Verb‐governed infinitival complementation in the recent history of English

by Sofía Bemposta‐Rivas (Author)
Monographs 340 Pages
Series: Linguistic Insights, Volume 287


Verb-dependent non-finite complementation
and, in particular, to- and bare-infinitive complement
clauses have been the subject of
extensive investigation and debate. The aim of
this monograph is to contribute to the existing
literature by modelling the variation in relation
to a selection of verbs that govern to- and
bare-infinite complements in the recent history
of American and British English. Using methodologies
provided by corpus linguistics and
multivariate analyses, this book attempts to
account for the forces that make certain verbs
show a preference for either to-infinitive or
bare-infinitive complementation from Middle
English onwards, and to provide a comprehensive
description of the factors that influence
the choice of infinitival. Specifically, this
monograph deals with morphological, syntactic
and semantic/pragmatic variation between
to- and bare-infinitive complementation in
English, governed by, specifically, dare, need
and help.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of contents
  • 1. Introduction
  • 1.1 Clausal complementation in the recent history of English: An introduction
  • 1.1.1 Complementation: Morphological features
  • 1.1.2 Complementation: Syntactic features
  • 1.1.3 Complementation: Semantic and cognitive features
  • 1.2 Determinants of infinitival complementation: A review of the literature
  • 1.3 Modelling infinitival complementation in the history of English
  • 2. Data and methodology
  • 2.1 Data selection
  • 2.1.1 British English
  • 2.1.2 American English
  • 2.1.3 Data retrieval and coding
  • 2.2 Database variables
  • 2.2.1 Main-clause variables
  • 2.2.2 Complement clause
  • 2.2.3 Construction-based variables
  • 2.3 Statistical analysis
  • 2.3.1 Multivariate analysis of the data
  • 2.3.2 Data comparability
  • 2.4 To-infinitive and BI complementation: An overall diachronic and synchronic assessment of the variation
  • 3. Dare and need revisited
  • 3.1 Introduction
  • 3.2 Literature review: The status of dare and the ancestors of the modal verbs
  • 3.3 The status of dare and need in Middle English and the role of tharf
  • 3.3.1 Morphosyntactic and semantic features of dare, tharf and need
  • 3.3.2 Distribution of dare, tharf and need
  • 3.3.3 Modal, lexical and blend constructions
  • 3.4 Complementation choices over time: Qualitative and multivariate analysis of dare and need
  • 3.4.1 Model 1: Dare and need and to/BI complementation in Early Modern English
  • 3.4.2 Model 2: Dare and need and the to/BI complementation in Late Modern British and American English
  • 3.4.3 Model 3: Dare and need plus to/BI complementation in Present Day English
  • 3.4.4 Infinitival complementation governed by dare and need: A diachronic and synchronic analysis
  • 3.5 Dare and need
  • 4. Help
  • 4.1 Introduction
  • 4.2 Literature review
  • 4.3 Synchronic and diachronic analyses
  • 4.3.1 Complementation options over time
  • 4.3.2 Multivariate analysis
  • 4.4 Infinitival complementation governed by help: A diachronic and synchronic exploration
  • 4.5 Concluding remarks and discussion
  • 5. Summary, conclusion and avenues for further research
  • 5.1 Findings
  • 5.2 Qualitative analysis
  • Appendix
  • References and sources
  • Series index

←6 | 7→

1. Introduction

1.1 Clausal complementation in the recent history of English: An introduction

This monograph deals with morphological, syntactic, semantic/pragmatic and discursive variation between to- and bare-infinite (BI) verbal complementation in English. It investigates the reasons that lead certain verbs (specifically, dare, need and help) to opt for one solution or the other in the recent history of English. Non-finite complementation is a highly productive area of research (see Fanego 1996, 1998, 2004; Mair 2003: 329; Taeymans 2004a, b, 2006; Schlüter 2005; Cuyckens and De Smet 2007; Loureiro-Porto 2009, 2010; Lohmann 2011; van der Auwera and Diewald 2012: 131; Levshina 2018). While there are numerous studies examining to-infinitive vs BI complementation from a syntactic, semantic or cognitive perspective (see Section 1.2), this volume is an attempt to provide a comprehensive analytic analysis of the possible grammatical, structural, semantic/pragmatic, processing, period and identity-avoidance factors affecting to-infinitive/BI complement alternation.

Some historical background regarding the origin and rise of non-finite complementation is in order to put the analysis in context. Los (2005: 301) distinguishes three different infinitives in OE, based on distribution, structural and positional evidence:

(i) the bare infinitive; (ii) the to-infinitive as complement of the verb wesan ‘be’, as in the PE fossil he is to blame; and (iii) the to-infinitive as purpose adjunct, and as theme- or goal-argument of verbs other than wesan.

Los contends that the BI (type (i)) is a verbal head even though it occurs in positions reserved for case-marked nouns in the clause and therefore ←7 | 8→has nominal traits. With respect to the wesan-to-infinitive construction in type (ii), Los explains that the to-infinitive constituent behaves like an Adjective Phrase in terms of position, distribution and structure and “occurs as a predicate in a small clause”. In ME this infinitive undergoes re-analysis as an overtly passivised to be-infinitive. Type (iii) is restricted to control constructions and functions “as the non-finite counterpart of the subjunctive clause” (p. 301); this to-infinitive has clausal characteristics. The assumption that the to-complementiser derives from the homonymy preposition to is supported by Fanego (2004: 26), who observes that “cognitive research on complementation has generally argued that to-infinitival complements evoke aspects of imagery inherent in the source-path-goal image schema associated with prepositional to”.1 According to Verspoor (1999: 511), “to-infinitive expresses that the subject, figuratively speaking, moves towards the state of being expressed, is not there yet, but is projected towards it”. From a diachronic perspective, Fanego (2004: 27) points out that there are records that show that the source of the to-infinitive was a “directional adverb/preposition with the meaning ‘toward’”, but that “by Late Old English or Early Middle English (1100–1300) to had lost its prepositional character and had grammaticalised to an infinitive marker, so that it began to occur where previously only the bare infinitive was”. Los (2005: 303) suggests that the rise of the to-infinitive may have been influenced by its reanalysis as a non-finite subjunctive, together with the gradual loss of Object-Verb word order, and more importantly, by the obsolescence of finite subjunctive forms. As will be explained in Chapter 2, modal verbs, which typically select BI clauses, are also favoured as periphrastic markers of the subjunctive mood.

The outline of this chapter is as follows: This section provides a general description of non-finite complementation in English, specifically in relation to its morphological, syntactic and semantic/cognitive ←8 | 9→features. Section 1.2 deals with to-infinitive and BI clausal complementation and the determining features of each complementation alternative. Finally, Section 1.3 outlines and justifies the research questions that underlie this study.

1.1.1 Complementation: Morphological features

This volume presents an exploration of verb-governed non-finite clausal complementation in the history of English. Non-finite clauses are characterised by the absence of verbal inflection and characteristically fulfil a subordinate function in the syntactic constituents to which they belong. In fact, Huddleston and Pullum et al. (2002: 89) view non-finiteness as a ‘desententialization’ strategy since it involves the loss of properties that are associated with a clause standing alone as a full sentence. Unification and bonding are the minimal process, “at least pragmatically”, in clause combining and most often take place in subordination, showing “hierarchical downgrading and desententialisation” (Hopper and Traugott 2003: 178). As a consequence, one member of the complement structure is decategorialised and becomes syntactically non-canonical. In their cline of dependency, Hopper and Traugott place finite constructions on the leftmost end of the cline (lowest degree of dependency), and non-finiteness, expressed by clausal remnants such as infinitives and participles, on the right (lowest degree of grammatical integration).

1.1.2 Complementation: Syntactic features

Hopper and Traugott (2003: 175) point out that “ordinary discourse does not consist of isolated, context-free utterances but of linked discourse units”. ‘Clausal complementation’ refers to the process of embedding a clause so that it becomes a complement within another syntactic unit (Hamawand 2002: 1). Complement clauses are embedded clauses in the complement position of another clause or phrase, and are “regularly introduced by a complementizer, a morpheme or a paired morpheme, whose function is to identify the structure as a complement” (Hamawand 2002: 1). Hamawand (2002: 87; 2003: 66) claims that “complementisers iconically encode different degrees of distance ←9 | 10→between the referents of the main and complement clauses”, and analyses them as complex categories comprising “a central prototypical meaning from which other meanings are derived” (2003: 70). As Matthews (2007: 42) explains, the term ‘complementiser’ dates from the mid-1960s, and was known in the beginning as ‘marker’ specific to a ‘predicate complement’. Under this definition, Matthews (2007: 42) includes that, as in example (4), morphemic markers such as -ing (5), ‘POSS’ (6) and to (7):

(4)I suppose that it barked.

(5)It liked barking at night.

(6)I was angry about the animal’s barking.

(7)I ordered it to be put down.

As pointed out in Hopper and Traugott (2003: 175), the “development of markers of clause linkage” and complementisers, such as those in (4)–(7), has been attributed to the total or partial grammaticalisation of lexical items that led to the integration of initially separate clauses within larger main units,2 where the embedded clause fulfils a syntactic function (Hamawand 2002: 1).

Hamawand (2002) analyses clausal complementation as a type of subordination: the process of linking individual clauses so that they adopt a different, dependent syntactic status. He uses the term ‘superordinate’ clause to refer to the main clause and ‘subordinate’ for a complement clause. Subordinate clauses are characterised by syntactic incompleteness because interpretation of a subordinate clause often relies on inference from the main clause or from a broader context ←10 | 11→(Huddleston and Pullum et al. 2002: 89). Matthews (1981: 174), for example, explains that in (8a) the incomplete clause to get him to the airport, which lacks a subject, can be transformationally related to the complete non-finite clause (for) it to get him to the airport, in (9a), or the finite clause in (9b). Clauses such as that found in (8a) are classed as ‘reduced units’: they are “incomplete (…) in that at least one potential element of a main clause, or at least one of the potential categories of its predicator, is excluded” (Matthews 1981: 174).

(8)a. a[I hired a taxi b[to get him to the airport]b]a. (Matthews 1981: 173)

b.The taxi got him to the airport / I will get him to the airport. (Matthews 1981: 173)

(9)a. a[I hired a taxi b[for it to get him to the airport]b]a. (Matthews 1981: 174)

b.He got to the airport. (Matthews 1981: 174)

The matrix verb of the main clause functions as the ‘licenser’ of different types of complementation (Matthews 2007: 77). Terms such as ‘valency’ or ‘valence’ (Tesnière 1969: 238), ‘complementation’ (Quirk et al. 1985: 65–67) and ‘argument structure’ (Fromkin 2000: 685) are used variously to refer to verbs that require complements (e.g. love), verbs that may take complements but do not have to (e.g. sing), verbs that require a complement and may take an additional locative (e.g. throw), and verbs that only require a locative (e.g. put). In other words, verbs may be intransitive or transitive with one or two complements. Among transitive verbs, some permit or require clausal constructions comprising a subordinate finite or non-finite verb (Matthews 2007: 85).3 ←11 | 12→Matthews (2007: 92) explains that complements are defined relationally as parts of a construction that are either required or ‘licensed’ by specific lexical units, in line with Huddleston and Pullum et al. (2002: 219), who state that “the most important property of complements in clause structure is that they require the presence of an appropriate verb that licenses them”. According to Matthews (1981: 148), that the complement clause and the main clause enter into an exocentric construction relationship, where none of the constituents can substitute for a whole, or into a ‘directive’ relationship, in Hockett’s (1958: 191) terminology, in which the verb is a ‘director’ and the complement is the ‘axis’. Modifiers, by contrast, are dependent but not specifically ‘licensed’. Matthews (1981: 147) adapts Bloomfield’s (1933: 194) notion of ‘endocentricity’ in his definition of modification, applied to constructions where at least one of the elements may be substituted for the whole.

Hamawand (2002) identifies three word classes that license subordinate or complement clauses: nouns, as shown in (11) below, adjectives, as in (12), and verbs, as in (13).4 Huddleston and Pullum et al. (2002: 1176) add prepositions to the list, as illustrated in (14) – I will not consider examples such as (14) as complement clauses but as an adjunct, because the main verb is intransitive and does not license a complement clause.

(11)At the meeting there was a desire to change section 3 of the agreement. (Rudanko 2000: 7)

(12)He was determined to commit himself. (Rudanko 2000: 90)

(13)John forced me to perform menial tasks. (Rudanko 2000: 3)

←12 | 13→

(14)She left at six in order to catch the early train. (Huddleston and Pullum et al. 2002: 1176)

As mentioned before, this study focuses on verbal complementation and the determinants of variation when a verb may select different types of verbal complements. Rudanko (2011: 3) identifies a role of dependency or correlation between the main verb and the type of predicate in the complement, observing that “saying that a head selects its complement or complements means that a head selects the head of each complement”. For instance, in the transitive into-ing pattern illustrated in (15), the matrix verb fool selects as its complements both the NP him and the -ing clause introduced by into.

(15)They fooled him into believing he was fast enough. (Rudanko 2011: 2)

Biber et al. (1999: 658) identify three types of non-finite clauses according to the inflectional form of the verbs and the grammatical roles they play in the clause. As regards the inflectional properties of main verbs, non-finite clauses may be headed by gerund-participials, infinitivals (subdivided into to-infinitives and bare infinitives) and past participials (Biber et al. 1999: 198); in this study, I focus on the two types of infinitivals. As far as their syntactic roles are concerned, infinitival complement clauses can be placed in pre-predicate, extraposed and post-predicate position, the last of these being the most frequent according to Biber et al. (1999: 693). Huddleston and Pullum et al. (2002: 1176) argue that the function of to-infinitives and BI-clauses is similar to the function of content clauses: they may be objects of the main verbs, as in (16), extraposed objects, as in (17), or catenative complements, as in (18). Huddleston and Pullum et al.’s ‘catenative complements’ are governed by so-called ‘catenative’ verbs such as hope.

(16)I found talking to her quite helpful.

(17)I found it distressing to see her so ill.

(18)She hopes to hear from them soon.

My analysis does not adopt this catenative interpretation and treats to hear from them soon in (18) as a complement clause functioning as the object of the main clause. For the purposes of comparison, however, ←13 | 14→in what follows I will summarise the relevant literature on catenative constructions and comment on any overlaps with my own research. In Huddleston and Pullum et al. (2002: 1177), ‘catenative’ refers to constructions that take non-finite internal complements where the main and subordinate verbs are chained or concatenated, as in (19). In (19), the notional subjects of the first three catenative verbs (intend, try and persuade) co-refer with she, whereas him is the subject of the last catenative verb help. Two types of catenative constructions are present, simple and complex, depending on the absence or presence of a Noun Phrase (NP) intervening between the main clause and the subordinate clause that functions as the complement of one of the clauses.

(19)She intends to try to persuade him to help her redecorate her flat. (Huddleston and Pullum et al. 2002: 1177)

Matthews (1981: 186) uses ‘catenative’ to refer to the fusion of a dependent verbal construction with a transitive or intransitive construction. He analyses example (20) as a fused construction (i.e. a construction in which a single element is the complement of both a controlling and a dependent predicator) where him is the object of made and the subject of do. Matthews claims that the relationship between the subject and the object reveals the fusion between the transitive and the secondary predication. According to this interpretation, it does not matter whether the first predicator in (20) controls the second predicator plus its object, do it, which is considered a reduced clause, or the second predicator (do) by itself (Matthews 1981: 186). Following Haegeman (2006) and Rudanko (2011), however, I consider that the main verb make in (20) selects the whole predicate him do it as its complement, which functions as the direct object. Pronoun substitution supports this analysis, as in (21), where this replaces him do it. Example (22) is a representation of the syntactic analysis adopted in my study: him (NP2) is the overt subject of the complement clause headed by do (Vb2) and it (NP3) is the direct object of the lower-clause verb do (Vb2). In intransitive constructions, the covert NP2 is a PRO form co-referent with the NP1 subject of the main clause, as in (23). In (24), the subject of the infinitival coordinated verbs (ventilate and remove) has the tube as its referent in the main clause headed by has.

←14 |

(20)They made him do it. (Matthews 1981: 185)

(21)I made this

(22)[NP1 [Vb1 [NP2 Vb2 NP3]obj S2]S1

(23)[NP1i [Vb1 [PROi Vb2 …]obj S2]S1

(24)The tube has about an inch of clearance around the mirror to help ventilate the tube and remove heat from the light path. (COHA, mag_1995_394838)


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (November)
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 340 pp., 27 fig. b/w, 136 tables.

Biographical notes

Sofía Bemposta‐Rivas (Author)

Sofía Bemposta-Rivas holds a PhD in English philology from the University of Vigo. She completed a BA and an MA in advanced English studies at the same institution, where she is an active member of the research group Language Variation and Textual Categorisation (LVTC). Her research focuses on English historical syntax, specifically on non-finite complementation, using corpora and empirical methodologies. Thanks to the financial support provided by the LVTC group, the English Linguistic Circle (ELC) network and the Spanish Ministry of Science, Sofía developed research stays in Edinburgh, Leuven, York, Lancaster, British Columbia and Bamberg.


Title: Verb‐governed infinitival complementation in the recent history of English