In my native English, the first argument in "Mary feeds her pigs" stands for an agent, and the second stands for a patient.
But what about the arguments in reflexive and reciprocal clauses in single-argument clauses? In the following two sentences, each argument seems to stand for an agent and a patient simultaneously.

Mary fed herself. Mary and Dean hugged each other.

Is there a single-word semantic term for things that are simultaneously agents and patients?

  • What will you call "the vase" in the sentence "The vase broke", an agent or a patient? This sentence has no fundamental distinction from your examples about Mary and Dean, but it is much easier to analyse since it has no second argument at all, while your sentences have them, "herself" and "each other". In my native language, Russian, both "The vase broke" and "Mary fed herself" are two-word sentences, noun + reflexive verb, "Ваза разбилась" and "Мэри подкрепилась". My point is, if you answer my question, it'll help you to answer your own question yourself. – Yellow Sky May 22 '20 at 1:58
  • No, there isn't. You're confusing words with their referents. In the sentence Bill cleaned himself there are two noun phrases, one of which (Bill) is an agent, while the other (himself) is a patient. They happen to refer to the same individual (indeed, the reflexive suffix indicates this), but there are still two words with two different semantic roles and two different syntactic relations. There is no need for a term that refers to a single word with two roles or relations, because they don't exist. – jlawler May 22 '20 at 16:42

I cannot answer for reflexives, but for reciprocals the term reciprocants is often used. A problem with this term (and the term reciprocity) is that it is used for both meaning and form. For this reason Martin Haspelmath (2007, 'Further remarks on reciprocal constructions', in Nedjalkov (ed.), Reciprocal Constructions), argues to reserve reciprocity and reciprocants for the formal plane and mutuality / mutual relations and the corresponding mutuants for the semantic plane.


I am American and lived in France for six years. Reflexive verbs in French have a construct-eg se laver: to wash oneself. "se" and oneself appear to be a construct to explain the action. I would reason that the subject is both the agent and the patient.

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