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by Thomas Herbst

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1 Overall purpose of the patternbank

The aim of the Erlangen valency patternbank is to provide a tool for linguistic research in the areas of valency, complementation, semantic roles or construction grammar.

The patternbank lists all valency patterns that were identified for the verbs, adjectives and nouns contained in the Valency Dictionary of English. In its present format, it allows researchers to find

  • a complete list of the valency patterns of English verbs (active and passive), adjectives and nouns on the basis of the VDE
  • for each valency pattern a list of all lexical units given in the VDE as occurring in that pattern
  • for each word all valency patterns indicated in the VDE.

2 Coverage

At present the patternbank is confined to the words and patterns given in the VDE, which provides a valency description of 511 verbs, 544 adjectives and 274 nouns. These words were chosen on the basis of three criteria: (a) the complexity of their valency properties, (b) their frequency in the language and (c) usefulness for foreign learners of English.

It is important to note that verbs that show no valency patterns apart from the following mono- or divalent patterns are not included: NP + VHCact, NP + VHCact + NP and NP + VHCact + ADV. Thus verbs such as bake or rain are not included in the patternbank at this stage. 

The patternbank will continually be expanded to include lexical items and valency patterns not covered by the VDE.

3 Corpus basis

The information contained in the VDE is based on an analysis of the COBUILD corpus. All the major patterns listed in the VDE or the patternbank are thus the result of corpus research.

There are three major exceptions to this, where statements contained in the VDE are based on the intuition of the native speaker editors of the VDE because in many cases there was not sufficient corpus evidence to be found:

  • statements about non-NP-subjects such as [that_CL]-, [V-ing] or [to_INF] etc.
  • statements about subpatterns of the type [about_wh_CL] and [about_wh_to_INF]
  • statements concerning passivization.

These types of information must thus be treated as being less reliable.

4 Access to different types of information

The patternbank provides the following types of information:

Lists of valency patterns

The patternbank contains active verb patterns, passive verb patterns, adjective patterns, noun patterns. They can be sorted in the following ways:
  • strictly alphabetically
  • according to the number of lexemes for which the pattern is given in the VDE
  • according to the number of lexical units (as units of form and one meaning in the sense of Cruse 1986) for which the pattern is given in the VDE
  • according to first postverbal complement
  • according to quantitative valency or not

Search options concerning subjects:

Verb patterns can be shown with two different degrees of specification for subjects:

  • subject - it - there
    In this mode, patterns in which only impersonal it and there can occur as subjects are distinguished from all others. The notion subject is to be interpreted to mean that an NP is always possible but other subjects such as that_CL or to_INF might also occur.
  • full range of subjects identified in the VDE (often based on native speaker intuition > 3).

Search options concerning lexically specified patterns:

In a number of cases patterns seem to be lexically restricted to a very small number of items. A pattern such as NP + VHCact + NP + Adj: open/shut is given as a subpattern of NP + VHCact + NP + Adj, for example. They can thus be treated as instances of the more general pattern or analysed as idiomatic.

Valency patterns containing a particular complement

Valency patterns can be accessed in the following ways:

  • through the "search by pattern" function
  • by typing in or choosing a particular complement contained in the pattern

Lexical units occurring in the valency patterns

For each pattern, all the lexical units for which this pattern is given in the VDE are listed.

The letters and glosses refer to the sense distinctions made in the VDE. (We regret that for copyright reasons it is not possible to give the full sense description and the examples provided in the VDE).

Valency patterns occurring with particular lexemes

The patterns occurring with a particular lexeme can be identified by

  • clicking on a word listed under a pattern
  • carrying out a word search

5 Theoretical framework

5.1 Valency

The overall framework on which the patternbank is based is that of valency theory as it is widely used in German linguistics (Helbig 1991; Herbst/Schüller 2008).

The basic ideas of the approach can be summarized as follows:

  • A lexical unit has the property of valency if it opens up one or more valency slots which can or must be realised by a complement
  • At the formal level, valency slots will be described in terms of the complements which can fill them. A complement is any formal realisation of a valency slot - for instance, a phrase or a clause.
  • At the semantic level, valency slots can be characterized in terms of participants or participant roles, which characterize the semantic function of the comple ment in the clause.
  • With respect to optionality, valency slots will be characterized as to whether a slot must or can be realised by a complement.
  • Adjuncts are not part of the valency description. (Herbst/Schüller 2008: 108)

5.2 Valency patterns

Valency patterns comprise a valency carrier (verb, adjective etc.) and its complements.

Patterns of verbs comprise three different types of elements:

subject complement unit: verbal head complex: predicate complement units:
valency complement functioning as the subject of a clause the valency carrier and its pre-heads (auxiliary verbs) all valency complements occurring in the predicate
NP + VHCact + AdjP
NP + VHCpass + NP (+ by NP)

Although the elements are given in linear order, the order in which they occur in actual sentences can differ from the one indicated depending on whether they occur in a declarative-'statement'-construction as in (1), a 'question'-construction as in (2) or (3) or a construction involving thematic fronting as in (3), for instance:

Valency pattern: NP + VHCact + NP Sentence type: declarative-'statement'-construction
Robyn was naturally optimistic..

Valency pattern: NP + VHCact + AdjP Sentence type: yes-no-'question'-construction
Are you any wiser?



Valency pattern: NP + VHCact + AdjP Sentence type: interrogative-'question'-construction
How old are you?

Valency pattern: NP + VHCact + NP + to_NP Sentence type: declarative-'statement'-construction
To these I added the delicious fragrance of sweet violets

Valency pattern: NP + VHCact + NP + to_NP Sentence type: declarative-'statement'-construction
A "useless" lot he called them

Subject complement units do not have to be realized in certain sentences types such as the imperative-'directive'-construction:

Valency pattern: NP + VHCact + NP + NP Sentence type: imperative-'directive'-construction
Send me your manuscript

The (by NP) element in passive patterns is optional (as indicated by the brackets). XXX

5.3 Formal description of complements

In order to enable researchers with different research backgrounds to make use of the patternbank, the patterns are described in terms of surface-oriented formal categories such as NP (noun phrase), V-ing (V-ing-clause), that_CL etc.

The aim is to provide a description which is as theory-neutral as possible. Terms such as object are deliberately being avoided since they are used in different ways in different frameworks (covering either only noun phrases or noun phrases and other formal categories such as that-clauses or to-infinitives; being defined on the basis of criteria that are purely formal (as by Aarts and Aarts 1982/1988), that are primarily semantic (as in cognitive linguistics) or a mixture of formal and semantic criteria (as in CGEL 1985).

There may be differences of opinion concerning the question of whether a sequence of elements should be analysed as one complement [NP_to_INF] or two [NP] [to_INF] in cases such as the following:

(7)VDE        Timber producers want the developed world to pay more for wood products in order to finance reforestation.

5.4 Subclassification of valency patterns - semantic description

One consequence of stating valency patterns in terms of formal categories is that constructions which one would quite obviously want to distinguish are subsumed under the same valency pattern. Thus, for example, both (7) and (8) can be seen as representing the same pattern.

(8)NW            You will write me a reference then?
(9)SW            I wouldn't call myself a structuralist

The valency pattern NP + VHCact + NP + NP thus subsumes constructions which are distinguished in grammars such as the Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (1985) as ditransitive and complex transitive (representing the clause types SVOO and SVOC) or in construction grammar as ditransitive and a construction of the type Subj V Obj PRED (Goldberg 2006: 21).

Within the valency model outlined by Herbst and Schüller (2008), the difference between sentences such as (8) and (9) would be accounted for in terms of participant roles (which can take the form of verb specific or more general roles).

Valency pattern: NP + VHCact + NP + NP
(8)NW You           agent will write me          ben/rec a reference ...         æffected
(9)SW I                 agent wouldn't call myself    æffected a structuralist         predicative

The description provided in the VDE goes beyond that possible in terms of participant roles and provides an adhoc description of semantic features of the complements, lexical lists of possible complements and indication of the meaning of the pattern. [show/hide image]

5.5 Obligatoriness and optionality of pattern elements

In a valency description, one can distinguish between three types of valency slots:

  • Obligatory valency slots have to be filled whenever the valency carrier is used.
  • Optional valency slots can be realized by a complement.
  • Contextually optional valency slots need not be realized if the referent of the participant can be identified in the context of the utterance.

This classification is similar to the distinctions made by Goldberg (2006: 39) or Fillmore (2007). It has a more lexical orientation, however, since it does not take active clauses as primary1 and since it combines necessity at the level of valency with the levels of communicative necessity (arising from the context) and of structural necessity (arising from the constructions with which the valency pattern is combined) (Herbst/Schüller 2008: 111-113).

The pattern presentation in the patternbank does not explicitly indicate optionality of complements with the two exceptions pointed out above (> 5.2):
(a) by_NPs are marked as optional in the case of most passive patterns
(b) all subject complement units can be optional in certain sentence types

Otherwise the optionality of a complement is indicated by the fact that two patterns are given - one containing the optional complement, the other one not. Thus the optionality of the complement realized by a newspaper in

(10)BNC        He was reading a newspaper

can be deduced from the fact that for read (word search) the following patterns are given:

NP + VHCact + NP     He was reading a newspaper.
NP + VHCact              He was reading.

5.6 Related patterns

Since the patternbank represents valency patterns and does not - like the VDE - provide a complement inventory which identifies the different valency slots of a valency carrier as such, it does not explicitly indicate related patterns.

In the case of passives, the use of different colours indicates which verbs taking a particular active pattern also show passive patterns; in other cases the information can be obtained through the pattern list given in a word search. In some cases, the information provided by the patternbank falls behind that of the VDE: so the ergative character of the ring is not made sufficiently clear by listing the patterns:

NP + VHCact + NP     Somebody rang a bell.
NP + VHCact              The doorbell rang. Somebody rang a bell.

5.7 Valency patterns - participant structures - valency constructions

The model of syntactic analysis proposed by Herbst and Schüller (2008), which combines elements of valency theory and construction grammar, distinguishes between three different types of patterning in this area:

  • Valency patterns represent patterns of valency complements, i.e. formal categories.
Valency pattern: NP + VHCact + NP + NP
(8)NW You will write me a reference ...
(9)SW I wouldn't call myself a structuralist
  • Participant structures or participant patterns are recurrent configurations of particular participant roles.
Participant structure: agent + æffected + predicative
(9)SW I                                     NP wouldn't call myself                NP a structuralist          AdjP
(11)BNC Record companies     NP consider this support       NP quite economic ...  AdjP
  • Valency constructions are patterns of form-meaning-pairings in the sense of construction grammar, i.e. patterns of complements expressing the same participant roles.
Valency construction: NP agent + VHCact + NP æffected + NP predicative
(9)SW I wouldn't call myself a structuralist
(11)BNC A great detective might have considered this an astounding coincidence ...
Valency construction: NP agent + VHCact + NP æffected + AdjP predicative
(11)BNC Record companies consider this support quite economic ...
(13)BNC We call that unfair.

Valency constructions are similar to the argument structure constructions as defined by Goldberg (1995, 2006): one important difference is that valency constructions are based on purely formal categories such as NP or to_INF, whereas argument structure constructions are often described in terms of categories such as object ot PRED that are less specific and entail a semantic component (> 5.4).

5.8 Valency as an item-specific property of lexical units - constructemes

Valency is seen as a property of lexical units. Empirical research on valency shows that the valency patterns of lexical units do not seem to be generally predictable from their meanings, although some generalizations can no doubt be made.

One way of capturing the generalizations about the meanings of patterns and the idiosyncratic specific character of the occurrence of particular patterns with particular verbs is the notion of constructeme. A constructeme can be defined as the set of all valency constructions that share the same participant structures.

Thus a participant structure agent - æffected - judgement can be expressed by a number of different valency patterns. The corresponding constructeme could be described in the following form:

agent æffected judgement consider judge call count regard think look see view
NP VHCact NP NP + + + + +
NP VHCact NP AdjP + + + +
NP VHCact NP to_INF + +
NP VHCact NP as_NP + + + + + +
NP VHCact NP as_AdjP + + + + + +
NP VHCact of_NP as_NP +
NP VHCact of_NP as_AdjP +
NP VHCact upon_NP as_NP +
NP VHCact upon_NP as_AdjP +
NP VHCact NP with_NP + + +
NP VHCact NP PP + + +

æffected judgement (agent) consider judge call count regard think look see view
NP VHCpass NP by_NP + + + + +
NP VHCpass AdjP by_NP + + + +
NP VHCpass to_INF by_NP + + + +
NP VHCpass as_NP by_NP + + + + + +
NP VHCpass as_AdjP by_NP + + + + + +
NP VHCpass_of as_NP by_NP +
NP VHCpass_of as_AdjP by_NP +
NP VHCpass_upon as_NP by_NP +
NP VHCpass_upon as_AdjP by_NP +
NP VHCpass with_NP by_NP + + +
NP VHCpass PP by_NP + + +

Different researchers will differ in their views as to which valency constructions should be seen as sufficiently similar in meaning to be subsumed under one constructeme. Construction grammarians in particular may find it appropriate to put more emphasis on the differences in meaning between various valency constructions (see, however, the notion of families of subconstructions of argument structure constructions (Goldberg/Jackendoff 2004)). 

We hope that the patternbank will contribute to further empirical research on these questions.

6 Uses of the patternbank

6.1 The patternbank and the VDE

Users of the patternbank must be aware of the fact that the valency patterns indicated do not provide a full description of the valency properties of the respective valency carriers.

This is in line with the aim of providing a relatively theory-neutral database which can be taken as a starting point for research within different linguistic frameworks.

A more comprehensive description of the valency properties of the words contained in the patternbank can be found in the Valency Dictionary of English (2004). This concerns in particular the following aspects:

  • a semantic description of the lexical units taken as valency carriers and a description of the semantic and lexical-collocational properties of the complements [show/hide image]
  • the relation of the complements in different patterns of the same valency carrier in terms of identifying valency slots in a complement inventory [show/hide image]
  • the degree of obligatoriness and optionality of valency slots [show/hide image]
  • examples [show/hide image]
  • frequency information [show/hide image]
  • statements about minimum and maximum valency in active and passive as well as general uses [show/hide image]

6.2 Research questions

The patternbank is intended as a tool for further research into the nature of valency phenomena. It is intended as a database that provides a starting point for future empirical research.

One of the most intriguing issues for future research is the question as to what extent valency properties are item-specific properties of particular lexical units and to what extent generalizations about the relationship between lexical meaning and pattern use can be made.

In this respect, the patternbank can be used to investigate some relatively obvious and pressing research questions such as

  • whether all verbs occurring in a valency pattern have semantic properties in common,
  • to what extent all occurrences of a valency pattern can be matched with the same participant structure,
  • to what extent all the verbs occuring in a particular valency pattern could be seen as taking the same argument structure construction,
  • which other valency patterns the verbs occurring in one pattern take and which conclusions can be drawn from this about the nature of patterning.

6.3 Future prospects

The patternbank is not be seen as a static database but as an ongoing research project. At present, it is restricted to the information contained in the VDE, which was compiled on the basis of the COBUILD corpus.

The patternbank will be expanded in two ways:

  • Further words will be included, in particular highly frequent verbs with simple valency structures.
  • The data of the patternbank will need to be revised. This concerns in particular the addition of valency patterns that were missed in the compilation of the VDE. Furthermore the perspective of the data opened up by the patternbank provides an opportunity for a critical reanalysis in some cases because obviously decisions taken in the compilation of an EFL dictionary may be based on different criteria (such as usefulness for the user) than those appropriate for other research purposes.

We invite users of the patternbank to comment on the approach under We would very much welcome corpus evidence for patterns that ought to be added for the lexical items covered (with authentic example and corpus source, if possible).

7 References

Aarts, Flor/Jan Aarts (1982/1988): English Syntactic Structures. New York/Leyden: Prentice Hall/Martinus Nijhoff.

Cruse, David A. (1986): Lexical Semantics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fillmore, Charles (2007): Valency issues in FrameNet. In: Thomas Herbst / Katrin Götz-Votteler (eds.): Valency: Theoretical, Descriptive and Cognitive Issues, Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Goldberg, Adele E. (1995): A Construction Grammar Approach to Argument Structure, Chicago/London: Chicago University Press.

Goldberg, Adele E. (2006): Constructions at Work: The Nature of Generalizations in Language. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press.

Goldberg, Adele E. / Ray Jackendoff (2005): The English resultative as a family of constructions? In: Language 80, 532-568.

Herbst, Thomas (forthcoming 2009): Valency constructions and clause constructions or how, if at all, valency grammarians might sneeze the foam off the cappuccino. In:

Herbst, Thomas (forthcoming 2010): Can we combine empirical valency theory and construction grammar? In: Thomas Herbst / Hans-Jörg Schmid / Susen Schüller (eds): Constructions - Collocations - Patterns

Herbst, Thomas / David Heath / Ian Roe / Dieter Götz (2004): A Valency Dictionary of English. Berlin/New York: de Gruyter. [VDE]

Herbst, Thomas / Susen Schüller (2008): Introduction to Syntactic Analysis. Tübingen: Narr.

BNC: British National Corpus
NW: Nice Work by David Lodge
SW: Small World by David Lodge
VDE: Valency Dictionary of English


1 For active clauses, Goldberg's (2006: 39) description of profiled roles as those that "are obligatorily expressed, or, if unexpressed, must receive a definite interpretation" correspond to obligatory and contextually-optional complements; but Goldberg (2006: 40) points out that the passive, for instance, "insures that a normally profiled role (e.g. agent) be optionally expressed in an oblique by-phrase." It is for this reason that complement slots that can be realized by a subject-NP of a passivizable verb would not be classified as obligatory at the level of valency. See also Herbst (2007).