Argument (linguistics)

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In linguistics, an argument is the counterpart of a predicate , whereby both terms have a logical as well as a grammatical meaning.

In logic , a predicate is an expression that is unsaturated and must first be combined with arguments in order to form a statement that can be true or false. For example, the verb sleep can be represented as a logical predicate sleep ' , which combines with an argument such as the expression Hans' to form the statement sleep '(Hans') (which simplifies the German sentence "Hans sleeps"). By connecting a predicate with its argument, the logical type changes, namely in the example from an unsaturated expression to a saturated one (a logical sentence); bringing about this change is the characteristic that mainly defines the concept of argument.

The term argument in the sense of a grammatical term refers to those parts of a natural language sentence that designate logical arguments. In grammar, the concept of the valence of a predicate is used to express the fact that a predicate opens up “blanks” that have to be filled by arguments. This can then be differentiated into syntactic or semantic valence. The subject of the German sentence Hans sleeps , i.e. the noun Hans , is then a syntactic argument of the verb sleep , also referred to as a grammatical supplement under this aspect . By adding this expression to the verb, the valence of the verb is reduced (analogous to the process of saturation in logic described above). Indications or adjuncts do not do that.

Syntactic arguments can also be assigned an argument role or semantic role (such as agent, patient, etc.). In terms of their meaning, syntactic arguments are also referred to as players , participants or actants .

The formal representation of which syntactic arguments a predicate requires is referred to differently in different traditions as "argument structure", " rule model " or the like.

Argument types

In the typical case of a simple sentence, the predicate is a verb and the arguments are noun phrases . The semantic roles ( agents / patients ...) which are taken over by the arguments are assigned to syntactic functions in a language, for example subject and object . Languages ​​differ, however, in how they classify grammatical functions of the subject / object type.

In the following example (1) Hans (semantic role: agent, syntactic function : subject) and bread (semantic role: patient, syntactic function: object) are the arguments of eats (in the following arguments are in bold and predicates are in italics)

(1) Hans eats bread .

Sentences can also appear as arguments:

(2) Hans looks , that it rains .

Likewise, nouns , adjectives or prepositions can take arguments as predicates:

(3) the discovery of America
(4) Hans is jealous of Maria .
(5) in front of the door

Argument coding

In order to identify syntactic arguments, especially the arguments of the verb, and to indicate their function (such as subject / object), languages ​​use three basic strategies or combinations thereof.

Word order

The arguments are placed before or after the verb depending on the function, e.g. B. in English:

(6)  The boy  saw  the girl
boy  saw  the girl


The arguments are marked with different cases that indicate their function, such as B. in Latin:

(7)  Puer  puella-m  vidit
Boy.NOM  Girl AKK  saw


Properties of the arguments and / or their semantic role are marked (" indexed ") on the verb so that they can be found in the sentence using the relevant grammatical features (person, gender, number). An example is e.g. B. seen in the Navajo :

(8th)  Ashkii  at'ééd  yiyiiltsá
Boy  girl  3.SG.OBJ-3.SG.SUBJ-saw

Especially when the verb form is seen as the actual place where the argument itself appears (instead of as congruence with an accompanying argument position in the sentence), the English technical term cross-reference is also used.

Individual evidence

  1. grammar. Valence. Online at
  2. Kees Hengeveld: Referential markers and agreement markers in Functional Discourse Grammar. In: Language Sciences, 34 (2012), 468-479.
  3. ^ Johanna Nichols: Person as an inflectional category. In: Linguistic Typology, 21-3 (2017), 387-456.