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Forums: Index > Canto > Ergative/Absolutive in English!


I found that English noun phrases often follow Ergative / Absolutive pattern. For example:

The house (is) on fire = The house is burning
The house (is) on fire (set) by me = I am burning the house down

You can see how "house" becomes an object when we use the verb "burn" but remains unchanged when we use a noun phrase.

I (am) in a slumber. = I dream
You (are) in my dreams. = I dream of you

Although it's me who is sleeping and dreaming in both cases, because in the second sentence dreaming becomes transitive, the subject moves to the second place (my dreams). Similarly,

We are in a meeting
These topics (were mentioned) in our meeting

and so forth. It looks like such manner of speech naturally leads to ergative/absolutive construction of the sentence. Funny, isn't it? Adagio burner 22:49, April 28, 2010 (UTC)

Really? I've noticed the same things.

The plant grows. (intrans)

I grow a plant. (trans)


The bean spirals. (intrans)

I spiral a bean. (trans)


The flare branches.

I branch a flare.


The house burns.

I burn the house.


The appliance charges.

I charge the appliance.


The cat sleeps.

I sleep the cat (nonsense, but nevertheless is naturally understood to mean "put the cat to sleep"). —Detectivekenny; (Info) Preceding text certified by R. Xun as of 02:04, May 7, 2010 (UTC)


RIght, my English grammar book calls such verbs "ergative" -- and for a reason!

With these verbs however, English seems to be quite illogical -- the verbs are ergative by natire, yet they follow the grammatical patterns of nominative-accisative language. That results in shifts like "I burn the house" -- "the nouse burns": nothing changed but the objects suuddenly became the subject.

In contrast to that, phrases like "the house is on fire" -- "the house is on fire set by me" seem to follow the ergative-absolutive pattern, keeping the logical structure. I ding that amazing. Adagio burner 06:35, May 7, 2010 (UTC)

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