The present question is based on a previous discussion with Draconis and on a previous question raised by Joonas.

The Accusativus cum Infinitivo (AcI) construction is often regarded in linguistics as a kind of Exceptional Case Marking (ECM) structure, i.e., one where the case and the semantic function of the subject of the AcI are assigned by different elements/heads. For example, in Video te venire the accusative case of te is said to be assigned by the main verb video, but the semantic function of this pronoun is assigned by the subordinate predicate (venire). This "exceptional" case marking can be compared to the "non-exceptional" one involved in examples like Te amo, where te receives both case and semantic function from the same element/head (i.e., the verb amo).

However, the existence of examples like Te beatum esse mihi est gratum, necesse est me abire, etc. make this connection between AcI constructions and ECM structures problematic. Crucially, in these examples one cannot assume that the accusative case of the subject of the infinitival clause is assigned by the main verb. In light of these examples (which are not rare at all!), I was wondering if one should conclude that the accusative case marking of the subject of infinitival clauses in Latin is quite different from what one finds, say, in English Exceptional Case Marking constructions and we should then get rid of the alleged parallelism with English and to assume that the accusative case of the subject of infinitival clauses is licensed in a different way: unlike in English, it is not assigned by the main verb (i.e., externally) but rather its licensing is internal to the infinitival subordinate clause.

Perhaps some of you consider it natural to say that the accusative case of te in Video te venire is assigned by video (after all one can also say Video te) but what about Dico te venire? Why should we assume that in this example the acc. case of te is assigned by the transitive verb dico? My intuition is that the licensing of the acc. case of te in Dico te venire is not so different from that of Necesse est te abire.

So Draconis's claim that in cupiunt me esse regem is accusative because it is the object of cupiunt is not obvious to me (cf. Draconis's comment: "I've always viewed the AcI as getting its case from the main verb, but that other answer brings up some very good counterexamples"). Once we avoid the connection between English ECM structures and Latin AcI constructions, my impression is that those examples (Te beatum esse mihi est gratum, Necesse est me abire, etc.) should not be seen as "counterexamples". Unlike in English, the licensing of the accusative case of the subject of the AcI construction in Latin is internal to the subordinate clause.

Let me conclude with a speculation. A plausible (?) diachronic account could be that the AcI construction was born as an ECM construction in cases like Video te (venire), then it was extended to transitive cases like Dico te *(venire) and finally it was extended to non-transitive ones like Necesse est me abire or Dicitur te venire. Any thoughts and/or useful references on this issue?

  • A consequence of my diachronic speculation at the end of my question is that the personal construction Tu diceris venire should precede the impersonal one Dicitur te venire in the history of Latin. Could anyone confirm this point? The motivation of subject raising in Tu diceris venire would be due to the typical (but not systematic: e.g. cf. Tu doceris grammaticam) connection between passivization and lack of accusative marking. However, once the case of the subject of AcI was licensed internally, the impersonal construction Dicitur te venire became legitimate. Is this claim viable?
    – Mitomino
    Jun 23, 2021 at 20:57
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    I would agree. "A plausible (?) diachronic account could be that the AcI construction was born as an ECM construction..., then it was extended to transitive cases...and finally it was extended to...": this is also how I have always considered the phaenomenon. "The personal construction...should precede the impersonal one": probably, but I think both seemingly exclusive notions of licensing can coexist in the linguistic subconscious of users: the emergence of internal licensing in some cases need not drown out the notion that e.g. puto + accusative bears some relation with direct objects.
    – Cerberus
    Jun 24, 2021 at 1:30
  • Perhaps at the linguistics SE there would be some moore people with relevant input? Does this have to do anthing with the ECM vs. raising-to-object debate? Jun 24, 2021 at 21:29
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    Returning to this several months later, it occurs to me that we see a close parallel in English: necesse est me abire = "it's necessary for me to leave". In other words, from a theoretical perspective, we could easily say that there's some complementizer like English "for" that gives accusative case to the subject of the infinitive.
    – Draconis
    Dec 21, 2021 at 0:57
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    @Draconis Yes, you're right. In fact, I remember that twenty years ago or so Renato Oniga and Carlo Cechetto wrote a paper on this parallelism. I think that what they postulated was that in Latin there is a sort of null relational/complementizer element similar to English for that assigns accusative to the subject of the infinitive.
    – Mitomino
    Dec 21, 2021 at 1:42


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