Unergative verb

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An unergative verb is an intransitive verb[1] that is distinguished semantically by having just an agent argument.

For example, in English, run, talk and resign are unergative verbs, and fall and die are unaccusative verbs.[2] Even so, Dąbrowska (2016)[3] noted that "to die" is an example of unaccusative mismatch.

Some languages treat unergative verbs differently from other intransitives in morphosyntactic terms. For example, in some Romance languages, such verbs use different auxiliaries when in compound tenses.

Besides the above, unergative verbs differ from unaccusative verbs in that in some languages, they can occasionally use the passive voice.

In Dutch, for example, unergatives take hebben (to have) in the perfect tenses:

Ik telefoneer – ik heb getelefoneerd.
"I call (by phone). – I have called."

In such cases, a transition to an impersonal passive construction is possible by using the adverb er, which functions as a dummy subject and the passive auxiliary worden:

Er wordt door Jan getelefoneerd.
"*There is by Jan telephoned." (literally "A telephone call by Jan is going on.")

By contrast, Dutch ergative verbs take zijn ("to be") in the perfect tenses:

Het vet stolt – het vet is gestold
"The grease solidifies – The grease has solidified."

In that case, no passive construction with worden is possible. In other words, unergatives are truly intransitive, but ergatives are not.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Richards, Norvin. "Unergatives and Unaccusatives". Retrieved July 28, 2019.
  2. ^ Kerstens, Johan; Ruys, Eddy; Zwarts, Joost (1996–2001). "unergative verb". Lexicon of linguistics. Utrecht institute of Linguistics, OTS Utrecht University. Retrieved July 28, 2019.
  3. ^ Dąbrowska, A. "Unaccusative or unergative: The case of the English verb to die" in Roczniki humanistyczne 64(11):25-39 · (January 2016). DOI: 10.18290/rh.2016.64.11-2