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An applicative is a derived verb stem denoting an action with an additional participant which is not an actor-like argument. If the non-applicative verb is already transitive the old direct object can be replaced by the new argument and is then pushed into an adjunct or secondary object position.


German (with replacement of the direct object):

Horst be-läd-t den Wagen mit Heu
PN APPL-load-3s trolley with hay
‘Horst loads hay on the trolley.’

Hakha Lai (Peterson 2002) (without replacement):

ʔa-law ʔa-kan-thloʔ-taak
3s.POSS-field 3s.A-1p.P-hoe-RELINQUITIVE.APPL
‘He left us and hoed his field.’


Many languages with applicative constructions have different applicative morphemes depending on the former role of the attached argument. Hakha Lai, for instance, has different suffixes for Comitative, Instrumental, Allative/Malefactive, Benefactive/Malefactive, Additional Benefactive, Prioritive and Relinquitive.


The name “applicative” is of Latin origin (applicātum ‘attached’). The first linguistic researchers who made use of this term in today’s sense were missionaries in Meso America in the 17th century. They found applicative constructions in some Uto-Aztecan languages and called them verbos applicativos.

See also


  • Bußmann, Hadumod (2002) Lexikon der Sprachwissenschaft. Stuttgart: Kröner. ISBN 3-520-45203-0.
  • Peterson, David A. (2002) Applicatives (extended version of the PhD dissertation). Will probably be published in 2006.

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