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In syntax, a promotion is a change of grammatical relations (or a valency change) by which an argument comes to assume a higher-ranking position on a grammatical relations hierarchy. The opposite of a promotion in this sense is a demotion. Promotion is what happens if an object (or internal argument) becomes the subject (or external argument) with all the usual properties of subjects due to some morphological or syntactic operation.

""Promotion" will here be used to refer to a change in the syntactic status of an NP such that it becomes accessible to one or more grammatical processes which it could not otherwise undergo, for example, relativization." (Van Valin 1980:316)


The best-known example of a promotion is the change of object to subject in a passive construction.

If we form the passive of break (= broken), the object (or internal argument) is promoted to become the subject:

(i)  he broke the vase
(ii) the vase was broken


The term was widespread in quasi-generative and typological work of the 1970s and 1980s. It was never used in narrowly Chomskyan work, and the technical term of relational grammar is advancement.


Utrecht Lexicon of Linguistics


  • Spencer, A. 1991. Morphological Theory, Blackwell, Oxford.
  • Van Valin, Robert D., Jr. 1980. On the distribution of passive and antipassive constructions in universal grammar. Lingua 50: 303-327.
  • Williams, E. 1981b. Argument Structure and Morphology, The Linguistic Review 1, pp. 81-114