I want to know how works the ergative structure and if it's often used or not and please could you give some examples like 院子 里 停着 车。 Literal: Courtyard-in park vehicle. Translation: In the courtyard is parked a vehicle. It's said a sentence where you can start it with the location and so go on, sorry cannot help more, but i didn't find more information but some articles.

  • Maybe it would help to define “ergative”. It’s a new word for me.
    – Becky 李蓓
    Jan 11, 2020 at 5:22
  • Is it an English question? According to dictionaries, an 'ergative' verb can be used as either transitive or intransitive. E.g. The door opens. She opens the door. 'open' is an ergative verb here.
    – dan
    Jan 11, 2020 at 5:51

2 Answers 2


Ergative constructions (作格结构) is one name for a phenomenon where the one subject argument in the intransitive version of the construction is the same as the direct object of the transitive version. These ergative verbs are variously called labile verbs, unaccusative verbs (非宾格动词), anticausative verbs; they have even been posited as reflecting a sort of middle voice (distinct from the more usual active and passive voices for verbs).

For example in Chinese:




Incorrectly inferred: 他开了。

This parallels what happens in ergative-absolutive languages, where the morphosyntactic alignment is like this by default.

This kind of pattern is only defined for those verbs that can both be transitive in some instances and intransitive in others, also known as ambitransitive verbs.

There are some cases where some Chinese verbs can appear ambitransitive where English cannot be. This is often called the "notional passive":

TRANSITIVE ACTIVE: We defeated them. 我们打败了他们。



TRANSITIVE PASSIVE: They were/got defeated. 他们被/给打败了。

However, the sentence used in the original question is not even from one of these ambitransitive verbs, as I can't think of a case where 停 alone acts as a transitive verb. Rather the two forms are:



This is called locative inversion by linguists. In Chinese, it is very often used, although not as frequently as the standard order. Note that it is possible to drop the 在 in the form with location at the front. It can give off an atmospheric, almost poetic vibe, and is a beloved technique of narration and storytelling. This is not too dissimilar to English.


The nearest you'll get to ergative is the Chinese use of 把:you could argue 把 marks ergative case, but just as easily, you could say, 把 marks accusative case and ergative is accusative under another name!

(你快点儿) 把作业做完!

Mostly, 把 gets used like this: 我把门开了。

So is '把门‘ accusative, or ergative, or both, or neither?

Since there really are no case markings, and no case in Chinese, for example:

我看你。 你看我。

there is also no ergative case.

Look at 被 for passive. Sometimes, you could argue 被 marks ergative case:

  1. 我被晒伤了。
  2. 太阳晒伤了我。(but 2. is not very "Chinese", everyone knows the sun burnt you!)

Chinese is more intelligent than our 'case-based' languages!

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