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Semantics of Complement Clause as Direct Object of Verb (Part 1 of 7)

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Complement of verbs as direct object are not always noun or noun phrase. Sometimes direct object also describes action or activity or declaration or opinion or command or suggestion which requires a verb. This requirement can be addressed by (a) a finite subordinate clause or (b) non-finite subordinate clause or (c) non-finite phrase – all of which can be nominal functioning as noun as direct object, answering ‘what’ question. Behaving as both noun and verb, Non-Finite clause takes verbals like gerund or to-infinitive or bare verb. ‘That’ clause and Indirect Question Clause behaving as direct object are Finite Clause.


Transitive verbs complemented by a clause cannot always be complemented by a non-finite clause unless the main verb licenses potential action or describes an action or an activity. These transitive verbs are characteristically a causal agentive verb (aim, plan, try) or resultative causative verb (fail, remember, forget) or agentive causative verb (force, compel) or a benefactive verb (help) or verb reporting command (ask, order) or cognitive verb describing future prospective action (agree, anticipate, hope, expect, want) an affective causative verb (convince, encourage, persuade) or mental emotional verb (like, hate, dread) or a non-factive reporting verb (allege, claim, believe) or imperative reporting verb (advise, suggest), verbs describing past action (admit, regret) or verbs describing activity (discuss, entail) or telic verbs (finish) or atelic verbs (begin, continue).


Characteristics of Verb Complement as a Clause

1) Tense and aspect of non-finite clause is determined by the main clause.

2) Non-finite clause following main verb is without an explicit/visible subject which is either same as subject or object of the main clause.

3) Non-finite complement clause of verb functions as its direct object like a ‘that’ complement clause.

4) Unlike normal subordinate clause after conjunction or ‘that’ complement clause, non-finite clause is called embedded clause because tense of the entire sentence is controlled by the main verb and subject. Alternately object noun of main clause functions as implicit subject of non-finite clause.

She has agreed [to withdraw the complaint]. {Non-finite clause is not only an object but also a content clause which can be paraphrased with ‘that’ finite clause: ‘She has agreed that she will withdraw the complaint’, where subject of main verb (she) is also the subject of non-finite clause}

My friend had warned [him to be careful]. {Answers: What had my friend cautioned him?; Infinitive followed by predicate adjective; ‘him’ is both object of main clause and subject of non-finite clause as in: ‘My friend had warned him that he must be careful.}

She accepted [being complacent and neglectful.] = She accepted that she was complacent and neglectful.

5) Gerund and Infinitive in Non-finite clauses are verbal nouns since they behave as object just like noun and also complemented by noun, adverbial and predicate adjective like a verb. Gerunds are different from deverbal nouns and action noun which look like gerund because of verb-ing but cannot be considered as a clause, though they too can function as object.

I hate to drink cold coffee. [Infinitive Clause with object]

She hates drinking coffee cold. [Gerund Clause with object]

She hates swimming in cold water. [Gerund Clause with adverbial]

She hates swimming. {deverbal activity noun}

She hates binge drinking. {deverbal activity noun which can take adjective like ‘binge’}

Neighbours object to the feeding of stray dogs. {deverbal action noun which can take article ‘the’}

6) The reason why non-finite clause can convey meaning without subject and tense is that they draw part of the meaning from the semantics hidden in the main verb and partly from the semantics hidden in the infinitive and gerund. For example ‘admit’ always refers to past action/event and ‘want/refuse’ always refers to future action/event. Further ‘admit’ refers to action by the subject whereas ‘want’ applies to action by self or by somebody else. Thus ‘admit’ + gerund and ‘want/refuse’ + infinitive without explicit subject and tense can convey the same meaning as conveyed by the full ‘that’ clause with subject and tense.

She admits committing a mistake.

She refuses to admit mistake.

She doesn’t want you to admit mistake.

Similarly, though both ‘consider applying’ and ‘denies cheating’ have gerund verb-ing, ‘consider’ implies future activity/action and ‘deny’ implies past action/activity.

7) Some Verbs take both ‘that’ clause and infinitive clause as complement (e.g. ask/ agree), some take both gerund and ‘that’ clause (e.g. suggest), some take both gerund and infinitive (e.g. continue), some take only infinitive (e.g. choose/ refuse) or only gerund (e.g. enjoy) and some take only ‘that’ clause as complement (e.g. accept).

For example:

Verbs like ‘explain’ and ‘understand’ reporting cognitive action can take ‘that’ clause but cannot be complemented by non-finite clause whereas verbs like ‘vow’ and ‘justify’ can report prospective action/activity, since these are not about content as in 'justified increasing price by 5%' or 'vowed to reclaim the lost territory'


Affective Stimulus verbs like ‘attract’, ‘insult’ can take only noun as complements whereas verbs like ‘inspire’ can take non-finite complement clause (as in inspired me to do yoga).


Reporting verbs like ‘argue’, ‘conclude’, can take only ‘that’ finite clause as complement unlike other reporting verbs like ‘admit’, ‘advise’, ‘demand’, ‘want’ which can be complemented by both ‘that’ clause and non-finite clause which are about action by self or about prospective action.

8) An Infinitive to-verb must be agentive (try/order/demand) or causative (force, enable, allow) or action (run/eat/deliver) or agentive as well as cognitive (ask, convince / persuade/ encourage/ suggest) or benefactive which are physical or mental action verbs preceded by infinitive ‘to’. We do not use stative or mental or behavioural or perception verbs like hate/ love/ cry/ laugh/ behave/ cost as infinitive verb. One test is to use ‘try to +verb’ and it is obvious that ’try to hate/ love/ cry/ laugh/ behave/ see’ are all wrong usage of infinitive. These verbs cannot also be used as gerund followed by noun, because mental state verbs cannot act, whereas gerund describes action or activity.


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