Topic rhema outline

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Topic-Rhema-Structure ( TRG ) is called in linguistics the division of an utterance into already known (topic) and new information (Rhema) , i.e. whether and how an aspect of news is promised in an utterance. Other terms for this are topic-rhema progression, current sentence structure, functional sentence perspective or information structure .

The term was introduced by the functionalists of the Prague School . The concept was first formulated by Vilém Mathesius .

Subject and Rhema

The subject (Greek θέμα, théma, "the posited, established, esp. An established assertion") of a sentence is the information that is already known, mentioned or given by the context . The rhema (Greek ῥῆμα, rhẽma, actually "what is said, word, saying, saying; (in grammar :) verb", here for example "statement, sentence object") is the new, requested or communicatively relevant information. The rhema carries the main accent of the sentence. In particular, at the beginning of a text, sentences containing only rhematic material can occur. An utterance without a rhema is uninformative and violates Grice's maxims of conversation .

The main means of expression for the topic-rhema structure in German are the emphasis (of the rhema), the structure of the sentence (topic at the beginning of the sentence, rhema at the end of the sentence) and special grammatical or lexical means of perspective such as the passive voice . Both the topic and the rhema can comprise several parts of the sentence . Parts of the sentence with the greatest message value are usually at the end of the sentence .

The term subject-rhema structure is used in the syntax of functional grammar and in text linguistics .

In functional grammar, the topic-rhema structure examines how syntactic phenomena (e.g. sentence structure) depend on the structure of the familiar and the new.

Text linguistics uses the topic-rhema structure to describe the content structure of sentences and texts as well as the communicative function of individual text parts, such as their relevance for the listener or reader. Within a text, the topic-rhema structure ensures the content-related and formal connection between the individual sentences ( coherence or cohesion ). It is assumed that the observed sentences can be analyzed in terms of topic and rhema.


  • In Berlin (topic) it rained today (rhema).
  • I (subject) just got a call (rhema).
  • Once upon a time there was a king (rhema). The (subject) had three daughters (Rhema).
  • Question-answer pair:
What did dad do yesterday? (only rhematic material or context-dependent topic-rhema division)
Papa washed the car yesterday (topic) (Rhema, information asked).
  • By shifting the positions of the subject and rhema, the sentence is given a strong emphasis or emotional coloring:
What did dad do yesterday?
He (Thema) washed the car (Rhema ).

Types of Topic-Rhema Outline

There are three types of topic-rhema structure:

  • Simple linear progression: the rhema of the first movement is the subject of the second movement. Example: “Peter has a pretty cold. But his cold is not a cause for concern ”. "Cold" or "common cold" is Rhema of sentence 1 and topic of sentence 2.
  • Continuous theme progression: The theme of the first movement is also the theme of the second movement. Example: “Peter has a pretty cold. He can still go to work. ”“ Peter ”and“ he ”refer to the same person, so the topic in sentences 1 and 2 is identical.
  • Thematic jump: The first and second movements have neither a topic nor a rhema in common. Example: “Peter has a pretty cold. The place of work is badly heated. ”The connection between the two sentences is not derived from a theme-rhema progression, but with the help of our knowledge of the world.

Further distinctions are based on these three basic types.

Related terms

The terms topic and rhema refer both to the communicative function of the individual parts of the sentence and to their logical content. Also, use different linguists different criteria for defining theme and Rhema . Depending on use can be found, therefore, for the subject of the names "topic", "background" and "presupposition" and for the Rhema the terms "Comment", "focus", "comment" and "predication" in different pairings.

Molnár a mapping of different pairs of terms to the three levels of language suggests the Organon model of Karl Buhler steps:

  • Sender level of the expression: focus- background structure (relevant - less relevant)
  • Proper level of representation: Topik -Comment outline (what - what)
  • Recipient level of the appeal: topic-rhema structure


  • Klaus Brinker : Linguistic Text Analysis. 5th revised and supplemented edition. Erich Schmidt, Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-503-04995-9 .
  • Hadumod Bußmann (Ed.): Lexicon of Linguistics. 3rd updated and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-520-45203-0 (Topic vs. Rhema).
  • Margot Heinemann, Wolfgang Heinemann: Basics of text linguistics. Interaction - Text - Discourse. Niemeyer, Tübingen 2002, ISBN 3-484-31230-0 .

Web links

Wiktionary: functional sentence perspective  - explanations of meanings, word origins , synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Topic-Rhema-Outline  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Thema-Rhema-Progression  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Rhema  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Christa Dürscheid : Syntax. Basics and theories. 5th edition. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2010, ISBN 978-3-8252-3319-8 , p. 177. (UTB, 3319)
  2. Vilém Mathesius: On the sentence perspective in modern English. In: Archive for the Study of Modern Languages ​​and Literatures 84 (1929), pp. 202–210.
  3. Hadumod Bußmann (Ed.): Lexicon of Linguistics. 3rd updated and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-520-45203-0 (Topic vs. Rhema).
  4. See Brinker 2001, p. 49ff.
  5. Cf. Bußmann 1990: “Topic vs. Rhema ", p. 784ff.
  6. Cf. Valéria Molnár: Das Topik in German and in Hungarian. Almqvist & Wiksell, Stockholm 1991. (Lunder German Research 58)