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Viatscheslav A. Iatsko (Abakan, Russia)

Possessive and Existential Sentences in Russian and in English

The paper analyzes the behavior of English and Russian possessive and existential verbs in different contexts by assigning to these verbs's arguments such semes as "human" – "non-human", "abstract" – "concrete". Syntactic, semantic and communicative characteristics of possessive and existential sentences in Russian and in English are discussed. Specific features of Russian are wide use of possessive-existential sentences and inability of some possessive and existential verbs to combine with non-human names.

1 Introduction

This paper is aimed at revealing specific features of possessive and existential sentences in Russian and in English, and at formulating some general principles of distinguishing between semantic types of sentences studied within the scope of semantic syntax.

According to the way of expressing the category of possession languages are divided into Habeo-languages having special possessive verbs, which take a direct object, and Esso-languages, which have no possessive verbs, and in which the idea of possession is expressed by the constructions with the verb to be (Seiler 1983). Germanic and Roman languages are typical Habeo-languages:


I have a motorcar.


Ich habe ein Auto.


J'ai une voiture.

Turkic languages are considered Esso-languages, cf.:


Miniñ mashinam polghan (Khakas)1,

in which polghan is a form of the verb polargha (to be). Literal translation of (4) is My motorcar was (existed).

Russian has special verbs with possessive meaning, but the idea of possession in Russian is often expressed by sentences with byt' (to be) verb-predicate:


Ia imeiu mashinu. (= I have a motorcar.)


U menia est' mashina.

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In (5) imeiu is a form of the verb imet' (to have). Grammatical structure of this sentence is similar with that one of (1)–(3), i.e. Ia (I) is a subject, imeiu (have) – verb-predicate, mashinu (motorcar) – direct object. In (6) est' is a form of the verb byt', and its grammatical structure differs from that one of (1)–(3). U menia is a prepositional object, est' – verb-predicate, mashina – subject. Literal translation is At me is a motorcar, which in English sounds ungrammatical.

It should be noted that (6) is a literary variant whereas (5) being grammatically correct sounds bookish and can hardly be used in colloquial speech. On the whole, sentences with byt' (to be) are much more widespread in Russian colloquial and literary speech than corresponding sentences with imet' (to have). That is why, perhaps, Arutiunova and Shyriaev (1983) consider such sentences as (6) to be existential, without distinguishing possessive structures as a separate type of sentences. An opposite point of view is expressed by Apresian (1992), who considers such sentences to be possessive. In his opinion, deep structure of possessive sentences in Russian can be represented by the model U Xa est' Y, in which Y is an object belonging to X. A similar point of view was expressed by Stepanov (1981).

Both points of view seem to be well substantiated. Sentences of this type can be treated as possessive because they admit of periphrasis by the verb imet (have) and other verbs with possessive meaning. Cf.: Mne prinadlezhit mashina (literal translation is To me belongs a motorcar). On the other hand, sentences of this type have much in common with "pure" existential structures represented by the model V Xe est' Y (In X there is Y), for example:


V lesu est' griby. (= In the forest there are mushrooms).

In particular, they have similar syntactic structures, which include a prepositional phrase + predicate expressed by a form of the verb byt' (to be) + subject expressed by a noun in the nominative case. Both structures admit of zero form (omission) of the verb byt' in the present tense, indicative mood: V lesu griby, U menia mashina.

Nevertheless the syntactic similarity between (6) and (7) is not complete. The prepositional phrase in (6) is a prepositional object, whereas in (7) it is an adverbial modifier of place. Syntactic transposition, i.e. placing the prepositional phrase in the end of the sentence differently affects (6) and (7). (6) remains possessive, cf. Mashina est' u menia, which is a communicative variant of possessive proposition answering the question Who has the motorcar?; (7) is changed into a locative proposition, cf. Griby est' v lesu (Mushrooms are in the forest), which answers the question Where are mushrooms? (7), unlike (6), cannot be paraphrased by the verbs with possessive meaning, cf.: *Les imeet griby (The forest has mushrooms).

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On the whole, according to the way of expressing the idea of possession Russian occupies an intermediate position between the Habeo-languages and the Esso-languages. Like the Habeo-languages Russian has special possessive verbs. Like in the Esso-languages, in Russian the idea of possession is often expressed by the constructions with the verb be. Consequently, such Russian sentences as (6) can be considered existential-possessive. The same goes to the other East Slavic languages, cf. Ukrainian V mene e mashina (At me is a motorcar), Ia maiu mashinu (I have a motorcar). The use of the verb to be in Russian sentences expressing the idea of possession was noticed by Veenker (1975) who attributed this specific feature of Russian to the influence of Finno-Ugrian languages, which also belong to the Esso-languages. But the influence of the Turkic languages cannot be excluded.

Judging by observations in linguistic literature (see Foster 1979, Flier 1974, Heine 1997, Webb 1977), most of the world languages have no special possessive verbs, and Habeo-languages include only several groups of Indo-European languages, such as Romance and Germanic, West and South Slavic languages. This idea was most distinctly expressed by Benveniste (1960: 121–122):

Du fait, 'avoir' comme lexème est, dans le monde, une rareté; la plupart des langues ne le connaissent pas. Au sein même des langues indo-européennes c'est une acquisition tardive, qui mit longtemps à s'imposer et qui reste partielle [...]. S'il y a une expression 'normale' de ce rapport, c'est 'mihi est aliquid' tandis que 'habeo aliquid' n'en est qu'une variante secondaire et d'extension limité [...].

This peculiarity can, perhaps, be accounted for by some specific features of Western civilization based on the highly developed system of relations of property, which is reflected in the set of special possessive verbs and syntactic constructions. East Slavic nations, which have been in close contact with Finno-Ugrian and Turkic peoples, along with possessive sentences have developed the system of existential-possessive constructions. Of course, this conjecture must be substantiated by historical and etymological data.

2 Possessive sentences

In English the structure of possessive sentences can be represented by the model X has Y, in which Y is the name of the object belonging to X. In surface structures the idea of possession is often expressed by belong, own, possess used with class nouns. Have may be used with class nouns as well as with abstract nouns, cf.: He has a motorcar, He has a great talent, The motorcar belongs to him. Similar possessive verbs are used in the other Germanic and Roman languages, and in the Slavic languages (German haben, gehören, besitzen; French avoir, possèder, appartenir; Russian imet', prinadlezhat', obladat').

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It should be noted that have may lose the meaning of possession and acquire an existential meaning, cf.:


The room has a bath.

This sentence can be regarded as existential but not possessive because 1) it can answer an existential question: Is there a bath in the room? – Yes, the room has a bath; 2) it cannot be paraphrased by other possessive verbs, cf.: ?The bath belongs to the room. The reason for to have to lose the meaning of possession is that the subject of the sentence is expressed by the name of non-human object. If the subject is expressed by a name of a human being the verb expresses a possessive meaning: John has a motorcar, They have a summer cottage. It's evident that such sentences cannot answer existential questions. The Russian verb imet' (to have) unlike its English counterpart can be used only with names of human beings and the sentence corresponding to (8) is existential, cf.: The room has a bath. V komnate est' vanna. (= There is a bath in the room). To give a literal translation using the verb imet' is grammatically incorrect, cf.: *Komnata imeet vannu. (= The room has a bath).

Sometimes verbs that are not possessive can acquire a possessive meaning. For example, the verb carry is usually used to denote movement like in


The loader carries a box,

but in (10) it is used as a possessive verb, cf.:


The comma carries a functional load.

We can distinguish the following grammatical distinctions of the verb to carry being a possessive verb and (10) being a possessive sentence. 1) The verb to carry in (10) doesn't form an opposition with the verbs from the same semantic group, i.e. verbs denoting motion, movement, for example, with the verbs to drive, to cart. Cf.: The loader drives (carts) a box and *The comma drives (carts) a functional load. 2) (10) doesn't admit of the adverbial modifiers characteristic of actional structures. Cf.: Where does the loader carry a box? – To the storehouse and *Where does the comma carry a functional load? 3) The verb to carry in (10) can be replaced by the verbs with possessive meaning, cf. The comma has a functional load. In (9) such replacement is hardly possible, cf.: ?The loader has a box. Thus the verb to carry changes its meaning in accordance with the meaning of the arguments: in the structure with the human subject (loader) and object expressed by the class noun (box) the actional meaning of the verb is activated; in the structure with the inanimate subject (comma) and object expressed by the abstract noun (functional load) the possessive meaning of the verb is activated.

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These examples allow for differentiating between two groups of verbs used in possessive sentences: 1) verbs with original possessive meaning, which can lose this meaning (original possessive verbs), 2) verbs from other semantic groups, which can acquire a possessive meaning losing their original meaning (acquired possessive verbs). The process of a verb's losing its original lexical meaning can be called delexicalization. There can be several reasons for a verb to become delexicalized. They are 1) meaning of the verb's arguments, 2) passivization, 3) logical stress and communicative structure of a sentence.

The last reason can be exemplified by the following sentences:



He has a cottage.



U nego est' dacha.



He has blue eyes.



U nego golubye glaza.

It is obvious, that these sentences have similar syntactic structures, nevertheless in (11) the verb to have is used in its original meaning and the sentence is possessive, whereas in (12) to have is delexicalized and acquires a qualitative meaning. The following differences between the two sentences can be distinguished.

1) The central role in the communicative structure of (12 a) belongs to the attribute, which takes a logical stress, and which answers the question What eyes has he? Elimination of the attribute makes the sentence unusual, cf.: ?He has eyes. (11) answers the question What has he? (11 a) can be paraphrased by other possessive verbs cf.: He owns a cottage, (12 a) doesn't admit of such periphrasis, cf.: *He owns blue eyes. It admits of the periphrasis with the link verb, cf. His eyes are blue corresponding to the qualitative deep structure. The same goes to the Russian sentences, which have one more grammatical difference: (12 b) doesn't admit of the use of the verb byt' in the present tense indicative mood, cf: *U nego est' golubye glaza. (11 b) admits of both variants: U nego est' dacha, U nego dacha 2) The sentences under analysis take different types of negations. (11 a) takes a no negation as well as not negation whereas (12 a) takes only not negation: He doesn't have a cottage, He has no cottage; He doesn't have blue eyes, ?He has no blue eyes. Corresponding Russian sentences have similar characteristics. (11) takes a net negation: U nego net dachi; (12) takes a ne negation, cf.: U nego ne golubye glaza. The opposite is hardly ever possible, cf.: *U nego net golubykh glaz 3) These sentences are used in different types of discourse. The typical context for possessive structures is reasoning, for example: We are well-to-do. We have a cottage, a big flat, a fashionable motorcar, in which the first sentence can be represented as a conclusion of syllogism correlated with the major premise If people have a cottage, a big flat, and a fashionable motorcar they are well-to-do. The most typical context for qualitative sentences is description, cf. the qualitative construction (13 c) in the description of a vowel sound's articulation:


(a) During the articulation of the vowel sound [e] the tip of the tongue is lowered. (b) It lies at the upper teeth. (c) The lips are protruded.

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The delexicalization of a verb should be differentiated from its desemantization when a verb loses its meaning without acquiring a new one, and is used as a formal element in a construction with a verbal noun. Kaushanskaya (1973) treats such word combinations as phraseological predicates, which can be of two types. The first one consists of a finite verb having no concrete meaning + indefinite article + verbal noun. It expresses a momentaneous action, which in Russian is expressed by different suffixes and prefixes added to the verb, for example He had a swim (smoke, wash). On iskupalsia (pokuril, pomylsia). Some other English verbs may also be used in this type of predicate, cf.: He gave a laugh. The second type of phraseological predicate includes a verb having no concrete meaning + abstract noun used without article. This type of phraseological predicate is expressed by such word combinations as to get rid of, to get hold of, to make use of, to take care of, to lose sight of, to make fun of, to pay attention to, to take part in, to get in touch with, to take advantage of, etc. Some of such word combinations are formed by means of verb substantivization, cf.: to participate – to take part, to contribute – to make contribution. Russian has similar constructions which are called analyitical (Zhirmunsky 1965, Gak 1969), cf.: uchastvovat' – prinimat' uchastie, analizirovat' – provodit' analiz. In some other sources such constructions are called complex predicates (cf. Brinton and Akimoto 1999).

According to Computational Analysis of Present Day American English (Francis and Kucera 1967) the verb to have is, after the verb to be, the most frequent verb form in English. This count includes the use of to have as an auxiliary verb, a modal verb, and a main verb. The uses of to have as an auxiliary or modal verb being outside the scope of semantic syntax, let us analyze main variants of the syntactic structure X has Y assigning to X and Y such meanings (semes) as human (+a), non-human (–a), abstract (+s), class (–s) and comparing them with corresponding Russian sentences.


X(+a, –s) has Y(–a, –s)


I have a motorcar.

This is the most typical construction for expressing possession. In English and other Germanic languages, as well as in Russian, it admits of periphrasis by the other possessive verbs; for example I have a motorcar (= I own a motorcar). The name of Y being a communicative focus, such sentences answer the question What does X have? Corresponding Russian sentences, as it was noticed earlier, are of possessive-existential type: U menia est' mashina (= At me is a motorcar). Possessive sentences are characteristic of bookish style, cf.: Ia imeiu mashinu (= I have a motorcar). Unlike English Russian admits of several variants of word order, i.e. communicative variants. a) Mashina u menia est' with the verb byt' (to be) as a focus and the idea of possession being emphasized. The corresponding English variant can be I do have a motorcar. Such sentences answer the question Do I have a motorcar? Another possible variant answering the same question is U menia mashina est'. b) Mashina est' u menia with the name of X as a communicative focus. In this case in colloquial speech is used the verb prinadlezhat' (to belong), cf.: Mashina prinadlezhit mne. Such sentences answer the question Who has a motorcar? The corresponding English sentence can be The motorcar belongs to me, The motorcar is mine.

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X (+a, –s) has Y (+a, –s)


Peter has a brother.

The verb to have in such sentences cannot be substituted by other possessive verbs, cf.: ?Peter owns a brother, ?The brother belongs to Peter. Nevertheless the sentence remains to be possessive; Russian sentences of this type have the same semantic, syntactic, and communicative characteristics as the sentences of the first type. They can be possessive-existential (U Petra est' brat) and possessive (Petr imeet brata) having the same communicative variants, cf.: U Petra brat est', Brat u Petra est', Brat est' u Petra.


X(–a, –s) has Y(–a, –s)


The room has a bath.

The verb to have cannot be substituted by other possessive verbs: ?The room owns a bath, ?The bath belongs to the room. In sentences of this type the verb to have loses its possessive meaning and expresses the idea of existence. They can answer the existential question Is there a bath in the room? Corresponding Russian sentences are existential with the verb to be (byt'), to use the possessive verb imet' (to have) is grammatically incorrect, cf.: V komnate est' vanna (= There is a bath in the room), *Komnata imeet vannu (= The room has a bath). Such sentences have the same communicative variants as the other existential sentences (see below).


X(+a, –s) has Y(–a, +s)


He has immunity to measles.

The verb to have cannot be substituted by other possessive verbs, cf.: ?He owns immunity to measles, ?Immunity to measles belongs to him. In the sentences of this type the verb to have acquires a qualitative meaning, and they can answer questions about a quality of a person: Is he immune to measles? – Yes, he has immunity to measles (= He is immune to measles). In the corresponding Russian sentences both to be and to haveare possible though the have variant sounds bookish: U nego est' immunitet k kori, On imeet immunitet k kori. The be-sentence admits of the same communicative variants as the structure with the human concrete Xand non-human concrete Y.

Though this analysis is far from being complete we may come to the conclusion that the most essential differences between Russian and English possessive sentences are determined by the use of names of human and non-human objects. In Russian only names of human objects can take the possessive verb imet' followed by a direct object. In English names of human as well as of non-human objects can take the possessive verb to have followed by a direct object. Corresponding Russian sentences are existential. Thus existential sentences are more widespread in Russian than in English.

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3 Existential sentences

It is generally accepted by grammarians (Cobbet 1983, Eastwood 1994, Wardhaugh 1995) that English existential sentences are introduced by means of there + be. Similar constructions can be found in the other Germanic and Roman languages, cf. German es gibt (Es gibt einen Tisch im Raum) or French il y a (Il y a un lycée dans cette ville). Taking into account the meaning of verbs used in existential sentences and peculiarities of their communicative structure one can distinguish between three types of existential sentences: introductory-existential, conclusive-existential, and existential-locative.

The introductory-existential structure is represented by the model There is X. Examples of such structures are often found at the beginning of fairy tales. They are autosemantic, have no manifestations of connections with the other sentences; the name of a person or thing (X) introduced by them ought to be characterized in the next part of the text. Thus the introductory-existential constructions fulfil a cataphoric function introducing the main topic of the text, predicting its further development. The characteristic of X introduced by these constructions usually makes up a separate super-phrasal unit (description)2. Cf. the introductory-existential (14 a) and the rest of the text.


(a) Once upon a time there lived a Frog. (b) She lived in a swamp, caught midges and mosquitoes, and in spring croaked loudly together with all the other frogs. (c) She would have lived there happily till the end of her days – if a stork did not eat her up, of course – but something happened one day which upset her life.

At the beginning of tales, introductory-existential sentences can be used with adverbial modifiers of place, which have an indefinite reference marked by special lexical and grammatical units preceded by the indefinite article, such as certain, for example: In a certain realm, in a certain land there lived a wealthy merchant. If the adverbial modifier has a concrete reference the sentence loses its introductory position and becomes existential-locative. Cf. existential-locative (15 b) with the adverbial In Cornwall, which has a concrete reference and introduces the supplementary topic duke, whereas the main topic Uther Pendragon is introduced by the preceding temporal sentence (15 a), being repeated in (15 d):


(a) It happened in the days of Uther Pendragon, when he was king of all England. (b) There was a mighty duke in Cornwall that waged war against him a long time. (c) And the duke was named the duke of Tintagil. (d) King Uther sent for this duke, telling him to bring his wife with him.

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The number of verbs used in this type of sentences is limited to to live, to be, to exist. To live is used with the names of human objects, to exist – with the names of non-human objects, and to be – with both types of objects. (14) isn't an exception because a frog in a fairy tale is perceived as a human being. It's interesting to notice that this type of sentences cannot be negative since denying existence of an object contradicts their introductory discourse function.

In fairy tales introductory-existential sentences occupy the position of absolute beginning since they open the whole text. When used in fiction and scientific prose introductory-existential sentences open separate paragraphs or topics; the indefinite reference is marked by restrictive attributes and attributive clauses. For example:



There are people who blunder at the journey's start.



There are differences between text grammar and discourse analysis.

Russian introductory-existential sentences have the same syntactic characteristics and discourse functions as the English ones, but there are differences in the use of verbs. A specific feature of Russian is wide use of zhil-byl (lived-was) compound verb-predicate in introductory-existential sentences of fairy tales. For example: Zhil-byl starik so starukhoi (There lived-was an old man and his wife). According to Veenker (1975) this compound predicate is a borrowing from Finno-Ugrian languages. Another verb typical for Russian existential sentences is imetsia, which is considered a delexicalized form of the verb imet' (to have). Introductory-existential sentences with this verb can be used in scientific discourse as well as in fiction. For example: Imeiutsia razlichia mezhdu analizom texta i grammatikoi texta (cf. 16 b).

The conclusive-existential structure is represented by the model X exists. In Russian along with the verb sushestvovat' (to exist) the verb byt' (to be) can be used, for example Bog est'. In English the use of to be in such sentences is hardly possible. Cf.: *God is. These sentences can be used in the affirmative as well as in the negative form.

Cook (1998), Arutiunova and Shyriaev (1983) consider to exist to be a synonym of to live. In our opinion there are essential differences between the two verbs. Consider the following examples.


Peter's father lives.


Peter's father is alive.


Peter's father exists.

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From the three sentences only (18) is grammatically correct, (17) is incorrect because the verb to live requires an obligatory adverbial adjunct, cf.: Peter's father lives in London (a locative sentence). Physical existence in English is denoted by the word of the category of state alive opposite in its meaning to dead. Cf.: Peter's father is alive – Peter's father is dead (qualitative sentence). Cf. also Peter's father is dying (a processional proposition), which denotes a physical process simultaneous with the moment of speech. (19) is grammatically incorrect because the verb to exist doesn't denote physical existence, and is not used with class nouns. The sphere of its use is limited to abstract nouns and names of unreal objects, cf.: Mermaids don't exist. Conclusive-existential sentences are used seldom enough and require a special context. This can be either narration or reasoning. For example: Twenty years have passed. Peter's mother died, but his father is still alive. (narration). Nobody has ever seen mermaids. They do not exist. (reasoning).

The existential-locative structure expresses a judgement about existence and location of an object and can be represented by the model There is X in Y in which X is the name of the object, and Y is the name of the place of its location. This structure is characterized by a variety of original and acquired existential verbs.

The most typical original existential verb is to be. Existential to be must be differentiated from the link verb used in taxonomic sentences. In Russian differences between the link verb and the existential verb are manifested in the following grammatical features. 1) The existential verb is used in the present tense, indicative mood: V lesu est' griby (There are mushrooms in the forest). Existential sentences without to be (V lesu griby) are a communicative variant, in which the subject takes the logical stress. The link verb is not used in the present tense, indicative mood: Ona studentka (She is a student). 2) The existential verb takes net negation and is followed by the noun in the genitive case: V lesu net gribov. The taxonomic verb takes ne negation and is followed by the noun in the nominative case: Ona ne studentka. This difference holds in English. Cf. no and not negations: There are no mushrooms in the forest. She isn't a student. *She is no a student.

Some verbs denoting location of an object in space (such as to stand, to sit, to lie, etc.) can lose their lexical meaning (become delexicalized) and be used as existentials in surface structures. Cf.:


There is a wardrobe near the table.


There stands a wardrobe near the table.

The following distinctions of the existential-locative meaning of (21) can be defined. 1) It answers the same questions as (20), cf. What is there near the table? – There stands a wardrobe near the table, Is there anything near the table? – Yes, there stands a wardrobe near the table. 2) The verb to stand in (21) doesn't form an opposition with the other verbs from the same semantic group. ?There lies a wardrobe near the table seems unusual. 3) The verb to stand in (21) is used as a synonym of to be and doesn't admit of continuous tense forms, cf. *There is standing a wardrobe near the table. Continuous tense forms are used when the lexical meaning of the verb is realized, cf. were standing opposed to were sitting in the actional construction Some guests were standing and the others were sitting.

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The main reason for the verb's losing its lexical meaning in (21) is that it denotes a state, which is predicted by the lexical meaning of the noun wardrobe: it is natural, customary, typical for a wardrobe to stand. If the verb denotes some unusual state or action of the object, its lexical meaning is realized. Cf. the existential-locative


There sits a driver in the motorcar

(to sit in a motorcar is a customary action for a driver) and actional


The driver is singing in the motorcar

(to sing in a motorcar isn't a customary action for a driver).

The existential-locative meaning can be expressed in the sentences without there:


Near the table stands a wardrobe.

The main distinction of such sentences' existential-locative semantics is inverted word order; to change the word order in this case means to change the type of proposition, cf. the locative


The wardrobe stands near the table,

answering the question Where does the wardrobe stand? The difference between (24) and (25) is also marked by the use of articles: the indefinite article indicates the indefinite reference of the noun, whereas the definite article indicates its concrete reference.

Sentences with there always express existential-locative meaning notwithstanding the word order, cf.: There is a wardrobe near the table, Near the table there is a wardrobe. In Russian there is no construction similar with there + to be and the semantic type of a sentence depends on word order. Cf.: Okolo stola stoit shkaf (existential-locative structure = There stands a wardrobe near the table), Shkaf stoit okolo stola (locative structure = 25). On the whole, Russian existential-locative sentences admit of the following communicative variants. 1) V lesu est' griby (There are mushrooms in the forest). The topic of the sentence is the adverbial modifier of place expressed by the prepositional phrase V lesu, and its focus includes the verb-predicate est' and the subject griby. This sentence answers the question What is there in the forest? The corresponding English sentence has a different syntactic structure (word order), but the same communicative structure. The topic of the sentence is the adverbial modifier, and the rest of the sentence is its focus. 2) V lesu griby est'. The focus of the sentence is the verb-predicate placed at the end of the sentence, and its topic is the rest of the sentence. The sentence answers the question Are there mushrooms in the forest? The same communicative structure is characteristic of the variant Griby v lesu est'.

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3) Est' v lesu griby. The verb-predicate is placed at the beginning of the sentence. The sentence has the same communicative structure as V lesu griby est', but placing the verb at the beginning of the sentence makes the idea of existence more emphatic, and a modal meaning is added. The sentence answers the question Are there really mushrooms in the forest? Can there be mushrooms in the forest? The same communicative structure is characteristic of the variant Est' griby v lesu.

Another group of acquired existential-locative verbs includes verbs denoting cognitive activities, such as analyze, discuss, outline, present, etc., widely used in abstracts. In Russian these verbs are used in the passive voice. For example V stat'e analiziruetsia razvitie informatiki (In the paper the development of information science is analyzed). Such sentences can be considered existential because they have the following syntactic, semantic, and communicative distinctions. The verb-predicate has for the arguments the adverbial modifier of place and the subject. It can be nominalized and substituted by the existential to be: V stat'e est' analiz razvitia informatiki (In the paper is analysis of the development of information science). This sentence answers an existential question: What is there in the paper?

It should be noted that passive voice constructions are not typical of corresponding English sentences, and English verbs are used in the active voice. For example The book describes a large fragment of German in terms of the HPSG paradigm. This dissertation investigates a number of characteristic properties of English imperatives. This book presents an analysis of the clause structure of Swedish. To use the active voice in Russian is grammatically incorrect since Russian verbs denoting cognitive activities do not combine with non-human subjects: *Stat'ia analiziruet razvitie informatiki (The paper analyzes the devepopment of information science). If the subject is a human being the verb can be used in the active voice: Avtor analiziruet razvitie informatiki (The author analyzes the development of information science).

4 Conclusions

1) Russian occupies an intermediate position between Habeo-languages and Esso-languages. Its characteristic feature is wide spread use of possessive-existential sentences that can be found neither in Habeo-languages nor in Esso-languages.

2) To differentiate between semantic types of sentences one must take into account at least three sets of their characteristics: syntactic, semantic, and communicative. Syntactic and semantic characteristics are the syntactic structure of a sentence and meaning of the verb-predicate and its arguments. Verbs typical of a given semantic type of a sentence can be divided into original and acquired. The process of a verb's losing its original lexical meaning can be called delexicalization.

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The communicative characteristics are the actual division of a sentence, logical stress, word order and question, which the sentence answers. Syntactic and semantic characteristics can be represented by a model of a sentence's deep structure with the verb-predicate and symbols of obligatory verb adjuncts. Communicative characteristics allow for differentiating between variants of the sentence used in discourse (in surface structure).

3) An effective method of comparative analysis of semantic types of sentences in different languages consists of comparing the behavior of verbs with similar meanings in different contexts by means of assigning to these verbs' arguments different meanings (semes), such as "human" – "non-human", "abstract" – "concrete". Application of this method has allowed for revealing the following essential differences in the ways of expressing possession and existence in Russian and in English.

a) The Russian verb imet' unlike its English counterpart to have doesn't usually combine with non-human concrete adjuncts. English sentences with such structure are rendered into Russian by means of existential sentences with the verb to be. Other syntactic structures with the verb to have, that have been analyzed in this paper, can be rendered into Russian by means of sentences with the verb imet' and of possessive-existential sentences with the verb byt'. Since imet'-sentences are of bookish character and require special context possessive-existential sentences are much more wide spread in Russian.

b) Existential sentences in both languages can be divided into introductory-existential, conclusive-existential, and existential-locative. A specific feature of Russian is the use of zhil-byl (lived-was) compound verb-predicate (a borrowing from Finno-Ugrian languages) in introductory-existential sentences of fairy tales. In English existential-locative sentences verbs denoting cognitive activities can be used in the active as well as in the passive voice existential easily combining with human and non-human names. Russian counterparts of these verbs can combine only with human names and can be used in existential locative sentences only in the passive voice.

It is evident that these differences between the two languages should be taken into consideration in teaching Russian and English as foreign languages and in developing automatic translation systems.


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1 Khakas is a Turkic language spoken in Siberia.

2 Description, narration, and reasoning as types of discourse are described in (Fleischer 1977).