I'm working on a language with nominal tense–aspect–mood (TAM), i.e. inflecting nouns instead of verbs. So, a sentence like "the woman sees the man", could be roughly translated to something like "the womans see the man".

This type of sentence shows an ergative-absolutive morphosyntactic alignment: the subject of a transitive sentence is marked (ergative case), while the direct object is unmarked (absolutive case).

I also like the idea of removing verbs as a class (since tense, aspect and mood can be expressed by the subject) and "reclassify" those words as nouns. So "the womans see the man" could actually mean something like "the woman makes sight of the man", in the sense of "making eye contact". In other words, having ungrammaticalized verbs.

Then, the actual translation for "the woman sees the man" would be "the womans sight the man". And that's the problem: "sight" and "man" are both unmarked nouns, leading to misinterpretation.

So my question is: does the language need a marking for the direct object (accusative case), having then a tripartite alignment? Or can I simply get away with only TAM marking (absolutive case) and no markings for verbs or direct objects?

I have the feeling that I'm forgetting something. I think that the idea of "not having verbs" makes sense to me, since many languages like English, French or Spanish actually lack of inflections and employ only word order, but I might be wrong.

What do you think? Thanks!

  • But makes is a verb, and not a typical ungrammaticalised one.
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 10, 2019 at 22:19
  • @curiousdannii The woman makes here is more like an interpretation. The actual translation would take only one word, as the word "makes" comprises both tense and person.
    – MoholyNagy
    Mar 12, 2019 at 21:38
  • Well then you need to edit this to explain more clearly.
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 12, 2019 at 21:41

2 Answers 2


In your example:

Then, the actual translation for "the woman sees the man" would be "the womans sight the man". And that's the problem: "sight" and "man" are both unmarked nouns, leading to misinterpretation.

...sight is a verb.

In order to have a verbless phrase, you'd want something like "the man within the woman's sight", making it clear you're using the noun "sight" and not the verb "sight".

However, and I've seen this pointed out, if you end up needing particular constructions in order to indicate actions, all you're doing is making an overly complicated verb.

  • I know it's hard to actually grasp the meaning of what I want to express using English words instead of the lexicon of my language (which I don't have yet). Of course in English you can use more or less any word as a verb, if placed in a certain order and interpreted as so. Not so much in many other languages where verbs present a typical form (-er/ir, in French, -en in German, -i in Esperanto...). So, in a certain way, English kind of "needs particular constructions in order to indicate actions".
    – MoholyNagy
    Mar 12, 2019 at 21:47

Maybe you're using nouns as instrumentals... so can you have noun cases, i.e. an instrumental case to distinguish whether a noun is the Object versus the Instrument?

And, I'm not sure that that necessarily makes the Instrumental Noun just a complicated verb.


"Woman's (focus?) [is] on the Man via (her) Eye".

With a fixed word order, no case markings are needed.

Or TAM could potentially mark the subject. Instrumentals could be chained after the object, making them feel just a bit like adjectives or adverbs or something.

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