Ergative case
The ergative case is the grammatical case
Grammatical case
In grammar, the case of a noun or pronoun is an inflectional form that indicates its grammatical function in a phrase, clause, or sentence. For example, a pronoun may play the role of subject , of direct object , or of possessor...

 that identifies the subject
Subject (grammar)
The subject is one of the two main constituents of a clause, according to a tradition that can be tracked back to Aristotle and that is associated with phrase structure grammars; the other constituent is the predicate. According to another tradition, i.e...

 of a transitive verb
Transitive verb
In syntax, a transitive verb is a verb that requires both a direct subject and one or more objects. The term is used to contrast intransitive verbs, which do not have objects.-Examples:Some examples of sentences with transitive verbs:...

 in ergative-absolutive language
Ergative-absolutive language
An ergative–absolutive language is a language that treats the argument of an intransitive verb like the object of a transitive verb, but differently from the agent of a transitive verb.-Ergative vs...



In such languages, the ergative case is typically marked
Markedness is a specific kind of asymmetry relationship between elements of linguistic or conceptual structure. In a marked-unmarked relation, one term of an opposition is the broader, dominant one...

 (most salient), while the absolutive case
Absolutive case
The absolutive case is the unmarked grammatical case of a core argument of a verb which is used as the citation form of a noun.-In ergative languages:...

 is unmarked. New work in case theory has vigorously supported the idea that the ergative case identifies the agent (the intentful performer of an action) of a verb (Woolford 2004).

In Kalaallisut (Greenlandic) for example, the ergative case is used to mark subjects of transitive verbs and possessors of nouns.

Nez Perce
Nez Perce language
Nez Perce , also spelled Nez Percé, is a Sahaptian language related to the several dialects of Sahaptin . The Sahaptian sub-family is one of the branches of the Plateau Penutian family...

 has a three-way nominal case system with both ergative (-nim) and accusative (-ne) plus an absolute (unmarked) case for intransitive subjects: hipáayna qíiwn ‘the old man arrived’; hipáayna wewúkiye ‘the elk arrived’; wewúkiyene péexne qíiwnim ‘the old man saw an elk’.

Sahaptin language
Sahaptin , Sħáptənəxw, is a Plateau Penutian language of the Sahaptian branch spoken in a section of the northwestern plateau along the Columbia River and its tributaries in southern Washington, northern Oregon, and southwestern Idaho....

 has an ergative noun case (with suffix -nɨm) that is limited to transitive constructions only when the direct object is 1st or 2nd person: iwapáatayaaš łmámanɨm ‘the old woman helped me’; paanáy iwapáataya łmáma ‘the old woman helped him/her’ (direct); páwapaataya łmámayin ‘the old woman helped him/her’ (inverse).

Other languages that use the ergative case are Georgian
Georgian language
Georgian is the native language of the Georgians and the official language of Georgia, a country in the Caucasus.Georgian is the primary language of about 4 million people in Georgia itself, and of another 500,000 abroad...

, Chechen
Chechen language
The Chechen language is spoken by more than 1.5 million people, mostly in Chechnya and by Chechen people elsewhere. It is a member of the Northeast Caucasian languages.-Classification:...

, and other Caucasian languages, Mayan languages
Mayan languages
The Mayan languages form a language family spoken in Mesoamerica and northern Central America. Mayan languages are spoken by at least 6 million indigenous Maya, primarily in Guatemala, Mexico, Belize and Honduras...

, Mixe–Zoque languages, Wagiman
Wagiman language
Wagiman is a near-extinct indigenous Australian language spoken by fewer than 10 people in and around Pine Creek, in the Katherine Region of the Northern Territory....

 and other Australian Aboriginal languages
Australian Aboriginal languages
The Australian Aboriginal languages comprise several language families and isolates native to the Australian Aborigines of Australia and a few nearby islands, but by convention excluding the languages of Tasmania and the Torres Strait Islanders...

 as well as Basque
Basque language
Basque is the ancestral language of the Basque people, who inhabit the Basque Country, a region spanning an area in northeastern Spain and southwestern France. It is spoken by 25.7% of Basques in all territories...

, Burushaski, Hindi
Standard Hindi, or more precisely Modern Standard Hindi, also known as Manak Hindi , High Hindi, Nagari Hindi, and Literary Hindi, is a standardized and sanskritized register of the Hindustani language derived from the Khariboli dialect of Delhi...

, Yaghnobi
Yaghnobi language
The Yaghnobi language is a living East Iranian language . Yaghnobi is spoken in the upper valley of the Yaghnob River in the Zarafshan area of Tajikistan by the Yaghnobi people...

 and Tibetan
Tibetan language
The Tibetan languages are a cluster of mutually-unintelligible Tibeto-Burman languages spoken primarily by Tibetan peoples who live across a wide area of eastern Central Asia bordering the Indian subcontinent, including the Tibetan Plateau and the northern Indian subcontinent in Baltistan, Ladakh,...


The ergative case is also a feature of some constructed language
Constructed language
A planned or constructed language—known colloquially as a conlang—is a language whose phonology, grammar, and/or vocabulary has been consciously devised by an individual or group, instead of having evolved naturally...

s such as Na'vi
Na'vi language
The Na’vi language is the constructed language of the Na’vi, the sapient humanoid indigenous inhabitants of the fictional moon Pandora in the 2009 film Avatar. It was created by Paul Frommer, a professor at the Marshall School of Business with a doctorate in linguistics...

 and Ithkuil
Ithkuil is a constructed language marked by outstanding grammatical complexity, expressed with a rich phonemic inventory or through an original, graphically structured, system of writing....


See also

  • Antipassive voice
    Antipassive voice
    The antipassive voice is a verb voice that works on transitive verbs by deleting the object. This construction is similar to the passive voice, in that it decreases the verb's valency by one - the passive by deleting the subject , the antipassive by deleting the object The antipassive voice...

  • Morphosyntactic alignment
    Morphosyntactic alignment
    In linguistics, morphosyntactic alignment is the system used to distinguish between the arguments of transitive verbs and those of intransitive verbs...

  • Ergative-absolutive language
    Ergative-absolutive language
    An ergative–absolutive language is a language that treats the argument of an intransitive verb like the object of a transitive verb, but differently from the agent of a transitive verb.-Ergative vs...

  • Volition (linguistics)
    Volition (linguistics)
    In linguistics, volition refers to a distinction that is made in some languages' verb conjugations or case assignment to express whether the subject intended the action or not, or whether it was done voluntarily or accidentally....

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