From IAOA Wiki


1. [Natural Language] The function assumed or part played by a person or thing in a particular situation. (
2. Role refers to the argument of a verb, aimed at representing meaning. This can be a thematic role, such as 'agent' or a deep role, such as 'worker'. Thematic roles generalise over the deep roles. Context: linguistics. ([ Jurafsky and Martin, 2008 ] )
3. Role is what an object plays in a relation (called 'fact type' in ORM terminology). Context: conceptual data modelling.([ Halpin and Morgan, 2008 ])
4. A role is a concept that can be ‘played’ (in a contingent and temporary way) by certain entities, when they enter in relationships with other entities. Social roles, more specifically, have four characteristics: 1) (i) Roles are (unary) ‘properties’, 2) Roles are anti-rigid and they have ‘dynamic’ properties, 3) roles have a relational nature, and 4) roles are linked to contexts. ([ Masolo et al., 2004 ] )
5. [BFO2.0] A realizable entity that (1) exists because the bearer is in some special physical, social, or institutional set of circumstances in which the bearer does not have to be, and (2) is not such that, if this realizable entity ceases to exist, then the physical make-up of the bearer is thereby changed. A role is thus always optional. [ Arp et al., 2015 ]
6. [Description Logics] A role is an n-ary relation, where n >=2.

Derived Definitions

D1 (extracted and merged from 4 and 5 above)

  • A role is an entity that is played (or acted out) by another entity.

D2 (extracted and merged from 2 and 3 above)

  • A role is an entity that links another entity to how it participates in a relation; also called argument position.

Closely related terms

  • For role in the sense of D2: positionalism of relations