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The ergative is a case in certain languages, which are accordingly called ergative languages . It marks the subject of transitive sentences, that is, those that also have a direct object . Subjects of intransitive sentences, i.e. objectless sentences, are typically not marked with the ergative in such languages (however, there are often exceptions). In contrast, in ergative languages ​​the direct object in transitive sentences and the subject in intransitive sentences are marked with the same case, the absolute .


In contrast to “ergative” as the name of a case, the term “ergative verb” is also circulating in the literature on generative syntax, a coining that goes back to L. Burzio (1986). However, this term is synonymous with the term unaccusative verb and has nothing to do with case systems.

Examples of Ergative Languages

Well-known ergative languages ​​are z. B. Basque , Khanty , Georgian , Sumerian , Tibetan , Chechen , Kurmanji , Shipibo (in Peru), Mayan languages and Kalaallisut (in Greenland ).

Many Indo-Iranian languages have the construction of the accusative languages in the tenses of the present group, whereas in the tenses of the perfect group the construction of the ergative languages. These include Hindi , Marathi , Urdu , Pashto (in Afghanistan), Kurdish .

The difference between ergative languages ​​and accusative languages ​​is that ergative languages ​​differentiate the functions of the subject with the help of cases, i.e. express them through different cases.


  1. Mr. Miller is writing a letter.
  2. Mr. Müller suffers from bullying.
  3. The work colleagues torment Mr. Müller.
  4. Mr. Müller is tormented by his work colleagues.

In example (1) the "subject" Mr. Müller is actually the agent , the carrier of the action "letter writing". In example (2), Mr. Müller is not so much the agent as the one who suffers from the process of “bullying”, i.e. actually a patient . This means that Mr. Müller has the same function in (2) as in (3) and in (4). This functional identity of the sentence member Mr. Müller in (2), (3) and (4) is underlined in ergative languages ​​by the case identity; In all three cases there is an unmarked case (which is called an absolute in ergative languages ). In contrast, the work colleagues in sentences (3) and (4) have the same function, namely that of the agent. According to the logic of ergative languages, they are therefore also in the same case, the "ergative". Compare the roles of ergative and causative , with the latter resulting from the modification of the verb of the sentence.

An example from Sumerian illustrates how it works:

intransitive → subject in the absolute
(5) Lugal have to .
King Absolute he came here
"The king came here."
transitive → subject in the ergative, object in the absolute
(6) Malaḫgal-e ma ingi .
Captain Ergative Ship Absolute he brought it back
"The captain brought the ship back."

In some ergative languages, e.g. B. In the Eskimo-Aleut languages , the ergative is identical to the genitive ( possessive sentence construction ).

The Chan tables has, at least in Vach- and Vasjugan dialect of Ostyak language, in addition to the Ergative also active and passive constructions. The ergative has the task of emphasizing the subject in order to emphasize the individual character.

Web links

Wiktionary: Ergativ  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Thomas Stolz: Ergativ for the bloodiest beginners. University of Bremen, pp. 1–12
  2. János Gulya: Active, Ergative and Passive in Vach-Ostjakischen. In: Wolfgang Schlachter (Ed.): Symposium on the syntax of the Uralic languages (= treatises of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen. Philological-Historical Class. Volume 3, No. 76, ISSN  0930-4304 ). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1970, pp. 80-83.