Factive - factitive

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Do not confuse the adjectives factive and factitive. Both are technical terms used in grammar and other linguistic disciplines, and both are distant descendants of the Latin verb facĕre, ‘to do’, ‘to make’, or more precisely of its supine, factum; but they have quite different meanings.


Factive is used primarily of verbs, though it may also be used of other linguistic elements. A factive verb is a verb that implies the truth of the subordinate clause it governs, i.e., implies that what the subordinate clause asserts is a ‘fact’. A clear example of a factive verb is the verb ‘to know’, as in ‘John knows that the train is late’: the truth of the whole sentence implies the truth of what is asserted by its subordinate clause – i.e., if it is true that John knows that the train is late, then it is true that the train is late. By contrast, ‘to believe’ is not a factive verb: the truth of the sentence ‘John believes that the train is late’ does not imply that the train is late – it is possible to believe that the train is late even though it is not late. What is believed may be true or false, but what is known must be true. Other examples of factive verbs or verbal phrases include ‘It is certain that’, ‘He is angry that’, ‘It has been shown that’, and ‘They have discovered that’, while examples of non-factive verbs or verbal phrases include ‘He claims that’, ‘It is possible that’, and ‘It is doubtful that’.

Factive may also be used of other linguistic elements, e.g., conjunctions. Consider the difference between ‘Since the train is late, we shall miss our appointment’ and ‘If the train is late, we shall miss our appointment’: the former implies that the train is late but the latter does not; and so we may say that (in these examples) ‘since’ is a factive conjunction, while ‘if’ is not. The phrase ‘factive context’ is used to refer to the part of a sentence that is introduced by a factive word or phrase.

In some languages, though not in English, the difference between factive and non-factive contexts is reflected by the mood of the verb in these contexts. In Italian, for example, the verb in factive contexts is in the indicative, whereas in non-factive contexts it is in the subjunctive. Thus ‘He knows that the train is late’ is Sa che il treno è in ritardo, while ‘He believes that the train is late’ is Crede che il treno sia in ritardo.


Factitive is used in two ways. It may be applied to any transitive verb whose meaning involves the idea of bringing about or causing a particular result – for example, ‘wash’ in ‘He washed his hands’ (i.e., brought it about that his hands were clean); ‘tore up ‘ in ‘She tore up the paper’ (i.e., brought it about that the paper was in fragments); ‘put’ in ‘She put the vase on the table’ (i.e., brought it about that the vase was on the table); or ‘warm in ‘They warmed themselves in front of the fire’ (i.e., brought it about that they were warm). Verbs which are factitive in this way are also referred to – perhaps more illuminatingly - as causative verbs.

Factitive is also applied, more restrictedly, to transitive verbs which are used with a particular grammatical construction, namely with a direct object indicating what has been acted on (or that in which the result has been brought about) and a second object, in apposition, indicating what change or result has been brought about – for example, ‘They elected Smith chairman’, ‘She called her son Aloysius’, ‘They declared the result a draw’, ‘They judged him guilty', and ‘He painted all the furniture blue’.


Finally, do not confuse either factive or factitive with factitious or fictitious.