Helen drove to the party

I find in a book that it is a location, but I am thinking it is a goal, because there is no actual place called "party". In the other hand, the definition of the Goal is : the entity towards which something moves.

  • It can be both, one can think of a “party” as the location where it takes place or as an eventuality (in the sense of Davidson and Parsons or Hobbs).
    – Atamiri
    Aug 12, 2017 at 23:29

1 Answer 1


Ignoring theory-bound preferences as to the way theta roles should be labelled in different linguistic 'schools', since in current ontologies 'entities' include not only 'individuals' and 'substances', but also 'events' (among other ontological categories), and since in Helen drove to the party, the party does denote an event, the definition of 'Goal' that you refer to applies perfectly well to that PP: as you seem inclined to think, in most, or even all, current linguistic frameworks, to the party will be analysed as the 'Goal' (not the 'Location'*) of the driving event described in that sentence.


In the theory of thematic roles, 'Location' technically refers not to a place (an 'individual', in Strawson's sense) but to a functional concept generally expressed by means of a preposition such as in or at (selected or not by the head) that relates the event expressed by the theta-role assigner (usually, but not necessarily, a main verb - it may also be a noun or a preposition) to an area of two/three-dimensional space in(side) which an 'individual' - or an 'event'- is situated or takes place, respectively.

Crucially, the name of a place (e.g., London, Charles Street) cannot by itself play the role of 'Location' (nor that of 'Goal', for that matter), because 'places', like 'events', are 'individuals'(in Strawson's sense), not functional entities. If the contrary were true, sentences like * Helen lives London or * Helen drove London would be well-formed and synonymous of * Helen lives in London* and Helen drove to London, respectively, but, of course, they are neither.

This is why the thematic role is assigned to the whole PPs in London, to London, to the party, etc., instead of to the DPs that act as the complements of the respective prepositions. In the examples above, in other words, it is the preposition in or to (in the latter case selected by the verb drove) that does the crucial 'functional' work and allows the place or the event to become arguments of two-place relations involving the main event as their other argument. This is very clearly expressed in Davidsonian semantics in LF clauses like 'Location-of(e, London)' - part of the LF of a sentence like Helen works in London - or 'Goal-of(e, the party)'- part of the LF of the OP's Helen drove to the party.

Back to the specific nature of 'Location', since areas of space may be contained in more extensive ones, some more careful theta-role theories further distinguish between 'locative' roles like 'point', 'area' and 'region' of space, and, at bottom, they must, because such 'locative' roles may well co-occur in the same sentence (cf. In London, she lives in Charles Street, right in the middle of Mayfair), but, anyway, what really matters for present purposes is that 'locations' - in all their subvarieties - are never introduced by the directional preposition to; they are invariably introduced by 'locative' prepositions such as in, at, by, near, behind, etc. That, by itself, should be strong evidence that to the party cannot be a Location'.

Of course, as already explained, the complement of the directional preposition to usually denotes a place, but may also denote an event instead (as happens in the OP's example). Straightforward evidence in support of this claim is that it is possible to add to party temporal specifications like this evening's (cf. Helen drove to this evening's party in her new Audi). The reason is obvious: events occur in time, but 'places' do not, and usually reject time modifiers (unless the place name has been 'coerced' - in Pustejovsky's sense - to refer to something that is not really a place, but something more comprehensive, as in e.g., London at night, The London of Shakespeare's time, etc., but such 'coercions' need not be taken into consideration to offer the OP a reasonable answer to his question).

For such reasons, I even find it hard to swallow that the prepositional DP complement the party should be interpretable as a place at all (contrary to what a commentator claims), but, even if that were possible, the PP to the party is by no means interpretable as a 'Location'.

In sum: as PP[to] complements like to Charles Street, to London or to the party cannot denote places-in-which-an-entity-is-situated-or-an-event-takes-place, they cannot be assigned the role of 'Location' as the term is normally understood in the linguistic literature; what such PPs denote is the destination of the movement of some individual (Helen's driving, in the OP's example), and so must be thematically classified as 'Goals' (or equivalent labels like 'Destinations', etc.), but surely not as 'Locations'. Under the standard interpretation of the labels 'Location' and 'Goal' in thematic-role theory, therefore, it is not true that, in the OP's sentence, to the party should be analysable either as a 'Goal' or as a 'Location'. It definitely must be analysed as a 'Goal'.

  • This is a strong claim but no references are given. In a logical representation, the directionality can be built into a predicate or function symbol and the argument clearly is a location in the underlying ontology. If a relation such as metonymy is involved, the role of the argument can be ambiguous (for example if it can be interpreted as an eventuality).
    – Atamiri
    Aug 13, 2017 at 8:27
  • Excellent answer. I would only phrase one or two fine points differently. // London can have the thematic role of location with respect to the relation between live in and London: I would say the verbal phrase live in accepts only phrases with the thematic role of location in its major praedicate frame, and London can fulfil that role. // The fact that one cannot say *drive London is, indeed, because London as such cannot occupy the slot of location in the predicate frame of drive; but I do not feel that this very phrase proves that, ...
    – Cerberus
    Sep 14, 2017 at 4:38
  • ... because there could be non-semantic reasons, such specific syntactic requirements. // In she drove to the party, I feel that drive to specifically accepts, and perhaps even requires, a location rather than an event. E.g. she drove to the forest works because it is a place; she drove to the riots works because riots can refer to a thing that can be found at a specific place, even though it is also an event; but *she drove to the end of the day doesn't work, because that's not a place—or it works metaphorically, but only in so far as it is treated like a place.
    – Cerberus
    Sep 14, 2017 at 4:44
  • ... But that was about the verbal phrase drive to; I agree with you—and your central point—that the verbal phrase drive as such does not accept a location, but only a destination. As you say, the functional element in the praedicate frame of drive that marks the required thematic role is the preposition to, not the object of to.
    – Cerberus
    Sep 14, 2017 at 4:47

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