Case, Grammatical Relations, and Semantic Roles

Beatrice Primus

in The Oxford Handbook of Case

Published in print November 2008 | ISBN: 9780199206476
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

Case, Grammatical Relations, and Semantic Roles

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  • Linguistics
  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology
  • Semantics



This article presents an overview of the basic issues concerning the relationship between case, grammatical relations, and semantic roles such as agent and patient. In most approaches, semantic roles are directly linked to abstract grammatical relations for the core arguments of the clause. Cases are considered to be a surface expression of grammatical relations. All approaches that are concerned with the relationship between semantic roles and grammatical relations are able to capture the argument realisation of transitive verbs selecting highly potent agents and strongly affected patients such as ‘break’, ‘open’, or ‘hit’ in accusative languages. Approaches using role lists instead of semantic decompositions lack the means to cope with the large number of individual roles that are selected by the full range of verbs and with the reverse case pattern in ergative constructions. Accordingly, this article deals primarily with the relationship (or linking) between grammatical relations and semantic roles in different types of approaches. It also discusses role lists and role hierarchies, along with proto-roles and lexical semantic structures.

Keywords: case; grammatical relations; semantic roles; agent; patient; transitive verbs; role lists; role hierarchies; proto-roles; lexical semantic structures

Article.  5882 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Grammar, Syntax and Morphology ; Semantics

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