the participants minimally involved in an action defined by the predicate. The complements and the subject, the latter also called an external argument.

specifier position

a position defined by X-bar Theory. The specifier is sister to X', daughter of XP. It is a phrasal position, the nature of the phrase depends on what it is the specifier of. E.g. the specifier of IP is the subject, the specifier of DP is the possessor in possessive structures.


a category under a main category, e.g. the category of intransitive verbs is a subcategory of the verbal category.

theta role

the semantic role of the participants as required by the predicate. E.g. verbs define what kind of semantic relationship is to be established between the verb itself and the arguments of the verb, and arguments are selected accordingly. The verb kick calls for an agent subject, so its subject position cannot be occupied by e.g. my CD-player.


a word used to describe an event or situation that can appear in one of the five verb forms. Feature composition: [N, +V, F].

Basic English Syntax with Exercises

5.2 Verb Types

Obviously, the Verb Phrase revolves around the head verb, the head being the central element of any phrase. Not only does the head project its categorial properties to the phrase, but also by restrictive selection it determines the categorial nature of its complements. Thematic heads also impose restrictions on arguments by assigning Θ-roles to them. The arguments of a thematic head, such as a verb, will appear either in complement or specifier positions according to the principles of Θ-role assignment detailed in chapter 2. It follows therefore that the lexical properties of individual verbs will play a large role in determining the structure of particular VPs. We will organise this central section of this chapter by focussing on different subcategories of verbs, starting with those that have the simplest lexical specifications.



        5.2.1 Unaccusative verbs

        5.2.2 Light verbs

        5.2.3 Ergative verbs

        Potential problems

        Light verbs and ergatives

        Unaccusatives and ergatives

        5.2.4 Transitive verbs

        Evidence from passives

        Extended projections

        Agent and experiencer subjects

        Multiple light verbs

        5.2.5 Intransitive verbs

        5.2.6 Multiple complement verbs

        5.2.7 Phrasal verbs

        5.2.8 Verbs with clausal complements

        5.2.9 Summary