The verb in a language like English can inflect for person, for example:

I see the cat > he sees the cat

and the verb can inflect for tense:

I see the cat > I saw the cat

But do any languages inflect for the singular/plural aspect of the object? i.e. is there a language where the verb 'to see' would be different in the two contexts 'I see the cat' and `I see the cats'

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    Note that many languages do this with past participles, like French je les ai vu(e)s. // And does agglutination count as inflexion?
    – Cerberus
    Nov 25, 2012 at 15:18
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    Velupillai 2012 mentions that "those of us mostly used to Western European languages might assume that verbal affixes only say anything about the 'subject', the A argument in transitive clauses. However, it is actually much more common to mark both the A and P of transitive clauses on the verb" (p. 249; emphasis mine - Alex B.). See Siewierska 2011 for further details wals.info/chapter/102
    – Alex B.
    Nov 25, 2012 at 19:15
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    @AlexB, thanks for the link. The fact that Spanish is in the "Both A&P" group, but French in the "Only A" group makes me suspect that the definitions are quite fuzzy.
    – dainichi
    Nov 26, 2012 at 2:45
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    @AlexB., and there isn't in Spanish either. But I suspect they're putting Spanish in the A&P group because the object pronouns are sometimes written together with the verb, as in decirlo ((to) say it) dilo (say it!) etc. But French has that to some extent as well (dis-moi), so the distinction seems rather arbitrary.
    – dainichi
    Nov 26, 2012 at 9:55
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    @Cerberus Also Italian: "Le ho viste/li ho visti". :)
    – Alenanno
    Nov 26, 2012 at 18:52

3 Answers 3



Biblical Hebrew has object suffixes which distinguish the person, gender and number of the object. Example (from the Shema:)

ושננתם (veshinantam) "and you shall chew them over",

('ve-shinan-ta-m': "and shall-chew-over you them")

Georgian has a set of prefixes and suffixes which combine to show the person and number of the subject and object For example:

ხედავ (khedav) "you see it"; მხედავ (mkhedav) "you see me"; გვხედავ (gvkhedav) "you see us".

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    Likewise, Swahili, typically for Bantu languages, has verbs marked for agreement with subject and direct object in number and gender (where "gender" refers to Noun Classes, not sex). And of course any number of languages allow cliticized objects both singular and plural, like je t'aime, je vous aime, etc.
    – jlawler
    Nov 25, 2012 at 18:57
  • I am not sure the Hebrew here is the best example of what the OP is asking. It can easily be perceived simply as a contraction of the verb and the object pronoun. Maybe this is an unimportant distinction, but just as I would not consider "sic'm" (sic him/them) or "get'r done" (get her done) to be marking the gender and number of the object of the verb, I am a little reluctant to accept veshinantam as doing so. I am open to discussion and changing my mind, however. :)
    – Mark D
    Dec 15, 2012 at 0:36
  • I agree that these suffixes are reduced forms of the pronouns; but it is generally reckoned that all personal inflections probably have their origin in bound pronouns.
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 15, 2012 at 0:45

I'm going to read your question strictly as "Are there languages that agree with their objects only with respect to plurality?" There are some cool examples of this. For instance, Classical Nahuatl usually has full agreement with both object and subject for both person and number. In ditansitive verbs, though, we cannot have full agreement with all three arguments. Instead, the verb agrees for number and person with the subject and indirect object and there is a suffix -im, which agrees with plural animate direct objects.

Xi-nech-im-maca huehuexolo.

2Ssg-1Osg-PL-give turkey

"Give me some turkeys."

If huehuexolo were singular or inanimate, -im would not appear. See The Syntax of Agreement and Concord by Mark Baker for more on this kind of phenomenon, which he calls two-and-a-half agreement because you can agree with two arguments and part of a third.

WARNING: The Nahuatl is missing some crucial diacritics that I do not know how to represent on the web.

  • Try finding and pasting the missing diacritics from pages like these by Alan Wood: a b c d e f g h Dec 17, 2012 at 2:36

Like Nahuatl, Dakota verbs agree with both the subject and object of a sentence (sometimes the indirect object, if it is animate and the direct object is not)

Hokṡída kiƞ mázaska wa-k’ú. "I gave the boy money"

boy det money 1Ssg.give

Hokṡída kiƞ mázaska wic̣á-wa-k’u "I gave the boys money"

boy det money 3Oanim-pl.1Ssg.give

mázaska ma-yá-k’u "You gave me money"

money 1Osg.2Ssg.give

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