In English, nominalized verbs have only one form regardless of the thematic relation of its possessor:

  1. The robot's destruction (of the city) terrified authorities.
  2. The robot's destruction (by the authorities) saddened its creator.

In (1), the robot is the agent whereas in (2), it is the patient.

Are there any languages in which the nominalized verb has different forms depending on the thematic relation of its possessor? That would seem like a very useful distinction to be able to make.

  • 2
    I don't think it's the form of the nominalised verb that indicates the thematic relation. It's the preposition/case of the phrase with robot. (I won't call it its possesor because that is specific to one case.) For example in Spanish de vs por, or in German genitive vs durch. In your English examples, of and by imply that robot has the other relation. May 21, 2018 at 14:29
  • My rough generalisation says that other SAE languages very strongly prefer interpretation 2 (when using genitive or a preposition like of or a possessive pronoun). May 21, 2018 at 14:41
  • The data arguably confirm. Web searches for "su destrucción de la ciudad" "seine zerstörung der stadt" and "ihre zerstörung der stadt" yield even less than for English "his destruction of the city" and "their destruction of the city". May 21, 2018 at 14:41
  • 1
    The closest to what you imagined with verb form that occurs to me would be Armenian "the your destroyed" meaning "that which was destroyed by you" as opposed to "the your destruction". May 21, 2018 at 14:45
  • So we could re-phrase this question as "Are there any languages besides English in which the nominalized verb phrase can have the same form independent of the thematic relation of its possessor?" May 21, 2018 at 14:47

1 Answer 1


EDIT: Re-reading your question, I've just realised you were looking for a difference on the nominalised word itself, not in the syntax of the links to the subject and object of the action, but I'll leave my answer as it's potentially interesting.

Māori marks a distinction on nominalisations of transitive verbs. I'll show the non-nominalised active and passive sentences first.

Accusative objects are marked by the preposition i. Agents of passive verbs are marked by the preposition e ("by"). Passive verbs are formed from active verbs through the addition of a suffix of the form -(C)(i)a (although there are a few that do not quite fit this pattern, such as -ina). Dictionaries list one or more passive suffixes after transitive verbs.

(1) Active:
kua patu ngā    tamariki i   te     kurī
PRF beat DEF.PL children ACC DEF.SG dog 
"The children have beaten the dog."

(2) Passive:
kua patu-a    te     kurī e  ngā    tamariki
PRF beat-PASS DEF.SG dog  AG DEF.PL children
"The dog has been beaten by the children."

Both patu and patua become nominalised as patunga. Which one's meaning is supplied to the nominalisation is indicated by the type of possession, as well as the particle used to indicate the other argument, if present.

Māori and other Polynesian languages make a distinction in possessives between what can broadly be regarded as inalienable or subordinate possession, marked with a and alienable or dominant possession, marked with o.

(Which one is used in which case can be highly idiomatic, which is probably the reason why they're usually simply referred to as a-possession and o-possession. For instance, all food and drink is possessed with a, except wai (water), which is possessed with o (but NOT words for other beverages that happen to have wai as their head, such as waireka "fruit juice"). Pets and other animals take a-possessors unless the animal is used for conveyance, so tāku kau "my cow", but tōku hōiho "my horse". I will gloss them as AL and INAL here just as a reminder, since you can see the thematic vowel anyway.)

In nominalisations of transitive verbs, what would be an active subject (agent) in a sentence, is indicated by a-possession. What would be a passive subject (patient) is indicated by o-possession.

(3) Nominalisation of active sentence:
te     patu-nga  a  ngā    tamariki i   te     kurī
DEF.SG beat-NMLZ AL DEF.PL children ACC DEF.SG dog
"the children's beating (of) the dog"

(4) Nominalisation of passive sentence:
te     patu-nga  o    te     kurī e  ngā    tamariki
DEF.SG beat-NMLZ INAL DEF.SG dog  AG DEF.PL children
"the dog's beating/being beaten by the children"

In nominalisations from other verb types (intransitive verbs, experience (or middle) and statives (or neuter verbs)), the role of the subject is indicated by o-possession. It's only the subject of an active, transitive verb that is indicated by a-possession in a nominalisation.

(5) Nominalisation of an intransitive verb:
te     tae-nga     o    ngā    tamariki 
DEF.SG arrive-NMLZ INAL DEF.PL children
"the children's arrival"

The examples (3) and (4) are from Harlow, R. (1996). Māori. Lincom Europa (ISBN: 3-89586-120-0). All other examples are my own.

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