Thematic role

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The term thematic role is a synonym of semantic role or thematic relation, popularized by Chomsky (1981), although mostly in its abbreviated form Θ-role.

Thematic roles are semantic roles in a system which takes location and movement through space as (some of) the key notion in the interpretation of natural language sentences.


the sentence Don gives Ed a donut is about a relocation or transfer of a donut (the Theme) from Don (the Source) to Ed (the Goal). In syntactic theory thematic roles are usually referred to as Theta-roles with not much concern for their content. See Thematic theory.



Utrecht Lexicon of Linguistics


  • Chomsky, Noam. 1981. Lectures on Government and Binding. Foris, Dordrecht.
  • Fillmore, C.J. 1968. The Case for Case, in: E. Bach & R.T. Harms (eds.) Universals In Linguistic Theory, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York.
  • Gruber, J. 1965. Studies in lexical relations, doctoral dissertation, MIT
  • Jackendoff, R. 1990. Semantic Structures, Cambridge, MIT-Press.