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In
linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying ...

linguistics
, grammatical relations (also called grammatical functions, grammatical roles, or syntactic functions) are functional relationships between
constituent Constituent or constituency may refer to: In politics * Electoral district An electoral district, also known as an election district, legislative district, voting district, constituency, riding, ward, division, (election) precinct, electoral ar ...
s in a
clause In language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent answer to the painful divisions between self and other, private a ...
. The standard examples of grammatical functions from traditional grammar are subject,
direct object In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the me ...
, and
indirect object In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include ...
. In recent times, the syntactic functions (more generally referred to as grammatical relations), typified by the traditional categories of subject and object, have assumed an important role in linguistic theorizing, within a variety of approaches ranging from generative grammar to functional and cognitive theories. Many modern theories of grammar are likely to acknowledge numerous further types of grammatical relations (e.g. complement, specifier, predicative, etc.). The role of grammatical relations in theories of grammar is greatest in
dependency grammar Dependency grammar (DG) is a class of modern grammatical In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling t ...
s, which tend to posit dozens of distinct grammatical relations. Every
head Head Sport GmbH is an American-Austrian headquartered in . It owns the American tennis racket brand Head. Head GmbH is a group that includes several previously independent companies, including the original "Head Ski Company" (founded in the in ...
-dependent dependency bears a grammatical function.
Grammatical categories A grammatical category or grammatical feature is a property of items within the grammar of a language. Within each category there are two or more possible values (sometimes called grammemes), which are normally mutually exclusive. Frequently encou ...
are assigned to the words and phrases that have the relations. This includes traditional
parts of speech In traditional grammar Traditional grammar is a framework for the description of the structure of a language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sig ...
like
noun A noun () is a word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practical meaning (linguistics), meaning. In many l ...

noun
s,
verb A verb () is a word (part of speech) that in syntax conveys an action (''bring'', ''read'', ''walk'', ''run'', ''learn''), an occurrence (''happen'', ''become''), or a state of being (''be'', ''exist'', ''stand''). In the usual description of E ...
s,
adjective In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most langu ...
s, etc., and features like
number A number is a mathematical object A mathematical object is an abstract concept arising in mathematics. In the usual language of mathematics, an ''object'' is anything that has been (or could be) formally defined, and with which one may do deduct ...
and tense.


In traditional grammar

The grammatical relations are exemplified in traditional grammar by the notions of subject,
direct object In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the me ...
, and
indirect object In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include ...
: ::Fred gave Susan the book. The subject ''Fred'' performs or is the source of the action. The direct object ''the book'' is acted upon by the subject, and the indirect object Susan receives the direct object or otherwise benefits from the action. Traditional grammars often begin with these rather vague notions of the grammatical functions. When one begins to examine the distinctions more closely, it quickly becomes clear that these basic definitions do not provide much more than a loose orientation point. What is indisputable about the grammatical relations is that they are relational. That is, subject and object can exist as such only by virtue of the context in which they appear. A noun such as ''Fred'' or a noun phrase such as ''the book'' cannot qualify as subject and direct object, respectively, unless they appear in an environment, e.g. a clause, where they are related to each other and/or to an action or state. In this regard, the main verb in a clause is responsible for assigning grammatical relations to the clause "participants".


Defining the grammatical relations

Most grammarians and students of language intuitively know in most cases what the subject and object in a given clause are. But when one attempts to produce theoretically satisfying definitions of these notions, the results are usually less than clear and therefore controversial. The contradictory impulses have resulted in a situation where most theories of grammar acknowledge the grammatical relations and rely on them heavily for describing phenomena of grammar but at the same time, avoid providing concrete definitions of them. Nevertheless, various principles can be acknowledged that attempts to define the grammatical relations are based on.


Thematic criteria

The
thematic relations In certain theories of linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguis ...
(also known as thematic roles, and semantic roles, e.g.
agent Agent may refer to: Espionage, investigation, and law *, spies or intelligence officers * Law of agency, laws involving a person authorized to act on behalf of another ** Agent of record, a person with a contractual agreement with an insuran ...
,
patient A patient is any recipient of health care services that are performed by Health professional, healthcare professionals. The patient is most often Disease, ill or Major trauma, injured and in need of therapy, treatment by a physician, nurse, psych ...
, theme, goal) can provide semantic orientation for defining the grammatical relations. There is a tendency for subjects to be agents and objects to be patients or themes. However, the thematic relations cannot be substituted for the grammatical relations, nor vice versa. This point is evident with the active-passive diathesis and
ergative verb In general linguistics, a labile verb (or ergative verb) is one that can be used both transitively and intransitively, with the requirement that the direct object In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. I ...
s: ::Marge has fixed the coffee table. ::The coffee table has been fixed (by Marge). ::The torpedo sank the ship. ::The ship sank. ''Marge'' is the agent in the first pair of sentences because she initiates and carries out the action of fixing, and ''the coffee table'' is the patient in both because it is acted upon in both sentences. In contrast, the subject and direct object are not consistent across the two sentences. The subject is the agent ''Marge'' in the first sentence and the patient ''The coffee table'' in the second sentence. The direct object is the patient ''the coffee table'' in the first sentence, and there is no direct object in the second sentence. The situation is similar with the ergative verb ''sunk/sink'' in the second pair of sentences. The noun phrase ''the ship'' is the theme in both sentences, although it is the object in the first of the two and the subject in the second. The grammatical relations belong to the level of surface syntax, whereas the thematic relations reside on a deeper semantic level. If, however, the correspondences across these levels are acknowledged, then the thematic relations can be seen as providing prototypical thematic traits for defining the grammatical relations.


Configurational criteria

Another prominent means used to define the syntactic relations is in terms of the syntactic configuration. The subject is defined as the
verb argument In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include p ...
that appears outside of the canonical
finite Finite is the opposite of Infinity, infinite. It may refer to: * Finite number (disambiguation) * Finite set, a set whose cardinality (number of elements) is some natural number * Finite verb, a verb form that has a subject, usually being inflected ...
verb phrase In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the meth ...
, whereas the object is taken to be the verb argument that appears inside the verb phrase. This approach takes the configuration as primitive, whereby the grammatical relations are then derived from the configuration. This "configurational" understanding of the grammatical relations is associated with Chomskyan
phrase structure grammar The term phrase structure grammar was originally introduced by Noam Chomsky Avram Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is an American linguist Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system ...
s (
Transformational grammarIn linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include pho ...

Transformational grammar
,
Government and Binding Government and binding (GB, GBT) is a theory of syntax In linguistics, syntax () is the set of rules, principles, and processes that govern the structure of Sentence (linguistics), sentences (sentence structure) in a given Natural language, lang ...
and
Minimalism In visual arts The visual arts are art forms such as painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture Sculpture is the branch of the visual arts that operates in three dimensions. It is one of the plastic arts. Durable sculptural processe ...
). The configurational approach is limited in what it can accomplish. It works best for the subject and object arguments. For other clause participants (e.g. attributes and modifiers of various sorts, prepositional arguments, etc.), it is less insightful, since it is often not clear how one might define these additional syntactic functions in terms of the configuration. Furthermore, even concerning the subject and object, it can run into difficulties, e.g. ::There were two lizards in the drawer. The configurational approach has difficulty with such cases. The plural verb ''were'' agrees with the post-verb noun phrase ''two lizards'', which suggests that ''two lizards'' is the subject. But since ''two lizards'' follows the verb, one might view it as being located inside the verb phrase, which means it should count as the object. This second observation suggests that the expletive ''there'' should be granted subject status.


Morphological criteria

Many efforts to define the grammatical relations emphasize the role
inflection In linguistic morphology Morphology, from the Greek and meaning "study of shape", may refer to: Disciplines * Morphology (archaeology), study of the shapes or forms of artifacts * Morphology (astronomy), study of the shape of astronomical ob ...
al
morphology Morphology, from the Greek and meaning "study of shape", may refer to: Disciplines * Morphology (archaeology), study of the shapes or forms of artifacts * Morphology (astronomy), study of the shape of astronomical objects such as nebulae, galaxies ...
. In English, the subject can or must agree with the finite verb in person and number, and in languages that have morphological
case Case or CASE may refer to: Containers * Case (goods), a package of related merchandise * Case, the metallic enclosure component in modern firearm cartridge (firearms), cartridges * Bookcase, a piece of furniture used to store books * Briefcase or ...
, the subject and object (and other verb arguments) are identified in terms of the case markers that they bear (e.g.
nominative In grammar In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as ...
,
accusative The accusative case (abbreviated An abbreviation (from Latin ''brevis'', meaning ''short'') is a shortened form of a word or phrase, by any method. It may consist of a group of letters, or words taken from the full version of the word or phrase ...
,
dative In grammar In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as we ...
,
genitive In grammar In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as ...
, ergative,
absolutive In grammar In linguistics, the grammar (from Ancient Greek ''grammatikḗ'') of a natural language is its set of structure, structural constraints on speakers' or writers' composition of clause (linguistics), clauses, phrases, and words. The te ...
, etc.). Inflectional morphology may be a more reliable means for defining the grammatical relations than the configuration, but its utility can be very limited in many cases. For instance, inflectional morphology is not going to help in languages that lack inflectional morphology almost entirely such as Mandarin, and even with English, inflectional morphology does not help much, since English largely lacks morphological case.


Prototypical traits

The difficulties facing attempts to define the grammatical relations in terms of thematic or configurational or morphological criteria can be overcome by an approach that posits prototypical traits. The prototypical subject has a cluster of thematic, configurational, and/or morphological traits, and the same is true of the prototypical object and other verb arguments. Across languages and across constructions within a language, there can be many cases where a given subject argument may not be a prototypical subject, but it has enough subject-like traits to be granted subject status. Similarly, a given object argument may not be prototypical in one way or another, but if it has enough object-like traits, then it can nevertheless receive the status of object. This third strategy is tacitly preferred by most work in theoretical syntax. All those theories of syntax that avoid providing concrete definitions of the grammatical relations but yet reference them often are (perhaps unknowingly) pursuing an approach in terms of prototypical traits.


Heads and dependents

In
dependency grammar Dependency grammar (DG) is a class of modern grammatical In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling t ...
(DG) theories of syntax, every
head Head Sport GmbH is an American-Austrian manufacturing company Manufacturing is the creation or production Production may be: Economics and business * Production (economics) * Production, the act of manufacturing goods * Production, in th ...
-dependent dependency bears a syntactic function.See Mel’čuk (1988:22, 69). The result is that an inventory consisting of dozens of distinct syntactic functions is needed for each language. For example, a determiner-noun dependency might be assumed to bear the DET (
determiner A determiner, also called determinative ( abbreviated ), is a word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practic ...
) function, and an adjective-noun dependency is assumed to bear the ATTR (attribute) function. These functions are often produced as labels on the dependencies themselves in the syntactic tree, e.g. :: The tree contains the following syntactic functions: ATTR (attribute), CCOMP (clause complement), DET (determiner), MOD (modifier), OBJ (object), SUBJ (subject), and VCOMP (verb complement). The actual inventories of syntactic functions will differ from the one suggested here in the number and types of functions that are assumed. In this regard, this tree is merely intended to be illustrative of the importance that the syntactic functions can take on in some theories of syntax and grammar.


See also

*
Dependency grammar Dependency grammar (DG) is a class of modern grammatical In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling t ...
* Head-directionality parameter *
Phrase structure grammar The term phrase structure grammar was originally introduced by Noam Chomsky Avram Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is an American linguist Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system ...
*
Syntax In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language, meaning that it is a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise study of language. Linguistics encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the ...

Syntax
*
Thematic relations In certain theories of linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguis ...


Notes


References

* Ágel, V., Ludwig Eichinger, Hans-Werner Eroms, Peter Hellwig, Hans Heringer, and Hennig Lobin (eds.) 2003/6. Dependency and Valency: An International Handbook of Contemporary Research. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. * Bach, E. 1974. Syntactic theory. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. * Carnie, A. 2007. Syntax: A generative introduction, 2nd edition. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. * Chomsky, N. 1965. Aspects of the theory of syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. * Cowper, E. 2009
A concise introduction to syntactic theory: The government-binding approach
Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. * Culicover, P. 1997. Principles and Parameters: An introduction to syntactic theory. Oxford University Press. * Mel'čuk, I. 1988
Dependency syntax: Theory and practice
Albany: SUNY Press. * Napoli, D. 1993. Syntax: Theory and problems. New York: Oxford University Press. {{DEFAULTSORT:Grammatical Relation Syntax Generative syntax Syntactic relationships Semantics