Explaining Case Variation in German Inalienable Possession Constructions


  • Vera Lee-Schoenfeld University of Georgia
  • Gabriele Diewald Leibniz Universität Hannover


In external possession constructions with a PP-embedded body part, the possessor can be dative or accusative-marked (e.g. ihm/ihn in die Nase beißen ‘bite him (DAT/ACC) in the nose’). Drawing on a preliminary corpus search and typological findings concerning general tendencies of encoding possessors (Lehmann et al. 2004), we explain this variation from both a semantic/ pragmatic/functional and a formal syntactic perspective. We also give an account of the internal (possessive pronoun) option (in seine Nase beißen ‘bite in his nose’) and the marginal but possible “doubly marked” possessor option (ihm/ihn in seine Nase beißen ‘bite him (DAT/ACC) in his nose’).