Definition of ergative in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈəːɡətɪv/


1Relating to or denoting a case of nouns (in some languages, e.g. Basque and Eskimo) that identifies the doer of an action as the object rather than the subject of a verb.
Example sentences
  • In the past tense configuration, however, the Pashto agreement system is ergative: the Agreement is verb - subject agreement with intransitives, but verb - object agreement with transitives.
  • In Kalaallisut (Greenlandic) for example the ergative case is used to mark subjects of transitive verbs and possessors of nouns.
  • But the ergative subject is the subject and comes first.
1.1(In English) denoting verbs which can be used both transitively and intransitively to describe the same action, with the object in the former case being the subject in the latter, as in I boiled the kettle and the kettle boiled. Compare with inchoative.
Example sentences
  • Given the same function condition, stated above, the non-pivot ergative noun phrase of the second clause cannot be omitted under coreference with the pivot noun phrase of the first clause, hence its ungrammaticality.
  • An ergative system is one in which the subject of an intransitive verb is treated grammatically like the direct object of a transitive verb, while the subject of a transitive verb is treated differently.
  • Two main linguistic features are analysed: the expression of causativity in ergative constructions and the expression of modality in’ projecting’ that clauses.


1An ergative word.
Example sentences
  • In this language, the ergative is simply the oblique stem of the noun.
  • Based on the traditional assumption that the ergative construction is the underlying construction and the ergative is the subject, the passive can be described as follows.
1.1 (the ergative) The ergative case.
Example sentences
  • The other case, the ergative, is used for the agent.
  • Like the other case-marking postpositions in this language, the ergative is encliticised to the first word of the noun phrase.



Pronunciation: /ˌəːɡəˈtɪvɪti/
Example sentences
  • But what a cool correlation between language and genetics this could be - if the absence of grammatical gender and ergativity in Persian could tip us off to population mixtures that explain features in western Iran.
  • This is baby-level English-structure stuff - not something like the that-trace effect, or ergativity in verbs, say - and very long-standard terminology.
  • Instead, every ergative language exhibits ergativity in some circumstances but not in others, and the range of observed ergative systems is enormous, though the differences are not arbitrary.


1950s: from Greek ergatēs 'worker' (from ergon 'work') + -ive.

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: erga|tive

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