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From the Ancient Greek ἐργάτης (ergátēs, worker), from ἔργον (érgon, work).


  • (UK) IPA(key): /ˈɜːɡətɪv/
    • (file)
  • (US) enPR: ûr'gətĭv, IPA(key): /ˈɝɡətɪv/


ergative (not comparable)

  1. (grammar) Used of various situations where the subjects of transitive constructions have different grammatical cases or thematic relations to those of intransitive constructions.
    The case systems of ergative languages are counterintuitive to speakers of Indo-European languages.
    • 1987, George Van Driem, A Grammar of Limbu, page 39,
      The ergative case marks the agent of a transitive verb. The ergative suffix is -le/-re/-lle/-?ille. The form of the ergative suffix is /-le/ for the indefinite and /-?ille/ for the definite after the consonants /?/, /k/, /t/, /p/, /b/, /ŋ/, /n/ and /m/.
    • 1988, Andrew Radford, chapter 8, in Transformational grammar: a first course, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, page 446:
      To illustrate what is meant by an ‘Ergativeʼ structure, consider the following set of examples:
      (155) (a)      John broke the door
      (155) (b)      The door broke
      (156) (a)      John might drown the kittens
      (156) (b)      The kittens might drown
      (157) (a)      The artillery will sink the ship
      (157) (b)      The ship will sink
      (158) (a)      John rolled the ball down the hill
      (158) (b)      The ball rolled down the hill
      Following the terminology adopted in Chapter 7 (after Burzio (1986), p. 30), we might say that the (a) member of each of these pairs is a transitive structure, and the (b) member an ergative structure. In Burzioʼs use of the term, an ergative Clause is an intransitive Clause which has a transitive counterpart in which the transitive Object corresponds to the ergative Subject.
    • 2000, Hans Bennis, Adjectives and Argument Structure, Peter Coopmans, Martin Everaert, Jane Barbara Grimshaw (editors), Lexical Specification and Insertion, page 28,
      A large number of adjectives that are unergative according to the tests provided in Section 2 appear to be ergative with respect to their argument structure.
    • 2008, Geoffrey Khan, HdO: The Neo-Aramaic Dialect of Barwar, page 22,
      In Kurdish, on the other hand, the corresponding compound construction, which appears to have been the model for the NENA[North-Eastern Neo-Aramaic] construction, is ergative in form when the verb is transitive.

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Related termsEdit


ergative (plural ergatives)

  1. (linguistics) The ergative case.
    • 2006, Miriam Butt, Theories of Case, page 178.
      There are some languages in which the ergative is not acquired as quickly or as easily as described above.
  2. (linguistics) An ergative verb or other expression.
    • 1987, Edward L. Keenan, Noun Phrase Accessibility and Universal Grammar, Universal Grammar: 15 Essays, page 26,
      Woodbury (1975) does argue, however, that absolutives are more relativisable in Greenlandic than are ergatives, on the grounds that (1) RCs[Relative Clauses] formed on ergatives are somewhat more restricted in the distribution in matrix clauses (p. 21) than are those formed on absolutives, and (2) for certain verb classes ergatives cannot be relativised out of the active participle (p. 27).
    • 1994, Virginia Yip, Chapter 6: Grammatical consciousness-raising and learnability, Terence Odlin (editor), Perspectives on Pedagogical Grammar, page 128,
      Ergatives share close similarities with agentless passives: Both are intransitive, both lack an agent, while the patient appears in the subject position. As the acquisition data show, learners seem to treat ergatives like passives.
    • 2012, Michael A. Daniel, Timur A. Maisak, Solmaz R. Merdanova, Causatives in Agul, Pirkko Suihkonen, Bernard Comrie, V. D. Solovʹev (editors), Argument Structure and Grammatical Relations: A Crosslinguistic Typology, page 66,
      Combining two ergatives in one clause is not always ungrammatical in Agul; but one of the ergatives must be used in a non-agentive function, e.g. instrumental or temporal.


See alsoEdit






  1. feminine singular of ergatif




  1. feminine plural of ergativo