Glossary: patient

Explanation

A semantic role which indicates the ‘undergoer’ of a situation in a sentence or clause. It can be expressed in different ways. For example, the dog is the patient in both Julie has washed the dog and The dog has been washed.

Identify the semantic role

Exercise

You will be given some sentences where two or three noun phrases are marked off with square brackets. For each sentence:

  • Identify the semantic roles of the noun phrases (agent, patient or recipient).
  • Write a different sentence to describe the same situation, where the same roles are expressed in different ways.

Example:

  • [The people we were staying with] cooked [us] [a traditional Normandy dinner]. [S1A-009 #125, adapted]

Roles:

Active and passive

Consider the two sentences below. What is the difference between them?

  1. The council workers cleared the path.
  2. The path was cleared by the council workers.

The same event is taking place in both sentences, but the sentences have been expressed in different ways.

In the first example the focus is on what the council workers did (they cleared the path), whereas in the second example, the focus is on what happened to the path (it was cleared by the council workers).

Direct Object

Consider the examples below. What do the highlighted phrases add to the meanings?

  • He stroked the dog. [W2F-018 #175]
  • They carried mugs of beer. [W2F-018 #140]

These phrases tell us who or what is being 'verbed', i.e. who is undergoing the action denoted by the verbs, in these situations: the dog is stroked, the mugs of beer are carried. Without these phrases, our examples would be incomplete.

Grammatical functions in the clause

The description of word classes, phrases, and clauses in terms of their structure is part of the study of form. We now turn to the study of grammar from the perspective of function: this notion refers to what words, phrases and clauses do as units of language.

Semantic roles

When we talk about grammar, we mostly discuss language from the point of view of its internal characteristics.

We can say that steered in the following example has a grammatical form, namely verb. More specificallty, we say that it is a verb in the past tense.

Subject

The Subject of a sentence is often defined as the phrase identifying the agent that carries out the action denoted by the verb. All the examples below involve actions (fleeingsniffingwriting) carried out by the individuals referred to by the highlighted phrases, and for this reason we identify these phrases as Subjects.

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