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The simplistic formulation in traditional Grammar is that in an active voice sentence, the Subject is the doer of the verb and the DO is the receiver of the action. So how about this?

"The students received the food with joy."

Here, supposedly, the students are the 'doers', 'receive' is the verb and 'the food' is…errrrrm…the receiver…of the action…

Is there a term for verbs, like 'receive' or 'await', that work the exact opposite of the traditional formulation?

  • It's not the opposite of anything. It just so happens that the word "receive" has different meanings in different contexts (like almost all words), and you're combining the two contexts here. – Max Williams Jun 6 '16 at 13:19
  • I don't have time to write anything up, but this page on thematic relation will certainly help you: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thematic_relation – GoldenGremlin Jun 6 '16 at 13:19
  • Thanks, Silenus. So I take it the students are the recipients (in the most literal sense possible) and the food is the theme? – Dunsanist Jun 6 '16 at 13:35
  • Max Williams, I fail to see how the food is 'acted upon' in any real sense, or how the students are the 'doers'. 'To receive' implies that someone else has acted to give you something. You can't receive something by taking it for yourself. There's an invisible third party here, that has given the students the food. – Dunsanist Jun 6 '16 at 13:38
  • How is this not a plain old transitive verb, where "the food" is the object of the verb?? – Hot Licks Jun 6 '16 at 15:17
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The classification of noun phrases in relation to the verbs they appear with are called thematic relations or theta roles. Different verbs have different theta role structures.

In the case of "The students received the food with joy,"

"The food" can be viewed as the theme, defined as something that "undergoes the action but does not change its state" (see link above).

This PDF classifies verbs like 'receive' as transfer verbs and gives their thematic structure as {recipient, theme, source}.

So in your example, 'the students' are the recipient and 'the food' is the theme. The source is left empty.

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  • So traditional Grammar doesn't address this issue, but linguistics does? – Dunsanist Jun 6 '16 at 13:40
  • I guess so. You might find traditional grammarians (even medieval grammarians) addressing the issue, and classifying verbs and noun phrases according to something like thematic roles, but it (probably) won't be as rigorous as contemporary theta role theory. – GoldenGremlin Jun 6 '16 at 13:54

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