Chapter 4. A constructional corpus-based approach to ‘weak’ verbs in French

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‘Weak’ verbs, also known as ‘parenthetical’, ‘evidential’ or ‘epistemic’ verbs, have interested linguists and philosophers for many years. In recent analyses they are treated mainly from a pragmatic point of view, and, through a process of advanced grammaticalization, they are often grouped together with adverbs. But fine-grained linguistic analyses are still lacking. In this contribution, we present the main results of a usage-based syntactic, semantic and pragmatic analysis of the three most frequent ‘weak’ verbs used in the first person singular in modern French: je crois (‘I believe’), je pense (‘I think’), and je trouve (‘I find’). We argue that those verbs do not undergo a change of category but simply remain verbs and that they can be fruitfully described in a constructional framework. These ‘weak’ verbs, particularly frequent in spoken discourse, occur in a cluster of three related structures, revealing the same semantic meaning of ‘mitigation’. Other verbs can enter one of those syntactic patterns, but only the ‘weak’ verbs can partake in all three of them. Each of the three verbs also enters other constructions, with different meanings.


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