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Thematic role (also called semantic role) is the semantic relationship between the verb and
the noun phrases of a sentence, such as agent, theme, experiencer, location, instrument, goal
and source.
Theta Assignment (thematic role assignment): The ascribing of thematic roles to the
syntactic elements in a sentence.
a) Agent: The thematic role of the noun phrase whose referent deliberately does the action
described by the verb, the entity that performs the action, the doer.
The boy kicked the ball.
Although agents are typically human (The boy), they can also be non-human entities that
cause actions, as in noun phrases denoting a natural force (The wind), a machine (A car),
or a creature (The dog), all of which affect the ball as theme.
The boy kicked the ball.
The wind blew the ball away.
A car ran over the ball.
The dog caught the ball.
b) Theme is the entity that is involved in or affected by the action. Instrument is the entity
by which an action is performed. Theme undergoes the action but does not change its
The boy kicked the ball.
I put the book on the table.
The theme is typically non-human, but can be human, as in The dog chased the boy. In fact,
the same physical entity can appear in two different semantic roles in a sentence, as in The
boy cut himself. Here the boy is agent and himself is theme.
c) Experiencer is the entity that undergoes a sensory, cognitive, or emotional experience.
Susan heard the song.
Many people fear snakes.
The boy feels sad.
John is amused.
d) Instrument is the entity used to carry out the action.
Jamie cut the ribbon with a pair of scissors
This key opens the door to the main office.
They must have used indelible ink.
e) Location is where the action occurs, where an entity is.
Johnny and Linda played carelessly in the park
I'll be at Julie's house studying for my test
We put the book on the shelf.
The ship sank at sea.
The paper is in the folder.
f) Source is the place/individual from which the movement of the action occurs.
She walked away from him
John received a book from Mary
The baby crawled from the kitchen to the door
John received the prize from the president.
g) Goal is where the action is directed towards, the location or individual to which movement
John went home
Lee walked to school.
John gave me the book
He studied for the test.

Susan threw a pen to John.