The applicative voice (abbreviated APL or APPL) is a grammatical voice which promotes an oblique argument of a verb to the (core) object argument, and indicates the oblique role within the meaning of the verb. When the applicative voice is applied to a verb, its valency may be increased by one. Applicatives are common in the world's languages, famously so in the case of the Bantu languages.
English does not have a dedicated applicative prefix or suffix. However, prepositions can be compounded with verbs for an applicative effect. For example, from
- Jack ran faster than the giant,
the intransitive verb ran can be made transitive, and the oblique noun giant the object:
- Jack outran the giant.
The applicative verb can be made passive, something which is not possible with ran:
- The giant was outrun by Jack.
Many languages, however, do have dedicated morphology (commonly several affixes), for applicative uses. For example, in Yagua "He blows into it" may be expressed as saduu ráviimú, where saduu is "blow" with a third person subject, and ráviimú is an oblique meaning "into an inanimate object." Expressed with an applicative it is saduutára, where ta is a locative applicative and the locative oblique is no longer present. The verb indicates both the agent as before and adds an object through ra. Applicative constructions are found in various languages, particularly in highly agglutinative languages, such as Bella Coola (Nuxálk), Ubykh, Ainu and Bemba.
Swahili has an applicative suffix -i or -e which appears before the last vowel of the verb. From andika 'to write', we get transitive
- Aliniandikia barua 'he wrote me a letter', or 'he wrote a letter for me' (a-li-ni-andik-i-a he-PST-me-write-APL-IND).
Similarly, from soma 'to read',
- Alinisomea barua 'he read me a letter', 'he read a letter to me'.
These are sometimes called 'prepositional' forms of the verb because they are translated into English using prepositions: cry for, pray for, eat with, enjoy (be happy about), arrive at, sing to, sell to, send to, open (the door) for, reckon with, see for (himself), die at. However, this name is inaccurate for Swahili, which doesn't use prepositions for such purposes.
A language may have multiple applicatives, each corresponding to such different roles as comitative, locative, instrumental, and benefactive. Sometimes various applicatives will be expressed by the same morphological exponence, such as in the Bantu language Chichewa, where the suffix -ir- forms both instrumental and locative applicatives. Some languages, such as Ganda, permit a 'second applicative' (known in Ganda as the "augmentive applied"), formed by a double application of the suffix. In this case the second applicative is used to give an alternative meaning.
Applicatives may also be the only way of expressing such roles, as in the Bantu language Kichaga, where instrumental, benefactive, malefactive, and locative are formed solely by applicatives. In other languages applicatives coexist with other methods of expressing said roles. In these languages applicatives are often used to bring a normally oblique argument into special focus, or as in Nez Percé, to keep humans as core arguments.
Applicatives have a degree of overlap with causatives, and in some languages the two are realised identically. While differing from true applicatives, a similar construction known as dative shifting occurs in other languages, including English.
- Benefactive, a case role commonly expressed by means of an applicative
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