A term from Chomsky’s Government and Binding theory which refers to the components of universal grammar that mediate between thematic role and their syntactic realization as specific arguments of a predicate. The theta criterion says that one argument must correspond to each thematic role and vice versa, where arguments are particular referential NPs. According to the theta criterion, in a sentence like three robbers are in the woods, the three robbers must be part of the sentence: *Are in the woods is ungrammatical because it does not contain enough arguments. Likewise, *Three robbers are in the woods the stolen beer has one argument too many and is also ungrammatical. The precise formulation of the theta criterion is only possible by referring to the term chain. Various theories make reference to the distinction between the different thematic roles, cf. control, binding, case theory.