While going through Rodny huddleston's An outline of English Grammar; I came across a concept named :Thematic structures of a clause. Its been more than a year when I first read it but have failed to grasp its main theme.. So can any one help me out in that.

  • I agree with Rinzuu. We are talking about semantic roles. "Thematic structure" is somewhat odd though... Could you please quote the passage you are referring to?
    – user27758
    Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 18:21

1 Answer 1


My guess is that he means the argument structure of a clause (i.e. what thematic-roles are assigned to subjects and objects of different verbs in a language). For English, the more common argument structure would be:

Sue read a book. (Agent) (Verb) (Patient)

Where the "Agent" it the doer and the "Patient" is acted upon. There are various thematic roles, and depending on the grammatical structure, those roles can change. Consider an English passive of the same sentence above:

A book was read by Sue. (Patient) (Verb) (Agent)

The clausal structure is different (the book is now the subject of the sentence), but the event is the same because of the thematic-roles assigned to each of the nouns.

(*And for anyone who wants to argue that "Sue" is an Experiencer...fair enough)

  • Yes. "Thematic structure" is another term for semantic relations, like Transfer_Verb (Source, Trajector, Goal), which is syntactically the prototype for 3-Place_Verb (Subject, Direct Object, Indirect Object). Syntactic phenomena like Passive change the order of one but not the other.
    – jlawler
    Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 21:37

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