Applicative voice

The applicative voice (abbreviated APL or APPL) is a grammatical voice that promotes an oblique argument of a verb to the (core) object argument, and indicates the oblique role within the meaning of the verb. When the applicative voice is applied to a verb, its valency may be increased by one. Many languages have dedicated morphology (commonly several affixes), for applicative uses. This is common in the world's languages, particularly in highly agglutinative languages, such as the Bantu languages, Nuxalk, Ubykh, and Ainu.


Prototypically, applicatives apply to intransitive verbs.[1]:xxvii They can also be called "advancements" or "object promotion", because they bring a peripheral object to the center as a direct object. This object is sometimes called the applied object. For transitive verbs, the resulting verb can be ditransitive, or the original object is no longer expressed. If the original object is no longer expressed, it is not a valency-increasing operation[2]:186–7

Multiple applicatives

A language may have multiple applicatives, each corresponding to such different roles as comitative, locative, instrumental, and benefactive. Sometimes various applicatives will be expressed by the same morphological exponence, such as in the Bantu language Chewa, where the suffix -ir- forms both instrumental and locative applicatives. Some languages, such as Luganda, permit a 'second applicative' (known in Luganda as the "augmentive applied"), formed by a double application of the suffix. In this case the second applicative is used to give an alternative meaning.

Applicatives may also be the only way of expressing such roles, as in the Bantu Chaga languages, where instrumental, benefactive, malefactive, and locative are formed solely by applicatives. In other languages applicatives coexist with other methods of expressing said roles. In these languages applicatives are often used to bring a normally oblique argument into special focus, or as in Nez Percé, to keep humans as core arguments.

Similar processes

Applicatives have a degree of overlap with causatives, and in some languages the two are realized identically.[3] While differing from true applicatives, a similar construction known as dative shifting occurs in other languages, including English. Also, the benefactive case is commonly expressed by means of an applicative.



English does not have a dedicated applicative prefix or suffix. However, prepositions can be compounded with verbs for an applicative effect. For example, from

the intransitive verb ran can be made transitive, and the oblique noun giant the object:

The applicative verb can be made passive, something which is not possible with ran:

However, creating verbs with new meanings are not necessarily the same as applicative marking in languages like Chamorro.[4]


Swahili has an applicative suffix -i or -e which appears before the last vowel of the verb. From andika 'to write', we get transitive

and ditransitive

Similarly, from soma 'to read',

These are sometimes called 'prepositional' forms of the verb because they are translated into English using prepositions: cry for, pray for, eat with, enjoy (be happy about), arrive at, sing to, sell to, send to, open (the door) for, reckon with, see for (himself), die at. However, this name is inaccurate for Swahili, which doesn't use prepositions for such purposes.


Yagua is one language that has dedicated morphology for applicative uses. Here, the applicative suffix -ta shows that the locative or instrumental oblique is now a direct object:[2]:187

(a.) sa-duu rá-viimú
3SG-blow INAN-into
"He blows into it." (valence = 1)
(b.) sa-duu--ra
"He blows it." (valence = 2)

This same -ta suffix can be used with transitive verbs to create ditransitives:

(c.) sį-įchití-rya javanu quiichi-tya
3SG-poke-INAN:OBJ meat knife-INST
"He poked the meat with the knife." (valence = 2)
(d.) sį-įchití-tya-ra quiichiy
3SG-poke-TA-INAN:OBJ knife
"He poked something with the knife." (valence = 3)

These behave identically as other lexical ditransitives, such as give and send in this language.


  1. Dixon, R.M.W. & Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald (eds) (1999). The Amazonian Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  2. 1 2 Payne, Thomas E. (1997). Describing morphosyntax: A guide for field linguists. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 186–91.
  3. Shibatani, Masayoshi & Prashant Pardeshi. (2002). "The causative continuum." In Masayoshi Shibatani (ed.), The Grammar of Causation and Interpersonal Manipulation. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. pp. 85-126.
  4. (Grondona, 2016)

Further reading

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