Agent and patient marking

Various syntactic and morphological strategies exist across the world’s languages to mark the agent (conscious, willful actor) and patient (object or result of action) in a transitive sentence. We should first consider sentences in which both of these functions are served by nouns, than other ones with at least one of them being presented by a pronoun.


APmkNon: The language has no strategies to distinguish agent and patient.[1]

APmk=Case: The agent and patient are marked through the use of case marking alignment.[2]

APmk=WO: The agent and patient are marked through the use of word order.

APmk=Top: The agent and patient are marked through the use of obligatory topic-marking morphemes.[3]

When a language displays more than one type, multiple values can be listed, with the exception of APmkNon. If one type is dominant, a slash (/) can separate the values, with the dominant value appearing first; if neither is dominant they are listed with an ampersand (&) separating them. If simultaneous use of both is required, they should be listed with a plus sign (+) between the values.[4]


[1] This may apply to languages that require contextual and pragmatic clues for the identification of these functions in a given sentence.

[2] Case marking alignment requires the use of actual cases and/or adpositions.

[3] To identify whether marking is obligatory, the nouns and verbs of the simplest intransitive sentences should be considered. For this value to apply, topic-marking morphemes must be obligatory even in such sentences. Optional use and non-morphological markers do not apply.

[4] Tagalog, for example, would be listed as APmk=Top+APmk=WO, since it simultaneously requires topic marking and fixed word order.