Argument Structure

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  • One central challenge children face in learning syntax is determining the argument structure of verbs. An argument is a noun phrase that has a specific syntactic and semantic relation to a verb and that must be present (or implied) in any sentence containing that verb in order for the sentence to be well formed. The syntactic relationship is denoted by syntactic roles such as Subject and Object, and the semantic relationship by semantic roles such as Agent (entity that instigates an action) and Patient (entity that undergoes an action).

    Argument structure is the specification of the number and types of arguments required for a verb in that structure to be well formed. For instance, an intransitive structure requires one Subject argument (e.g., Marion smiled), while a ...

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