Discerning arguments of verbs, predicates?



I think I get that a verb may utilize arguments. Does a predicate announce something of an object (or subject)?


"The lake froze solid".

The lake seems a noun phrase that solid may predicate on?


Posted 2015-05-22T00:45:12.490

Reputation: 1 656

3I think you're really getting this! Yes; solid is a 'secondary predicate', which is a sort of optional complement to the verb, and it is 'predicated of' (attributed to) the subject, The lake. Freezing caused the lake to become solid. When intransitive verbs like freeze take these secondary complements they are almost always predicated of the subject; when a transitive verb takes a secondary complement it is almost always predicated of the object. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2015-05-22T01:08:43.037

@StoneyB: Are "secondary predicate" and "secondary complement" synonymous, or is one of them a typo? – ruakh – 2015-05-26T03:40:24.043

@ruakh It's a 'predicate' with respect to the subject, a 'complement' with respect to the verb. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2015-05-26T10:30:20.893

@StoneyB: Yes, but what makes it a "secondary complement"? (I assume it's a "secondary predicate" because the "primary predicate" is froze? But what's the primary complement?) – ruakh – 2015-05-26T15:47:02.833

@ruakh Freeze is intransitive -- it forms a complete predicate by itself -- so it has no complement. The term 'secondary complement' indicates that solid in this construction acts as if it were a complement; it's presence is 'licensed' by the verb/predicator and it is effected by the action of the verb, but it's not a true complement in the sense of being a necessary argument of the verb. It's just one of the quirks of English. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2015-05-26T16:36:36.887

@StoneyB I think you've got a pretty good answer spread among your comments. I considered compiling it as an answer, but you clearly have a much better grasp of grammatical vocabulary than I do, so maybe you'd like to do it? This question is pretty high on the 'unanswered' list – DCShannon – 2015-06-05T02:58:05.657

1@StoneyB, I concur with DCShannon. Please compile it into an answer. – Omnidisciplinarianist – 2015-06-10T20:56:22.817



In traditional grammar a sentence comprises of a subject and a predicate.

  • The lake froze solid. [Subject => The lake Predicate => froze solid]

  • I am no one special. [Subject => I Predicate => am no one special]

  • The sky is blue. [Subject => The sky Predicate => is blue]

In the sentences above "The lake", "I" and "the sky" are the subjects and "froze solid", "am no one special" and "is blue" are the predicates.

However modern linguists use the word - predicate - in a different way. They call the verb and it's accompanying auxiliary or modal verbs a predicate.

  • The lake froze solid. [Predicate => froze]

  • I am no one special. [Predicate => am]

  • The sky is blue. [Predicate => is]

In the sentences above "froze", "am" and "is" are predicates.

An argument is an expression that help complete the meaning of a predicate. A predicate can take one, two or three arguments.

  • The lake froze solid. [Predicate => froze Argument => the lake and solid]

  • The lake froze. [predicate => froze Argument => the lake]

  • I am no one special. [Predicate => am Argument => I and no one special (NP -> no one Adj -> special]

  • The sky is blue. [Predicate => is Argument => the sky and blue]

Different verb can take different arguments.

We have already seen the verb - froze - can take either one argument (the lake) or two arguments (The lake and solid).

  • The lake froze solid.

In the sentence the verb - froze - takes two arguments - the lake and solid. The word - solid - is also a complement. To be precise it's called subject complement. It's also called predicate on the subject.

  • David punched Sam unconscious. [Predicate => punch Argument => David, Sam and unconscious]

In the sentence above, the word - unconscious - is actually a complement, an object complement.

So in some cases the concept of an argument and a complement overlaps, but in some cases they do not.

For example -

  • Jim gave Sam a beautiful present. [Predicate => gave Argument => Jim, Sam and a beautiful present(NP)]

  • Jim gave a beautiful present to Sam. [Predicate => gave Argument => Jim, a beautiful present(NP) and to Sam(PP)]

In the last sentence above, it's clear that the predicate - gave - takes a noun, a noun phrase (NP) and a prepositional phrase (PP) as its arguments.

to Sam is a prepositional phrase, where to is a preposition, and Sam is the complement of the preposition -to. So here the complement and argument are different entity.

According to the theta-theory, the verb - freeze - can either take one argument or two arguments.

freeze - (verb) - Argument( 1. NP)


freeze - (verb) - Argument( 1. NP 2. AdjP)

And so both of the following sentences are correct -

The lake froze.

The lake froze solid.

For further reading on complement, predicate and argument -

  1. Complement - Wikipedia
  2. Predicate - Wikipedia
  3. Argument - Wikipedia


Posted 2015-05-22T00:45:12.490

Reputation: 10 615


By mixing grammar terms of various modern grammar schools with traditional grammar terms and using a traditional term with a new and totally different meaning you get a salad, but never a clear understanding of the language system. My recommendation: Try to learn the traditional grammar terms and make amendments if they are not clear enough for you.


Posted 2015-05-22T00:45:12.490

Reputation: 8 304