The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Page 1266-67) has this section:

10 Verbless clauses

We confine our attention here to verbless clauses in dependent or supplement functions comparable to those realised by non-finite clauses, as described in the main part of the chapter.

(a) Complement to with and without

[1] i They were standing against the wall [with their hands above their heads].

ii They were wandering around [without any clothes on].

iii [With the children so sick,] we weren’t able to get much work done.

iv Who is that guy [with his hands in his pockets]?

The [boldfaced] clauses have subject + predicate structure, but with no verb in the predicate. With and without do not license finite complements, but non-finites are found in addition to the verbless forms (see §8.3 above). The bracketed PPs function as adjunct to a clause ([i–iii]) or post-modifier in NP structure ([iv]). With is semantically similar to have, and without to not have: [i–ii], for example, entail They had their hands above their heads, They didn’t have any clothes on.

CGEL is saying the boldfaced portions are verbless clauses and "have subject + predicate structure". But is that true?

As suggested by CGEL, with/without can be replaced with having/not having in [i, ii, iv] as follows:

(1) They were standing against the wall [having their hands above their heads].

(2) They were wandering around [not having any clothes on].

(4) Who is that guy [having his hands in his pockets]?

Here, can you say that having take verbless clauses as complements? I don't think you can. In (1), (2), and (4), I think that having takes their hands, any clothes, and his hands, respectively, as its direct objects.

Note, on the other hand, that with cannot be replaced with having in [iii]:

(3) ??[Having the children so sick,] we weren’t able to get much work done.

In [iii], unlike in [i], [ii], or [iv], the children so sick is a verbless clause and does have subject + predicate structure.

But is it correct to treat the boldfaced portions in [i], [ii], and [iv] as verbless clauses as well?

  • Being a clause is not something that can be "true". It's a part of CGEL's analysis, so you gotta believe it if you follow them. This also affects CGEL's definition of "clause", since the system is unified. Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 19:10
  • @JohnLawler I'm asking if you can discern that the boldfaced portion in [iii] is different from those in [i], [ii] and [iv].
    – JK2
    Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 6:06
  • Not notably. ii is negative, wth an NPI, iii uses the so of so ...that construction, so both of those have special bonds to the other part of the sentence. But they're all the same construction. If you or CGEL want to call them "verbless sentences", you can't be stopped. Or if you don't nobody's forcing you. That's the way science goes -- no analysis is perfect, and even the best are often forced to adopt analyses they don't admire. Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 18:31
  • @JohnLawler In the last part of the quoted portion, CGEL says "With is semantically similar to have, and without to not have" But this doesn't seem to apply to [iii], because [iii] doesn't seem to entail We had the children so sick. What do you make of this?
    – JK2
    Commented Apr 10, 2022 at 0:33
  • Nothing in particular. I'm not interested in what CGEL says. The have in the example is not the have of possession, but occurrence or achievement, like They have the water boiling. That's the construction that ultimately led to the present perfect: I have dinner cooked => I have cooked dinner. That's why have is the auxiliary for the perfect. Commented Apr 10, 2022 at 0:57

1 Answer 1


The "verbless clause" analysis seems to be motivated by the absence of a verb in constructions like "with their hands above their heads".

"Having their hands above their heads" and "not having any clothes on" do contain a verb (having). So I don't see why would would analyze these constructions as containing a "verbless clause".

  • 1
    This is more a comment than an answer. Moreover, the 'verbless clause' CGEL is talking about is only the boldfaced portion, not the with-PP. So, I'm not asking whether "Having their hands above their heads" is a verbless clause, I'm asking whether the part "their hands above their heads" (after "Having") is.
    – JK2
    Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 14:53

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