It goes without saying that the title of this question is perhaps rather prolix, so allow me to illustrate what I mean.

Consider the below sentence.

The man's heroic actions prevented the innocent woman's death.

The focus of this question extends also to other preventative verbs, such as 'avoid', 'stop', etc., but only in their transitive senses. All of these verbs (in their transitive senses) license objects with the same (or a very similar) semantic role.

However, to my mind it is not clear what this semantic role is. It seems to be the negative counterpart of the semantic role of factitive theme: the verbs in 'prevent', 'stop', etc. stop something's coming into existence, while factitive verbs cause something to come into existence (e.g. in the sentence He made a chair, the chair comes into existence by virtue of his making it).

Is there a name for the semantic role of the objects licensed by these preventative verbs?

Note: I posted this exact question on the English Language StackExchange a few hours ago, but I have decided to repost it here, having been recommended to do so for better, more linguistically accurate responses.

  • I’d call it a patient (because there’s no displacement, which is characteristic of a theme), cf. Frawley 1992: 210 “If an argument undergoes, is changed by, or is directly affected by a predicate, it is a patient.” A patient doesn’t need to be created, it is simply an argument affected by the agent, cf. I bought some flowers. (I didn’t create the flowers), I read the book (I didn’t create the book), I lost the chess game. etc
    – Alex B.
    Dec 30, 2021 at 21:55


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