According to the material I've been studying, the verb go in this sentence...

I go to school

... is an intransitive verb of complete predication. However, the same source also states that the verb requires an adverbial complement. If so, why do we say it's of complete predication instead of incomplete?

  • 4
    The book is correct that go is intransitive; but that's all. Calling something a "verb of complete predication" means nothing, as far as I can tell, except some handwaving by the author. It certainly is not a standard term in grammar or semantics. They could have said, however, that go is an intransitive active verb of motion that is deictically oriented away from the speaker. If they had known it. – John Lawler Jun 4 '17 at 1:46
  • The question is from a book English Grammar Past and Present: With Appendices on Prosody, Synonyms, and ...by John Collinson Nesfield, published in 1900. The only other reference is to Teachers' Monographs: Plans and Details of Grade Work. ..., published in 1917. OP needs a new book-- – Xanne Jun 4 '17 at 3:13
  • Sorry, there are others with "incomplete predication", some from e.g., 2007. – Xanne Jun 4 '17 at 3:25
  • I've never heard of the term ' intransitive verb of complete predication'. Please get a decent up-to-date grammar book! In your example, the verb "go" does require a complement, such as a PP. But note that "to school" is not an adverbial, but a complement. – BillJ Jun 4 '17 at 9:17
  • Doesn't After morning coffee, I get up and I go show that the verb 'go' stands on its own? – Yosef Baskin Jun 7 '17 at 14:11

Language first, grammar afterwards. With the Advent of structural linguistics, the Victorian concept of completeness of verb is being lost into oblivion. However it does not lose its relevance.

Verbs are the predicators, predicate markers. When a verb and a subject can convey the complete sense, the verb is complete by itself— a verb of complete predication. If not, a verb of incomplete predication. You can judge for yourself from the following examples which is of complete/ incomplete predication.

  • God is.

  • God is loving.

  • Wind blows.

  • Wind blows the reeds.

There is none of incomplete predication. But if go by definition, they may say "BE" as an incomplete verb which is the case in the second example. Again in the third, 'blow' is a self-contained verb but in the fourth the same verb demands 'the reeds' to be meaningful​. This sense of completion is essential to our realisation and primary consideration for a verb, be it transitive or intransitive. Here the differentiation is based on the perception whether the verb in question requires complementation or not. You may say it is another way of looking at verbs.

  • John seems /_\ (disturbed).

We simply discard the above example as not being a sentence. We don't call transitive verbs by such epithet as 'incomplete predication' because they are complete with or without object. Intransitive verbs are not always self contained predicators and the unique name— intransitive verbs with incomplete predication— is used in their cases.

BillJ and Yosef Baskin are equally right in their analysis of "GO". The distinction between complete and incomplete is essentially an intuitive one.


Regarding the original question. I go, would mean I leave. It's the only sensible interpretation. But native speakers don't usually say things like I go, in the simple present. Usually, they would say I am going, or I am leaving. Appropriate 'predication' depends on the intended meaning. I go to school, in the present simple is a statement about the subject's routine or habit. It is not sensibly interpreted any other way. If you want to use go to mean leave, then it would be better to say I am going to school, now, or better yet, I am leaving for school.

So this is an example where the grammar rules actually interfere with language acquisition. Syntax is about the common patterns in use to establish meaning. Just because a rule would allow you to construct a sentence, doesn't mean it represents the syntax of English. Language is about patterns not rules, the rules may follow patterns, but the patterns do not follow the rules.

Regarding the so called 'incomplete predication' question, it's seems that a verb's completeness depends on its intended meaning, and in the examples given the meaning is different.

  • God is. This means God exists. The meaning that the verb be takes here is to say the subject exists, an intransitive state verb. Normally, people would use the verb exist in such a construction not be.
  • God is loving. In this sentence the verb be is functioning as a copula or link verb - there is no action or state, the complement is only providing information about the subject. Link verbs are only followed directly by nouns or adjectives.

Same with the next two sentences, the meaning of the verb changes from one construction to the next.

  • Wind blows. Present simple. This could mean, as commentary, that the wind is blowing or it could just be a statement of fact. In either case the meaning is about the wind itself.
  • Wind blows the reeds. The meaning here is about the effect of wind on the reeds, not the wind itself or it characteristics. A more precise representation of the meaning would be to say, "The wind moves the reeds."

The idea of incomplete predication would be better represented with a verb like belong or carry to give both a transitive and intransitive example.

  • I carry. - This is incorrect because we always carry something - the verb is not meaningful with out its object complement (transitive).
  • The book belongs. - Also incorrect because the verb is incomplete without its complement, always a prepositional phrase. The subject belongs to someone, in someplace or on some surface.

Presently I am looking for strictly intransitive verbs that require a complement, which by necessity means an adverbial complement, most often a prepositional phrase. My list, so far is quite short, go and belong. Go can take an adverb or a preposition but belong appears to always require a preposition.

  • He went to Mary's house.
  • He went quickly.
  • The books belong on the shelf.

And so on.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.