Argument (definition)

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Each verb requires a certain number of arguments to make a grammatical clause, each of which must be filled with a phrase.

1a) Jones painted a picture.
1b) Jones gave the picture to Smith.

In (1a), Jones and a picture are both core arguments of the verb paint. Core arguments are required to form a grammatical clause, unless certain valence changing operations are used.

In (1b), the verb gave requires three arguments (i.e., it is ditransitive, or has a valence of three). Here, Jones, the picture and to Smith (a prepositional phrase) are all core arguments.

Additional, optional arguments can appear in a clause. Such arguments are often called oblique.

2a) A picture was painted by Jones.
2b) A picture was painted.

Here, a valence changing operation (passive voice) has been applied and the number of core arguments of the verb decreased to one (a picture). The former subject Jones has become an oblique argument, which we can verify by showing that this argument is optional (2b).

Note that not all "optional" arguments are oblique. For instance, Jones painted. is grammatical, but this does not mean that in (1a) a picture is oblique. However, oblique arguments will always be optional.

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