On agreement and its relationship to case: Some generative ideas and results

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This article surveys some leading generative ideas about agreement and case, and connects them to several universal and near-universal observations noted by typologists. It begins with the familiar fact that adjectives can agree with noun phrases in number and gender but not in person, whereas verbs can agree in person as well-depending on the structure. From there it moves to the fact that verbs typically do not agree with their objects unless they also agree with their subjects. Several possible types of agreement with objects are then identified and distinguished, and some substantive similarities between object agreement and subject agreement are noted. It is shown that both subject agreement and object agreement are sensitive to the case morphology borne by the noun phrase (dative versus accusative, ergative versus nominative) in some languages but not in others, and the implications of this result for the assignment of case are considered. In all, the discussion covers four known linguistic universals in the area of agreement and case, and proposes three new ones. These are all explained in terms of two universal properties of the agreement relation and one parameter.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14-32
Number of pages19
StatePublished - Jun 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


  • Agreement
  • Generative grammar
  • Linguistic universals
  • Morphological case
  • Typology


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