Case Frame Analysis for Dummies

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By Brent Niedergall | Youth Pastor, Catawba Springs Christian Church

I. Introduction

Sermon preparation is best performed behind a towering stack of commentaries and lexicons (physical or virtual) where one can grapple with diverging views on theology, interpretation, and the meaning of words. Understanding how a word is used in a passage is a fundamental of exegesis. And the highest authority you can appeal to in New Testament study is BDAG. When the commentators are in disunity, you can always flip through BDAG and hope it cites the passage you’re studying. There you’ll find column after column of carefully arranged entries filled with definitions, glosses, explanations, and citations as supporting evidence. The data all looks rather impressive, but as the Bible student eventually comes to realize, selecting the correct sense is a balance of art and science. There are options. But what if there was a lexicon that required less art and more science? 

Paul Danove has invested years of labor producing valuable and largely ignored lexical resources for exegesis of the Greek New Testament. Unfortunately, the fruits of Danove’s labor are extremely complex. As in, really complex. He speaks in cryptic terms of “licensing,” “instantiation,” and “realization.” He uses traditional grammatical terms like transitive and intransitive in nontraditional ways, at least for most students. And the entries in his lexicons look like strings of computer code. One reviewer compares using Danove’s work to learning a foreign language, and another wrote, “I fear that the majority of Danove’s work will never be fully appreciated because of the amount of mental effort required to work through this highly complex system.”1 It is complex. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here is Danove’s entry for περιπατέω (“to walk around”) from his Linguistics and Exegesis in the Gospel of Mark:

περιπατέω:

1. 1/Agt—(2/Loc): trans. walk (around)—in (P/ἐν), —on (P/ἐπί); intr. walk.

2. 1/Agt—2/Man: trans. conduct oneself—according to (P/κατά).2

Both usages also have footnotes with additional information, but that will be discussed under the later examples. The main takeaway is that this doesn’t look like any other lexicon you’ve ever seen before. It takes some effort to read, but you stand to benefit if you invest some time to understand how to use Danove’s lexicon. It’s not easy. I’m just a regular pastor with a personal goal of understanding and using Danove’s work as an additional lexical resource to inform my exegesis. My goal here is neither to offer an evaluation of Danove’s work nor to explain his methodology. My aim is to offer some beginning steps on how you can use it and benefit from it.

II. Description of Case Frame Analysis

First, I’m going to explain what case frame analysis is as simply as I possibly can. Essentially, case frame analysis is about relationships or interaction. Basically, a word’s meaning is determined by its relationship with the other words in the phrase or grammatical construction. Think of it this way. On a Saturday morning, I might interact with both my three-year-old son and the worker behind the counter of my favorite donut shop. I’m still the same person. But I don’t toss the donut shop worker into the air and catch him, and my son doesn’t serve me donuts. Put the same word into different situations, and the word behaves differently. Words require certain relationships to mean certain things. Case frame analysis is about describing those relationships. 

The goal of case frame analysis is to describe predicators. Predicators are words that authorize, by either requiring or permitting, the presence of other elements in a phrase. Danove refers to this authorization as licensing. The words that predicators license are known as complements. Complements are then divided into two categories: arguments and adjuncts. Arguments are words that a predicator requires to actually mean something. Adjuncts are not required, but they provide additional meaning.

Case frame analysis attempts to describe these relationships and how predicators should be translated depending on what these relationships look like. Charles J. Fillmore, who laid much of the groundwork for case frame analysis, says to think of it this way: the slots of a phrase are like political offices. Each political office has a different role. The role of a president differs from that of a senator. In like fashion, each of these positions in a phrase has a different function too. And just as there are qualifications for being a president or a senator, there are qualifications to fill each of these positions. Only a qualified candidate can fill the office, and only a qualified word can fill the position in a phrase. Then once the candidate takes office, they can make their own demands. The words filling various positions can also make demands (e.g., requiring a direct object). All of this is described in what’s called a valence description

Maybe you remember the word “valence” from high school chemistry and how it has something that has to do with electrons? In chemistry, valency describes the ability of atoms to combine with other atoms. You can’t just create any combination of atoms you want, and you can’t create any combination of words you want to either.3In case frame analysis, a valence description is simply a graphical presentation of how a predicator takes its complements. So to complete the political office analogy, think of the valence description of a predicator as a political incumbent’s staffing demands. In order for the incumbent to perform his job, his staff must be properly filled. The valence description of a predicator then describes its requirements.4

To see how this actually plays out, let’s start with a simple example of a phrase in English before looking at the vocabulary of the New Testament. Take the sentence, “She recognized Maxwell.” The predicator is the verb “to recognize” and it requires two complements (both arguments). The first argument is the subject “she” (in this case classified as the experiencer). The second argument is “Maxwell” (in this case, the content of what is being recognized). A valence description would provide this syntactic and semantic information along with additional lexical data. To see what benefit a valence description offers, we should examine several entries from Danove’s work.  

III. Examples from Danove’s Work

The real value from these resources is the valence descriptions. Each of these three books contains a case frame lexicon with parsing guide. Be warned though, it is somewhat of a surprise when you first turn to the lexicon because the entries do not look quite like the valence descriptions discussed in the rest of the book. At first, going from a full-blown valence description to one of Danove’s lexicon entries kind of feels like unwrapping your burger at the fast-food restaurant and discovering that it looks nothing like it did on the commercial. But, the good news for the lexicon (and similarly for your burger) is that the same ingredients are all there! It’s just a matter of presentation. What follows are examples selected from each of Danove’s three books dealing with case frame analysis. One is dedicated to the Gospel of Mark, one to verbs of transference, and one to verbs of communication.

a. Example 1: ἀπέχω in Mark 14:41

Let’s begin with a New Testament occurrence of a word that has given exegetes consternation for years. In Mark 14:41, Jesus has been praying in the Garden of Gethsemane and he’s soon to be betrayed by Judas. Here we read,

And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough! The hour has come. Behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.5

The verb translated “It is enough!” is ἀπέχω and there are multiple views on how to translate it in this passage. In fact, BDAG lists this reference as a possibility under three of its five entries for this word. It could mean, “to receive in full what is due,” or “to meet the need of the moment,  or “to hinder.”6 We won’t necessarily settle the issue here, but it will be informative to see how Danove handles it with his entry.

ἀπέχω:

1. 1/Pat: intr. be enough.

2. 1/Pat–2/Sou: trans. Be distant–from (p/ἀπό).7

The different usages are listed numerically. Each usage is footnoted to annotate the occurrences of the predicator in Mark and which ones correspond to each usage. According to Danove’s analysis, the Mark 14:41 occurrence is assigned to usage one, which also corresponds to the second sense given in BDAG (“to meet the need of the moment”). Now let’s decode this usage of ἀπέχω from Danove’s lexicon.  

1. 1/Pat: intr. be enough.

The first part of the first usage classifies the complements of the phrase. Here, the “1” in  “1/Pat,” identifies the syntactic function of the complement. There are four possibilities, but the “1” signifies “subject complement of a predicator,” and it means this is the argument. (Remember an argument is a word required by a predicator to actually mean something.) And there is only one complement here; there are no adjuncts. (Remember an adjunct is a word that provides additional meaning but is not required.) We will eventually look at the second entry to see how this works with two complements. But next, we notice that the argument performs the semantic function of patient (Pat). The semantic function of an argument, known as a thematic role, is the relationship it bears to the predicator.8 This lexicon uses 27 of these semantic functions, 17 for arguments and 10 for adjuncts.9 The argument performing the function of patient is either the entity “undergoing an action” or “located in a place or moving from one place to another.”10 The next detail is “intr.” Seeing this abbreviation collocated with “trans.” in the second entry, you likely correctly deduced this refers to intransitive and transitive respectively. However, these abbreviations are not referring to the traditional classification of transitive and intransitive verbs that deals with whether or not they take a direct object. Here transitivity indicates whether or not a second argument is required. Finally, the first usage concludes with a translational gloss that accommodates every one of its occurrences.11 Let’s proceed to something a little more complicated now.

b. Example 2: ἀφαιρέω in Luke 16:3

This second example comes from Danove’s lexicon of verbs of transference. As you might again correctly presume, these verbs describe the action of transferring something. Transference requires an entity that does the transferring (Agent), an entity that gets transferred (Theme), a location that it gets transferred from (Source), and a location that it gets transferred to (Goal).12 In the parable of the dishonest manager recorded in Luke 16:1–8, the manager has been charged with squandering his master’s possessions. His livelihood in jeopardy, verse three depicts his desperate situation.

And the manager said to himself, ‘What should I do, because my master is taking away the management from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg.

The underlying verb for the master’s action of taking away the manager’s job is ἀφαιρέω. If we open up BDAG, we find three definitions listed for ἀφαιρέω. One, “to detach something by force,” two, “to cause a state or condition to cease,” and three, “to deprive by taking.”13 As you can see from Danove’s entry below, he offers three usages for this same verb:

ἀφαιρέω, 1. (Tra. act. ditr.) 1/Agt—(2/Thm) [3/Sou]: take away—(N + acc) from (N + gen),—(INC) from (P/ἀπό),—(N + acc) (DNC).

2. (Tra. mid. ditr.) 1/Agt—2/Thm [3/Sou]: take away [with affect]—(N + acc) from (P/ἀπό),—(N + acc) (DNC).

3. (Eff. act. trans.) 1/Agt—2/Pat: take away—(N + acc).14

At first glance, the translational glosses for each of the three usages appear nearly identical. But there’s a slight distinction in the second usage, which is the one assigned to Luke’s use of ἀφαιρέω in 16:3. Let’s isolate the second usage and decode it in order to understand the difference:

2. (Tra. mid. ditr.) 1/Agt—2/Thm [3/Sou]: take away [with affect]—(N + acc) from (P/ἀπό),—(N + acc) (DNC).

The information in parentheses is a new addition to Danove’s lexicon not found in the volume on Mark. The italicized and abbreviated terms in parentheses provide information on subject affectedness, semantics, and syntax. The abbreviation “Tra.” indicates this is an event of transference. The abbreviation “mid.” indicates it is middle voice and therefore externally affected. Finally, “ditr. indicates it is ditransitive, meaning it requires three arguments. The three arguments listed are Agent (the entity doing the transferring), Theme (the entity being transferred), and Source (the entity from where the Theme was transferred). The em dash (—) is used to indicate that what follows the dash, follows the verb.

This translation is particularly distinguished from the other by the “[with affect]” that indicates “subject affectedness.” Typically, Greek and English active verbs in and of themselves provide no indication of whether or not the subject is affected. Verbs of transference differ in that active verb forms typically do indicate that the subject is unaffected. Passive and middle verbs, on the other hand, are affected: passives internally and middles externally. All that to say, in Luke 16:3, the subject (the manager’s master) is externally affected by this event of transference.15 Notably, this is something that BDAG does not address.

To conclude the entry, (N + acc) indicates that the noun phrase of the Theme (the entity being transferred) is formed with the accusative case and is followed by a prepositional phrase containing ἀπό (“from”). The comma then separates a second possibility for this same usage. Here the Theme is again formed with the accusative, but because of context, a required non-subject complement does not appear (in this instance, the Source).16 This example shows the great amount of data contained in such a small entry along with the great specificity that Danove provides.

c. Example 3: προσφωνέω in Luke 13:12

This final example comes from Danove’s lexicon covering verbs of communication, or verbs that convey events of communication. Communication requires an entity that communicates (Agent), an entity that is communicated (Content), and an entity to interpret the communication (Experiencer).17 This next example also comes from the Gospel of Luke. (All three of these examples just so happen to come from the Gospels, but the lexicons on verbs of transference and on communication cover the entire NT.) In the account of Jesus’ miraculous healing of a crippled woman on the sabbath, the Lord demonstrates His characteristic compassion in verse twelve:

And when he saw her, Jesus summoned her and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability!

BDAG distinguishes between two senses for the verb προσφωνέω. The first is “to call out or speak to” with the accompanying glosses “call out” and “address.” The second sense is “to call to oneself…with implication of shared interests” with the glosses “call to” and “summon.” The determining factor for choosing between the two senses is that the first usually occurs with a dative of person(s), except for in Acts 21:40 and 22:2.18 Now let’s turn to Danove’s entry:

προσφωνέω, 1. (Cmm. act. ditr.) 1/Agt—[2/Con] [3/Exp]: call—(DNC) to (N+dat), —(DNC) (DNC).

2. (Eff. act. trans.) 1/Agt—2/Pat: summon—(N+acc).19

This entry contains two usages, and while very similar to the distinction drawn in BDAG, the two lexicons are not in total agreement. Luke 13:12 contains the only occurrence where they differ. Danove here classifies προσφωνέω under the first usage where it has the sense of “call to” instead of the second usage translated as “summon.” We can compare the two usages and see why this is the case. Here’s the first usage.

1. (Cmm. act. ditr.) 1/Agt—[2/Con] [3/Exp]: call—(DNC) to (N+dat), —(DNC) (DNC).

The abbreviations in parentheses means this predicator is an event of communication (Cmm.), active (act.) as opposed to passive or middle, and ditransitive (ditr.) requiring three arguments.20 These three arguments have the roles of Agent (Agt), Content (Con), and Experiencer (Exp). The reason Content and Experiencer are enclosed in brackets is because they are Definite Null Complements (DNC). Complements with this classification are required, but they may not always appear as a word in a phrase if they can be understood from the context.21 Now, look at how the second usage differs:

 2. (Eff. act. trans.) 1/Agt—2/Pat: summon—(N+acc).

Beginning with the abbreviations within parentheses, instead of an event of communication, we find a derivative of communication labeled effect (Eff.). An effect is an event where one entity (Agent) acts on another (Patient) and there is no Content.22 The event described here involves the Agent summoning the Patient; the Patient is formed with a noun in the accusative. The only occurrence of this usage is in Luke 6:13.

So what is different about this predicator in Luke 13:12 that Danove breaks with BDAG and assigns it to the first usage? Well, in this instance, the Content and Experiencer are both Definite Null Complements. And there is an additional feature present known as Λέγω Coordination (LC) where two verbs of communication in the same phrase license the same complements together.23 In this verse, “Jesus summoned her and said to her…” The two verbs of communication have the same relationship with the phrase. Therefore, in this usage there is a Content argument (what Jesus said to the crippled woman) that disqualifies this occurrence from being classified under the second usage.

IV. Conclusion: The Value of Danove’s Work

Deciphering Danove’s lexicons is the closest thing I’ve done to math homework since college. What works best for me is to copy the entry out onto a piece of paper and work through each component one piece at a time. Be prepared to flip to many different pages throughout these books to look up terms and abbreviations. Ultimately, it is worth the effort. Truly, this short article only scratches the surface of what Danove offers his readers. If you are preaching through the book of Mark, you should definitely have Danove’s volume solely devoted to Mark’s verbs handy. Outside of Mark, unfortunately, the coverage only extends to verbs of transference and communication. But the volumes covering those verbs will prove useful when you’re struggling with a word covered in one of these lexicons. Hopefully, you will also find Danove useful, and grant him a coveted spot on your shelf next to other names like Bauer, Danker, Arndt, Gingrich, Louw, Nida, Balz, Schneider, Moulton, Milligan, Silva, and Spicq.


Deepen your exegesis by using Danove’s studies in case frame analysis, available only on Logos in a fully tagged and integrated format, including Linguistics and Exegesis in the Gospel of Mark: Applications of a Case Frame Analysis and Lexicon and New Testament Verbs of Communication.

  1. Gregory S. Paulson, review of A Grammatical and Exegetical Study of New Testament Verbs of Transference, by Paul Danove, Theological Book Review 22 (2010): 120-121; Mike Aubrey, review of A Grammatical and Exegetical Study of New Testament Verbs of Transference, by Paul Danove, (Koine Greek: Studies in Greek Language and Linguistics), https://koine-greek.com/2010/02/24/paul-danove-review/.
  2. Paul L. Danove, Linguistics and Exegesis in the Gospel of Mark: Applications of a Case Frame Analysis, Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), 200–201.
  3. https://glossary.sil.org/term/valency
  4. Charles J. Fillmore, “The Mechanism of ‘Construction Grammar’,” in Proceedings of the Fourteenth Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, eds. Shelley Axmaker, Annie Jaisser, and Helen Singmaster (Berkeley: Berkeley Linguistics Society, 1998), 41–42.
  5. Scripture quotations are from the LEB.
  6. “ἀπέχω,” BDAG, 102.
  7. Danove, Linguistics and Exegesis in the Gospel of Mark: Applications of a Case Frame Analysis, 155.
  8. Ibid., 21.
  9. Danove later recognized the need for the additional thematic role of Theme, an entity moving from one place to another or located in a place, after this first book was published. A verb such as ἀκολουθέω (“to follow”) would then require completion by a Theme rather than Agent. Paul Danove to Brent Niedergall, 30 August 2019.
  10. Ibid., 238.
  11. Ibid., 143.
  12. Paul Danove, A Grammatical and Exegetical Study of New Testament Verbs of Transference, Library of New Testament Studies (New York: T&T Clark, 2009), 19–20.
  13. “ἀφαιρέω,” BDAG, 154.
  14. Danove, A Grammatical and Exegetical Study of New Testament Verbs of Transference, 182.
  15. Ibid., 23.
  16. Paul L. Danove, New Testament Verbs of Communication, Library of New Testament Studies (New York: Bloomsbury, 2015), 15.
  17. Ibid., 23.
  18. “προσφωνέω,” BDAG, 887.
  19. Danove, New Testament Verbs of Communication, 227.
  20. Ibid., 46.
  21. Ibid., 15–16.
  22. Ibid., 23.
  23. Ibid., 19.

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