Raising (linguistics)

In linguistics, raising is a form of argument control in which an argument that belongs semantically to a subordinate clause is realized syntactically as a constituent of a higher clause. For example, the sentence "Bill seemed to be angry" is a raising construction, because although Bill is understood semantically to be the subject of to be angry, it is the syntactic subject of seemed. The verb seem in this example is known as a raising verb. Not all languages have raising verbs; English is one that does.

The term "raising" has its origins in the transformational analysis of such constructions. In this analysis, in the example above, the noun Bill is "raised" from its initial position as the subject of the embedded infinitival clause to its final position as the main clause subject.

Properties of raising

The main characteristic of raising constructions is the fact that the raised constituent is not a semantic argument of the upper clause. This can be illustrated in two ways, using the English raising verb seem. First, the understood subject of the embedded infinitival clause can be an expletive:

  • It is snowing again. → It seems to be snowing again.
  • There are too many people here. → There seem to be too many people here.

These examples show that seem does not require a semantically potent subject. Second, the embedded clause can be put in the active or passive voice without significantly changing the meaning of the entire sentence:

  • (active) Bill is spearheading the revolt. ≈ (passive) The revolt is spearheaded by Bill.
  • (active) Bill seems to be spearheading the revolt. ≈ (passive) The revolt seems to be spearheaded by Bill.

These examples show that the semantic roles of Bill and the revolt are determined exclusively within the embedded clause. The verb seems does not assign an additional semantic role to its subject; otherwise, the meaning conveyed by the sentence would be expected to vary, depending on whether Bill or the revolt appeared as the main clause subject.

Types of raising elements

The English verb seem is a typical example of a "subject-raising" verb (also known as a "raising to subject verb" or "subject-to-subject raising verb"). These terms refer to the transformational analysis in which the subject of the lower clause is raised to become the subject of seem. Other subject raising verbs in English include begin, continue, appear.

English also has "object raising" verbs (or "raising to object verb", "subject-to-object raising verbs"), such as expect and believe. In the sentence "Bill expected Annie to be late", Annie is the direct object of expected, but it is interpreted as the subject of the embedded infinitive to be late.

In addition to verbs, other syntactic categories can be raising elements. For example, the following examples contain a subject-to-subject-raising adjective:

  • Bill is certain to win. / It is certain to snow tomorrow.

In all of the cases mentioned above, the raised argument corresponds to the subject of the embedded infinitival clause. Raising from a lower object position is much rarer. In the so-called "tough construction", the adjective has some properties of an object-to-subject raising element:

  • Bill is tough (for Carol) to convince.

In this example, Bill is interpreted as the missing object of convince, but realized as the subject of the main clause. However, the other properties of this construction cannot be accounted for with a raising analysis. Raising from object position has been proposed for the treatment of German passive constructions.

Raising vs. control

The term raising verb is sometimes generalized somewhat to include control verbs, which are much the same, except with a noun argument being semantically an argument both of the control verb and of the verb argument. For example, in "He tried to do that," tried is a control verb, where its subject he is semantically the subject both of tried and of to do. (Note that one cannot say, *"It tried that he did that," and that "That tried to be done by him" is syntactically well-formed but has a different, non-sensical meaning.)

As with many technical terms, both raising verb and control verb are used somewhat differently in different papers, partly because different linguistic theories may group verbs in somewhat different hierarchies.



  • Haegeman, Liliane (1994). Introduction to Government and Binding Theory. 2nd edition, Oxford: Blackwell.

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