Eyetracking while reading passives: an event structure account of difficulty

Caterina Laura Paolazzi, Nino Grillo, Claudia Cera, Fani Karageorgou, Emily Bullman, Wing Yee Chow, Andrea Santi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Among existing accounts of passivisation difficulty, some argue it depends on the predicate semantics (i.e. passives are more difficult with subject-experiencer than agent-patient verbs). Inconsistent with the accounts that predict passive difficulty, Paolazzi et al. (2019) found that passives were read faster than actives at the verb and object by-phrase in a series of self-paced reading experiments, with no modulation of verb type. However, self-paced reading provides limited direct measurement of late revision/interpretive processing. We used modified stimuli from Paolazzi et al. (2019) to re-examine this issue in two eye-tracking while reading experiments. We found that in late measures, passives with subject-experiencer verbs had longer fixation durations than actives at the verb and two subsequent regions but no difference was observed across agent-patient verbs. Subject-experiencer verbs provide a state, but the passive structure requires an event. Thus, the required eventive interpretation is coerced with subject-experiencers (if possible) and induces difficulty.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)135-153
Number of pages19
JournalLanguage, Cognition and Neuroscience
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to acknowledge BA/Leverhulme Small Grants SRG\170108 to Andrea Santi.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Event structure
  • eye-tracking
  • passive sentence
  • sentence processing

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