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Chapter 10: Clauses as parts of NPs and AdjPs

1 NPs and APs as opposed to PPs and AdvPs AdjPs: Complement Clauses
NPs: Relative (Modifier) and Complement Clauses Conclusion


Keys to the Exercises

Special Topic: who/m versus that


In chapters 7 and 8, the functions of finite and non-finite clauses are discussed at sentence level (e.g. as subjects or objects). The present chapter shows that clauses can also function inside the phrase as modifiers or complements. Traditionally, modifier clauses are called relative clauses and I do so as well. I first show that PPs and AdvPs are different from NPs and AdjPs in that PPs and AdvPs do not generally allow clausal complements whereas NPs and AdjPs do. Then, examples and structures for complement and relative clauses inside the NP are given. Finally, examples of clausal complements to AdjPs are provided.

1.   NPs and AdjPs as compared to PPs and AdvPs

Inside the NP or AdjP, clauses can often function as relatives (i.e. modifiers) or complements, as (1) and (2) show. These will be elaborated on in the next sections:

1.   The man [who crossed Antarctica] was happy.

2.   He was unsure [what he should say].

     As shown in the previous chapter (see sentence (!8)), AdvPs do not have complement or modifier PPs. They have no clausal complements or modifiers either. PPs include object clauses such as in (3) but do not generally admit object clauses with a that complementizer, as (4) shows. Instead, a non-finite clause, as in (5), or a verbal noun, or gerund, as in (6) appears:

3.   I relied on [what he wrote about clauses].

4.   *I insisted on [that he/Stan should pay the bill].

5.   I insisted on [him/Stan paying the bill].

6.   I insisted on [his/Stan's paying (of) the bill].

Prepositions that express time, such as before or after as in (7), do introduce a clause but can then be said to be complementizers rather than prepositions:

7.   He left [after she arrived].

Beginning of chapter

2.   NPs: Modifier (Relative) and Complement Clauses

In the last chapter, I showed that, inside an NP, PPs function as either modifiers or as complements. Sentence (8), adapted from chapter 9, contains both a PP complement (of English) and PP modifier (from Macedonia):

8.   The student of English from Macedonia.

In this section, I show that clauses have the same two functions: complement in (9) and (10) or modifier in (11). When clauses function as modifiers, they are called relative clauses and are generally abbreviated as RC:

9.     Reports [that he reached Mars] are exaggerated.

10.  The fact [that he reached Mars] went unnoticed.

11.  The stories [which he repeated often] are boring.

The bracketed S's in (9) and (10) are complements and therefore sisters to N, as shown for (9) in (12):



The S' in (9) and (10) is a complement for two reasons: (a) the N can be left out, as in (13) and (14), because the complement spells out what the stories and the fact are, and (b) the head N reports plays no role inside the S'. In (13), the agreement must of course be adjusted:

13.  That he reached Mars is exaggerated.

14.  That he reached Mars went unnoticed.

     Clauses that modify NPs, such as the one in (11), are referred to as relative clauses because the noun they modify (stories in this case) plays a role (has a function) in the RC. In (11), it functions as the direct object of tell. RCs are more complex and are usually divided into restrictive as in (11) and non-restrictive as in (15):

15.     Clinton, who just returned from a trip to Cuba, intends to write a book.

Three differences between restrictive and non-restrictive relative clauses are listed in table 10.1 but are discussed first. (a) Restrictive RCs can have a that as in (16), or a which, as in (11). In the non-restrictive RC (15), on the other hand, that is not possible, as (17) shows:

16.       The stories that he told us often are boring.

17.       *Clinton, that just returned from a trip to Cuba, intends to write a book.

(b) Restrictive RCs provide essential information. For instance, in (11), the stories is so general that the RC restricts and specifies the stories that are meant. In the case of (15), everyone living in the US at the beginning of the 21st century is expected to know who Clinton is and therefore the NP Clinton does not need to be restricted. The RC just provides background information that is not essential in knowing which noun is meant. (c) Since the information in non-restrictive RCs is background information, the non-restrictive RC in (15) can be surrounded by commas, and is therefore sometimes referred to as a parenthetical, whereas the restrictive RC in (16) cannot be.

Restrictive Non-Restrictive
a. WH or that a. only WH
b. highly relevant information b. additional information

c. commas cannot surround it 

c. commas may surround it

TABLE 10.1: Restrictive and Non-Restrictive RCs


The restrictive RC in (18) contrasts interestingly with a non-restrictive in (19). In (18), only a small set of climbers reached the top, but in (19), all the climbers did:

18.       The hikers who reached the top were very tired.

19.       The hikers, who reached the top, were very tired.

            Some additional relative clauses are (20) to (22). Since they are all restricive, both WH and that are possible. It is also possible to leave the complementizer out, e.g. in (22):

20.       The man about whom she heard that rumor is in prison.

21.       The woman who(m)/that I heard this rumor about is pleasant.

22.       The light (which/that) I just turned on is too bright.

There is a debate (see special topic at the end of this chapter) whether in (21) who should be used or whom. The same is true in (24) below. The reason is that when the function of the modified noun inside the RC is that of a prepositional object, as in (20) and (21), the accusative whom is preferred by prescriptive grammarians. In (15) to (19) above, the noun plays the role of the subject and therefore only who is possible.

            Structurally, the restrictive RC is said to be closer to the head but not as close as the complement in (12). The non-restrictive is often said to be sister to the NP, i.e. outside the NP. Structures of NPs with restrictive and non-restrictive RCs are given in (23) and (24) respectively. To indicate the function of the modified noun inside the RC, a t (short for trace) is introduced. For instance, in (23), the woman is being met, or the direct object in the RC, and a trace is placed as sister to the verb met. Similarly, in (24), Zelda is the object in the RC and a trace indicates that:

23.  The woman that I met . . .


24.    Zelda, who I know well, . . .

Note that the trees are drawn the way they are in sections 1 and 2 of chapter 9. For those readers who have studied section 3 of chapter 9, an alternative to (23) is provided at the end of this chapter. Also note that I am focussing on trees in which the trace is an object since they are the least complex. In the (advanced) exercises, there will be other trees to draw.

            Non-finite clauses, as in (25) to (27), just like their finite counterparts above, can be modifiers to N as in (25) to (27):

25.       The story [to tell him] is the following.

26.       The story [written by him] is awful.

27.       The author [writing those marvellous books] lives in Antarctica.

These non-finite clauses are sometimes called reduced relative clauses since one can paraphrase them with relative clauses. For instance, (25) to (27) are similar to the relative clause structures in (28) to (30):

28.       The story [which you need to tell him] is the following.

29.       The story [which was written by him] is awful.

30.       The author [who is writing those marvellous books] lives in Antarctica.

We don't generally distinguish between restrictive and non-restrictive in these cases. Unlike finite clauses, non-finite clauses cannot be complements to nouns, as the ungrammatical (31) shows. Don't memorize this kind of information; just be able to analyze the structure of phrases:

31.       *The story [for Arafat to have met Clinton] was untrue.

            Thus, the functions of finite clauses inside the NP are complement and modifier. Modifiers are referred to as relative clauses (RCs) and can be restrictive or non-restrictive. Non-finite clauses only function as modifiers, and can be referred to as reduced relatives.


Beginning of chapter

3     AdjPs: Complement Clauses

Finite and non-finite clauses, as in (32) to (34), can be complements to AdjPs:

32.       He was unsure [what to do].

33.       They were happy [that he went away].

34.       He was proud [to have done it].

The structure of such AdjPs is as in (35) and (36). (Notice that in (35), the trace expresses that what is an object of the verb do):





Unlike nouns, adjectives only have complements; they do not have relative clauses (i.e. modifiers), but again this information is something you know automatically and need not memorize.

Beginning of chapter

4     Conclusion

In this chapter, I have discussed finite and non-finite clauses functioning inside an NP or AdjP. Clauses have two functions: modifier and complement. Finite clauses that function as modifiers are called relative clauses, which can be divided in restrictive and non-restrictive relatives. Non-finite clauses functioning as modifiers are reduced relative clauses. In chapters 7 and 8, functions of finite and non-finite clauses (at sentence level) were discussed, namely subject, direct object, adverbial and subject predicate. The key terms are: relative and complement clauses; restrictive and non-restrictive relative clauses; and reduced relatives.


A.        Identify the clauses in (37) to (39). Are they complements or relatives; finite or non-finite?

37.       The javelina that I saw next door was not afraid of coyotes.

38.       The report that javelinas are dangerous is exaggerated.

39.       Gerald, who lives next door, will be leaving soon.

B.         Draw trees for (37) to (39).

C.        What is the basic structure of the following sentence? (Don't draw a tree!) Which are the relative clauses?

40.       Shakespeare, Loves Labour's Lost, I, 2, 157

            Armado: I doe affect the very ground (which is base) where her shooe (which is baser) guided by her foote (which is basest) doth tread.

D.        Discuss the structure of (41), from T.S.Eliot's Love Song for J.A.P:

41.       The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes


            licked its tongue into the corners of the evening, ...

E.         Can clauses ever be relatives or complements that precede the head? If yes, give examples. If no, give ungrammatical examples.


F.         Draw trees for (20) to (22) above.

Alternative structures (in accordance with chapter 9, section 3)

            The woman that I met . . .


                        D                     N'

                        The      N'                                S'

                                    N                     C                     S

                                    woman that       NP                   VP

                                                                        I           V                     t



Special Topic: who/m and that

Fowler has definite ideas on the use of who, which, and that. You can find these [checked May 2000] on www.bartleby.com/116/205.html. Please comment on this.

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