Valence Of English Nouns Derived From Trivalent Verbs


Word combination in a sentence is a sphere of vocabulary-grammar interaction. The interaction is based on the universal principle: the relationship of semantic and syntactic combinations of a language unit. The article analyzes the valence of English nouns derived from trivalent verbs. The semantic and syntactic characteristics of verbal action nouns (VAN) depend on the base verb (BV). The dual nature of the VAN semantics is explained by the fact that the semantic indicator of action from the subordinate becomes the leading one, and the meaning of objectness changes to the position of the grammatical factor which governs the syntactic behavior of the VAN, defines the scope of its lexical combinability, i.e. it describes the syntagmatic value of the derivate. The VANs have one important feature: nouns derived from verbs adopt the valency of the base verb in the Nomina Actionis state. The BV determines combinability of the VAN and the number of semantic actants participating in the situation (semantic subject, semantic object, etc.) which help the VANs fully reveal their meanings. The findings are based on the analysis of more than eight hundred examples containing trivalent VAN derivates selected by continuous sampling from works of contemporary British and American authors.

Keywords: Verbal nounvalencesemantic-syntactic featurediathesis


Valency is both a semantic and syntactic concept. Therefore, most studies are based on the premise that valence frames contain both semantic and syntactic descriptions of individual predicative meanings Dušek, Hajič, & Urešova, 2014). Although the concept of valence was formulated in relation to the verb (Tesnière, 1959) and gave rise to a huge amount of research, linguists drew attention to other grammatical classes of words (parts of speech) (Herbst & Heath, 2004). In our opinion, one of the most interesting research objects is action nouns derived from verbs. We agree with those scientists who associate the valence of a verbal noun with the verb from which it is derived (Fillmore, 1994).

Problem Statement

The relevance of the study is due to the problem of valence which is analyzed based on language behavior of a large group of derived units — abstract action nouns derived from verbs.

Research Questions

The subject of the study is English verbal action nouns (VAN). Verbs with three actants are the basis for formation of trivalent VAN derivatives which control one subject and two objects (Tesnière, 1959). However, the terms “subject” and “object” are ambiguous: they act as synonyms for the terms “subject” and “predicate” when the formal level of the unit is characterized and as a component of the semantic structure of a sentence does not coincide with a sentence subject.

In terms of semantics, the roles of VAN can be different and depend on the situation. The list of roles (“semantic cases”) varies in quantity and quality, depending on the base for their selection and level of detail (Apresyan, 1995; Abraham, 1978; Kreidler, 1978). Semantic roles of the “protagonist” (the first participant) are as follows: an agent, a coagent, an addressee (an agent-addressee, a donator, a causator, a possessor).

The patient is a participant in the situation who is affected by the agent, the recipient is given a material object; the addressee falls under the direct action of the agent, it is a recipient of information; an objective is an object that existed before the situation began, affected by the agent; the resultative is an object, a situation resulted from of an action; the deliberate is a being / object, phenomenon which is an object of the addressee's intellectual action; the donative is an object in the transfer situation; the possessive is an object of possession.

Purpose of the Study

The aim of the work is to study actualization of the semantic-syntactic valency of English verbal action nouns

Research Methods

The following methods were used: descriptive, structural, and quantitative.


According to L. Tesnière (Tesnière, 1959), trivalent BVs which are the motivating basis of the derivative, are declarative verbs (speaking) and transfer verbs as well as verbs with opposite meanings (ask - answer, ask - give): (1) They set off amicably together, and their conversation was of such things as slicing and pulling and how to perfect of chip shot onto the green. The study of derivatives semantics has slightly expanded the range of their semantic groups (Zolotov, 1982).

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According to Tesnière, VANs derived from trivalent BVs are the most difficult to use and interpret (Tesnière, 1959). Firstly, it is difficult to identify the number of actants, since the same word can have different control models and represent different meanings, cf .: (2) Father gives me an allowance, and I’ve got lots of houses to live in and clothes... The VAN is derived from the verb to allow sth to sb , which means to let sb have sth , i.e. the VAN is Sub (a causator expressed by the noun father ), Ob1 (the objective expressed by the minor subordinate sentence I’ve got ...) and Ob2 (the recipient expressed by the object pronoun me ). In (3), the situation is different. The VAN derived from the verb to allow for sb / sth and involves two semantic actants: Sub (the agent expressed by the personal pronoun you ) and Ob1 (the patient expressed by the object pronoun him ). Secondly, it is difficult to specify the actant (first, second or third), since English allows for inversions.

The subject of the sentence is not always the semantic subject of the action, cf. (4) So Jem received most of his information from Miss Stephanie Crowford . The VAN is derived from the verb to inform sb of / about sth. The subject is Miss Stephanie Crowford (addresser), and the Ob1 is Jem (addressee). Thirdly, there are verbs which belong simultaneously to two types, cf .: to ask sb about sb / sth; to ask sth of sb . The VAN inherits from the BV its object control. These two objects are variables. The active object (person) can occupy different positions.

Contextual uses of the VANs have been identified in two variants. They reflect aspectual meanings of the BV in the VAN semantics - ‘process’, ‘act / fact’, ‘repeatability of actions’.

The first variant is the independent, free use of a derivative, cf .: (5) (5) They have long argument with the referee about his decision . The VAN derived from v.t. to argue has Sub (coagents - they ) and semantic Ob1 (patientive - the referee ) and Ob2 (deliberate - decision ). The semantic background of the VAN meaning is associated with clear differential elements in the sentence. The meaning ‘action’ is explained by the use of the adjective long which is used before the VAN and has a feaature of action development that the VAN has. The meaning ‘repetition of the action’ is conveyed by a background of ambiguity, eg: (6) Having never questioned Jem’s pronouncements, I saw no reasons to begin now . The context of the sentence contains the adverb never which characterizes the action as usual, regularly repeated by the subject. In addition, the VAN of the sentence derived from the verb to pronounce sth for / against sb / sth is used in the plural form. The meaning ‘act / fact’ is indicated by contextual indications of momentariness, suddenness or completeness of an action, cf .: (7) The male population of the class rushed as one to her assistance . The BV of the noun assistance is to assist sb in / with sth , and the verb-predicate of the sentence to rush specifies the circumstances of the action of the VAN as it means to go or come with great speed/act hastily , suddenly .

The second use of the VAN is a two-component use in various modifications of the N of N. model. According to A.I. Smirnitsky (Smirnitsky, 1959, p. 247), the phrase formed by the N of N model is an autonomous unit, both in structural design and in terms of semantic integrity. Any subject-dependent word carries an element of attribute. In the phrase N of N, the definition of a name is transmitted by a noun which denotes objectivity.

Any subject-dependent word has an attributive element. In the phrase N of N, the definition of a name is expressed by a noun which means objectivity. Attached with of, it weakens its objective meaning and takes on the character of a definition to reflect the attribute. The preposition of and the postpositive definition contribute to the fact that the relationship between phrase components are understood as relationship between two nouns, i.e. the noun feature is through the relationship. The VAN in the phrase N of N can occupy different positions, including the first one, cf .: (8) His attitude towards you is demonstration of affection . With the help of the preposition of, a feature characterizing the VAN is added to the VAN derived from the verb to demonstrate sth to sb . If the VAN takes the second position, it becomes a definition, cf .: (9) (9) …she had little now in common with that early photograph of herself, and no trace of that wistful expression remained . The semantics of the phrase is complicated by the fact that the preposition of connects the VAN derived from the verb to express sth to sb and the noun trace . Before the VAN, there is an additional definition which specifies the meaning of the word expression as a manifestation of person’s feelings or mood which in turn are reflected on his face and / fixed by the photo. The research did not identify cases when trivalent derivatives occupy both positions in the phrase.

There are examples when derived nouns take both positions, but the trivalent derivative explicates only one component, cf .: (10) For some reason, my first year of school had wrought a great change in our relationship: Calpurnia’s tyranny, unfairness, and meddling in my business had faded to gentle grumblings of general disapproval . The first component is occupied by a trivalent derivative which is derived from the verb to grumble at / to sb about / at / over sth , and the second one is a bivalent derivative derived from the verb to disapprove of sb / smth . This position causes the semantics of the components to act towards each other. The first component of the phrase is used in plural which characterizes its action as repeatable, and the second component, the VAN, is used as a function of the definition, contains an additional characteristic general which marks the action as permanent. The absence of semantically common associations in a very concise language context is due to the limited information content of the meaning of the English sentence. Although abstract nouns summarize the whole sentence, reducing it to a phrase, become a knot of substantiveness, a kind of a semantic whole which opens a certain number of syntactic positions, their number is limited (Kurilovich, 1962, p. 64; Fillmore, 1968). The dual variability of the contextual use of the VAN in the sentence can be explained. The first use is associated with nominalization, and the second one - with the theory of cases (Gak, 1992; Fillmore, 1968).

Expression of the meaning of action with objectivity extends the variability of the syntactic use of the derived unit.

Distribution in the categorical semantics of derivatives determines a significant difference in VAN syntactic status. The main syntactic functions of names with specific semantics are the functions of the subject and the object, while the derivative can only take the position of the subject or object of the verb-predicate action, but in no case should they perform their functions, because the VAN action cannot perform an action and cannot be spread by an action. The VAN in (5) denotes an action. As a part of the sentence, it becomes an actant of a verb-predicate to have sth , but the VAN is not the subject of the action of a verb-predicate. Their combination in the sentence structure means that both words have the same subject actant. For the verb-predicate, it is a personal pronoun they – an obligatory subject the sentence. It replaces the Sub of the derivate action, eliminates the need to repeat it in the predicative center of the sentence. In terms of semantics, the combination they have a long argument is interpreted as they argue . The verb-predicate have does not mean possession. It performs a functional role. (11) She changed the conversation . The VAN is an addition to the verb-predicate to change sb / sth . The subject of the sentence is both an actant of the verb-predicate and the semantic Sub of the verbal noun. Therefore, its additional presence is not, cf.: (11a) She changed her conversation . This sentence is impossible because she cannot talk to herself .

Substitution of another pronoun makes the sentence impossible as well, cf .: (11b) * She changed their conversation . In this case, the verb-predicate should be substituted with the verb to interrupt ’. (12) He enjoyed this friendly conversation . The analysis of this sentence may be similar to the previous one, but the VAN is complemented by the adverb friendly which implies participants of the conversation initiated by the VAN agent and the subject of the verb-predicate. (13) I said and explained my involvement in Walter’s affairs . The VAN is derived from the verb to contain sb / sth in (doing) smth and denotes the action, but the verb to explain causes the need for repeating the Sub action of the VAN, since you can explain something only for yourself or someone. The name of an action when the semantic actant of the VAN is the subject of the sentence, i.e. the semantic actant of the verb-predicate, can be joined to the verbs to have (cf. (5)); to receive (transfer verbs, cf. (4)); to enjoy (verbs of perception, cf. (12)).

VANs can perform different syntactic functions: the subject (553 examples = 64%), cf. (one); objects (553 examples = 64%), cf. (five); circumstances (76 cases - 8.9%), cf. (6); definitions (18 examples = 2.1%), cf. (9)

The study found that trivalent derivatives do not fully actualize all the semantic participants in their structure. In (1), where the VAN is used as a subject, the complete semantic structure is broken by the verb predicate to be . It seems that sentence restructuring with the verb transfer would be possible and grammatically correct, cf .: (1b) They set off amicably together, and their conversation of such things as slicing and pulling ... was full of joy . A similar situation is presented in (5), where the VAN is used as an object, and its semantic structure is broken by the verb-predicate to have . In this case, it is impossible to indicate an additional subject for the VAN (cf. *They have their long conversation…) .

As an object, a Sub actant of the verb-predicate is the semantic subject of the VAN (see 2.4.1). In the syntactic function of the subject (218 = 25%), the VAN either indicates the Sub action, cf. (1), or hides semantic actants, cf. (14) The discussion proceeded . (see 6.3.2).

As a circumstance, the VAN specifies the circumstances of the action of one of the actants, therefore it can lose the need for their additional repetition. As a definition, the VAN describes the subject and does not indicate semantic actants of its action.

As for the syntactic use of the VAN, it is clear that trivalent derivatives tend to be used as objects or subjects. As circumstances or definitions of trivalent VANs, it is difficult to reflect all the components of their semantic structures. Analysis of the syntactic manifestation of a derivative is not sufficient to determine its syntactic status. The VAN relations are determined by VAN semantics. A derivative becomes a syntactic unit complicating the sentence, concentrating its meaning (Kubryakova, 2004; Kurilovich, 1962).

According to K. Sommerfeldt (Sommerfeldt, 1973), actant positions under the VAN can be occupied by different language units: 1) nouns in the possessive case, cf. (6); 2) nouns with prepositions, cf. (4), (8), (13); 3) possessive pronouns, cf. (1); 4) relative adjectives, cf. (12); 5) infinitive groups, cf. (15): (15) Nobody knew what form of intimidation Mr.Radley employed to keep Boo out of sight. ; 6) clauses, cf. (18); 7) gerundial constructions, cf. (16): (16) On the following morning he went up to town, there to meet a friend who was thinking of starting a garage and who fancied that Bobby’s cooperation might be valuable .

Of interest is the definition of linguistic possibilities of the expression of each semantic VAN actants.

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In addition to the examples identified by K. Zomerfeldt, we found those where the subject actant directly joins the VAN, cf .: (17) She heard Mrs Talbot affectionate greetings from the shadows . The subject is the addressee Mrs Talbot . The same is true for sentence (5), where the emphatic construction which reverses the word order of the sentence is used. The subject is directly attached to the VAN intimidation .

Tables 2 - 4 show that 1) semantic actants of trivalent derivatives are not expressed in sentences; 2) each of the semantic positions in a predicate is formed in a certain number of ways; 3) the choice of the method for registration of a particular actant depends on the VAN meaning and the meaning of the verb-predicate.

The mechanism of interaction of semantic and syntactic characteristics is reflected by the "diathesis". According to A. A. Kholodovich, it describes the relationship between semantic actants of a situation and syntactic participants (Kholodovich, 1970). There are two diatheses - the initial diathesis (each semantic actant corresponds to its usual valence), and the derivative one (Paducheva, 1977). A special case of the derivative diathesis is a reduced diathesis (violation of the initial mutual relationship is complicated by the lack of syntactic valence for any semantic VAN actant, cf. (5) absent Ob2 ( about his decision ). The construction is considered elliptic if it allows substitution of a zero actant with a nonzero one. Ellipsis can be of several types:

The semantic actant can be omitted in a sentence for syntactic reasons: it is already expressed in the sentence by one of the verb-predicate actants: the VAN actant is identified in the sentence and is marked with (Øref) showing its anaphorical relation with one of the actants of the verb-predicate, cf. (18) I played that summer with more than vague anxiety despite Jem’s assurances (Ob1 Øref of me ) that Boo Redley was dead… .The absent Ob1 is marked by Øref which enters the anaphoric relationship with one of the actants of the verb-predicate, namely with the subject “ I ”.

Sentences with the omitted VAN actant which can be established only within a wider context contain one more type if ellipsis. The semantic actant has no anaphoric relationship with any member of the sentence. This actant is marked by ØΣx, cf. (19) Mr.Avery’s direct predictions (Ob1ØΣx и Ob2ØΣx) came true . In this example, the Σx lexeme characterizes possible actants (eg: the prediction of a bad weather for us ) and represents the absent Obj which is identified based on previous or subsequent contexts.

The third type of ellipsis can be found in sentences with an absent actant. It refers to the whole range of subjects. The semantic actant has a universal character and is denoted by the lexeme ØYx, which explains the ellipsis with the quantifier of generality. (20) The Radly place was inhabited by an unknown entity the mere description of whom (Ob1 Øref – an unknown entity ) (Sub ØYх – by everybody ) (Ob2 Øref – to us ) was enough to make us behave for days on end . The lexeme ØYх means an ellipse with a quantifier of generality, i.e., any person can be the subject of a predicate. It is assumed that anyone can be Sub.

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Thus, four representations of the VAN semantic valences are possible: a present actant, an absent actant marked by a zero-reflexive lexeme (Øref) and the lack of relationship with a supposed quantifier of existence (ØΣx) or a quantifier of community (ØYx).

Calculation of the diatheses of derivatives shows: 1) which diathesis is actualization of the semantic VAN actant connected with; 2) which number of semantic actants does the VAN have? 3) which lexeme denotes a zero actant: Øref, ØΣx, ØYx. Taking into account all possible characteristics, 52 theoretical and logical possibilities of the relationship between semantic actants and syntactic valencies, or diatheses, were obtained (Krasikova, 2017). In speech, 22 diatheses can be actualized (see Table 5 ).

As stated before, there were no cases for trivalent derivatives when all semantic actants are expressed, i.e., there is no full diathesis for trivalent derivatives (Table 5 ).

The study identified 6 diathesis models where one/all semantic actants enter anaphoric relationships with the actants of the verb-predicate (Table 5 , lines 2-8). The cases when one / all actants are identified on the basis of the previous or subsequent context are represented by 14 models (see Table 5 , leines 9-15).

An increase in cases is due to the nature of the material under study. Literary texts have a limited number of active characters, events, features are specified, there are dialogues which reveal knowledge of situations. Nine diathesis models were revealed (the use of actants entering the anaphoric relationship is combined, and situations with a quantifier of existence (Table 5 , lines 23-33).

Sentences where one of the elements of the semantic structure can be attributed to the whole range of VAN objects / subjects are represented by two diatheses. In the artistic text, a reference to a well-known fact is assumed, or the situation allows performance of the action by any VAN subject (Table 5 , lines 34-52).


Trivalent VANs are derived from semantically trivalent transitional verbs, most of which are speech and transfer verbs. The VANs adopt their semantic-syntactic valence and are characterized by the presence of three actants at the semantic level (see 6.1 - 6.2).

Complex relationships of the VANs in the syntactic structure are determined by the derivate semantics which determines the textual use of the VAN in the sentence (see 6.3.1). The name of the action is not and cannot be the name of an object or the name of a subject of the action of the verb-predicate and represents a syntactic unit which enriches the semantics and structure of the utterance (see 6.3.2).

Of 865 sentences, trivalent derivates express objects, subjects, circumstances and compliments. However, syntactic functions do not actualize all the components of the semantic structure (see 6.3.3).

Actants can be expressed using different language means (see 6.4).

Of 52 theoretically possible diatheses of trivalent VANs, 22 diatheses were identified (see Table 5 ). For all trivalent VANs, there is no diathesis with expressed Sub, Ob1 and Ob2 (see Table 5 , paragraph 1).

Six models describe one / all semantic actants of the VAN entering anaphoric relationships with one of the actants of the verb-predicate, of which the majority are sentences where Sub and Ob2 are replaced (89 sentences = 10.3%). The share of models where three components of the VAN semantic structure are replaced is 9,6% (83 sentences), the share of models where only Ob1 and Ob2 are replaced is 7.9% (68 sentences), the number of sentences where Sub and Ob1 are replaced is 26 (= 2,9%) (see Table 5 , paragraph 2-8).

There are 14 models where there is no semantic actant (it is not named) and can be restored from the previous / subsequent context (see section 6 .5). The number of sentences when semantic actants are modeled by the quantifier of existence, and the lexeme ØΣx hides three actants is 61 (7.2%). The number of sentences when semantic actants are modeled by the quantifier of existence, and the lexeme ØΣx hides only Ob1 and Ob2 is 35 (= 4%). The number of sentences when semantic actants are modeled by the quantifier of existence, and the lexeme ØΣx is used instead of Ob2 is 28 (= 3.3%). The number of sentences when semantic actants are modeled by the quantifier of existence, and the lexeme ØΣx replaces Sub and Ob1 is 27 (= 3.1%). The number of sentences when semantic actants are modeled by the quantifier of existence, and the lexeme ØΣx hides only Sub is 24 (= 2.7%) (Table 5 , lines 9-15).

Nine models represent situations when two previous characteristics are combined: one of the semantic actants of is replaced by the actant of the verb-predicate, and the second is determined from a wider context, most of the sentences are cases where the object actant 1 remains pronounced, the semantic Sub is replaced by an actant of a verb-predicate, and Ob is revealed from the extended context (110 sentences = 12.7%) (see Table 5 , paragraphs 23-34). Two models represent sentences when an universal actant enters the structure with an actant of the semantic structure of the VAN action substituted with an actant of the verb-predicate (Table 5 , lines 35, 44).

Actualization of the components of the VAN semantic structure is influenced by semantics of the verb-predicate; the positional role of the VAN; VAN semantics; grammatical features of the English sentence; a type of the text.


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Borisovna, K. M., Nikolaevna, S. O., Viktorovna, T. E., Ivanovna, K. S., & Alekseevna, F. M. (2019). Valence Of English Nouns Derived From Trivalent Verbs. In D. K. Bataev (Ed.), Social and Cultural Transformations in the Context of Modern Globalism, vol 58. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 560-569). Future Academy.