Preferred Argument Structure

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Preferred Argument Structure is a term introduced by Du Bois (1987) for a set of universal statistical tendencies of (or "constraints on") argument distribution in discourse (see also Du Bois et al. (ed.) 2003). The four tendencies/constraints identified by Du Bois are listed below.

Preferred Argument Structure constraints

  • a. Avoid more than one lexical core argument (One Lexical Argument Constraint)
  • b. Avoid lexical A (Nonlexical A Constraint)
  • c. Avoid more than one new core argument (One New Argument Constraint)
  • d. Avoid new A (Given A Constraint)

(Du Bois 1987:829, Du Bois 2003:34)


The term was introduced by Du Bois (1987) and quickly picked up by others (e.g. Durie 1988).


  • Du Bois, John W. 1987. "The discourse basis of ergativity." Language 64:805-855.
  • Du Bois, John W. & Kumpf, Lorraine E. & Ashby, William J. (eds.) 2003. Preferred Argument Structure: Grammar as architecture for function. (Studies in discourse and grammar, 14.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins. ISBN 1 58811 369 8.
  • Durie, Mark. 1988. "Preferred argument structure in an active language: Arguments against the category 'intransitive subject'." Lingua 74:1-25.

other languages

German bevorzugte Argumentstruktur