In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Complementation

  • Introduction
  • The Syntax and Semantics Interface
  • Questioning the Validity of the Complement Category
  • Learning Complement Constructions
  • Historical Perspective

Linguistics Complementation
Michel Achard
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0234


In its more general sense, a complement is an argument of a predicate, and generally opposed to an adjunct, a non-argument position. In this bibliography, however, complementation more narrowly refers to complement clauses, namely clausal arguments of predicates. For example, in I believe that she came back, the complement clause she came back functions as the object of the predicate believe. The study of complementation involves the detailed investigation of the different types of clauses that follow specific semantic classes of predicates. Obviously, complement forms vary greatly across languages; in English, they includes bare infinitives (I saw John eat a cookie, Mary made John eat a cookie), gerunds (I hate waking up early), as well as instances where the complement clause is introduced by the complementizers that, wh, POSS-ING, to, and for to, respectively illustrated in I think that coffee is good for you, I wonder whether coffee is good for you, I am worried about John’s being angry all the time, The president ordered the clerk to resign, and I would like for the board to recognize your promotion. The literature on complementation reflects the theoretical eclecticism of the field. Syntactic research primarily focuses on the mechanisms by which complement clauses acquire their surface forms. More semantically oriented analyses concentrate on the possible pairing of the various complement forms with specific semantic classes of predicates, as well as on the semantic import of the different components of complement constructions (predicates, complementizers, the complement forms themselves). The main focus of usage-based accounts is to provide a realistic representation of the frequency and distribution of the various constructions in written and spoken text. This overview of the complementation literature is organized in a way that captures this eclectic research and separates the different orientations in different sections. In particular, the syntactic and semantic solutions to the issues of raising and control are presented separately.

Complementation in Broader Contexts

Complementation is obviously not a self-contained phenomenon, but rather figures prominently in a variety of situations. The works in this section are not entirely devoted to complementation, but situate the issue in various contexts. Grammars and encyclopedias obviously position complements within the broader ecology of specific languages. Theoretical models provide the frameworks within which different solutions are articulated. Cross-linguistically, research reveals an interesting number of complementizing strategies.

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