Agreement Class

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Agreement Class


(1) A group into which nouns and corresponding pronouns are divided in some languages. The division is determined by the manner in which such words as adjectives and verbs, which are capable of agreement, agree with the nouns and pronouns in the given phrase. Nouns belong to the same agreement class only if replacement of one of them by another in the same grammatical form causes no change in the external form of any word that agreed with the replaced noun.

The Russian words dom (“house”), zavod (“factory”), and dub (“oak tree”) belong to the same agreement class: compare moidom, zavod, dub (“my house, factory, oak tree”) and moego doma, zavoda, duba (“of my house, factory, oak tree”). However, the words dom, ten’ (“shadow”), and pero (“pen”) belong to different agreement classes; compare moi dom, moia ten (“my shadow”), moe pero (“my pen”) or dom byl (“the house was”), ten byla (“the shadow was”), pero bylo (“the pen was”). Other examples are Swahili mtu yule (“that person”), mkate ule (“that bread”), tunda lile (“that fruit”), chuo kile (“that book”), nyoka He (“that snake”).

Agreement class systems generally develop from such primary semantic classifications as animate-inanimate, human-nonhuman, sex, size, or shape; these classifications become more or less obscured with the passage of time. Agreement classes are found in most Indo-European, Hamito-Semitic, and Dravidian languages, in which agreement classes or groups of agreement classes are generally called grammatical genders. Agreement classes are also found in Bantu and in some Caucasian and Paleo-Asiatic languages; in these languages they are often called noun classes. Agreement classes do not exist in many languages, including the Turkic and Finno-Ugric languages and English, Armenian, and Persian.

Agreement class systems generally contain two to eight agreement classes, and occasionally more. In some languages, including the Slavic languages, Rumanian, and Italian, the agreement classes do not coincide with the traditional genders. For example, in Russian there is an animate-inanimate agreement class within each gender: compare vizhu etogo iunoshu (“I see this young person” )-vizhu etot dom (“I see this house”); vizhu etikh ovets (“I see these sheep”)-vizhu eti teni (“I see these shadows”); vizhu etikh chudovishch (“I see these monsters”)-V(’z/iM eti per’ia (“I see these pens”).

In many languages, members of different agreement classes are also distinguished morphologically by means of special affixes or declensional types. However, such morphological distinctions are often inconsistent or poorly represented, as in German, or are completely lacking, as in French.

(2) A classificatory grammatical category of nouns and corresponding pronouns that is formed by the contrast of an agreement class in the first meaning of the term. An agreement class may also be an inflectional grammatical category of adjectives and other modifiers. This category is based on the contrast of forms corresponding to different agreement classes. Examples are Russian moi, moia, moe (“my”) and Swahili yule, ule, lile, kile, He.


Kuznetsov, P. S. O printsipakh izucheniia grammatiki. Moscow, 1961.
Zalizniak, A. A. Russkoe imennoe slovoizmenenie. Moscow, 1967. Pages 62–82.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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