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Can prepositions take content clauses as complement? For instance, are the sentences

He did it by virtue of that he was annoyed

and

She eventually got used to that her life had changed

grammatical?

I have definitely seen prepositions used in this way, but I cannot recall where.

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1 Answer 1

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Yes, prepositions can definitely take content clauses as complements. HUDDLESTON & PULLUM'S A Student's Introduction to English Grammar (pp. 175-176) confirms:

Declarative content clauses mostly function as complement of a verb, noun, adjective, or preposition.

  • (1) You can go provided [that you are careful].

The difficulty is that not all prepositions can accept a complement introduced by that. The same grammar book explains:

That is inadmissible in a clause that is complement to a preposition like before:

  • *I left before that he arrived.

Most prepositions exclude that; there are only a very few (such as notwithstanding, in order, and provided), which allow it. In (1) the content clause is complement of a preposition. As noted above, most prepositions disallow "that", but provided (historically derived from the past participle of a verb) is one of the few that allow it.

Neither of nor to allow for that clauses as their complements. I have tried to find proof for this affirmation, but unfortunately CAGEL does not include of or to in its list of prepositions governing non-expandable content clauses (which exclude that) - see p. 971. The list of those which can take expandable content clauses is more exhaustive and can be of use to understand more accurately how content clauses function as prepositional complements:

but, in, save, considering, notwithstanding
seeing, except, now, so, given, provided
supposing, granted, providing

As a conclusion, your two examples are not grammatical. You can however save them, by adding the fact:

He did it by virtue of the fact that he was annoyed.
(intricate way of saying He did it because he was annoyed)

and

She eventually got used to the fact that her life had changed.

As @Araucaria - Not here any more. suggested in a comment, we could alternatively use a gerund-participial clause:

He did it by virtue of his being annoyed

and

She eventually got used to her life having changed.

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    +1 Note that not all declarative content clauses have that. The list of prepositions that don't allow that in H&P is actually a list of prepositions that do take content clauses, but not expanded content clauses. For example, the preposition before takes content clauses I left before [he arrived]. The prepositons of and to aren't on that list because, as you rightly say, they do not take content clauses at all. With or without that. :-) Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 13:42
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    Just a afterthought. Note that another way round this is to use a gerund participle clause. So for your two the fact that examples, we could alternatively say He did it by virtue of his being annoyed and She eventually got used to her life having changed. Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 13:43
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    Excellent comments, thanks for clarifying that. Your comment says it all and complements my answer, I don't think I need to edit it. I did think of the gerund, yes, one can use that too.
    – fev
    Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 13:45
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    That used to mark tensed clauses, like Chaucer's Whan that Aprille hath .., but now it's only used for relative clauses and NP complement clauses, not normally adverbial ones. Though in Andy Griffith's old routine What it was, was football there's a before that we set up the tent clause, with a that. That's authentic US rural dialect, but not standard. Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 18:10

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