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What are ergative verbs?

The ergative (from the Greek ergates 'workman') case marks the subject of a transitive verb in some languages. An ergative verb (also called unaccusative verb) in English is a verb whose action affects the subject, rather than the object, of the verb. A normal verb's "patient" is its object, whereas an ergative verb's patient is its subject. Often, ergative verbs take no direct object. Some verbs can be either a regular transitive verb or an ergative verb. Examples of ergative-only constructions are: He arrives, he died, he fell, I see, I think, I understand. For the verb open, "I opened the door" and "The door opened" are really equivalent in meaning. Ergative-or-transitive constructions are: He ate. He ate a chimichanga. In languages such as Inuit, the objects of transitive verbs and subjects of intransitive verbs are typically marked by the same linguistic forms, i.e., in which the object of the verb acts, while the subject is affected by the action.

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