Up ] The Functional Approach to Grammar ] A Preparation for Formal Grammar ] Different Functions of Communication ] Theme and Rheme ] Identifying Subjects and Objects ] The Operator ] Coordinators ] Linking and Binding ] Stative and Dynamic Verbs ] Modality ] Polarity ] Descriptors ] Clefting ] Fun with Clefting ] Speech Acts ] [ From Deep Structure to Surface Structure ] Surface Structure 1 ] Surface Structure 2 ]


Table of Contents

About Linguistics, Inc.

Join Linguistics, Inc.






There are many ways to analyze grammatical relationships and functions. We can analyze relationships by syntax, and note, for example, that a nominal can function as a subject or an object  We can also acknowledge that the meaning of words and phrases (syntax) can explain relationships.  

Noun phrases may be specified by the various roles they can play in a clause. These roles are listed below. These roles represent the DEEP STRUCTURE of grammatical meaning. 

It sounds complicated. but when we shift an event from active to passive voice, these roles are maintained. In active and passive voice, the THEME and the AGENT remain the same.  Active and passive voice are SURFACE STRUCTURES; they represent the same DEEP STRUCTURE.   

Passive voice is especially useful when we explain how something is made or done. To do this, students may construct a grammatically-focused transfer task to model  of what they wish to express. A grammatically-focused transfer task may be composed of a sequence of pictures. In the case of the exercise on the next page. the  pictures detail the steps that are involved in canning fish.  Any activity could be illustrated using the same procedures. In each step, the subject is matched with the appropriate verb.    

Click here for the Beginning ESL Notional-Functional Dictionary and Activities.





THEME(PATIENT) The entity undergoing the effect of the action identified in the verb

(a) Someone opened THE DOOR. (door is both direct object and theme.)

(b) THE DOOR opened. (door is subject, but still theme.)

AGENT / ACTOR The instigator of the action identified in the verb.

(a) JOHN opened the door.

(b) The door was opened BY JOHN.


The entity experiencing some psychological state identified in the verb.

(a) The movie appeals to HIM.

(b) SHE is happy.

  INSTRUMENT The means by which the action identified in the verb comes about.

(a) He broke the window WITH THE HAMMER.

(b) THE HURRICANE destroyed the village.

BENEFACTIVE The entity benefitting from the action identified in the verb

(a) He bought the flowers FOR MARY.

(b) Sam studied law to please HIS PARENTS.


The location or spatial orientation of the state or action identified in the verb.

(a) It happened IN ITALY.

(b) The book is ON THE TABLE.

GOAL The direction of the state or action identified in the verb.

(a) Sam studied hard TO PASS THE EXAM..

(b) John was thrilled TO SUMMIT MT. EVEREST.  .

SOURCE The origin of the state or action identified in the verb.

(a) John flew FROM ITALY.

(b) John ran OUT OF THE HOUSE.