Indentifying The Thematic Structure Of Verbs English Language Essay

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This paper examines thematic/argument structure of the predicate used in the sentences, the sentences were constructed by a researcher on a random basis, and the focus of the study was on the thematic structure and theta role of verbs used in this sentences, more specifically the thematic /argument structure of the verbs used in main clauses of the report.

Objectives of the study:

Indentifying the thematic structure of the verbs used in this sentences

Identifying the argument structure(theta role) of the predicate in this sentences

Questions of the study:

What are the thematic structure of the verbs used in this sentences

What are theta roles of these arguments?

Scope of the study:

This study aims to identify thematic/argument structure of the predicates used in the following sentences:

Mary plants her flowers in the garden by the lake

The professor of syntax told a story to his students

The boy laughed in the classroom

They cut it with a knife

The old building of the congress collapsed at 02:00 PM

Your head master is buying you a laptop in your birthday

The doctor came yesterday

The ball fell down

The focus of the analysis will be on thematic/argument structure of verbs used in these sentences.

Literature review:

Verb and argument:

Mark Newson (2006) stated that, to explain and understand the difference between lexical and functional categories, we need to know and introduce concepts related with how the part of the sentence related to each other to complete the meaning of that sentence the following example explains that the Professor teaches the students here in this sentence there is an event which can be described as (teaching), and this event is involving two individuals or participants, the professor and the students, and this participants related in a particular way, so the professor is the one doing the teaching and the students are the one getting taught.

Thus the verb describes the character of event and both the professor and the students refer to the elements participated in this event, so the word functions as the verb is so called predicate whereas the one functions as nouns is so called argument, thus what participants (arguments) can be involved in the sentence or event is determined by the meaning of a particular sentence like take for example the following examples:

Stephen is sleeping

John gives Mary some flowers

In these sentence Stephen is only one participant in the event of sleeping, so one argument, but in the second sentence consist three participants which are John, Mary and some flowers, thus three arguments, it clear that from the examples verb like sleep takes only one argument whereas verb like give takes at least three arguments to complete its meaning.

Bas Aerts (2001) posited that English sentences can be described in two ways, functionally and formally, for example the sentence the boy eats banana consist of subject which is the boy and predicator (verb) which is eats and direct object which is a banana, so the subject and direct object are filled by noun phrases whereas the predicator is filled by a verb, so the verb eats cannot form a sentence by itself, but it needs other elements to construct a meaningful sentence, as it clear that from above sentence that eat needs who was done the act of eating something and was being eaten, thus the one who does the of eating and something that was being eaten are so called arguments or participants.

Leonad H. Babby (2009) explained that, one of the most important theories of generative syntax is dealing with the notion that syntax is a projection of the lexicon, mainly to propose explicit theories of the construction between the semantics and morphosytactic structure, he added that "it is correct if by lexicon we understand predicate argument structure" so the sentence's main syntactic structure (vP) is immediately projection of verb (v) argument structure, or the argument structure of any sentence based on grammatical (syntactic) relation is determined by the verb (v).


David Adger (2002) stated that the word like teach does not express a complete thought on its own, minimally the word teach expresses a relationship between objects, which one teaches other, in comparison with the word like sleep which needs only one object, the object that sleeps, teach and sleep in contrast with word like gives, which involves three objects, someone gives something to someone, these words express concepts which some of these concepts are necessary to human computational system that related to the meaning of the words, so a predicate can be used in characterization of a situation, but this predicate needs other linguistics' elements to complete the thought as explained above with teach, sleep and give.

When a predicate involves one other element to complete the thought then a predicate is one-place predicate like in sleep, and when it needs two or three, then a predicate is two-place or three-place predicate.

By going back to the words sleep, teach and give, we can combine these verbs with other participants to construct the following sentences:

John sleeps

Ali is teaching the girl

Mary gives Nina a pen

In the first sentence the predicate is combined with the theme which is one-place predicate, in the second one the predicate combined with agent and benefactive which is two-place predicate, and for the last one the predicate is combined with source, benefactive and theme which is three-place predicate, Thus these properties are linguistically so called thematic roles or theta roles which related to the lexicon semantics, so if someone talks about the number of thematic roles that a predicate assigns, he refers to theta roles and each theta roles assigns only one role in the sentence. Martin Haiden (2005) added that according to Chomsky (1981) each argument assigns only one theta role, and each theta role assigns only one argument.

List of theta roles

Radford (2009) listed the theta roles as:

Theme: shows the effect of someone's action e.g. the ball fell down

Agent: shows someone does the action e.g. Kim is swimming

Experience: shows the entity experiencing the psychological state e.g. they love Mary

Locative: shows the place which something situated or takes place e.g. he rolled the ball down the hill

Goal: shows the distinction of some other entity e.g. the student lives in KL

Source: which shows the entity from which something moves e.g. Mona came from London

Instrument: shows the instrument used to do some action e.g. Ahmed opened the door with key.

Data analysis

This involved indentifying the thematic/argument structure of the predicates used in the sentences

The first procedure in analyzing the data involved indentifying the thematic structure of the predicates in this sentences

The next step is identifying the theta roles of the predicate arguments.

Identification of argument structure:

The arguments of the verb are those phrases which complete the meaning of verb.

Identification of thematic structure:

Thematic structure (theta-role) is the role in which the argument of the verb played.

Data analysis and findings:

The data collected was analyzed in argument/thematic structure.

Plant: [v]: [NP1, NP2]

<Agent, theme>

Tell: [V]: [NP1, NP2, and PP1]

<Agent, theme, goal>

Laugh: [V]: [NP1]


Cut: [v]: NP1, NP2]

<Agent, theme>

Collapse: [V]: [NP1]


Buy: [NP1, NP2, NP2]

<Agent, benefactive, theme>

Come: [V]: [NP1]


Fall: [V]: [NP1]



According to the analysis, verbs differ in the they employ the argument and thematic structure, each verb needs only a limited number of argument, thereby English verbs can be classified according to the argument and thematic structure to: first: accusative verb, which is verb with tow arguments e.g. the verb plant and buy, the second: ditransitive verb, which is a verb with three arguments e.g. the verb told, the third type of the verb is unergative which is verb with one argument and this argument must assign the role of agent, the fourth type is unaccusative which is the verb with one argument and this argument must assign the role as theme thus can differ it from unergative, and the last type is instrument verb which is the verb with instrument as one of its arguments, this classification is based on the data only, more specifically these types are only the types used in this study.