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Demotion is the phenomenon that a subject (or external argument) becomes an optional oblique phrase or adjunct due to some morphological or syntactic operation.


if we form the passive of break (= broken), the subject (or external argument) is demoted to become an adjunct (= the by-phrase):

(i)  Tom broke the vase
(ii) The vase was broken (by Tom)


Utrecht Lexicon of Linguistics


  • Marantz, A. 1984. On the Nature of Grammatical Relations, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press.
  • Spencer, A. 1991. Morphological Theory, Blackwell, Oxford.
  • Williams, E. 1981b. Argument Structure and Morphology, The Linguistic Review 1, pp. 81-114