The teacher (S) wishes (V) to resign

It is no doubt that 'to resign' is a complement of something, but is it a complement of the noun The teacher or the verb wishes?

Subject complement [analysis 1]:

In '[The teacher] wishes [to resign]', '[to resign]' can be analysed as the subject complement because it is ascribing a property related to that of the subject noun 'The teacher' and hence, modifying it.

In contrast [This is how, under this analysis, object complement is defined]:

John (S) told (V) Stephanie (D.O) some great advice (Object complement)

In 'John told [Stephanie [some great advice]]', we know 'some great advice' is the object complement because it is describing/ascribing/modifying the direct object 'Stephanie', not 'John' (the subject).

Object complement [analysis 2]

In '[The teacher] wishes [to resign]', '[to resign]' is an object complement which functions as the direct object of the verb 'wishes'. In terms of clauses, 'to resign' is an infinitive object complement clause functioning as the direct object. This is John Lawler's analysis as described in here.

Furthermore in the paper, he notes:

There are four different types of complement (noun clause, either subject or object – the ones above are all object complements): respectively, they are called infinitive, gerund, that-clause, and embedded question. These types, and their structures and markers (like to and –ing) are often called complementizers. Other names for these types include for-to complementizer (infinitive), POSS-ing (or ACC-ing) complementizer (gerund), inflected (or tensed) clause (that), or WHcomplementizer (embedded question). Which term you use is of no concern; they’re equivalent.

My questions are in 'The teacher wishes to resign', is:

  • 'to resign', a subject or object complement?
  • what would you analyse 'to resign' as?
  • if either subject or object complement: why and which analysis is more supported?

I will not accept the reasoning that 'Stephanie' is an indirect object because you can insert a (to) in my sentence as @tchrist states so simplistically:

When you tell someone something, the direct object is the something not the someone. The someone is the indirect object.

No, you have it exactly backwards. Syntax is what drives the syntactic classification, and here the direct object is the thing not the person. When you tell your husband a story, the story is the thing you tell. Your husband is whom you've told that story to. Syntax is why it's an 'indirect object'.

CaGEL provides counterfactual information:

[1c] They gave me the key

Example [1c] has the same propositional meaning as They gave the key to me, but to me is not an indirect object, not an object at all: it is syntactically quite different from me in [1c]. Objects normally have the form of NPs; to me here is a complement with the form of a PP.

p. 53


"Kim gave the key to Pat"

An NP indirectly related to the verb through the preposition is referred as an oblique. The phrase "to Pat" is a non-core compliment of the verb give, but the NP Pat is an oblique.


To be precise "They gave the key to me" 'to me' is neither a direct or indirect object but a non-core complement (with a PP) to the verb 'gave'.

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Feb 14, 2020 at 20:43
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    Your apparent misunderstanding of the term subject complement causes a lot of unnecessary confusion. Both your question and your analyses are wrong. (See my answer)
    – JK2
    Feb 15, 2020 at 5:23
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    Do wait for at least 24 hours before accepting an answer, so as to provide enough time for everyone to see and try to answer the question.
    – Kris
    Feb 15, 2020 at 6:56
  • @JK2 These are sources where I got the analysis of 'subject complement' from: grammaring.com/the-to-infinitive-as-a-subject-complement. BillJ also believes to-infinitives can be used as subject or object complements: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/138391/… (I think he means SC functioning as S but not PC but this is mentioned in Rejlan's answer)... Secondly, the second analysis is from John Lawler's - a published grammarian. To say everyone else's analysis is wrong to favour yours is quite smitten.
    – aesking
    Feb 15, 2020 at 11:20
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    @aesking My answer and comments are all in line with the Grammaring link and BillJ's comments. I don't even object to using the terms Subject Complement (SC) and Object Complement (OC), although CGEL and other recent grammars do not favor them (because these terms might cause exactly the kind of confusion that your post is riddled with). Note that both SC and OC are called subject-oriented and object-oriented in CGEL (p217), and that they're both internal complements of a verb. (CGEL treats 'subject' as an external complement of a verb.)
    – JK2
    Feb 16, 2020 at 0:00

4 Answers 4


In '[The teacher] wishes [to resign]', '[to resign]' can be analysed as the subject complement because it is ascribing a property related to that of the subject noun 'The teacher' and hence, modifying it.

This construction is widely recognized as a "chain of verbs" (catenative, according to the CGEL terminology). This said, "to resign" is a to-infinitival clause, an extremely common form of a verb complement. The head of the clause is the verb "resign". The subject of this clause is the same as that of the matrix clause. (the teacher wishes, the teacher resigns). Were the subjects different, the understood subject of the to-infinitival would be aligned with the object of the main clause: The teacher wishes me to resign. (The teacher wishes, I resign).

Most importantly, clauses do not "ascribe properties" to anything. We think of clauses in different terms. Subject and object can be ascribed properties in the form of an adjective, noun or (less systematically) prepositional phrase.

EDIT: cross-posted with TaliesinMerlin

TaliesinMerlin already provided an accurate (or at least very widely accepted) analysis of this construction, so I could as well delete my post :). However, I could add a couple points to supplement his post.

The examples from Grammaring illustrate the use of to-infinitival clauses as subject complement, but they are possible in this position only as specifiers of the subject. Clauses, as I said, cannot "ascribe properties" to anything. This means that it might be a bit inaccurate to say that "to infinitivals" in these examples "elaborate" on the subject. They can only specify the subject: What is the advice? What is the decision? What is the thing that is essential? (CGEL p270 says that "In the ascriptive construction a subordinate clause can function as S but not in general as PC" In the footnote they note that this may be possible to a limited degree, such as with purpose clauses: This is to clean the lens with etc)

Adjectives and noun phrases could be said to "elaborate on the subject". Adjectives, by definition, ascribe properties, while noun phrases may be used either way.

  • 1
    I'm glad you found my answer satisfactory aesking! My analysis is based on the grammatical model proposed by the authors of CGEL, which is a strong departure from traditional grammatical analyses offered in similar works intended for general public. In their model, there is no context in which a to-infinitival clause could be analyzed as object or object complement. This form of a verb complement is strikingly different from objects (which is almost always a noun phrase) To-infinitivals and participial clauses follow different usage patterns.
    – user97589
    Feb 14, 2020 at 20:13
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    You need to differentiate a syntactic form from a syntactic function. If these two concepts are not kept apart, no grammatical analysis can be made consistent and meaningful. For example, an adjective is a form that has its characteristic distribution within another phrase or at the sentence level- it can be a complement, modifier or supplement. If we want to learn about the grammar of adjectives we need to understand their distributional characteristics. The very broad semantic division between ascriptive and specifying uses helps understanding the distribution of grammatical forms.
    – user97589
    Feb 14, 2020 at 20:44
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    You're misunderstanding and misusing the term subject complement just as the OP is. Both in ascriptive and specifying uses of be, the predicative complement (PC) is subject complement because the predicand of the PC is the subject in both cases. So distinguishing between the ascriptive use of be and the specifying use of be is a non-issue here.
    – JK2
    Feb 15, 2020 at 6:35
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    In semantic terms, this element does modify the subject, rather than the verb. It is a semantic predicate.This was the basis for the term "subject complement" in the past. The term is used in Quirk's grammar, while Longman's grammar opted for "subject predicative". This is not a big deal really, as long as we use the term consistently. The fact that this element is related to its argument (subject or object) has very important grammatical repercussions, which is reflected in the choice of the terms for this element.
    – user97589
    Feb 15, 2020 at 7:16
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    @RejlanGivens What I'm saying is that the OP's asking the wrong question riddled with its own wrong analyses, and that your answer is also infected with your own wrong analyses. The dichotomy of ascriptive and specifying uses of 'be' has nothing to do with what to resign is complement of or whether or not to resign is subject complement.
    – JK2
    Feb 15, 2020 at 7:29

Are you looking for CGEL terminology? In your sentence—

The teacher wishes to resign.

to resign is a catenative complement. It complements the catenative verb wishes.

Here is what CGEL has to say in 14 1.2:

[13] vi a. She wants _to leave the country_.
        b. She seems _to like them_.
        c. She hopes _to hear from them soon._

. . . we analyse the underlined clauses in [13vi] as examples of a distinct type of complement realised exclusively by non-finite clauses; we refer to them as catenative complements. . . . The term ‘catenative’ applies to a large class of constructions where a verb has a non-finite internal complement. The name reflects the fact that the construction can be repeated recursively, yielding a concatenation (‘chain’) of verbs . . .

Some traditional grammars consider each non-finite verb in the "chain" after the main verb to be the direct object of the preceding verb, which means it functions as a noun, which means it will be either a gerund or a noun infinitive.

The Guide to Grammar and Writing states:

. . . both gerunds and infinitives can act as a Direct Object . . . Verbs that take other verb forms as objects are called catenatives (from a word that means to link, as in a chain). Catenatives can be found at the head of a series of linked constructions, as in "We agreed _to try to decide to stop eating_ between meals."

(The site goes on to offer a handy list of verbs that accept non-finite verbs as direct objects.)

Consider, for example, this chain:

The teacher wishes to consider planning to resign.

Wishes what? To consider (noun infinitive). Consider what? Planning (gerund). Planning what? To resign (noun infinitive).

Resign is not a catenative verb—it can't be followed by a non-finite verb—thus ends the chain.

Further reading: Catenative Verbs


This is an object complement.

To resign is an infinitive clause that complements the verb wishes. In John Lawler's analysis, he says the complement is determined by its matrix predicate, that is, the part of the predicate that the infinitive is embedded in. If you change the verb in the matrix predicate, then you change what complements can go with it.

  • (yes) The teacher wishes to resign

  • (no; reported tends to take a that-clause) The teacher reported to resign

  • (no; wishes doesn't take a gerund like this) The teacher wishes resigning

The validity of complements like these are dependent on the main verb phrase. To resign complements the predicate, not the subject.

Now, to resign could be a subject complement in another kind of sentence. Imagine a subject that represented the action in the complement as a noun phrase. These examples from Grammaring do just that:

  • My advice is to file a complaint at once.
  • What is essential is to maintain a healthy diet.
  • The decision was to extend the deadline by three months.

Note the copula in all of these examples - is and was. The subject is always something that the subject complement further elaborates: my advice ... to file a complaint at once; what is essential ... to maintain a healthy diet. So to form a subject complement with to resign, you might write:

  • The teacher's wish is to resign
  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Feb 14, 2020 at 20:46
  • When there's no object in the OP's example, how could to resign be object complement?
    – JK2
    Feb 15, 2020 at 6:41

The OP has already accepted an answer, but I'll post my own answer anyway because I think that the existing answers (including the accepted one) fail to address the call of the question:

Q1. Is to resign a complement of the noun The teacher or the verb wishes?

But this question is faulty on its face because The teacher is not a noun but a noun phrase (NP). So the question should first be corrected to:

Q2. Is to resign a complement of the noun phrase The teacher or the verb wishes?

But this question is not so correct either because, to be exact, there's no such thing as a complement of an NP. There's only a complement of a noun within an NP.

In the OP's sentence, the NP The teacher only comprises the determiner The and the head noun teacher and nothing else. If the sentence were The teacher of our school wishes to resign, you'd have a prepositional phrase (PP) of our school functioning as complement of the head noun teacher.

But even in this example, the PP is not a complement of the NP The teacher or of the NP The teacher of our school but of the noun teacher because it is the noun teacher itself, not any of the NPs, that licenses the PP.

So the correct question has to be:

Q3. Is to resign a complement of the noun teacher or the verb wishes?

Since to resign is not licensed by the noun teacher but by the verb wishes, the answer is easily:

"a complement of the verb wishes".

An implied question and answer

Now, you might ask, "What about the question of whether or not to resign is subject complement?"

There seems to be serious confusion about the term subject complement, which is extensively used in traditional grammar. You should not be mistaking subject complement for complement of subject or complement of an NP. Like I said, there's no such thing as a complement of an NP or a complement of subject.

In fact, even in traditional grammar, subject complement is always complement of the verb. And this is the case even in examples like

My advice is to file a complaint at once.

Here, to file a complaint at once is still complement of the verb is, never of the noun advice.

All this confusion I think arises out of the confusing term subject complement adopted in traditional grammar, and you don't even have to resort to CGEL to resolve this confusion.

  • Also. I resorted to CaGEL and you're wrong. You said: "Like I said, there's no such thing as a complement of an NP or a complement of subject.". That's wrong you need to look up Indirect complements p.55: Indirect complements. The complements in [1ii] are licensed by the heads of the nominals, fear and claim: we call these direct complements, as opposed to indirect complements, which are licensed by a dependent (or part of one) of the head. Compare: (3a) a better result [than we'd expected] and (3b) enough time [to complete the work].
    – aesking
    Feb 15, 2020 at 12:22
  • [...] The [] complements here are licensed not by the heads result and time, but by the dependents better (more specifically by the comparative inflection) and enough. Indirect complements are not restricted to NP structure, but are found with most kinds of phrase.
    – aesking
    Feb 15, 2020 at 12:24
  • Furthermore you cite: "even in traditional grammar, SC is always c of the verb.." YET John Lawler, a published grammarian, would disagree with you on that one: "There are four different types of complement (noun clause, either subject or object). Here is his paper. Not to mention you spent a 1/4 of your answer saying it should the noun 'teacher' not the NP 'the teacher' which could have been well spent in the comments section.
    – aesking
    Feb 15, 2020 at 12:31
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    @aesking Where does CGEL's quote of yours mention anything about "a complement of an NP" or "a complement of subject"? Even "indirect complements" are licensed not by an NP but by a dependent of a head. //Re John Lawler, who said there's no "subject complement"? I didn't. If you want to use the term "subject complement", please do. But please don't mistake the term for "complement of a subject".
    – JK2
    Feb 15, 2020 at 23:34

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