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5.3.Complementive clauses

This section discusses cases in which clauses or other verbal projections function as complementives, that is, as the predicative part of a copular or vinden-construction. We will discuss finite and infinitival clauses in separate subsections. These sections will be relatively brief since we will see that genuine cases with complementive clauses are rare.

[+]  I.  Finite clauses

Finite clauses normally refer to propositions or questions; consequently, we do not expect that they can be predicated of noun phrases that refer to entities, and examples like those in (763) are indeed completely uninterpretable, in Dutch as well as in English.

a. * Jan is [dat hij aardig is].
  Jan  is   that  he  kind is
  Compare: '*Jan is that heʼs kind.'
b. * De auto is [of hij duur is].
  the car  is  whether  he  expensive  is
  Compare: '*The car is whether it is expensive.'

What we may expect is that finite clauses can be predicated of noun phrases headed by proposition nouns like feit'fact' or speech act nouns like vraag'question', and at first sight the primeless examples in (764) seem to suggest that this may well be possible. Note in passing that instead of the indefinite noun phrase een feit, examples such as (764a) often have the bare noun feit in first position; cf. Feit is dat hij te lui is; cf. Hoeksema (2000). This option seems to be less felicitous in cases such as (764a), although such examples can easily be found in the internet; cf. ??Vraag is of zij voldoende vaardigheden heeft.

a. Een feit is [dat hij te lui is].
  a fact  is   that  he  too lazy  is
  'A fact is that heʼs too lazy.'
b. Een open vraag is [of zij voldoende vaardigheden heeft].
  an open question  is  whether  she  sufficient skills  has
  'An open question is whether she has sufficient skills.'

It should be noted, however, that the near synonymous examples in (765), in which the finite clauses clearly function as subject clauses introduced by the anticipatory pronounhet'it', are equally possible. Observe that in this case, the noun phrase een feit cannot be replaced by the bare noun feit: cf. *Het is feit dat hij te lui is.

a. Het is een feit [dat hij te lui is].
  it  is a fact   that  he  too lazy  is
  'It is a fact is that heʼs too lazy.'
b. Het is een open vraag [of zij voldoende vaardigheden heeft].
  it  is  an open question  whether  she  sufficient skills has
  'It is an open question as to whether she has sufficient skills.'

The fact that the examples in (765) are also possible casts doubt on the idea that we have to do with complementive clauses in (764), given that we know that the anticipatory pronoun het'it' is often (and sometimes preferably) omitted if the complementive of the copular construction is topicalized. This is illustrated in (766) for copular clauses with the adjectival predicates duidelijk'clear' and onduidelijk'unclear'; see Section 5.1.3, sub III, for more discussion.

a. Het is duidelijk [dat Peter straks langskomt].
  it  is  clear   that  Peter  later  prt.-comes
  'It is clear that Peter will drop by later.'
a'. Duidelijk is (?het) [dat Peter straks langskomt].
  clear  is     it   that  Peter  later  prt.-comes
b. Het is onduidelijk [of Peter straks langskomt].
  it  is  unclear  whether  Peter  later  prt.-comes
  'It is unclear whether Peter will drop by later.'
b'. Onduidelijk is (?het) [of Peter straks langskomt].
  unclear  is    it whether  Peter  later  prt.-comes

It may therefore be the case that the examples in (764) are simply derived from the copular constructions in (765) by topicalization of the complementives, as a result of which the anticipatory pronoun may be omitted. A first piece of evidence in favor of an analysis of this sort is that the anticipatory pronoun can at least marginally be used in examples such as (764), as shown by (767); cf. the primed examples in (766).

a. ? Een feit is het [dat hij te lui is].
  a fact  is it   that  he  too lazy  is
b. ? Een open vraag is het [of zij voldoende vaardigheden heeft].
  an open question  is it  whether  she  sufficient skills  has

The analysis suggested above can be tested further by considering the embedded counterparts of the examples in (764); given that topicalization is not possible in embedded clauses, the claim that finite clauses may function as complementives predicts that the pronoun het is not needed because the DP een feit would then appear as the subject. It seems, however, that this prediction is wrong; the examples in (768) are clearly marked when the pronoun het is not present.

a. dat ??(het) een feit is [dat hij te lui is].
  that     it  a fact  is  that  he  too lazy  is
  'that it is a fact that heʼs too lazy.'
b. dat *?(het) een open vraag is [of zij het heeft].
  that      it  an open question  is  whether  she  it  has
  'that it is an open question as to whether she has it.'

A similar conclusion can be drawn from internet data. A Google search (10/1/2012) on the strings [dat het een feit is dat] and [dat een feit is dat] shows that whereas the former is very frequent, the latter is extremely rare—it resulted in merely two relevant hits. Basically, the same thing holds for the strings [dat het een (open) vraag is of] and [dat een (open) vraag is of], albeit that the frequency is much lower; while the former resulted in 20 relevant hits, the latter was not found at all.
      Still, we cannot conclude from the discussion above that it is never possible for a finite clause to function as a complementive. In the examples in (764) and (765) the noun phrase is indefinite and thus very suitable as a complementive. This is different with definite noun phrases, which are only used as complementives in equative copular constructions of the type De directeur is de voorzitter'The director is the chairman'. Such copular construction are characterized by the fact that the definite noun phrases may swap function depending on what counts as familiar or new information (which is expressed by, respectively, the subject and the complementive of the construction). The word order of the embedded clauses in (769) is indicative for the syntactic function of the two NPs; the subject always precedes the complementive, which must be left-adjacent to the copular verb in clause-final position.

a. dat de directeur natuurlijk de voorzitter is.
predicate = de voorzitter
  that  the director  of.course  the chairman  is
  'that the director is the chairman, of course.'
b. dat de voorzitter waarschijnlijk de directeur is.
predicate = de directeur
  that  the chairman  probably  the director  is
  'that the chairman is probably the director.'

The question we want to raise now is whether finite clauses can be used as complementives in equative copular constructions. In order to answer this question we performed a Google search on the two strings in (770), which crucially contain a definite noun phrase, and found that both are highly frequent. The string in (770a) is a case in point: the noun phrase de vraag'the question' clearly functions as a nominal complementive—we are dealing with a subject clause introduced by the anticipatory pronoun het'it'. However, a similar analysis is unlikely for (770b)—the fact that het is not present suggests instead that we are dealing with a clausal complementive; see the discussion of the examples in (768).

a. dat het de vraag is of ...
  that  it  the question  is whether
b. omdat de vraag is of ...
  because  the question  is whether

In short, there is good reason for assuming that the two examples in (770) stand in a similar opposition as the two equative copular constructions in (769). A problem is, however, that this claim cannot straightforwardly be substantiated by means of word order, given that non-adverbial finite clauses tend to occur in the right periphery of the clause, that is, in a position following the verbs in clause-final position. Fortunately, there is another reliable indicator, which is the position of the definite noun phrase: if it functions as the complementive it must be left-adjacent to the verb(s) in clause-final position, whereas it should be able to occur more to the left id it functions as subject.

a. dat het natuurlijk de vraag is [of Peter komt].
  that  it  of course  the question  is   whether  Peter comes
  'that it is, of course, the question as to whether Peter will come.'
b. dat de vraag natuurlijk is [of Peter komt].
  that  the question  of.course  is whether  Peter comes
  'that the question is, of course, whether Peter will come.'

Example (771b) therefore shows straightforwardly that finite clauses may indeed function as the predicate in equative copular constructions if the subject is a definite noun phrase headed by a speech act noun like vraag'question'. In (772), we provide similar examples with proposition nouns.

a. dat de aanname natuurlijk is [dat Marie ook meedoet].
  that  the assumption  of.course  is   that  Marie  also  prt.-participates
  'that the assumption is, of course, that Marie will also participate.'
b. dat de leidende gedachte natuurlijk is [dat het goed is voor iedereen].
  that  the leading thought  of.course  is  that  it  good is for everyone
  'that the principal idea is, of course, that it will be good for everyone.'

The situation is somewhat different in vinden-constructions; the obligatoriness of the pronoun het'it' in (773) shows that we only find cases in which the finite clause functions as the logical subjectof the nominal complementive; the finite clause cannot be used as a complementive. Vinden-constructions of the type in (773) seem to be restricted to cases with the speech act noun vraag'question'; we have not been able to find any other cases.

dat ik *(het) maar de vraag vind [of dat verstandig is].
  that    it  prt  the question  consider  whether  that  wise  is
'that I doubt whether that is wise.'

      Another case involving a finite complementive clause is given in (774a), although it remains to be seen which of the two finite clauses functions as the subject and which as the complementive. We can decide this by introducing the anticipatory pronoun het. The fact illustrated in (774b) that this forces extraposition of the dat-clause suggests that this is the subject clause. For completeness' sake, example (774c) shows that the presumed complementive clause must again be placed after the copular verb in clause-final position.

a. [Dat hij te laat is] is waarschijnlijk [omdat er een file is].
  that  he  too late  is  is probably  because  there  a traffic.jam  is
  'That heʼs too late is because there is a traffic jam.'
b. Het is waarschijnlijk [omdat er een file is] [dat hij te laat is].
  it  is probably  because  there  a traffic.jam  is   that he too late is
c. dat het waarschijnlijk is [omdat er een file is] [dat hij te laat is].
  that  it  probably  is because  there  a traffic.jam  is  that he too late is

Other potential examples from a similar semantic domain are given in (775). Like the omdat-clause in (774a), the dat-clauses in these examples refer to some reason (or cause), but here this reason motivates an exception to some expected state-of-affairs. The presumed copular sentence is typically conjoined with some other sentence that refers to this expected state-of-affairs (which can be left out when its contents is recoverable from the context). It is, however, difficult to prove that the dat-clause really functions as a complementive because the pronoun het cannot be replaced by a non-pronominal noun phrase, for which reason Paardekooper (1986: 263-4) refers to these cases as half-fixed expressions.

a. Het is [dat het zondag is], maar anders moest je nu naar bed.
  it  is   that  it  Sunday  is  but  otherwise  must  you  now  to bed
  'If today wasnʼt Sunday, youʼd have to be in bed by now.'
b. dat het natuurlijk is dat je zo aardig bent, want anders zou hij het niet doen.
  that  it  of.course  is  that  you  so kind  are because  otherwise  would  he  it  not  do
  'If you werenʼt so nice, he wouldnʼt do it.'

      A final potential case with a finite complementive clause is given in (776a), which again involves the obligatory subject pronoun het'it'. It might be the case, however, that this pronoun simply functions as an anticipatory pronoun introducing a subject clause, given that zijn'to be' can readily be replaced by a modal verb like lijken'to appear'; see Paardekooper (1986: 263). We refer to Section, for reasons for adopting such an analysis for examples such as (776b).

a. dat het steeds is alsof hij stikt.
  that  it  all.the.time  is  as-if  he  chokes
  'that it always looks as if heʼs choking all the time.'
b. dat het steeds lijkt alsof hij stikt.
  that  it  all.the.time  appears  as.if  he  chokes
  'that it always looks as if heʼs choking all the time.'

      For completeness' sake, we want to note that we analyze free relative clauses in copular constructions such as (777a) as nominal complementives, not as complementive clauses. The reason for this is that Section N3.3.2.2, sub I has argued that free relatives are nominal in nature, which is clear, for example, from the fact that they may occur in positions typically occupied by nominal arguments, like the subject position in (777b).

a. dat die functie niet is [wat hij verlangt].
  that  that function  not is   what  he desires
  'that that position isnʼt what he desires.'
b. dat [wat hij verlangt] onmogelijk is.
  that  what  he  desires is  impossible  is
  'that what he desires is impossible.'
[+]  II.  Infinitival clauses

This subsection discusses a number of constructions that have been analyzed as cases in which infinitival clauses function as complementives. It will briefly show that these analyses are not without their problems and that sometimes reasonable alternatives are available. For this reason, the cases under discussion have been discussed more extensively elsewhere in the grammar; the references will be given in the subsections.

[+]  A.  Om + te infinitivals

Van Haaften (1985) analyzes cases like those in the primeless examples in (778) as copular clauses with an infinitival clause as a complementive. There are basically two semantic types; either the infinitive indicates what the subject of the clause is destined for, or it provides some evaluation, in which case we are often dealing with metaphorical language. The primed examples shows that the latter but not the former type can also be used in vinden-constructions; example (778a') cannot be used under the "intended for" reading, but at best allows the metaphorical "gorgeous" reading that we also find in (778b').

a. Die appels zijn [om op te eten].
"intended for" reading
  those apples  are  comp  up  to eat
  'Those apples are intended for eating.'
a'. # Ik vind die appels [om op te eten].
  consider  those apples  comp  up  to eat
b. Dat kind is [om op te eten].
metaphorical reading
  that child  is comp  up to eat
  'That child is gorgeous.'
b'. Ik vind dat kind [om op te eten].
  consider  that child  comp  up to eat

A typical property of the constructions in (778) is that two constituents of the infinitival verb that are left phonetically unexpressed: in the examples in (778) these are the implied subject PRO and the object of the infinitive eten'to eat'. The examples in (779) show that the second element need not be an object but can also be, e.g., the nominal part of a PP-complement or an instrumental PP. The fact that the preposition mee is the stranded form of the preposition met strongly suggests that the second element is a trace, and that we are dealing with empty operator movement, as indicated in the primed examples.

a. Het leven is [om PRO van — te genieten].
  the life  is comp  of  to enjoy
  'Life is intended to be enjoyed.'
a'. Het leven is [OPi om PRO van ti te genieten].
b. Die machine is [om het gras mee/*met — te maaien].
  that machine  is  comp  the lawn  with/with  to mow
  'That machine is intended for mowing the lawn.'
b'. Die machine is [OPi om het gras mee ti te maaien].

The structures in the primed examples look very much like the structures proposed for easy-to-please constructions like Jan is leuk [om mee/*met uit te gaan]'Jan is nice to go out with', as discussed in Section A6.5, sub IVA, which are simply cases of copular constructions with an adjectival complementive. This makes it tempting to hypothesize that the examples discussed above in fact involve an empty adjective comparable with bedoeld'intended' in (780). If correct, the examples above are just apparent cases in which om + te infinitives have the function of complementive.

a. Het leven is bedoeld [OPi om PRO van ti te genieten].
  the life  is intended.for  comp  of  to enjoy
  'Life is meant to be enjoyed.'
b. Die machine is bedoeld [OPi om het gras mee ti te maaien].
  that machine  is intended.for  comp  the lawn  with  to mow
  'That machine is intended for mowing the lawn.'

A drawback of the analysis suggested above is that it cannot easily be extended to absolute met-constructions like those in (781), which likewise seem to involve predicatively used infinitival clauses (predicated of the noun phrases deze appels'these apples' and deze machine'this machine'), given that we cannot insert the adjective bedoeld in these cases: *met deze appels/machine bedoeld om ...

a. [Met deze appels om op te eten] zal ik niet verhongeren.
  with  these apples  comp  up  to eat  will  not  starve
  'With these apples to eat I wonʼt starve.'
b. [Met deze machine om het gras te maaien] gaat het werk snel.
  with  this machine  comp  the lawn  to mow  goes  the work  quickly
  'With this machine to mow the lawn, the work will proceed quickly.'

The discussion above has shown that it is not a priori clear whether or not we should analyze the Om + te clauses in the examples in (778) and (779) as complementives; we may be concerned with copular constructions taking an adjectival complementive the head of which happens to remain phonetically empty. Future research must show what the correct analysis of such examples is; we refer the reader to Section A6.5, sub IVA, Paardekooper (1986; Section 2.18.11), Dik (1985), and Van Haaften (1985) for more discussion.

[+]  B.  Te-infinitives

The examples in (782) can be analyzed as regular cases in which the te-infinitive functions as the complementive of a copular or vinden-construction. There are, however, reasons for doubting that the te-infinitive heads an infinitival clause. First, the fact that the te-infinitive must precede the copular in clause-final position is unexpected: (non-adverbial) infinitival clauses are normally found at the right periphery of the clause, that is, after the verbs in clause-final position.

a. dat dat boek moeilijk/niet <te lezen> is <*te lezen>.
  that  that  book  hard/not      to read  is
  'that that book is hard to read/illegible.'
b. dat ik dat boek moeilijk/niet <te lezen> vind <*te lezen>.
  that  that  book  hard/not     to read  consider
  'that I consider that book hard to read/illegible.'

Secondly, and more importantly, example (783) shows that the te-infinitive can also be used as an attributive modifier of a noun phrase. The fact that the attributive prenominal position is strictly reserved for adjectives clearly shows that the te-infinitive does not head an infinitival clause.

de moeilijk/niet te lezen boeken
  the  hard/not  to read  books
'the books that are difficult to read/illegible'

Since the distribution of the te-infinitives in (782) and (783) clearly shows that we are dealing with adjective-like elements, such cases are discussed in Section A9.

[+]  C.  Bare infinitives

Haeseryn et al. (1997;1129) provide copular constructions such as (784) as cases in which bare infinitival clauses function as complementives. The fact that the bare infinitives must precede the copular verb worden'become' suggests, however, that we are not dealing with infinitival clauses but with nominalizations, that is, with copular constructions with a nominal complementive.

a. dat het weer <tobben> wordt <*tobben>.
  that  it  again     fret  becomes
  'that itʼll be struggling on somehow.'
b. dat het weer eendjes voeren wordt <*voeren>.
  that  it  again  ducks  feed  becomes
  'that itʼll be feeding the ducks again!.'

Haslinger (2007) has argued that examples such as (785a) involve nominal predicates. A potential problem with this assumption is that the string is vissen in certain ways behaves like a verb cluster. Example (785a'), for instance, shows that the corresponding perfect tense is not formed by means of the past participle geweest'been', as would normally be the case if we are dealing with a nominal predicate, but exhibits what seems an infinitivus-pro-participio effect; the (b)-examples are added for comparison. For this reason, Section 6.4.2 argues that the verb zijn is not a copular verb in examples such as (785a) but a non-main verb.

a. Jan is vissen.
  Jan is fish
  'Jan is off fishing.'
a'. Jan is wezen/*geweest vissen.
  Jan is be/been  fish
  'Jan has been off fishing.'
b. Jan is een goede pianist.
  Jan is a good pianist
  'Jan is a good pianist.'
b'. Jan is een goede pianist geweest.
  Jan is a good pianist  been
  'Jan has been a good pianist.'
[+]  D.  Conclusion

The previous subsections have reviewed a number of constructions that have been claimed to involve infinitival clauses functioning syntactically as complementives. We have seen, however, that it is far from clear that the suggested analysis is correct; in some of these cases there is reason for doubting that the infinitival phrases function as complementives, and in the remaining cases there is reason for assuming that we are not dealing with clauses but with APs.

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  • Haaften, Ton van1985<i>Om</i>-zinnen en predikatieGLOT847-65
  • Haaften, Ton van1985<i>Om</i>-zinnen en predikatieGLOT847-65
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