3

I am fairly convinced that any English clause (and it probably also counts for other languages, but I can't be sure about that) can only contain 1 subject, 1 direct object, and 1 indirect object. This seems lower-grade common knowledge to me, but I don't know if this is an official rule and I can't really find any linguistic authoritative source that says so. Is this indeed true? And if not, what would be a counterexample?

Obviously, a sentence can have a compound subject/object such as in:

John and Mary are walking down the street.

But in that case, I would argue that there is 1 subject that is "John and Mary".

  • If you are allowing for compound subjects, and treating them as "one", then can you please describe in a little more detail just what you do mean by "more than one" subject? – Questor Feb 27 '14 at 19:03
  • 3
    Yes, it's a base-level rule. These terms (Su, DO, IO) are called Grammatical Relations and form dependency trees with the predicate; this is a representational practice derived from logic. Not all languages have syntax that uses these relations, though -- there are many ergative structures in the world, and for them "Subject" and "Direct Object" are meaningless terms. "Indirect Object", on the other hand, is usually just the receiver. – John Lawler Feb 27 '14 at 19:09
  • 1
    I was confused at first because I thought you were talking about sentences and not clauses. Be sure to reword your first sentence as "...any English clause... can only contain..." – ktm5124 Feb 27 '14 at 19:41
  • Thanks ktm5124, you're perfectly right. As you can see, I'm not a linguist. Corrected it now. @JohnLawyer: what a fantastic answer. I do appreciate the very thorough (mathematical) analysis in your paper. Feel free to write it as an answer and I'll mark the topic as answered. – Yellow Feb 27 '14 at 21:20
1

Our esteemed professor has in a potentially ephemeral comment above written this fine answer, which I herebelow consign to posterity and the general community pro bono publico:

Yes, it’s a base-level rule. These terms (Su, DO, IO) are called Grammatical Relations and form dependency trees with the predicate; this is a representational practice derived from logic.

Not all languages have syntax that uses these relations, though — there are many ergative structures in the world, and for them “Subject” and “Direct Object” are meaningless terms.

“Indirect Object”, on the other hand, is usually just the receiver.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.