Semantic and Syntactic Analysis of THAT Complement in the English Language

By Wu, Guoliang; Lei, Liyun | International Forum of Teaching and Studies, January 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

Semantic and Syntactic Analysis of THAT Complement in the English Language


Wu, Guoliang, Lei, Liyun, International Forum of Teaching and Studies


[Abstract] THAT complement clauses have been studied by previous researchers mostly from the following perspectives, lacking semantic analysis: the main tenses of THAT complement clauses, the omission of a preposition before the complementizer that, the omission of the complementizer that, the extraposition of the THAT complement clause, verbs that can or cannot take a THAT complement. This article tends to analyze THAT clause as verb complements mainly from semantic perspective.

[Keywords] THAT complement clause; EFL instruction English grammar; semantic analysis

THAT Complements with that and without that

There are THAT complements with the complementizer that and THAT complements without that. As to this aspect, we should focus on the omission rules of that in a THAT complement. Dixon (1992, p. 37) has proposed five major rules for the omission of the complementizer that. According to recent corpus-based research (Biber, 1998), the deletion of the THAT complementizer does appear to be sensitive to register differences. For example, that is omitted mostly frequently in conversation and least frequently in academic prose, with fiction and news reportage falling between the two extremes (Celce, 1999, p. 646). Some believe that we can drop or retain the complementiser (or subordinator) that without affecting the meaning of the clause. However, certain factors appear to favor one choice or the other (Angela Downing & Philip Locke, 2006, pp. 126-127). Omission of that is favored by the following factors:

a) When think or say is the main verb - / think it 's nice, Tim says it 's easy.

b) When the subject refers to the same entity in the main clause and in the THAT clause, as in Tim promised he 'd do it.

c) When there is a pronoun rather than a noun head in the THAT clause (/ think I'll have a cola, She knew he would do it).

We have 9077 hits of the structure think that in BNC, 481 hits of thinks that, and 4481 hits of thought that. Most of the THAT clauses in these sentences are complement clause of the verb think, thinks, and thought. With such a number, we cannot agree that if the main verb is think, the THAT complement clause of it favors that-o mission.

The percentage of that occurrence in THAT complement of each verb in the above two tables is represented as P, so P= Xl \(X-X2 -X3 -X4 -X5 -X6). The occurrences of each verb form in the above two tables think, thinks, thought, say, says and said axe 88749, 3801, 53685, 66489, 39354 and 195548 hits respectively. Roughly we get the statistics that 7.89% of sentences with think as the main verb take the complementizer that, 14.12% of thinks, and 8.83% of thought. These percentages can never be considered as low. As to say, says, and said, the percentages are 17.18%, 13.06% and 10.31% respectively. Retaining that after a verb is favored by:

(d) coordinated THAT clauses: Many people believe that big is best and that war is right.

(e) passive voice in the main clause: It is believed that peace is in sight.

(f) an NG or PP (or clause containing an NG) placed between the main clause and the THAT clause: Can you prove to the commission that the effects are not harmful?

Overall, that is omitted most in informal spoken registers, which is where the a), b), c) factors tend to cluster, while the subordinator is retained most in formal written registers, which are characterized by the (d), (e), (f) factors. These are not strict divisions, however, as even formal registers nowadays are often a mix of the formal and the less formal (Celce, 1999).

Bolinger (1972) suggests that one determining factor is the relative formality of discourse: the more formal the register, the more likely it is for the THAT to be expressed. This is rather similar to the views in the above paragraphs: the informality of the speech is a major factor for that-omission. Another factor concerns specific verbs: the greater the relative frequency of the main verb in discourse, the more likely it is that the complementizer will be absent. …

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Semantic and Syntactic Analysis of THAT Complement in the English Language
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