Theta Roles Assigned to Subject Argument in Arabic and English Passive Voice

Muayad Shamsan


This descriptive study sought to compare and contrast theta roles assigned to the passive voice arguments with special reference to the subject in Arabic and English. The findings of the study showed that both Arabic and English, though they belong to different language families, have close similarities concerning theta roles that could be assigned to the subject of the passive voice. The subject could have various theta roles (theme, patient, experiencer, source, goal, recipient, instrument, beneficiary, or location) in the two languages. The agent theta role could hardly be possible for a passive subject in the two languages. Agentive passive where the agent occurs in a prepositional phrase is more common in English than in Arabic. The study also showed that the recipient is preferably used as a subject of passive sentences with ditransitive verbs in the two languages. On the other hand, there are middle voice constructions in Arabic whose subject has a recipient theta role. The English counterpart for such constructions is passive voice. The study concluded that it is vitally important for Arab EFL learners to know these differences and similarities to help them understand the significance of maintaining the same theta roles of the arguments when they change sentences from active to passive or when they translate from Arabic into English or vice versa.


Passive, Theta/Semantic Role, Argument, Verb Valency, Arabic, English, Transitive, Intransitive

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