Animacy

Adult human/lightning > infant/big animal > medium-sized animal > small animal > natural force > abstraction

Sentence (3), however, sounds wrong to most Navajo speakers because the less animate noun occurs before the more animate noun:

In order to express that idea, the more animate noun must occur first, as in sentence (4):

There is evidence suggesting that the word order itself is not the important factor. Instead, the verb construction usually interpreted as the passive voice (e.g. "the girl was pecked by the bird") instead indicates that the more animate noun allowed the less animate noun to perform the action (e.g. "the girl let herself be pecked by the bird"). The idea is that things ranked higher in animacy are presumed to be in control of the situation, and that the less-animate thing can only act if the more-animate thing permits it.

In their plural forms, nouns of all genders may distinguish the categories of animate vs. inanimate by that syncretism, but only masculine nouns of the first declension (and their modifiers) show it in the singular (Frarie 1992:12), and other declensions and genders of nouns "restrict (morphological) expression of animacy to the plural" (Frarie 1992:47).

Animacy occurs as a subgender of nouns and modifiers (and pronouns only when adjectival) and is primarily reflected in modifier-head agreement (as opposed to subject-predicate agreement).

Likewise, less animate participants are inherently more patient-like, and take ergative marking: unmarked when in the patient role and marked when in the agent role. The hierarchy of animacy generally, but not always, is ordered:

The location of the split (the line which divides the inherently agentive participants from the inherently patientive participants) varies from language to language, and, in many cases, the two classes overlap, with a class of nouns near the middle of the hierarchy being marked for both the agent and patient roles.