Grammatical relations

Grammatical relations must be carefully distinguished from thematic roles. In what follows, we illustrate three grammatical relations: subject, first object, and second object. The apparent contradiction between the existence of second objects and the binary-branching hypothesis is discussed in Chapter 7.

Subjects are ordinarily the only argument to precede the predicate in English. As the examples in (1) illustrate, a great variety of thematic roles can be expressed as subjects.

Take care not to confuse the grammatical relation of subject with the thematic role of agent. The existence of passive sentences is a clear indication that the two notions are not synonymous (cf. (1a) with (1h)).

(1) a. Agent:   The lions devoured the wildebeest.
b. Cause:   Hurricane-force winds demolished much of the town.
c. Instrument:   This key opens the door to the main office.
d. Experiencer:   The rhesus monkey had never seen snow before.
e. Recipient:   The workers were given a raise.
f. Path:   An unpaved road led up to the shanty.
g. Goal:   The summit wasn't attained until years later.
h. Theme:   The wildebeest was devoured by the lions.
i.     "   The ball rolled down the hill.

First objects are the noun phrase argument that typically appears closest to a transitive verb. In English, this is the position immediately following the verb, but in a verb-final language like Hindi or Japanese, first objects immediately precede the verb (though they still ordiinarily follow the subject). Again, a wide variety of thematic roles can be expressed as first objects.

(2) a. Instrument:   You should use this key for the door to the main office.
b. Experiencer:   The children's drawings pleased their parents no end.
c. Recipient:   They gave the workers a raise.
d. Path:   We drove the scenic route.
e. Goal:   We reached our hotel after a subway ride of less than ten minutes.
f. Measure:   The performance lasted two hours.
g. Theme:   The lions devoured the wildebeest.
h.     "   We rolled the ball down the hill.

As the name implies, second objects only occur with ditransitive verbs. Unlike the other grammatical relations, second objects are thematically very restricted---namely, to themes, as illustrated in (3).

(3)   Theme:   They gave the workers a raise.

Nevertheless, there is no one-to-one correspondence between the thematic role of theme and the grammatical relation of second object. This is because, although second objects must be themes, themes needn't be second objects. They are ordinarily expressed as first objects, as in (2g,h), but can also be expressed as subjects, as in (1h,i).

Finally, it is traditional and convenient to distinguish between direct objects and indirect objects. Indirect objects are the first objects of ditransitive verbs bearing the thematic role of recipient. Direct objects cover any other objects - in other words, the second object of a ditransitive verb or the sole object of a monotransitive verb.