Greek Argument Structure

I agree with Mike Aubrey that the category Verb Phrase is not particularly helpful at this point in the discussion of Hellenistic Greek syntax. I would like to propose that we talk instead about the “Argument Structure” of Hellenistic Greek verbs.

Each verb requires, or clearly implies certain elements, such as a subject, and frequently one or more objects as well. Where these elements are essential to the meaning of the verb, we can say they are part of the verb’s “Argument Structure.” Modifiers that are optional, in the sense that they are not demanded by the meaning of the verb, we can say are not part of the verb’s argument structure.

Let’s take the verb δίδωμι as an example. In Matthew 4:9 we find

ταῦτά σοι πάντα δώσω
All of these I give to you

Here the verb is accompanied by three arguments: ταῦτα (these), σοι (to you), and -σω (I). One of these arguments (the subject) is attached to the verb itself and need not be expressed separately unless the context demands it. The other two we can call “complements.”

In certain discourse contexts, one or more of the complements may be left unexpressed. In Matthew 5:42, for example, we find

τῷ αἰτοῦντί σε δός
Give to the one who asks you
Give to the one who begs from you

Here the Recipient is expressed  explicitly: τῷ αἰτοῦντί σε (the one who asks you, the one who begs from you), but the Patient (that is, the thing that is given) is not expressed explicitly. Crucially, the cultural and discourse contexts make it clear that sustenance, in the form of food or money, is what is expected. The meaning of δίδωμι itself asserts a Patient role (the object given), and when the context clearly implies what must fill that role, it may be left implicit rather than directly expressed.

It is my contention that a reference grammar for Hellenistic Greek, if it is to serve the interests of both language learners and exegetes, needs to include this kind of information. Optimally,  argument structure information should be included in the lexical entry for every verb. The grammar would simply need to explain argument structure, and refer to an accompanying lexicon for details of specific verbs.

Some strides have been made toward this goal in recent research. Simon Wong provided a great deal of relevant data in his A Classification of Semantic Case-Relations in the Pauline Epistles (1999). What he calls semantic case-relations I would call arguments to avoid confusion with morphological case (nominative, accusative, etc.), but the data he provides could be very useful.

If you know of other research on this topic, please include it in your comments.

What would you like to see about the argument structure of verbs in a reference grammar? In a lexicon?