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An actant is the same as a dependent syntactic argument, i.e. a noun phrase (or other referential constituent) that is required by a valency of a predicate.


  • The term actant goes back to Tesnière (1959) and has been fairly common especially in European linguistics since the 1970s. However, the quasi-synonym argument is becoming more and more common.
    • There is a slight difference between the notions of actant and argument. I.e., in attributive phrases (derived as a result of adjectivization) the determined constituent is an argument of its modifier, but not an actant of it.
  • In Tesnière's terminology, actants are opposed to circumstants, i.e. optional modifiers of the clause.
  • The main subtypes of actants are subject (= first actant)and objects (non-first actants).
  • There is some difference between semantic actants and syntactic actants. E.g.:
    • (1) some syntactic actants, like "dummy subjects" (like it in Engl. It rains.), correspond to no semantic actant.
    • (2) some semantic actants, like "zero" object ('on what?') in Engl. It depends., correspond to no syntactic actant.


  • Tesnière, Lucien. 1959. Éléments de syntaxe structurale. Paris: Klincksieck.

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