Open Access Research article

The representation of the verb's argument structure as disclosed by fMRI

Ramin Assadollahi12, Marcus Meinzer23, Tobias Flaisch2*, Jonas Obleser4 and Brigitte Rockstroh2

Author Affiliations

1 ExB Communication Systems GmbH, 80333 Munich, Germany

2 Department of Psychology, University of Konstanz, 78457 Konstanz, Germany

3 University of Florida, College of Public Health Professions, Gainesville, Florida-32611, USA

4 Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, 04103 Leipzig, Germany

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BMC Neuroscience 2009, 10:3  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-10-3

Published: 15 January 2009



In the composition of an event the verb's argument structure defines the number of participants and their relationships. Previous studies indicated distinct brain responses depending on how many obligatory arguments a verb takes. The present functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study served to verify the neural structures involved in the processing of German verbs with one (e.g. "snore") or three (e.g. "gives") argument structure. Within a silent reading design, verbs were presented either in isolation or with a minimal syntactic context ("snore" vs. "Peter snores").


Reading of isolated one-argument verbs ("snore") produced stronger BOLD responses than three-argument verbs ("gives") in the inferior temporal fusiform gyrus (BA 37) of the left hemisphere, validating previous magnetoencephalographic findings. When presented in context one-argument verbs ("Peter snores") induced more pronounced activity in the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) of the left hemisphere than three-argument verbs ("Peter gives").


In line with previous studies our results corroborate the left temporal lobe as site of representation and the IFG as site of processing of verbs' argument structure.