Two major case systems found in languages are the nominative-accusative and the ergative-absolutive. The ergative-absolutive system is the inverse of the nominative-accusative system, and Ergative case is assigned to:
- 1. The subject of a transitive verb.
- 1. The subject of an intransitive verb.
- 2. The object of a transitive verb.
- Der Mann ist gekommen. "The man arrived."
- Der Mann hat den Knaben gesehen. "The man saw the boy."
Now consider Basque:
- Gizona etorri da. "The man has arrived."
- Gizonak mutila ikusi du. "The man saw the boy."
English does show a trace of something that could be regarded as ergativity. With an intransitive verb, adding the suffix "-ee" to the verb produces a label for the person performing the action:
- "John has retired." --> "John is a retiree."
- "John has escaped." --> "John is an escapee."
- "John is standing." --> "John is a standee."
- "Mike employs Susie." --> "Susie is an employee."
- "Mike has inducted Susie." --> "Susie is an inductee."
- "Mike has appointed Susie" --> "Susie is an appointee."
See also nominative case, absolutive case, accusative case, dative case, genitive case, vocative case, ablative case; compare to ergative verb.
In addition to Basque, many other languages utilize ergative case. They include:
- Sāmoan and many other Oceanic languages
- Virtually all Caucasian languages (Abkhaz, Chechen, etc.)
- The various Inuit dialects (Inuktitut, Inupik, Yupik)