Impersonal Verbs

Impersonal verb

In linguistics, an impersonal verb is a verb that cannot take a true subject, because it does not represent an action, occurrence, or state-of-being of any specific person, place, or thing. The term weather verb is also sometimes used, since such weather-indicating verbs as to rain are usually impersonal.

In some languages, such as English, French, German and Dutch, an impersonal verb always takes an impersonal pronoun (it in English, il in French, es in German, het in Dutch) as its syntactical subject:

It snowed yesterday. (English)
Il a neigé hier. (French)
Es schneite gestern. (German)
Het sneeuwde gisteren. (Dutch)

In some other languages (necessarily null subject languages and typically pro-drop languages), such as Portuguese, Spanish, Occitan, Catalan, Italian, Romanian, and all the Slavic languages, an impersonal verb takes no subject at all, but it is conjugated in the third-person singular, which is much as though it had a third-person, singular subject:

Nevó ayer. (Spanish)
Nevou ontem. (Portuguese)
Sniježilo je jučer. (Croatian)

In the auxiliary language Interlingua, verbs are not conjugated by person. Impersonal verbs take the pronoun il:

Il ha nivate heri. (Interlingua)

In the planned auxiliary language Esperanto, where verbs also are not conjugated for person, impersonal verbs are simply stated with no subject given or implied:

Neĝis hieraŭ. (Esperanto)

Verbs meaning existence may also be impersonal.

"There are (some) books." / "There is a book."
Há livros. / Há um livro. (Portuguese)
Hay libros. / Hay un libro. (Spanish)

However, sometimes there are intransitive verbs with more or less the same meaning:

"(Some) books exist." / "A book exists."
Existem livros. / Existe um livro. (Portuguese)
Existen libros. / Existe un libro. (Spanish)

An impersonal verb is different from a defective verb in that with an impersonal verb, only one possible syntactical subject is meaningful (either expressed or not), whereas with a defective verb, certain choices of subject might not grammatically possible, because the verb does not have a complete conjugation.

Some linguists consider the impersonal subject of weather verbs to be "dummy pronouns", while others interpret them differently.

See also


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