1. I can say that the world will end with confidence.

  2. I can say with confidence that the world will end.

I know that people would avoid to say the first sentence, but it is highly unlikely that someone would interpret it as saying "with confidence, world will end". So here comes the question. It is possible to say both of those sentences, but I don't know why we can shift the "that clause". Does it work in the same way as "heavy noun phrase shift"? Or is it because this that clause is used as a noun being an object?

Here is my assumption.

3."I can say that the world will end."

4."I can say with confidence."

Both sentences work greatly without a that clause for the fourth sentence and without the prepositional phrase, "with confidence," for the third sentence. Thus I am assuming that changing the order of these two, that clause and prepositional phrase, is possible since we can delete one of them and still make sense, which makes changing order of those two do not matter at all. Is my assumption correct? If not, please tell me why it is grammatically and idiomatically correct to shift it around.

Thank you.

  • How does your theory explain that 1. tells us how the world ends, but 2. tells us how you say that?
    – deadrat
    Sep 5, 2015 at 2:26
  • 1
    Some say the world will end with fire; some say with ice. I say the world will end with confidence. (Apologies to Robert Frost.) Sep 5, 2015 at 2:32
  • 1
    @PeterShor I say that the world will end with an RP accent. Sep 5, 2015 at 2:34

1 Answer 1


Your intuitions about the grammaticality of your four examples aren't quite right. Sentence (4) is ungrammatical. The reason is that the verb SAY needs a Complement (under some grammatical analyses we'd say it needs an Object). The phrase that the world will end is a Complement in example (3), but with confidence in number (4) is an Adjunct. It's not a grammatically essential part of the sentence. So example (3) is grammatical and (4) isn't.

Unfortunately, the phrase heavy noun phrase shift was coined before the more modern interpretation of noun phrase used by linguists such as Huddleston & Pullum (2002, 2005). For these more recent writers noun phrase refers to a phrase headed by a noun. For earlier scholars a noun phrase didn't necessarily involve anything like a noun at all. A noun phrase was just a phrase with the grammatical function of Subject, Object or "Object" of a preposition. It could quite easily be a non-finite clause:

  • Her leaving so early annoyed me.

The term heavy NP shift, therefore, also includes the postposing of clauses functioning as internal Complements of the verb. Sentence (2) therefore could indeed be said to be an exemplar of heavy NP shift, even though many modern grammarians would not actually regard that the world will end as a noun phrase. It isn't a phrase headed by a noun.

In short what allows us to move the clause functioning as Complement of the verb is indeed the fact that it is heavy, in other words long (it is several words long). Compare the following examples with (1, 2):

  • I can say that with confidence.
  • *I can say with confidence that. (seems ungrammatical)

Here where the Complement of the verb SAY is short, we don't seem to be able to move it to the end of the sentence.


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