How children understand full, truncated, and anomalous passives

Michael P Maratsos, Rona Abramovitch

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31 Scopus citations


Evidence is presented that children's abilities in comprehending full and truncated passives develop in close developmental synchrony, a result which fails to support the hypothesis that the two constructions are acquired and stored in psychologically different ways. Further results from children's comprehension and imitation of anomalous sentences (e.g., *the cat is licked the dog, *the cat is licked of the dog, *the cat is licked po the dog) also opposed an hypothesis that children comprehend full passives by processing only the initial truncated passive segment. Instead, their performance in comprehension tests appeared to rest on considerable knowledge of the detailed syntactic structure and semantic function of the markers of the passive construction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)145-157
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1975

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The passive construction has a long history of investigation in child development studies (Bever, 1970; DeVilliers & deVilliers, 1973; Fraser, Bellugi & Brown, 1963; Slobin, 1966; Turner & Rommetveit, 1968; Whitehurst, Ironsmith & Goldfein, 1974). Its interest lies partly in the central theoretical importance of the construction in early work in transformational linguistics (Chomsky, 1957) and the difficulty children seem to have in comprehending it accurately (see sources cited above). They apparently have a strong tendency to interpret the passive as an active because of the strong resemblance of passives to the N-V-N = agent-action-object schema of active sentences. In this paper experimental work will be reported that bears on a number of recent theoretical contentions about chip 1 This study was supported by funds from a University of Minnesota Graduate School Grant # 450-0350-4909-02 to the senior author and by a Canada Council Doctoral Fellowship W73-197327 to the second author. The authors wish to thank the Learning Tree nursery schools in Mmneapohs and the Arbor Hill nursery school in Charlottesville, VA. for their invaluable assistance in conducting these studies. Thanks are also due to Stanley Kuczaj II, Jane Palm, Nina Van Siclen, and Pat Owen, who assisted in the collecting of the data. Senior author address: Michael P. Maratsos, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455.

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