Example: The dog was very excited or he was a very excited dog

Does excited assign the role of experiencer to dog in either case?

Do adjectives assign them in other languages?

Or would we say that participials can assign roles and that they don't really fit into any word class.

  • Yes, adjectives assign thematic roles, some more than one. The example He washed the nervous dog is indeed such that the dog receives two thematic roles, one from the matrix predicate washed and one from the embedded predicate nervous. There is a difference across these two predicates, though, the matrix predicate being a matter of assertion, and the embedded predicate a matter of presupposition. Jun 27, 2020 at 12:14

1 Answer 1


Yes, in "The dog was very excited" you could talk about an Experiencer triggered by an adjective regardless of its participial origin or not (replace "nervous" above). Some might object that this semantic role should be reserved to humans, but that's not relevant here. Semantic roles are usually licensed by verbs, but in this case it's the adjective that does the job since the copula is a semantic dummy. However, the only role I can envisage with adjective+copula is that of Experiencer or at the very maximum that of a Theme, as in: "The man was dead"

  • 1
    Ok so in the clause He washed the nervous dog, can dog be assigned two semantic roles?
    – dylbro
    Jan 30, 2020 at 22:27
  • No, in this case the dog is a Patient.
    – user27758
    Jan 30, 2020 at 23:24
  • 1
    But is the dog also not an experiencer?
    – dylbro
    Jan 30, 2020 at 23:31
  • Not in this case. An entity cannot cover two roles at the same time. Here, the dog "gets washed". You could also say it's an Undergoer rather than a Patient. The fact that the dog is nervous does not play any role.
    – user27758
    Jan 31, 2020 at 7:38
  • 1
    Why can't a noun phrase have two semantic roles? It seems counter-intuitive here.
    – dylbro
    Feb 1, 2020 at 5:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.