Is there not a term that refers universally to "the thing that verbs"?

The word isn't "subject" (in "It is eaten by me", the subject is a patient, I am the one "verbing") EDITED

The word isn't "agent" (in "I saw", the thing 'verbing' is the experiencer)

The word isn't "experiencer" (in "I eat", the thing 'verbing' is the agent)

I'm don't speak any languages with a developed case system, but I think that maybe what I'm talking about does corelate to nominative cases (I'm not sure about this because I'm not familiar with how nominative cases work with passive constructions). Maybe the term is "nominative", or some related word?

Surely there is a simple linguistic term to refer universally to "the thing that verbs"... right?! ...right?! ...right?!

Also, same questions for "the thing that is verbed (ie. direct object in active phrases)" and "the thing that is verbed to" (ie. the recipient) too...


  • Nominative, accusative, dative? I'm not sure though, so maybe wait for someone more knowledgable(?) May 27 at 13:23
  • also, what would be the difference between the last two? May 27 at 13:34
  • 2
    There isn't a single, simple way to identify the semantic role of a subject, because what's possible is determined individually by each verb, so you can't "refer universally to the thing that verbs" except as subject. That's why linguists separate syntax from semantics -- they're intertwine and influence each other, but they're not welded together, either.
    – jlawler
    May 27 at 14:23
  • So there's no word that combines "agent" and "experiencer" nor another that combines "theme" and "patient" and "stimulus"? That's weird. There is a word that combines "articles", "pronouns", "quantifiers" etc as "determiners" and rightly so! and so there should be a word for this too...
    – user31355
    May 27 at 23:45
  • 1
    You could use the term 'actor'.
    – BillJ
    May 28 at 15:00

It is "subject", because you're set up the question with a syntactic criterion, not a semantic one, and that syntactic frame (for English) identifies "subject". If you want a name for a semantic property, you have to describe it in in terms of semantic properties. What real-world events are you trying to name? You might start by distinguishing the relationship between entities in sentences in terms of "actions" versus "states".

  • I AM refering to a semantic criterion, NOT a syntactic one. I'm looking for a word that combines "agent" and "experiencer" and another that combines "theme" and "patient" and "stimulus".
    – user31355
    May 27 at 23:47
  • clarification, I am referring to "the person doing the eating" in the first example
    – user31355
    May 27 at 23:59

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