Is the content clause ('that she saw him commit the crime') in the following sentence an extraposed subject or an indirect complement* licensed by 'so'?

It just so happens that she saw him commit the crime.

*See, for example, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, p. 443.

  • The Wikipedia entry, to which you have helpfully provided a link, gives,early on, some useful examples. I am sure you have looked at them, but have another look. Could you say what the non-extraposed version would be?
    – Tuffy
    Oct 4, 2021 at 20:30

1 Answer 1


It just (so) happens [that she saw him commit the crime].

It can't be extraposition since the content clause cannot occupy the subject position: we can't say *"That she saw him commit the crime just so happens".

And I wouldn't say that the content clause is an indirect complement licensed by "so". "So" is optional here; dropping it would not result in a loss of grammaticality or a real change of meaning.

Rather, the content clause seems to be a straightforward complement of "happens", the item that licenses it.

  • 1
    But if the content clause is not extraposed, then what, exactly, is the function of 'it'? Surely it cannot be the subject of an it-cleft (as, 'It was John who committed the crimes'), since such constructions obligatorily need a 'be' within them, right?
    – Eric
    Oct 5, 2021 at 15:50
  • 1
    @Erick "It" is the subject. It's semantically empty, so that the content clause represents the sole argument of the matrix clause.
    – BillJ
    Oct 5, 2021 at 16:25
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    It just so happens that is a fixed phrase, hallowed by decades of stage and radio usage. It's got a complicated syntax, all of which is completely frozen (well, you can change the tense to happened, but that's all). It's a pause to build drama when telling a story, before a climactic ending involving coincidence. Oct 5, 2021 at 19:15
  • 1
    It's not completely fixed. For example the "so" is optional. I don't see anything complicated about the content clause being analysed as complement of "happens", which is what the OP asked about.
    – BillJ
    Oct 6, 2021 at 6:50

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