Consider the below sentences, all of which have the form Subject-Verb-Object:

Every day, he spends an hour exercising.

She spent her early life in France.

What is the semantic role that the objects here have? To me, the semantic role appears to be temporal. At first I thought that the semantic role was that of patient, but after some consideration, I ruled this possibility out: for an object to have this semantic role requires that it undergo some sort of action or change, and in both of these sentences the objects do not undergo an action. For instance, in the sentence

He threw the ball.

'the ball' has the semantic role of patient because it undergoes the action of throwing, so that its position changes (theme). This logic does not apply to the two sentences above: after all, how can 'an hour' undergo the action of spending, or be changed by it? I am therefore unsure of what the semantic role could be.

Some enlightenment would be appreciated.

  • 1
    Can you explain why you feel "this logic does not apply" in "an hour undergoes the action of spending"? Do you feel the same if it were money that was spent?
    – oerkelens
    May 6, 2022 at 11:51
  • I suppose there will be treatments that start with analysing 'an hour' or 'her early life' here as metaphorical units of currency (after 'spend'). SIL_glossary of linguistic terms classes any measures independently: 'Measure As A Semantic Role Definition: Measure is a semantic role which notes the quantification of an event. Examples: (English) The new coat costs $70' May 6, 2022 at 14:29
  • This is a straightforward example of the Time is Money metaphor theme. Spend only has meaning in the Commercial Transaction frame, so any temporal expression with it invokes the metaphor. May 6, 2022 at 15:43
  • @oerkelens. I cannot understand how 'an hour' can undergo the action of spending in the same way a ball can undergo the action of throwing. Typically, arguments with the semantic role of patient are in some way changed (e.g. if you throw a ball, you change its position); here, an hour isn't changed. In the case of money, I can understand why someone might label 'money' as having the SR of patient, since its 'position' is being changed (e.g., 'He spent some money on some clothes' entails the transfer of money from his bank account to the bank account of the organisation providing the clothes).
    – Eric
    May 6, 2022 at 19:41
  • These chunks of time change from being in the future, and as of yet undetermined, to being in the past, and having been fully determined. I am unfamiliar with the semantic role of patient, but naively I do see a change.
    – JonathanZ
    May 6, 2022 at 19:44


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.