What is the name used to refer to the subset of particles (or prepositions) which mark sentence's arguments/complements in a language?

For example, suppose that the prepositions sub, dir, and ind were used in English to mark the subject, the direct object and the indirect object of a sentence, respectively; so the phrase "Paul gave his wife a necklace" would be "Gave sub Paul ind his wife dir a necklace". What would be the name of this particular subset of function words?

Another example, in Tahitian, is for the sentence "Maria have bought/traded this car". It is a VSO language, I am using the symbol "∅" to indicate the absence of particle/preposition.

  • Active form: 'Ua ho'o ∅ Maria i teienei va'a.
  • Passive form: 'Ua ho'ona ∅ teienei va'a e Maria.

In the active predicate 'ua ho'o (to have bought), the agent argument Maria isn't marked (it is the zero-argument, marked with no particle), but the patient argument teienei va'a (this car) is marked with the "patient particle" i.
In the passive predicate 'ua ho'ona (to have been bought), the patient argument teienei va'a isn't marked (it is the zero-argument), but the agent argument is marked with the "agent particle" e.

These particles "i, e" (and others, in the case of more complex predicates) are members of the lexical class of the "argument markers", whose name I'm looking for.

The closest I have found is complementizer, but it is used to refer to particles which make a dependent clause into another sentence's argument (e.g., "I hope that it works.")

  • 4
    Be very careful when talking about "subject", "passive", and "transitive", among other topics, about Austronesian languages. In many of them, there is a three-part distinction between transitive, agent-oriented intransitive, and patient-oriented intransitive, and "passive" has rather strange meanings. These are often mediated by verbal markers (particles, whatever) that can get attached to various kinds of words, depending on the languages. There's a discussion of the topic in this review of Durie's Acehnese grammar.
    – jlawler
    Nov 9, 2017 at 23:54
  • Why do you not want to consider them as grammatical case ? i = accusative case, e = oblique case
    – amegnun
    Sep 6, 2018 at 10:12

1 Answer 1


They would normally be called case markers. They could be affixes or clitics, depending on how they would be used for multi-word noun phrases. That they would be written as separate words is irrelevant to their syntactic status.

  • 2
    The way they're written may be irrelevant, but I have the impression that things that linguists describe as "particles" or "adpositions", if those are accurate descriptions, generally aren't easily analyzable as affixes (otherwise they would just be called "affixes"). "Clitic" seems likely, but adpositions are very commonly clitics: the words are not mutually exclusive. In any case, can't the term "case markers" also apply to things like genitive markers or locative markers, that are used for adjuncts rather than verb arguments/complements? Maybe "core case markers" is closer Oct 8, 2017 at 3:18
  • 2
    @sumelic Yeah these ones are core case markers, but that's a sub category, and if the OP wasn't aware of the idea of case I didn't want to make it too confusing. Adpositions often/usually are clitics yes. When I said it was irrelevant I was thinking of languages like Vietnamese which write each morpheme as a separate word. If the OP invents this new language they can write the case markers as separate words but they would probably still be affixes or clitics.
    – curiousdannii
    Oct 8, 2017 at 3:48
  • 1
    I know what case is. It's not for a conlang. I am studying about Malayo-Polynesian languages, and in most of them, each argument of a predicate is marked (or not marked at all) by a preposition (or by a "particle", as most grammars say), depending on the type of predicate. The term "particle" for me is kinda vague and an umbrella for any non-lexical word.
    – Seninha
    Oct 8, 2017 at 23:07
  • @Seninha It would help to put the actual language in the question so that we can talk about it rather than a made up version of English.
    – curiousdannii
    Oct 8, 2017 at 23:26
  • @curiousdannii Done.
    – Seninha
    Oct 9, 2017 at 18:18

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