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a. I love you.

Here, you is the object of the verb love. It's also a complement, because it completes the meaning of the sentence.

Per Wikipedia, complement is defined as:

In grammar, a complement is a word, phrase, or clause that is necessary to complete the meaning of a given expression.

What is the given expression in (a)? Is it love or love you? Does you complete the meaning of the verb itself or the meaning of the predicate?


Just because example (a) is elementary doesn't mean the question also is. By the same token, just because the above sentence is quoted from a wiki doesn't mean it's a bad idea to start a question based on the sentence.

I believe the quoted sentence is a good place to start a serious question because it cites three authoritative references:

Crystal, D. 1997. A dictionary of linguistics and phonetics, 4th edition, Oxford, UK: Blackwell. (75).

Matthews, P. 1981. Syntax. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. (142f.)

Huddleston, R. 1988. English grammar: An outline. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.(note 2)

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    I think you should ask this question on our sister site ELL, which is more suited to elementary questions about English. link – BillJ Apr 18 at 6:36
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    @BillJ It might not be as elementary as you think. – listeneva Apr 18 at 6:42
  • By your standards, probably not. – BillJ Apr 18 at 7:17
  • In any case, Wiki's definition is defective since the syntactic concept construction is preferable to the semantic concept meaning. – BillJ Apr 18 at 7:21
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    @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. I like the way you put it. Yes, complements do fill 'slots' or 'spaces'. The question is, what does the setting up of such a slot or space? If, as you say, "another word" (e.g., the verb love) does the setting up, how can you say things like You have to love in order to be loved, where love doesn't set up anything? In your teach examples over on the linked answer, the same verb teach can set up from nothing to two slots. Are you going to treat teach differently in each of your examples? Or are you going to think that it's the VP that does the setting up? – listeneva May 8 at 5:52
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The object of a verb is included in the verb phrase headed by the verb.

A clause may be analyzed at different levels and it is important to differentiate function and category of the elements.

For example I love you deeply.

At the most general level, it is typically split into predicate love you deeply and subject I.

At a more detailed level we have complements I and you, predicator love and adjunct deeply. Both object and subject are categories of complement as they are permitted - or licensed - by the predicator. The subject I is an external complement and the object you an internal complement. The adjunct deeply is part of the verb phrase in this case as it is a degree modifier. So we have VP as the category of love you deeply which happens to be the same as the predicate in the functional analysis at the clause level in this case.

As for complements completing the meaning of a sentence, complements may be required or optional: required for verbs like become, and optional for verbs like ate. In this view of complements, they do not seem to complete the meaning of the sentence where optional, but rather clarify or modify it where they are found.

* The house became.

I ate.

The first is ungrammatical and requires a predicative complement. The second is grammatical as it is, but could take an object as a complement to make clear what was eaten.

As to the meaning of expression, this is not a term that is typically used in grammatical analysis.

Taking expression to mean a word or group of words used in a particular situation, the expression in (a) is I love you. In grammatical terms, this is a clause with predicator love and complements I (subject) and you (object).

If complete the meaning is the same idea as make grammatically acceptable, then we see that you is required in this sentence as love is a verb that requires an object. Love by itself has meaning, but the clause I love would not generally be considered good English. The fault clearly lies in the predicate, not the subject, so we may say that the predicate is incomplete as it is lacking the required object. The addition of you would make the predicate grammatically acceptable or complete and at the same time make the whole clause grammatically acceptable and hence complete.

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  • Please edit your answer to specifically address my question, which apparently you didn't. I didn't ask for some general lecture on syntax. – listeneva May 2 at 6:39
  • I tried my best to answer your specific question. Which part of my explanation do you find confusing? – DW256 May 2 at 6:52
  • The issue of grammatical terminology has been at the heart of many posts on this site. I am interested to know what term, other than expression, is typically used to denote any given string of words. Radford in the glossary of his Analysing English Sentences (p488) states: "A complement is an expression that is directly merged with (and hence is the sister of) a head word, thereby projecting the head into a larger structure of essentially the same kind." – Shoe May 2 at 9:09
  • @Shoe That's just the trouble: expression could be a word, a phrase, a clause or something longer. I've not seen it used as a technical term in English grammar in any case. It may be useful as a catch-all for string of words, but it sure doesn't help narrow things down any. – DW256 May 2 at 10:11
  • Thanks. I agree that if it is clear that the string of consecutive words in a given context is a phrase or a clause etc., then the term expression is unnecessary. But my question is: Which term is used for 'the string of words under analysis' - without prejudging it to be a phrase or clause or complement etc., Which word could Radford use instead of expression? Does constituent work here? – Shoe May 2 at 10:49

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