John gave Jack money with enthusiasm.

John is the subject, Jack the indirect object, money the direct object, and enthusiasm a prepositional object.

Is there a general term that describes the "things" involved in an action/verb?

Nouns doesn't work because there are pronouns. "Nouns and pronouns" doesn't work because there are gerunds that can also be objects, for example He likes swimming.

I have been using "things" to describe them, but it sounds lame :/

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    It's not really very clear what you're asking. From the title of the question it looks like you're asking what the set of things including the subject and object is. From your fourth paragraph where you talk about nouns, pronouns and gerunds it sounds like you could be asking for a word class which includes them all (ie, the nominals). Nov 13, 2014 at 0:56
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    By the way, Jack is the indirect object and money the direct object.
    – rogermue
    Nov 13, 2014 at 5:17
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    @curiousdannii sorry for the confusion, I meant the set of of things and not the word class. Also I have used a bad example, which I will correct.
    – semantax
    Nov 14, 2014 at 0:52
  • @semantax I've given a kind of answer below. However, I don't think there is any relationship between with enthusiasm and the action verb. Enthusiasm is kind of extra and incidental here because it is an adjunct. We could freely add it to many different clauses regardless of the the verb in question :) Nov 14, 2014 at 12:01

4 Answers 4


I think the term sought after is arguments of the verb. This term doesn't only refer to the different elements in action verb constructions, but in any clausal construction. In the Original Poster's example John, Jack and money are the three arguments of the verb GIVE. Enthusiasm is not one of the arguments of the verb. There is no special grammatical relationship between give and with enthusiasm. Rather with enthusiasm is just giving extra information in the sentence. It is, therefore, an adjunct in the clause structure.

Some verbs, like the verb HAPPEN, usually only have one argument:

  • Accidents(1) happen.

A verb like BET usually has four:

  • Bob(1) bet the dragon(2) fifty euros(3) that he would win the contest(4).

The arguments here are, Bob (subject), the dragon (indirect object), fifty euros (direct object) and lastly the content clause: that he would win the contest (complement). The content clause there is a complement of bet, but I don't think that the function it is carrying out has a special name - unlike for example subject.

Verbs, clauses, adjectives and so forth can all be arguments of the verb. So in, for example:

  • To swim can help such conditions.

to swim is an argument, the subject, even though it is a verb.

Each argument of a verb in an utterance will have a grammatical function and a thematic role. In:

  • Bob was beaten by the dragon.

Bob is the subject. It has the thematic role of patient; in other words it describes the recipient of the beating action. In:

  • The dragon beat Bob.

Bob is the direct object of the verb, but still has the thematic role of patient.

In short, the number of arguments that a clause has depends on the number of slots set up to be filled by the verb. These arguments may have different grammatical functions and different thematic roles. Arguments can also be of many different types of word or phrase.


Different linguistic frameworks call them different things. The two most common are, I think, constituents and arguments.

Note that in your example only John, Jack and money are arguments. from his wallet is a relative clause which modifies money, and it doesn't have any kind of similar role as the arguments.

  • +1, Thanks esp. for the clarification of from his wallet. How about "He eats rice with a spoon"? Are the arguments the following three? "He", "rice", and "with a spoon"?
    – semantax
    Nov 14, 2014 at 0:44
  • "with a spoon" would be considered an adjunct rather than an argument. Nov 14, 2014 at 0:44
  • thanks. So, argument includes subject, object, and indirect object? Sorry but one more clarification, are gerunds and infinitives included? I. e. in "He likes swimming", is "swimming" an argument?
    – semantax
    Nov 14, 2014 at 0:46
  • It depends on the type of verb. Do you know the terms transitive and intransitive verbs? A transitive verb will have two arguments, while an intransitive will have only one. Ditransitive verbs have three, and tritransitive verbs (if they really exist) would have four. Arguments can be pretty much any type of phrase, including noun phrases, preposition phrases, verb phrases, adjective phrases. So in "He likes swimming" the arguments are "he" and "swimming". In "He likes to swim" the arguments are "he" and "to swim". Nov 14, 2014 at 0:53
  • Yes I am aware of transitive/intransitive verbs. Going by your comment, in the sentence: "He eats rice with a spoon from a bowl", there are only two arguments: "He" and "rice". I have edited my question with a better example. I was looking for a general term that would also include "[with] a spoon" and "[from] a bowl". Per another answer, NP seems to be the formal term. However, I feel may be I didn't present my question well enough for you to give it the correct answer.
    – semantax
    Nov 14, 2014 at 0:58

Some writers use the word function.

Function - In linguistics, the relation between linguistic units in a hierarchy: the adjective large functions as a modifier of the noun house in the noun phrase that large house, and in turn that large house functions as subject in the sentence That large house belongs to Jill’s parents. (Tom McArthur (ed), 1992.423, The Oxford Companion to the English Language )

  • upvoted for effort (at least -- perhaps I am unable to entirely comprehend the answer)
    – semantax
    Nov 14, 2014 at 0:50

In some analyses of syntax these consitutents of a clause (or of subordinate constituents) are called NPs, a term which derives from “noun phrase” but has a somewhat larger scope: a “noun phrase” is a phrase headed by a noun, while “NP” includes phrases of other sorts which can act in the same syntactic role as noun phrases.

Note that an NP (or “noun phrase”) can be a single word—John, Jack and money are all NPs—or it may include a noun and its dependents, such as a determiner and modifiers, as in his wallet, which is the object of the preposition from.

A verb’s subject and objects are collectively referred to as its arguments.

  • +1, thanks! Could you please clarify whether gerunds such as "swimming" and infinitives such as "to swim" would be considered to be NPs also?
    – semantax
    Nov 14, 2014 at 0:42
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    @semantax The phrases which these verbforms head are considered to be NPs when they are employed as NPs. Nov 14, 2014 at 0:52

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