrix verb is effectively a fancy extra-clausal negation, much like fél ‘be afraid.’ These are one-event verbs in the sense of Landau (2003). An anonymous reviewer points out that remél with infinitival complements can be found in newspapers. I observe that, in contrast to English hope+infinitive, the examples are systematically non-agentive and, in my judgment, very stilted.

8I only provide translations and not glosses for these examples, because glosses would be terribly distracting. Regarding focus, the reader should just rely on whether they see the first syllable of a word in CAPs.

9For example, ‘I hope that in the picture of myself I am looking at I’m standing on one leg’ is not what we should consider. Zu (2018) notes that commenting on a video of oneself, even if there is no possibility of misidentification, cannot use conjunct marking in Newari (see Section 9).

10Anand & Hacquard (2013: (57)) provide a concrete illustration of hope’s semantic work:

(i) John hopes that it is raining.
  Uncertainty: There is a non-trivial subset of John’s belief worlds where it is raining and a non-trivial subset where it is not raining.
  Doxastic: There is a world compatible with John’s beliefs where it is raining.
  Preference: Rain is more desirable to John than no rain.

11P. Schlenker (p.c.) notes that NP complements of ‘want’ also exhibit an obviation effect, although they do not have competitors, and (of course) they are not subjunctives. His observation squares with the general argument here, but I will not specifically pursue NPs.

(i) I want her success / departure.
(ii) I want my success / *departure.

12“The English sentence John broke all of his arms is odd: it implies that John has more than two arms. The oddity, and this inference, can be explained by competition with the alternative John broke both of his arms, which is a more appropriate description of a situation in which John broke his left arm and his right arm. That the English lexicon contains the terms all and both is crucial to this explanation, and the prediction is that in a language with only a lexical term meaning ‘all’, and no lexical term meaning ‘both’, the sentence corresponding to John broke all of his arms ought to not be odd. French is a (not so frequent) case in point; however, the French sentence Jean s’est cassé tous les bras ‘John broke all of his arms’ is just as odd as its English counterpart (Chemla, 2007). This data point thus indicates that competition goes beyond just the lexicon of a given language. (…) [W]e argue that the level of words is not the right level of analysis for alternatives. Instead, we capitalize on recent conceptual and associated methodological advances within the study of the so-called “language of thought” to reopen the problem from a new perspective.” (Buccola et al. 2018)

13Kaufmann (p.c.) kindly provides the following informal explication for how the contradiction arises in the case of a first-person directive:

(1p) When a speaker utters a first person directive subjunctive in the commitment case (“I should really write!”) and it is assumed that the speaker is the only person who can realize its prejacent p, it becomes mutual joint belief that the speaker believes that

(i) the speaker holds possible that p (“I will write”) and the speaker holds possible that not p (“I will not write”)

(ii) if any participant learns that p is optimal and they control p (by assumption: only the speaker themselves) they will carry out p

The speaker expresses p is optimal (at-issue meaning of the imperative), so they also become publicly committed to “p is optimal”

Therefore, it becomes mutual joint belief that the speaker believes that

(iii) p is optimal.

Consequently, the 1st person speaker incurs a conflicting requirement: at all worlds in the context set, their set of doxastic alternatives,

(a) is compatible with p and also with not p,

(b) entails that every participant to the conversation either [does not know that p is optimal or cannot realize p], or realizes p

(c) entails that p is optimal.

Assuming that it is mutual joint belief that the subject referent, i.e. here the speaker, can realize this means that the speaker’s doxastic alternatives have to be empty. As this would come about in part thanks to presupposed meaning, the whole thing crashes because it is infelicitous.

14Hungarian “subjunctives” and “imperatives” both inflect for all six persons and have identical verbal morphology. Traditionally, they are told apart by the order of the verbal prefix, which procliticizes to the verb in the subjunctive but follows in the imperative. But many factors complicate the prefix-verb order.

15In non-obviative wishes, Modern Greek as well as Hungarian, it does not seem to suffice that the speaker does not bear RESP to the situation. More so than subjunctives under ‘want,’ which merely carry a realism presupposition, these wishes appeal to some other individual, as in (30) and (34) or to some higher power, as in (35) and (36), as instigators. In the absence of such, the speaker must possess magical powers, or the directive is incoherent:

    1. (i)
    1. a.
    1. (#)Lakjak
    2.     be.sated.SUBJ.1SG
    1. jól!
    2. well
    1.     ca. ‘It should be the case that I become sated’
    1. b.
    1. (#)Legyek
    2.     be.SUBJ.1SG
    1. vidám!
    2. merry
    1.     ca. ‘It should be the case that I am merry’

16A large body of literature, among others Ross (1970), Speas & Tenny (2003) and Zu (2018) established that the speaker and addressee in the speech act layer immediately dominating a main clause on the one hand, and the subject and indirect object of an attitudinal matrix clause immediately dominating a complement clause on the other play identical roles in syntax and interpretation. Therefore, generalizing over the speaker and the immediately higher attitude-holder is business as usual.

17Farkas uses the term initiator and Kaufmann, instigator. Maybe Kaufmann simply means agent. I will gloss over this.

18Shoemaker points to the natural assumption that if one believes a conjunction, one believes each of the conjuncts. Effectively, we have, Rain & ¬Bel(Rain) & Bel(Rain & ¬Bel(Rain)), which entails ¬Bel(Rain) & Bel(Rain).

19Likewise, the felicity conditions for illocutionary acts may be part of the lexical semantics of the same matrix verbs even in reportatives, as suggested by Hausser (1980), among others.

20Costantini (2016: 109) reaches a similar conclusion in his investigation of subjunctives under epistemic predicates like pensare ‘think’ in Italian:

(i) “Obviation is caused by a clash between the semantic characteristics of the attitude predicate and those of the embedded clause. Particularly, it is suggested that obviation obtains if and only if an embedded clause expresses self-knowledge.”

I thank an anonymous reviewer for bringing this work to my attention.

21Or, the speaker may be asking themselves, “Is my sensation that my environment is spinning what they call vertigo?” But only the speaker can judge whether (s)he has the sensation.

22The Appendix argues that ‘want’+subjunctive, but not ‘want’+infinitive, carries an effective preference presupposition. That is a further difference between the two.

23Also, these examples do not seem to have a “de re belief” flavor familiar from contexts such as where a student’s mother receives a form letter requesting donations:

(i) The university thinks that I am rich.

24Ruwet (1991: 16) himself grappled with these questions: “All other things being equal, the finite complement, with two occurrences of coreferential subjects, will be adequate if, on the one hand, the relation of self-to-self determined by the meaning of the matrix verb involves an internal differentiation and highlights two distinct facets of the self, and/or introduces a certain distance between self and self—and if, on the other hand, the relation of self-to-self tends to be viewed, in the same context, in the same manner as the relation of self-to-other. Inversely, the infinitival complement, with a single occurrence of the subject, will be appropriate if the relation of self-to-self, as determined by the matrix verb, contrasts with the relation of self-to-other, and if the internal distance between the two instances of the self tends to vanish, or if they are viewed from fundamentally the same point of view.”

25Halm (2019), which predates Kaufmann (2019), does not link his observations to obviation. I thank an anonymous reviewer for directing me to Halm’s work.

26First-personal encouragements are irrevocably unacceptable even if the subject does not bear RESP; nyugodtan cannot be added to the non-RESP examples.

27It is possible that an individual cannot bring her lazy self to do A, e.g. get out of bed in the morning, and her superego splits off to intervene. But superego will have to issue a second-personal directive or, more likely, an impersonal one, which is an infinitive or a deverbal nominal in Hungarian (Felkelni! and Felkelés!).

28I thank L. Champollion for help with C&L’s definition of Consistency.

29P. Schlenker (p.c.) suggests that whereas x wants that x leave does not entail x wants to leave, in standard contexts there is such an entailment. On the other hand, the subjunctive carries an effective preference presupposition. This amounts to a symmetry problem; symmetry can be broken with reference to the fact that the subjunctive is more complex than the infinitive.

30I thank one of the anonymous reviewers for drawing my attention to Pintér (2011).


This appendix pulls together issues that are important to comment on but doing so above would have disrupted the flow of the argument. They fall into three groups: a problem involving imperatives that are not necessity modals (A.1), the realism (effective preference) presupposition of subjunctives under ‘want’ (A.2), and phenomena pertaining to infinitival blocking (A.3).

A.1 Imperatives as encouragements (invitations, suggestions, permissions)

It appears that Kaufmann’s elegant analysis provides a sufficient but not a necessary condition for directive obviation. Interpreting imperatives as necessity modals is critical to deriving the contradiction that gives rise to obviation. But imperatives expressing what I will dub encouragements should be possibility, not necessity modals. However, in the first-person, they are just as obviative in Hungarian as command imperatives.

As Halm (2019) observes, in English, Hungarian, and other languages, commands vs. encouragements can be distinguished by the modifiers and by the free choice items (FCI) that they may contain.25 We start with modifiers:

(57) a. Sit down right away. (command)
  b. Feel free to sit down. (encouragement)

Hungarian has adverbs in both roles, which luckily makes the two structures parallel:

    1. (58)
    1. a.
    1. Rögtön
    2. right.away
    1. ülj
    2. sit.SUBJ.2SG
    1. le!
    2. down
    1. (command, 2sg)
    1. ‘Sit down right away’
    1. b.
    1. Nyugodtan
    2. at.ease
    1. ülj
    2. sit.SUBJ.2SG
    1. le!
    2. down
    1. (encouragement, 2sg)
    1. ‘Feel free to sit down’

Encouragements are easy to decline:

(59) A: Nyugodtan ülj le! ‘Feel free to sit down’
  B: Köszönöm, jól állok. ‘Thank you, I’m okay standing’

However, in the 1st person, not only commands but also encouragements are obviative; and they seem to be unacceptable to the same degree:26

    1. (60)
    1. a.
    1. #Rögtön
    2.   right.away
    1. üljek
    2. sit.SUBJ.1SG
    1. le!
    2. down
    1. (#command, 1sg)
    1. b.
    1. #Nyugodtan
    2.   at.ease
    1. üljek
    2. sit.SUBJ.1SG
    1. le!
    2. down
    1. (#encouragement, 1sg)

Are encouragements necessity modals? The distribution of universal FCIs shows that they are not.

Universal FCIs such as English any and Hungarian akár(melyik) occur with possibility modals but not with necessity modals (in contrast to German irgendein, einmal, and auch nur and Slovenian magari that are existential FCIs). As Chierchia (2013) and Dayal (2013) explain in detail, necessity modals conflict with Dayal’s Fluctuation/Viability constraint on universal FCIs. Szabolcsi (2019) analyzes akár-FCIs along these lines.

(61) You may / # must take any of the apples.

    1. (62)
    1. Elveheted
    2. away.take.MAY.2SG
    1. /
    1. #el
    2. away
    1. kell
    2. must
    1. venned
    2. take.INF.2SG
    1. akár-melyik
    2. any-which
    1. almát.
    2. apple.ACC

Crucially, these FCIs happily occur in imperatives, as long as they are not commands:

(63) ✓ Pick any of the apples.

(64) ✓ Vedd el akármelyik almát!

(65) a. #Pick any of the apples right away. (command, #FCI)
  b. ✓Feel free to pick any of the apples. (encouragement, ✓FCI)

(66) a. #Rögtön vedd el akármelyik almát! (command, #FCI)
  b. ✓Nyugodtan vedd el akármelyik almát! (encouragement, ✓FCI)

The first-person imperative remains obviative in combination with an akár-FCI:

    1. (67)
    1. #Vegyem
    2.   take.SUBJ.1SG
    1. el
    2. away
    1. akár-melyik
    2. any-which
    1. almát!
    2. apple.ACC
    1. (#imperative w/ FCI, 1sg)

I conclude that encouragements are not necessity modals and yet, they exhibit obviation.

M. Kaufmann (p.c.) asks how the possibility modal analysis explains that all imperatives fail the contradictory conjunction test that permissions pass:

(68) a.   Hereby, I allow you to leave through the back door, and hereby, I allow you to leave through the front door.
  b.   OK, you can leave through the back door and you can leave through the front door.
  c. #(OK,) leave through the back door and leave through the front door.

I propose that a modal force that is “intermediate” between plain possibility and necessity suffices to derive that contradiction. Notice that (70) is as contradictory as (69):

(69) Everyone left through the back door and everyone left through the front door.

(70) There is a majority of the people who left through the back door and there is a majority of the people who left through the front door.

We may analogize on (70) with reference to the fact that encouragements are not simple permissions. Quite informally, assume a modal operator , such that p requires for there to be a majority of the permitted or preferred worlds in which p holds (as opposed to ◊p, which only requires for there to be at least one such world). The Fluctuation/Viability constraint excludes cases with no variation, and p allows for variation. On the other hand, the contradiction between Epistemic Uncertainty and Director’s Anticipation only obtains if the imperative has the force of necessity.

I conclude that the explanation of directive obviation should have a component that is neutral as to the difference in modal force between commands and encouragements, established above. As a preliminary suggestion, we may invoke a preparatory condition shared by a range of illocutionary acts in Searle (1969).

(71) Preparatory condition for requests, advices, commands, etc.
  It is not obvious to both S[peaker] and H[earer] that H[earer] will do A[ct] in the normal course of events of their own accord.

The “not obvious to S” part is similar to the director’s Epistemic Uncertainty in Kaufmann’s terms, but the “not obvious to H” part is new and seems useful, likewise the “normal course of events” qualification. If H, the potential instigator, is uncertain whether she would do A in the absence of receiving a request, advice, or command, then we should be able to derive that only some S that is not identical to H can be the source of an effective request, advice, or command to H.27 For this purpose, the specific modal force of the directive will not make a difference.

Note that the extension to obviation with want that I adopted from Kaufmann (2000) remains fully in force: it does not involve a modal force issue, nor an addressee (H).

A.2 Subjunctives under ‘want’ carry a realistic belief presupposition

This section argues that the subjunctive under ‘want’ carries a presupposition that the infinitive does not. In addition to enriching our understanding of the meaning of the subjunctive, the presence of the extra presupposition may speak against infinitival blocking, depending on the semantic theory applied to competition.

Let us start with English. The plain control infinitive and ECM sentences below merely, or primarily, express a desire, or preference. If the desires seem strange, as they do in the cases below, the reaction would be, simply, “Why would you like that?”

(72) a. I want to be 10 years old again.
  b. I want the Earth to be flat.

In contrast, the for-infinitives that correspond to subjunctives in English signal that the attitude-holder considers the complement situation to be a realistic extension of her belief-worlds. This is quite clear when the complement situations are in fact not realistic. Here the desires are not merely strange but outright crazy, so the reaction would be, “Why do you think that’s possible?”

(73) a. I want for me to be 10 years old again.
  b. I want for the Earth to be flat.

A typical use of such sentences is where the speaker has an action plan for bringing about the described situation. But this does not seem necessary. For example (H. Aparicio, p.c. based on Catalan), the members of the following pair seem to mainly differ as to whether the speaker indicates that she believes that winning is still possible, irrespective of whether she is working on furthering the cause.

(74) a. I want to win. (✓regardless of the stage of an election)
  b. I want for me to win. (#if the wanter is sane and clearly losing the election)

The same contrast holds in Hungarian, modulo the fact that Hungarian does not have ECM, and the for-infinitives are regular subjunctives:

    1. (75)
    1. Megint
    2. again
    1. 10 éves
    2. 10 year.ADJ
    1. akarok
    2. want.1SG
    1. lenni.
    2. be.INF
    1. ‘I want to be 10 years old again’          plain desire
    1. (76)
    1. Azt
    2. it.ACC
    1. akarom,
    2. want.1SG
    1. hogy
    2. that
    1. megint
    2. again
    1. 10 éves
    2. 10 year.ADJ
    1. legyek.
    2. be.SUBJ.1SG
    1. ‘I want for me to be 10 years old again’          desire that the wanter believes is realistic
    1. (77)
    1. Azt
    2. it.ACC
    1. akarom,
    2. want.1SG
    1. hogy
    2. that
    1. a
    2. the
    1. Föld
    2. Earth
    1. lapos
    2. flat
    1. legyen.
    2. be.SUBJ.3SG
    1. ‘I want for the Earth to be flat’          desire that the wanter believes is realistic

The interpretation that I attribute to the subjunctive cases corresponds to the notion of “effective preference” in Condoravdi & Lauer (2016) [henceforth C&L].

(78) If you want sugar in your soup, you should get tested for diabetes. C&L’s [48]

(79) If you want sugar in your soup, you should ask the waiter. C&L’s [47]

The first example merely describes a desire as a matter of psychological fact. The second is an anankastic conditional, where a wants p reports on a preference that the agent assigns a special status to: an action-relevant preference. C&L call this an effective preference. The anankastic conditional as a whole outlines a possible course of action for realizing the preference.

C&L assume that want has an underspecified semantics, and the context selects one of the preference structures that are given as part of the model.

(80) Given a set of worlds W, a preference structure is a pair (P,<), where P⊆℘(W) and < is a strict partial order on P.

Effective preferences have two important inferential properties, Consistency and Realism. Consistency requires that whenever an agent wants two or more things to an equal degree, these things must be compatible with each other and with what the agent believes. Or, to put it the other way around, if the agent believes that two of their desires cannot be fulfilled simultaneously, they must give preference to one over the other.28

(81) Realism
  A preference structure (P,<) is realistic, relative to an information state B, iff for all p ∈ P: p ∩ B ≠ ∅.

C&L note that Consistency entails Realism, but the latter is independently plausible.

C&L do not discuss the nature of want’s complement at all (NP, or infinitive, or subjunctive). Interestingly, both infinitives and subjunctives are appropriate in the if-clause of an anankastic conditional, and both are appropriate when the if-clause describes a desire. Recall that a for-infinitive is not “just another infinitive” but a subjunctive, for our purposes.

If the subjunctive is associated with an effective preference, it is quite natural that it can be used in the antecedent of an anankastic conditional. What is more surprising is that the plain infinitive can be used too. We may assume the following.

(82) Realism in the presence of ‘want’
  (i) As per C&L, want is underspecified for preference structure; the context decides.
  (ii) The infinitival complement is uncommitted with respect to realism.
  (iii) The subjunctive complement is committed to describe a realistic extension of the attitude-holder’s belief-worlds.
  (iv) By unification, want+infinitive is still underspecified for preference structure, and the context decides.
  (v) By unification, want+subjunctive is committed to realism.

It is an open question how to anchor (iii) in the grammar.

The fact that ‘want’+subjunctive invariably carries an effective preference presupposition but ‘want’+infinitive does not removes some of the intuitive appeal of construing them as competitors: the two constructions are not two ways to say the the same thing. It may also serve as a straightforward formal argument against the claim that the infinitive can block the subjunctive.

P. Schlenker (p.c.) points out that this conclusion may not follow in light of a recent theory of semantic competition. Magri (2016) argues that the oddness of certain sentences is due to the fact that some of their implicatures, computed solely on the basis of logical entailment, clash with common knowledge (e.g. #Some Italians come from a warm country). Anvari’s (2018) theory of Logical Integrity refines that proposal, and predicts that not just stronger alternatives would be negated in the course of implicature computation, but also non-weaker ones, including ones that are non-weaker in view of their presuppositions. If the details work out in this case,29 the blocking account may survive the presuppositional difference between infinitives and subjunctives.

A.3 Issues pertaining to infinitival blocking

This section points out some phenomena pertaining to infinitival blocking: the absence of obviation with követel ‘demand’ that only takes a subjunctive complement, the case of overt subjects, and the case of quantificational attitude-holders. Their significance is twofold. They weaken or bolster the blocking account, but also raise interesting questions for further research that I am not able to pursue here.

A.3.1 Subjunctive complements of subject control verbs that do not select for infinitives

A strong point in favor of Farkas’s infinitival blocking account of subjunctive obviation is the fact that in languages that generally lack infinitives (e.g. Serbo-Croatian and Modern Greek), the subjunctive is not obviative (although see Terzi 1992/1997; Roussou 2009; Stegovec 2019 for a more complex picture). I have nothing to say about this issue. Nevertheless, there is a qualification to be made about a case in Hungarian.

Farkas (1992: 92) mentions that Hungarian követel ‘demand’ does not take an infinitival complement, and so its subjunctive complement is predicted to be non-obviative. However, the example that she cites in support contains the predicate ‘get more food,’ where the subjunctive subject is not in a RESP relation to the complement situation. In contrast, RESP examples are obviative:

(83) Jánosi követeli, hogy proj/i kapjon több ételt. (= Farkas’s [16])
  ‘John demands that (he/she) get more food’

(84) #Jánosi követeli, hogy proj/*i ugráljon / írjon egy levelet.
  #‘John demands that (he/she) jump around/ write a letter’

As Ruwet (1991: 38) notes, one can only demand something whose realization involves the active intervention of another person. The contrast is likely due to whether there is a semantic conflict between the matrix verb and the subjunctive complement. The point is, though, that we cannot conclude that the behavior of követel’s subjunctive complements is specifically and correctly predicted by the absence of an infinitival competitor.

A.3.2 Overt subjects in the subjunctive complement

Pintér (2011) examines subjunctive obviation in Hungarian and supports Farkas’s (1992) account in terms of infinitival blocking in the presence of RESP, adding two cases where the subjunctive is non-obviative. These are cases where the speaker wants to focus the complement subject or let an operator like is ‘too’ or csak ‘only’ cliticize to it.30 If only overt subjects can be focused or host a clitic, there can be no infinitival competitor in these cases.

Subjunctives with focused subjects actually do have infinitival competitors in Hungarian, discussed in detail in Szabolcsi (2009). Recall the discussion of (54) in Section 9. The acceptability of subjunctival (16) cannot be due to the plain absence of an infinitival alternative; (54) is one. (Recall that I attributed the acceptability of (16) to the “need for co-operation by others” and thus to the absence of RESP.) On the other hand, as was discussed in Section 9, (16) and (54) share an important semantic similarity: the focused nominative subject pronouns have an individual de se reading, but the clauses do not have an event de se one. In that sense, (54) is a morpho-syntactic competitor of (16), but not one that is better suited to express that an instigator bears RESP to a situation and takes an internal perspective. I am not sure about what conclusion this fact leads to regarding competition.

This may be the place to mention that quantificational attitude-holders happily bind focus-accented overt nominative subject pronouns in both infinitives and subjunctives.

    1. (85)
    1. Context: A group of friends boards a crowded bus that has only one vacant seat.
    1. a.
    1. Senkii
    2. nobody
    1. nem
    2. not
    1. akart
    2. wanted.3SG
    1. csak
    2. only
    1. Ői
    2. 3SG.NOM
    1. le-ülni.
    2. down-sit.INF
    1. ‘Nobody x wanted it to be the case that only x takes a seat’          Szabolcsi 2009: (1)
    1. b.
    1. Senkii
    2. nobody
    1. nem
    2. not
    1. akarta,
    2. wanted.3SG
    1. hogy
    2. that
    1. csak
    2. only
    1. Ői
    2. 3SG.NOM
    1. üljön
    2. sit.SUBJ.3SG
    1. le.
    2. down
    1. ‘Nobody x wanted it to be the case that only x takes a seat’

An anonymous reviewer notes that with csak én ‘only I’ as the attitude-holder, the subject of the subjunctive only receives a coreferential, not a bound variable interpretation, primarily but not only when that subject is overt. For example, (86) lacks a fake indexical interpretation, which says that others do not have analogous desires about themselves.

(86) Csak ÉN akarom, hogy ÉN látogassam meg Marit.
  i.   ‘Only I want for it to be me who visits Mary =
      Only for x=I, x wants for it to be me who visits Mary’
  ii. #‘Only for x=I, x wants for it to be x who visits Mary’

I have no explanation for the divergence and must leave it to future research.

A.3.3 Quantificational binding and missing infinitival competitors

P. Schlenker (p.c.) points out that proponents of the infinitival competition account did not investigate quantificational attitude-holders. These will in principle present test cases where the truth conditions of the infinitive and the subjunctive can be sharply different. In (87a), the whole of the quantificational subject controls PRO. By contrast, in (87b, c), Mary or me can bind the pronoun in the subjunctive, something that is not possible with PRO in the infinitive. If the absence of an infinitival competitor is sufficient to make the subjunctive acceptable, then (87b,c) should be be acceptable. It seems that they are indeed acceptable.

(87) Different truth conditions: the infinitive is not a competitor
  a. [Everybody including Mary/me]i wanted PROi to leave.
    ‘Everybody wanted to leave; Mary/I also wanted to leave’
  b. Everybody including Maryi wanted for heri to leave.
    ‘Everybody wanted for Mary to leave; Mary also wanted for her to leave’
  c. Everybody including me wanted for me to leave.
    ‘Everybody wanted for me to leave; I also wanted for me to leave’

This effect, if general, may offer residual support for the competition account.


1 = first person, 2 = second person, 3 = third person, SG = singular, PL = plural, ACC = accusative, INF = infinitive, IND = indicative, SUBJ = subjunctive, NC = negative concord, NPI = negative polarity item, PPI = positive polarity item, FC = free choice.


I thank Chris Barker, Julie Goncharov, Julia Horvath, Magdalena Kaufmann, Philippe Schlenker, Zoltán Gendler Szabó, and the audiences of talks in Tel-Aviv Linguistics, in the NYU Semantics Group, and at the Göttingen workshop on Agency and Intention in Language (all on zoom). I am indebted to the three anonymous Glossa reviewers for very helpful suggestions. A subset of the observations, though not the current analysis, had been presented at a seminar at New York University (see Szabolcsi 2010); I am grateful to the seminar participants for input and discussion. All the shortcomings are my own.

Competing interests

The author has no competing interests to declare.


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