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The Syntax of Root Clauses (4)

More on argument / adjunct

Q: Do we use the distinction argument / adjunct only in
relation to verbs?
A: No. Nouns, prepositions, adjectives may also have
arguments. Consider the following:
(1) their termination of the contract
(2) The mouse sat in the corner.
(3) Good weather has set in.
(4) They are not partial to blondes.

More on argument / adjunct

Event nominals like termination need an object
(realized as a PP, the contract, in our example) and may
also have a subject.
Prepositions express a relation between a Figure and a
Ground, i.e. the Figure is the object to be located
somewhere and the Ground represents the location itself
in space or time. In our example, the Figure is the
mouse and the Ground is the corner.

More on argument / adjunct

Adjectives denote properties, i.e. shape, size, color,
material, nationality, etc.
Adjectives may have their own objects (which are
always realized as PPs, just like the objects of nouns
and unlike the objects of verbs). In our example, the
adjective has an object, blondes.
Q: Do you know of other adjectives that need objects?

Predicates and Arguments


Our Head of Department devoured the bagel.

So far, we have analyzed sentences in terms of (i) form

(i.e. NPs, VPs, etc) and (ii) grammatical function (i.e.
subject, direct object, etc.)
We can also look at sentences from a different point. We
can say that a verb like devour cannot form a sentence
on its own, it needs a minimal set of other elements.
Check it for yourselves!

Predicates and Arguments


a. *Our Head of Department devoured.

b. *Devoured the bagel.

We refer to those elements that require the presence of

participants by the term predicate. Note that predicate
in this sense does not have to do with the grammatical
function. It has to do with meaning.
We refer to the participants required by a predicate by
the term argument.

Predicates and Arguments


Henry tripped.
The police investigated the allegation.
The terrorist gave the marshal a package.
John bet Henry ten pounds that he would lose.

Monadic predicates / one place predicates

Trip is a predicate that needs only one argument for the
sentence to be well-formed. It needs a subject.
Q: Can you give more examples of monadic predicates?

Predicates and Arguments

Dyadic predicates / two place predicates
Investigate is a predicate that needs two arguments. It
needs a subject and a direct object.
Q: Can you give more examples of dyadic predicates?
Triadic predicates / three place predicates
Give is a predicates that needs three arguments. It needs
a subject, a direct object and an indirect object.
Q: Can you give more examples of triadic predicates?

Predicates and Arguments

Quite rarely, we may come across a sentence with four
The arguments that are inside of the VP (direct, indirect,
prepositional objects) are the internal arguments.
The argument that precedes the VP (the subject) is the
external argument.

Predicates and Arguments

Note that a sentence brings together the syntactic side
(intransitive, transitive, ditransitive verbs) with the
semantic side (one place, two place, three place
predicates). Semantically, we can represent predicates
and their arguments in terms of the notation of predicate
(11) T (h)
(12) I (p, a)
(13) G (t, m, p)
(14) B (j, h, p, clause)

Predicates and Arguments

In the predicate logic notation, the verb is represented
by a capital letter and the arguments by upper-case
If we use this kind of notation, we cannot specify how
which argument is realized, i.e. we cant say what sort
of phrases go with the predicate.
We also have the option of replacing the predicate logic
notation with the notation of argument structure (astructure).

Predicates and Arguments

(15) a. smile (verb)
b. [1 <NP>]
(16) a. investigate (verb)
b. [1 <NP>, 2 <NP>]
(17) a. give (verb)
b. [1 <NP>, 2 (<NP>), 3 <NP>]
(18) a. bet (verb)
b. [1 <NP>, 2 <NP>, 3 <NP>, 4 clause]

Predicates and Arguments

Note two details:
(i)We have underlined the subject in the argument
(ii)We have used brackets for arguments that may be
implicit (the indirect object in (17))
(19) The man is so boring! He always gives me advice.
(20) The man is so boring! He always gives advice.
!! An implicit argument does not mean an absent

Thematic Roles
Arguments are participants in what one linguist has
called the little drama that a proposition expresses. To
be a participant in a drama you must be playing a role.
(Aarts 2001, p. 94)
Q: To be more precise, what roles are we talking about?
A: We have already seen that subjects are associated
with Agents and direct objects with Patients.
There are other roles, though.

Thematic Roles
AGENT: the person or entity that initiates the event
denoted by the predicate.
PATIENT: the person or entity that is affected by the
THEME: the person or entity that is moved by the

Thematic Roles
EXPERIENCER: the person that experiences a
certain psychological state of mind denoted by the
BENEFICIARY: the person or entity that benefits
from the event denoted by the predicate.
GOAL: the entity towards which an activity is

Thematic Roles
SOURCE: the entity from which an entity is moved.
LOCATION: the place in which the event denoted by
the predicate takes place.
INSTRUMENT: the means by which the event
denoted by the verb is carried out.

Thematic Roles
(21) The clerk delivered the bribe to the high official.
(Agent: clerk / Theme: bribe / Beneficiary: high official)
(22) John sent the letter to the wrong address.
(Agent: John / Theme: the letter / Goal: the wrong
(23) John was unusually dejected.
(Experiencer: John)

Thematic Roles
(24) The man felt pangs of remorse.
(Experiencer: the man)
(25) The clerk took the car from the business man.
(Agent: the clerk, Theme: the car, Source: the man)
(26) The parcel travelled from London to Rome.
(Theme: the parcel, Source: from London, Goal: to
(27) Many strawberry pickers live in Spain.
(Experiencer: pickers, Location: in Spain)

Thematic Roles
(28) The kid rolled the ball to the frisky dog.
(Agent: the kid, Theme: the ball, Goal: the frisky dog)
(29) The ball rolled to the frisky dog.
(Theme: the ball, Goal: the frisky dog)
Now we can complete the argument structure of a verb
with its corresponding thematic structure.

Thematic Roles
(30) a. smile (verb)
b. [1 <NP, Ag>]
(31) a. investigate (verb)
b. [1 <NP, Ag>, 2 <NP, Th>]
(32) a. give (verb)
b. [1 <NP, Ag>, 2 (<NP, Ben>), 3 <NP, Th>]
(33) a. bet (verb)
b. [1 <NP, Ag>, 2 <NP, Goal>, 3 <NP, Patient>, 4
clause, Proposition]

Thematic Roles

The representations in (30) (33) instantiate the

knowledge that we have about lexical items. The locus
of this knowledge is the lexicon, the mental vocabulary
of English that we have as second language learners of
this language.

Thematic Roles and Adjuncts

(34) Yesterday, the Head of Department greedily
devoured three bagels.
The underlined constituents are a time adverbial and a
manner adverbial.
Q: Can we say that these two adverbials refer to
participants in the event of devouring?
A: No. Adjuncts are not part of the argument structure
and thematic structure of a predicate.

Thematic Roles and Expletives

(35) It always rains in London.
(36) There were three kittens on the stove.
Impersonal / weather non-referential it and existential
there do not denote entities in the extra-linguistic world.
Consequently, they carry no thematic role. They are
purely formal subjects.
(37) The kittens stood there.
Locative there has a denotation. It instantiates the
thematic role of Location.

Thematic Roles and Auxiliary Verbs

Unlike lexical verbs, auxiliary verbs do not assign / give
thematic roles to arguments.
Q: How do we knows this?
(38) The prime minister defends his cronies.
The verb defends is a dyadic predicate that assigns the
Agent and Patient role to its arguments:
(39) [1 <NP, Ag>, 2 <NP, Pat>]

Thematic Roles and Auxiliary Verbs

(40) The prime minister has defended his cronies.
This sentence contains the perfective auxiliary have.
The sentence involves two participants, the Agent and
the Patient.
These thematic roles come from the lexical verb,
If the auxiliary had thematic roles to assign, we would
have other roles in this sentence than Ag, Pat. We do not
have any such thing.

Thematic Roles and Auxiliary Verbs

Q: Okay, auxiliary verbs such as progressive be,
perfective have and dummy do do not assign
thematic roles. What about modal auxiliaries?
A: Modal auxiliaries carry residual meaning.
(41) I will do whatever I like.
(42) Matt can read peoples minds.
(43) You must keep your promise.

Thematic Roles and Auxiliary Verbs

will refers to strong volition, can refers to ability, must
has to do with obligation.

One might say that modal auxiliaries do assign thematic

roles. Let us call them adjunct theta roles to keep them
apart from the roles assigned by the lexical verb.

What do we need thematic roles for?

Consider the following sentences from Aarts 2001, p.

David smashed the window.

The window was smashed by David.
A brick smashed the window.
David used a brick to smash the window.

What do we need thematic roles for?

David in (44), (45) and (47) is the Agent, the one who
initiates the event denoted by the verb.
However, this Agent is realized differently:
as a subject (in (44) and (47))
(ii) as the complement of a preposition (in (45))
Q: What does this mean?
A: It means that there is no one-to-one correspondence
between thematic roles and grammatical functions.
We can check this observation further.

What do we need thematic roles for?

The window in (44) (47) is the Patient, the entity that
is affected by the event denoted by the verb.
However, this Patient is realized differently:
as a subject (in (45))
(ii) as a direct object (in (44), (46) and (47))
The brick is the Instrument in (46) and (47)
The Instrument gets realized differently:
as a subject (in (46))
(ii) as a direct object (in (47))

What do we need thematic roles for?

We need thematic roles because we cannot say that we
have one-to-one correspondence between these roles
and grammatical functions.
We also need thematic roles to explain the semantic
restrictions that verbs impose on their arguments.

What do we need thematic roles for?

(48) The keyboard designed some clothes.
(49) The stapler took a break.
These sentences are syntactically well-formed, but
semantically odd. We can capture this semantic oddity if
we say that a verb like design needs an Agent subject.
Agents are typically animate entities.

Wrapping up thematic roles

Let us take stock on thematic roles.
Thematic roles are assigned to the arguments of the
verb. Each argument of the verb, in its turn, realizes a
grammatical function (subject, direct object, etc.)
Thematic roles do not go to the adjuncts of the verb.
Adjuncts realize grammatical functions, though.
Sentences can be described at the functional level
(subject, direct object, etc.), the form level (NP, VP,
etc.) and the thematic level (Agent, Patient, etc.)

Argumenthood Tests. Meaning.

If we want to determiner the number of arguments that a
predicate has, we must consider the meaning of the verb
and figure out the participants that are involved in the
event or the state denoted by the verb.
(50) The DA believed the story of the defendant.
We know intuitively that believe requires the presence of
some sentient being who is the believer (subject) and a
proposition that represents what is being believed (direct
object). The subject is the Experiencer, the direct object
is the Patient.

Argumenthood Tests. Meaning

All the arguments of a predicate must be in a thematic

role relationship with the respective predicate.
Information about arguments and thematic role is to be
found in the mental lexicon!

Argumenthood Tests. Dummy

Q: Could we say that dummy it and there are arguments
of the verb?
A: We know that dummy lexical items are called so
because they have no semantic content. Absence of
semantic content ties in with absence of a thematic role.
If a lexical item has no thematic role, it cant be an
(51) There are some questions about this matter.
some questions = argument of be

Argumenthood Tests. Idiom

Idiom = expressions with fixed meaning. The overall
meaning of the idiom cannot be inferred from the
constituents that make up the idiom.
(52) The coast is clear.
(52) means that there is no danger any more. We cant
infer this meaning from joining together the NP the coast
and the VP be clear.
Idiomatic subjects (or objects) dont have a thematic role
relationship to the verb. They are not proper arguments of
the verb.

The VP-Internal Hypothesis

We know that verbs give a thematic role to their objects.
Where do the thematic roles of subjects come from?
Consider the following pair of VPs (from Marantz
(53) a.

throw a ball
throw a fit

Now let us use these VPs in sentences of our own.

The VP-Internal Hypothesis

(54) a. Marys boyfriend threw the ball.
b. Marys boyfriend threw a fit.
Q: What is subject thematic role in (54a)?
A: The subject is an Agent.
Q: What is the subject thematic role in (54b)?
A: The subject is a Patient.

The VP-Internal Hypothesis

We conclude from (53) and (54) that the thematic role
of the subject does not come from the verb alone, but
from the combination verb + object of the verb.
Thematic role assignment to the subject happens when
the subject must be inside the VP, i.e. when it occupies
the specifier position of the VP.
This implies that the subject starts out inside the VP and
then it moves in pre-verbal position. This is the VPInternal Hypothesis.

The VP-Internal Hypothesis

Additional evidence for the VP-internal hypothesis
comes from the distribution of the so-called floating
quantifiers. Let us start with an example:
(55) All the senators have bought expensive cars.
The example above could be reformulated and then we
get (56):
(56) The senators have all bought expensive cars.
We say that, in (56) the subject, the quantifier all has
floated away from the NP the senators.

The VP-Internal Hypothesis

The position occupied by the floating quantifier all in
(56) is located at the edge of the VP, below the auxiliary
have. This is the specifier position inside the VP.
Therefore, the quantifier remains inside the VP, where
the subject has been, while the subject moves on to
occupy the pre-verbal position.
The quantifier marks the initial position of the subject.

The VP-Internal Hypothesis



Det N'


the N


senators V


have Spec
all V


bought expensive cars