In a noun phrase (NP), a verb phrase (VP) can act as a complement of a noun as follows:

OPEC's decision to cut production by more than 1.5m barrels a day

the option to replace you with your legal guardian

the ability to regulate

the opportunity to fix that

It seems that a VP acting as a complement of a noun in an NP can only take the form of a to-infinitive phrase.

Currently, I cannot think of any other form of VP (i.e., a bare infinitive phrase or a gerund-participle phrase) acting as a complement of a noun in an NP.

I'd like to know if this is true, and if so, what the reason might be.

  • 1
    Would you consider "To stop and smell the roses was his great joy" as a bare infinitive VP acting as a complement?
    – rajah9
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 2:23
  • @rajah9 Where is the NP of which your VP acts as a complement?
    – JK2
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 2:56
  • 1
    Have you at least searched online for possible hints to the likely answer?
    – Kris
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 9:26
  • 2
    CamGEL treat the Complements you mention as clauses (headed, of course, by VPs with the same surface form). I don't know what the rationale for doing this is in each case though. In your second or third examples, though, there could easily be a subject an option for them to apply later, no opportunity for them to fix that, so analysing those Complements as clauses would make sense. I can't think of a case where a noun would take a gerund-participial clause as a Complement, and there are no examples of this happening in CamGEL in their chapter on nouns and noun phrases. Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 12:32
  • These are not ordinary verb phrases. These are infinitive verb phrases, and they have special grammar and limitations. Especially when they modify nouns. For instance, the noun an infinitive modifies can be either its subject or its object: Harris is the man to do the job (subject of to do) vs Harry is the man to see about the job (object of to see). Commented Sep 8, 2023 at 23:35

1 Answer 1


It seems that a VP acting as a complement of a noun in an NP can only take the form of a to-infinitive phrase.


According to Huddleston & Pullum (2002):

Many nouns license non-finite complements, all to-infinitivals

Presumably this has to do with the fact that gerund-participials usually function as modifiers in NPs (as in "those knowing the truth"); this would make any potential gerund-participial complement ambiguous, since it could also be read as a modifier. Such ambiguity can also exist with to-infinitivals: "He had an order to follow" could mean "He had an order, and he should follow that order" or "Someone had ordered him that he should follow." But that ambiguity seems relatively unlikely in most cases.

  • 1
    @JK2 Sorry, edited my answer to clarify.
    – alphabet
    Commented Sep 9, 2023 at 1:16

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