9 Nonfinite clausal complements

Old version (Fall 2006) - current version here

So far in this book, we have come across three types of clausal complements: finite clausal complements, ECM complements, and small clauses. (By 'clausal complement,' we mean any complement that contains a subject and a predicate.) We briefly review the three types in (1)-(3); the complement clause is bracketed, and any Infl element in it is in boldface.

The verb forms in (1b,c) are nonfinite, but the head of the complement clauses is a finite morpheme (a finite tense morpheme in (1b) and a modal in (1c)). As a result, the entire complement clause is finite. Click the links if you are unsure about how to determine the finiteness of a verb or of a clause.

(1) a.     We heard [ that the children [past] danced ] .
b.     We heard [ that the children [pres] are dancing ] .
c.     We heard [ that the children can dance ] .

Like finite complement clauses, the ECM complements in (2) contain an Infl element - namely, to - but it is nonfinite.

(2) a.   We expected [ the children to dance ] .
b.   We expected [ the children to be dancing ] .

Finally, small clauses as in (3) contain no Infl element at all.

(3) a.   We saw [ the children dance ] .
b.   We saw [ the children dancing ] .

Despite their diversity with respect to how and whether Infl is realized, the complement clause types illustrated in (1)-(3) all have one property in common: namely, the presence of an overt subject (here, the children). But English also permits nonfinite complement clauses in which a subject is not overtly expressed (although one is understood). For instance, dance, the verb in the apparently subjectless complement clauses in (4), has an understood agent.

(4) a.   Subject control: The children agreed [ to dance ] .
b.   Raising: The children seemed [ to dance ] .

More particularly, this agent is interpreted as being identical to the referent of the matrix subject the children. Yet unlike (2), where the matrix clause and the complement clause each have their own subject (we, the children), the sentences in (4) contain only a single overt subject, the one in the matrix clause. In this chapter, we argue that the nonfinite complements in (4) contain a structural subject position that is filled by a silent element, and we argue further that the silent element in question is not the same in the two examples. Rather, we distinguish between subject control, as in (4a), and raising (sometimes called subject-to-subject raising), as in (4b). In a subject control sentence like (4a), the complement subject position is filled by a silent pronominal element PRO, which is coreferential with the referent of the matrix subject. In other words, we give (4a) the structure in (5a); note the parallel with (5b), where the complement of agree is finite and where the complement subject position is not PRO, but an ordinary personal pronoun (the indices on the children PRO, and they are intended to represent coreference).

(5) a.   [The children]1 agreed [ PRO1 to dance ] .
b.   [The children]1 agreed [ that they1 would dance ] .

The idea behind the term 'subject control' is that the matrix subject fixes, or controls, the reference of PRO. Notice that the parallel between PRO and overt pronouns in (5) is not complete. Specifically, PRO in (5a) must be coreferential with the matrix subject, whereas the pronoun they in (5b) can but needn't be, as succinctly summarized in (i).

(i) a. The children1 agreed [ PRO1,*2 to dance ] .
b.   The children1 agreed [ that they1,2 would dance ] .

For this reason, only sentences with nonfinite complements can count as instances of subject control.

Raising sentences differ from subject control sentences in that their matrix subject position starts out empty and the complement subject moves up to fill it. Their derivation is schematically illustrated in (6).

(6) a.   Before raising: _____ seemed [ the children to dance ] .
b.   After raising: [The children]i seemed [ ti to dance ] .

The assumption that the matrix subject position starts out empty is supported by the fact that when seem takes a finite counterpart, this same position is filled by expletive it.

(7)     Itexpl seemed [ that the children danced ] .

Again, for a sentence to count as an instance of raising, the complement clause must be nonfinite, as in (6), since it is only then that the complement subject raises into the matrix clause. (7) contains the same matrix predicate as (6), but the complement subject never moves out of its clause.

The chapter also addresses so-called object control. The difference between subject and object control is illustrated by the contrast between (4a), repeated as (8a), and (8b). In both sentences, the understood agent of the complement verb dance is the discourse entity referred to by the phrase the children. But in (8a), that phrase - the controller - is the matrix subject, whereas in (8b), it appears to be the matrix object.

(8) a.   The children agreed to dance.
b.   We persuaded the children to dance.

The treatment of object control that we present relies on the VP shells introduced in Chapter 7. Specifically, we decompose object control predicates into CAUSE and an appropriate subject control predicate, roughly along the lines of (9).

(9)     We [past] CAUSE [ the children agree [ to dance ] ] .

Notice that the children is not actually an object in (9), but rather the subject of the small clause complement of CAUSE. However, as is customary in the literature, we will continue to use the term 'object control' as a purely descriptive label for sentences like (8b).

A note on terminology. We will refer to the class of (Fregean) predicates to which agree belongs as subject control predicates. Similarly, we refer to the class of predicates like seem as raising predicates, and to the class of predicates like persuade as object control predicates.

The term 'raising predicate' is potentially confusing. It is not the verb itself that undergoes movement. Rather, as schematically indicated in (6) and as we will see in more detail below, it is the complement subject that raises into the matrix clause. A better term for the class of predicates in question would be 'raising triggers.' But we continue to use the term 'raising predicate' because it is standard in the literature.

A leading role in the analysis of nonfinite complementation is played by expletive there. The final section of the chapter shows that expletive there belongs to a larger class of nonthematic subjects.

Selectional restrictions

Before addressing the topics of main concern to us in this chapter, we need to introduce the concept of selectional restrictions. Selectional restrictions are conditions that a (Fregean) predicate imposes on one or more of its arguments, depending on its meaning. For instance, drink imposes a selectional restriction on its theme argument to the effect that the theme argument must refer to a liquid (or an amount of liquid).

(10) a.   Amy drank the { lemonade, #sandwich } .
b. Lukas drank a whole { quart, #piece } .

Elapse selects a subject that refers to an explicitly quantified amount of time.

(11)     { Two hours, the shift, #two liters, #Larry } elapsed without further incident.

The felicitous use of the verb murder requires (among other conditions) that both the agent and the theme arguments refer to humans. By contrast, kill imposes weaker selectional restrictions, requiring only that the agent and theme arguments refer to living beings.

(12) a.   The { paramilitary, #bomb, #avalanche } murdered { her husband, #the olive tree, #her house }.
b. The { paramilitary, bomb, avalanche } killed { her husband, the olive tree, #her house }.

Two points are important to keep in mind concerning selectional restrictions. First, notice that we are using pound signs, rather than asterisks, in (10)-(12); in other words, we are treating the ill-formedness of sentences that violate selectional restrictions as semantic/pragmatic deviance, not as ungrammaticality. This approach is consistent with the fact that selectional restrictions can be deliberately flouted for special effect. For example, the ordinary (literal) meaning of lap up is 'to eagerly drink up (used especially of animals)'. Based on this meaning, we would expect it to select a nonhuman animate agent and a liquid theme. But although both restrictions are violated in (13), the sentence does not come across as deviant.

(13)     The little girl lapped up her teacher's praise.

Rather, the violation of the selectional restrictions signals to the hearer that the sentence is intended to be taken not literally, but figuratively (here, as an instance of metaphor). (14) summarizes the kind of reasoning that a hearer of (13) would go through; the reasoning process itself is ordinarily not explicit, but subconscious and lightning-quick.

(14)     The little girl lapped up her teacher's praise?? Whoa there, that's complete nonsense!

It's only nonhuman animals that lap up things. And then, whatever they're lapping up has to be liquid, not something abstract like praise.

But the speaker seems to know English and be compos mentis, so what could they have possibly meant by what they said?

I guess what they must have meant is that the attitude of the little girl towards her teacher's praise resembles the eagerness with which a thirsty animal laps up some welcome liquid.

In distinguishing figurative from literal uses of language, don't let yourself be confused by the fact that in the vernacular, the adverb literally is routinely used to qualify figurative statements. So we often hear people say things like My boss literally hit the roof. In other words, literally has come to mean figuratively!

Don't, by the way, conclude from examples like (13) that selectional restrictions are in force only intermittently (in force when language is used literally, but not in force when language is used figuratively). Rather, it is precisely the fact that selectional restrictions are always in force that prompts a hearer of (13) to go through a reasoning process like (14) and to come up with an interpretation in which the selectional restrictions are met in the metaphorical interpretation.

A second point to keep in mind concerning selectional restrictions is that the criteria for set membership that the restrictions are based on are not always crystal clear. In other words, sets like liquid things, animate beings, potential murderers, or potential murder victims, and so on, are somewhat fuzzy around the edges. Speakers might disagree, for instance, about whether the sentences in (15) are deviant; the disagreement would concern whether the selectional restrictions on murder might, on the basis of recent advances in the understanding of animal intelligence, be relaxed to include members of species other than Homo sapiens.

(15) a.   The { chimpanzee, dolphin } murdered the explorer.
b.   The explorer murdered { the chimpanzee, dolphin } .

Fortunately, for our purposes in this chapter, locating the exact boundary between cases that meet selectional restrictions and ones that violate them will not be necessary. The important thing is that selectional restrictions exist, and that there are sentences in which they are clearly met and ones in which they are clearly violated.

Subject control

Evidence for two clauses

Having introduced selectional restrictions, we now use them to show that subject control sentences contain two separate clauses, each with their own subject. We begin by showing that in finite complement counterparts of subject control sentences, which incontrovertibly contain two clauses, like (16), both the matrix and the complement verbs impose separate selectional restrictions on their respective subjects. (For simplicity, we omit referential indices in what follows; unless otherwise noted, the intended interpretation is always the one where the complement subject is coreferential with the matrix subject.)

(16)     The children agreed that they would dance.

We then show that subject control sentences like (17) pattern just like their finite complement counterparts with respect to the selectional restrictions imposed by the two verbs.

(17)     The children agreed to dance.

We begin with (18) and (19), where agree takes a finite complement clause. In (18), we have taken care to satisfy the selectional requirements of the complement clause (wet selects some physical object as its argument, and get imposes no further selectional restrictions of its own). We can therefore be sure that the acceptability contrast in (18) is due to the selectional restriction imposed by the matrix verb agree, which selects human subjects.

(18) a.   The children agreed [ that they would get wet ] .
b. # The { horses, trees, rocks } agreed [ that they would get wet ] .

Conversely, in (19), we have taken care to satisfy the selectional restriction imposed by agree. Here, the acceptability contrast is due to the selectional restrictions imposed by the various complement verbs.

(19) a.   The children agreed [ that they would speak Twi ] .
b. # The children agreed [ that they would { elapse, evaporate } ] .

If subject control sentences contain two clauses, as we are proposing, each with their own subjects, they ought to behave analogously to (18) and (19), and this is in fact exactly what we find in (20) and (21).1

(20) a.   The children agreed [ PRO to get wet ] .
b. # The { horses, trees, rocks } agreed [ PRO to get wet ] .
(21) a.   The children agreed [ PRO to speak Twi ] .
b. # The children agreed [ PRO to { elapse, evaporate } ] .

One last thing. Not all subject control predicates allow a finite complement paraphrase.

(22) a.   The children tried [ PRO to learn Twi ] .
b. * The children tried [ that they would learn Twi ] .

But even for subject control predicates like those in (22), we assume a biclausal structure with a PRO subject for the lower clause. This is because, just as in (20) and (21), the subject control verb and the lower verb impose separate selectional restrictions on their respective subjects. We ask you to provide the relevant evidence in Exercise 9.1A.

If you have been paying close attention to the examples, you may have noticed that agree seems to have two slightly different meanings, depending on whether it takes a finite or a nonfinite complement. When it takes a finite complement, the finite complement expresses a proposition, and agree means something like 'assent to.' In this case, the subject of the complement clause need not be coreferential with the matrix subject.

(23)     The students agreed [ that the problem was difficult ] .

We also have the semantic intuition that someone besides the agreer shares the belief in the proposition; in other words, agree takes an optional semantic argument, expressible in the syntax by a with phrase. So, for instance, if Sam were the last person on Earth, we might describe him as believing that there were no other people, but it would be odd to describe him as agreeing that there were no other people. On the other hand, when agree takes a nonfinite complement, it means something like 'commit oneself to a course of action.' Here, part of the irreducible meaning of agree seems to be that the agreer and the agent of the predicate of the lower complement must be identical. As a result, a sentence like (24) is ungrammatical (or perhaps only semantically deviant).

(24)   * The students agreed [ the problem to be difficult ] .

Here, too, there is a sense of an optional argument - an entity to whom the agreer has an obligation to. Now, so far, we have phrased things as if the semantic differences that we have described are associated with agree itself. However, a more attractive hypothesis is that agree has exactly the same meaning in both cases, and that the differences in meaning come about as a result of the different semantic properties of the complement that agree is combining with. Under this approach, agree would denote a commitment between a rational being and the kind of thing that the CP complement refers to, in the presence of another rational being. In the finite complement case, the CP expresses a proposition. A natural way to interpret commitment between a rational being and a proposition is as intellectual assent to the proposition, and a natural scenario is that the co-present rational being shares the belief in the proposition. We have seen that nonfinite IPs can express propositions (I expect there to be problem is synonymous for our purposes with I expect that there is a problem), but let us assume that nonfinite CPs (for some reason) cannot refer to propositions, but only to events or actions.

It is tempting to say that nonfinite complements of subject control predicates are VPs (rather than CPs). But that would leave the presence of to unexplained. Moreover, there are subject control predicates that take indirect questions, as illustrated in (i).

(i)     They decided whether to buy the house.

A natural way to interpret commitment between a rational being and an action is as a commitment to seeing to it that the action is carried out, and a natural scenario is that the co-present rational being is someone to whom the agreer has an obligation. A crucial question that we will have to leave unresolved here is why the matrix subject controls the subject of the lower predicate in this case. In other words, what accounts for the oddness of (25a) despite its near-synonymy with (25b)?

(25) a. # At the meeting, the higher-ups boss agreed for someone to do the job.
b.   At the meeting, the higher-ups agreed to delegate the job to someone

Deriving subject control sentences

After this excursion into semantic aspects of control, let us now consider the syntactic representation of subject control sentences, which is straightforwardly analogous to the representation of their finite complement counterparts. The elementary tree for agree is the same for both cases and is given in (26).


Substituting a finite CP complement headed by that at the CP substitution node would yield structures for sentences like (16). Substituting a nonfinite CP complement headed by a silent complementizer yields structures for subject control sentences like (17). In what follows, we illustrate the derivation of (17) in detail.

(27) a.       b.       c.  
Substitute PRO in specifier position of lower verb Substitute (27a) as complement of to and subject movement Substitute (27b) as complement of silent C

Substituting the structure in (27c) as the complement of the control verb yields (28a), which in turn becomes the complement of the matrix I element, yielding (28b).

(28) a.       b.  
Substitute (27c) as complement of control verb Substitute (28a) as complement of matrix I

Finally, moving the matrix subject yields (29a). The structurally analogous tree for the finite complement counterpart of (29a) (= (16)) in shown for comparison in (29b).

(29) a.       b.      

In concluding our discussion of subject control, we must point out that we will leave an important question about PRO unresolved: namely, how its case feature (if any) is licensed. There is evidence from languages like German and Icelandic that PRO is able to bear the same case features that overt subjects do. Nevertheless, PRO and overt noun phrases are in complementary distribution;2 in other words, the positions that PRO can appear in are ones from which overt noun phrases are barred, and vice versa. It has therefore been proposed that PRO does not bear a case feature at all (or that PRO bears a case feature unique to it - so-called null case - which is checked by nonfinite I in the spec-head configuration). Although this approach does not address the crosslinguistic facts and leaves it mysterious why the case properties of PRO and overt noun phrases should differ, it does have the advantage of straightforwardly capturing the distributional difference between PRO and overt noun phrases.


A detour

Let us turn now to raising sentences like (4b), repeated here as (30).

(30)     The children seemed [ to dance ] .

At first glance, it seems as if we could simply treat such sentences on a par with subject control sentences. But that would leave use without an explanation for the contrast in (31) - in particular, for the grammaticality of (31b).

(31) a. * There agreed to be a problem.
b. ok There seemed to be a problem.

The analysis in the previous section does correctly rule out (31a), to which we assign the structure indicated schematically in (32).

(32)   * There agreed [ PRO to be a problem ] .

Given the structure in (32), the sentence is ruled out for two reasons. First, expletive there is not licensed because it does not occupy the specifier position of a verb of (coming into) existence (this is the reason that we mark (31a) as ungrammatical rather than as just semantically deviant).

It is true that the sentence contains the there licenser be, but there never substitutes into its specifier position. The predicate whose specifier position there does substitute into, namely agree, is not a there licenser (*There agreed some students).

Second, expletive there fails to satisfy the selectional restriction of agree, which, as we saw earlier, selects human subjects. So (32) is a fine representation because it correctly rules out (31a) as ungrammatical. But by the same token, if we give (31b) the analogous structure in (33), we incorrectly expect (31b) to be as ungrammatical as (31a).

(33)     Incorrect structure: There seemed [ PRO to be a problem ] .

The reason, once again, is that there is not licensed in the representation in (33). The fact that seem is not a there licenser is demonstrated in (34) (recall Exercise 3.4).

(34)   * There seemed a problem.

Be careful not to confuse the class of raising verbs with the class of there licensers. Raising verbs like seem don't themselves license there, as we see in (34).

Nonthematic subject positions

At this point, notice that the representations in (32) and (33) are both ruled out because there isn't licensed in the matrix clause. However, only in (32) are the selectional restrictions of the matrix verb violated. It turns out that a crucial difference between agree and seem is that seem imposes no selectional restrictions. We can see this by replacing agree in (20) with seem; the acceptability contrast between (20a) and (20b) disappears in (35). (By contrast, replacing agree with seem in (21) has no effect on the contrast. After reading this section to the end, you will be able to explain this fact, and you are asked to do so in Exercise 9.1B.)

(35) a. ok The children seemed to get wet.
b. ok The { horses, trees, rocks } seemed to get wet.

Another noteworthy property of seem is that its specifier position is not (and, in fact, must not be) associated with any thematic role. It is true that seem takes an argument: what for lack of a better term we will call the proposition argument.3 However, this argument cannot be expressed in the specifier position, as we can see in the finite complement counterparts of raising sentences.4

(36) a.   It seemed that the problem was hard.
b. * That the problem was hard seemed.

To summarize: the subject position of seem is semantically defective in the sense that it is associated neither with selectional restrictions nor with a thematic role. We will refer to such a subject position as nonthematic.

Deriving raising sentences

Of course, despite being superfluous from a semantic point of view, nonthematic subject positions are nevertheless syntactically obligatory (recall the subject requirement introduced in Chapter 3). This makes possible the following analysis of the grammaticality of (31b) and, more generally, of all subject raising sentences. We begin by deriving the complement clause. Note how the eventual matrix subject there is licensed as a specifier of main verb be in (37a). We assume that the subject moves from Spec(VP) to Spec(IP) in (37c) in order to provide the complement clause with a subject in accordance with the subject requirement.

In the case of a nonexpletive matrix subject, as in The children seemed to dance, the children would substitute into the specifier of dance, thereby becoming associated with that verb's agent role.

(37) a.       b.  
Substitute eventual matrix subject as specifier of lower verb Substitute (37a) as complement of to and subject movement

We now substitute (37b) into the elementary tree for seemed in (38a).

(38) a.       b.  

Before proceeding with the derivation, a few words about the elementary trees in (38) are in order. First, note that both elementary trees in (38) contain a specifier position. Though semantically unnecessary, as discussed above, this position is motivated by the syntactic obligatoriness of expletive it in small clauses.

(39) a.   They made [ it seem that there was a problem. ]
b. * They made [ seem that there was a problem. ]

Second, the syntactic category of the clausal complement is IP in (38a), whereas it is CP in (38b), which we would use if we wanted to derive the finite complement counterpart of (31b) (It seemed that there was a problem). The reason that raising predicates, in contrast to control predicates, require different elementary trees depending on the finiteness of their complement has to do with certain structural conditions that must be satisfied by traces of movement (but not by PRO). We simply mention the existence of these conditions here; their exact character and their motivation go beyond the scope of this textbook.

Substituting the clause in (37c) as the complement of the elementary tree for raising seem in (38a) yields (40a), which in turn becomes the complement of the matrix I element, yielding (40b).

(40) a.       b.  
Substitute (37c) as complement of raising verb Substitute (40a) as complement of matrix I

At this point in the derivation, the option arises in principle of substituting expletive it in the matrix Spec(VP) and moving it to the matrix Spec(IP). In fact, this is what we would do if the complement of seem were finite. In the case of a nonfinite complement, however, this step yields the hopelessly ungrammatical (41).

(41)   * It seemed there to be a problem.

Why is (41) ungrammatical? The reason is that there bears a nominative case feature that cannot be checked in the lower clause. (How we know that the case feature is nominative is left to you to determine in Exercise 9.1C.) The case feature can't be checked in the lower Spec(IP) (its position in (41)) because nonfinite I is unable to check case at all. The case feature also can't be check in the lower Spec(VP) (its position before subject movement in the complement clause) because V doesn't check case in the spec-head configuration.

In principle, seemed could check objective case on there in the head-spec configuration just as expect and other ECM verbs do. However, the ungrammaticality of (41) shows that raising verbs are in fact unable to do so. Why they should differ from ECM verbs in this way is obviously something that needs to be explained. It has been proposed that there is a correlation between a verb's ability to assign a thematic role to its specifier and its ability to check objective case. This correlation, known as Burzio's generalization, is discussed further in Chapter 10.

Since the complement subject's case feature cannot be checked within its own IP, it is forced to move via the matrix Spec(VP) to the matrix Spec(IP), as shown in (42a). In this final position, nominative case is checked by the finite I of the matrix clause in the spec-head configuration. For comparison, the structure of the finite complement counterpart is shown in (42b); here, each of the two subjects checks nominative case with its own finite I.

(42) a.       b.  

It is the movement of the subject from the complement clause to the matrix clause in (42a) that is known as raising. Raising, like ordinary subject movement, targets the subject. In both cases, an element that is licensed in a lower specifier position moves to a higher specifier position. In the case of expletive there, the licensing is by an appropriate verb; in the case of nonexpletive subjects, a natural assumption is that they need to be licensed as arguments of the lower verb. In both cases of movement, any licensing relations are maintained by the trace of movement. And finally, in both cases, the lower position is not a case-checking position, whereas the higher one is. The one difference between raising and ordinary subject movement is that in the case of raising, the subject moves out of the IP in which it originates.

Tend and occur

As was the case with subject control verbs, certain raising verbs are able to take finite complements in addition to nonfinite ones, whereas others are restricted to nonfinite complements. Seem, as we have seen, belongs to the first type. Tend, as shown in (44), belongs to the second type.

(43) a. ok There seem to be huge traffic jams during rush hour.
b. ok It seems that there are huge traffic jams during rush hour.
(44) a. ok There tend to be huge traffic jams during rush hour.
b. * It tends that there are huge traffic jams during rush hour.

Despite the contrast between the (b) examples, seem and tend are both raising verbs; what is crucial is that the (a) examples, in which the subject of the complement clause moves out of its clause, are both grammatical.

There are also verbs with the converse pattern of tend.

(45) a.   It occurred to me that there is a solution.
b. * There occurred to me to be a solution.

Such verbs have a nonthematic subject position, just like seem and tend. However, they are not considered raising verbs, since their complement subjects cannot move out of the clause they originate in, as was mentioned in the introduction.


Promise has the noteworthy property of behaving either as a subject control predicate or as a raising predicate. As a subject control predicate, promise means something like 'vow' and selects rational agents as subjects. This promise can take either finite or nonfinite complements.

(46) a.   The { children, #horses } promised [ to eat their oatmeal ] .
b.   The { children, #horses } promised [ that they would eat their oatmeal ] .

On this interpretation, the matrix clause can contain manner adjuncts that modify promise (notice how promise can be replaced by vow in this examples).

(47) a.   The children softly promised [ to eat their oatmeal ] .
b.   The children obediently promised [ to eat their oatmeal ] .

The grammaticality of (47a) is particularly important, since the only licenser for softly is promise (*the children were soft); in (47b), it could be argued that obediently is licensed as a property of the children (ok-the children were obedient).

But promise can also have a 'weaker' meaning; on this interpretation, a sentence like (48a) can be paraphrased as (48b).

(48) a.   This filly promises to win the race.
b.   All available evidence indicated that this filly will win the race.

On this interpretation, modifying the matrix predicate by a manner adverb as in (47) is as deviant in the original promise sentence as in the paraphrase.

(49) a. # This filly { softly, obediently } promises to win the race.
b. # All available evidence { softly, obediently } indicates that this filly will win the race.

Notice, moreover, that in the alternative paraphrase in (50), the presence of expletive there in matrix subject position indicates that the position is nonthematic.

(50)     There is every indication that this filly will win the race.

The nonthematic character of the matrix subject position for this interpretation of promise is borne out by the grammaticality of (51).

(51)     There promises to be a new version by spring.

From these facts, we conclude that the proper representation for a sentence like (51) must be the raising structure schematically indicated in (52).

(52)     Therei promises [ ti to be a new version by spring ] .

Promise sentences with nonthematic subjects, on the other hand, are ambiguous between a raising analysis and a subject control analysis (as long as they contain no disambiguating adverbs). Which reading is prominent depends, as always, on the discourse context. In a sentence like (46a), the prominent interpretation, and the only one considered so far, is the subject control interpretation represented in (53).

(53)     The { children, #horses } promised [ PRO to eat their oatmeal ] .

However, (46a) also has the raising interpretation represented in (54a), which can be paraphrased as in (54b).

(54) a.   [ The { children, horses } ]i promised [ ti to eat their oatmeal ] .
b.   There was every indication that the { children, horses } would eat their oatmeal.

Notice that under this interpretation, the contrast between children and horses that is due to the selectional restrictions imposed by subject control promise disappears.

There is at least one other verb in English that clearly has the same property as promise - namely, threaten. You are asked to provide evidence for this assertion in Exercise 9.1D.

Object control

In this section, we present an analysis of object control predicates like persuade. The analysis is extremely simple. According to it, object control predicates are VP shell structures in which a subject control predicate is embedded under a causative predicate (Larson 1988). Recall from Chapter 7 that we already have a VP shell analysis of persuade when it takes finite complements, as in (55).

(55)     We persuaded the children that they should dance.

The requisite VP shell structure is shown in (56).


In extending the analysis of the finite complement case to the object control case, we will make a slight revision and replace BELIEVE by COMMIT. This is because BELIEVE is a predicate that can combine with propositions but not with actions, whereas COMMIT is general enough to combine with either propositions or actions, along the lines discussed earlier in connection with agree. We are not claiming, incidentally, that COMMIT is exactly identical with agree. The two predicates differ in that COMMIT does not take an optional argument referring to a co-present rational being. In other words, we can persuade someone that the moon is made of green cheese without necessarily sharing that belief ourselves, and we can persuade someone to do the dishes without their incurring an obligation to us to do so. Given this slight change, we are now in a position to derive (57).

(57)     We persuaded the children to dance.

The derivation of the nonfinite clause to dance is exactly the same as in the case of a subject control sentence; (58a) is identical to (27c). (58a) substitutes as the complement of COMMIT, and substituting the children in the specifier position of COMMIT yields (58b).

(58) a.       b.       c.    
Reuse (27c) Substitute (58a) as complement of abstract subject control verb Substitute specifier in (58b)

Notice how the apparent matrix object the children is not actually an object, but rather a subject of a small clause complement; in a moment, its objective case feature will be checked by CAUSE in the spec-head configuration. (58c) substitutes as the complement of CAUSE, yielding (59a), and then substituting the matrix subject we in the specifier position of CAUSE and abstract verb movement yields (59b).

(59) a.       b.  
Substitute (58c) as complement of CAUSE Substitute specifier in (59a) and abstract verb movement

Finally, the VP in (59b) substitutes into the elementary tree for the matrix I, and the matrix subject undergoes subject movement. For simplicity, we omit these last steps of the derivation.

The analysis just presented is straightforwardly consistent with the contrast between ECM and object control illustrated in (60).

(60) a.   We expected there to be a problem.
b. # We persuaded there to be a problem.

The structures for the two sentences are shown in (61).

(61) a.       b.  

In (61a), expletive there is licensed by originating as the specifier of main verb be in the complement clause. (61b), on the other hand, is ruled out for exactly the same reasons as (32), repeated here as (62).

(62)   # There agreed [ PRO to be a problem ] .

First, expletive there is not licensed, since neither COMMIT nor agree are verbs of existence. Second, COMMIT, like agree, selects rational beings as subjects, and expletive there fails to satisfy this selectional restriction.

More nonthematic subjects

In distinguishing among the various verb classes discussed in this chapter, we have relied heavily on the distribution of expletive there (or, to put it another way, on the grammaticality or ungrammaticality of sentences containing expletive there). As it turns out, expletive there is not the only nonthematic subject (= subject that is not associated with a thematic role). In this final section of the chapter, we present two further instances of nonthematic subjects: so-called subject idiom chunks and weather it.

Subject idiom chunks

Chapter 7, we introduced a constraint according to which idioms must form a constituent, and we mentioned the existence of clausal idioms like The shit hit the fan. Subject idiom chunks are simply the subjects of such clausal idioms. Some further examples of clausal idioms are given in (63); the subject idiom chunks are italicized.

(63) a.   The cat is out of the bag.
b. The fur will fly.
c. The jig is up.
d. The pot is calling the kettle black.

Subject idiom chunks share two important properties with expletive there. First, just as expletive there must be licensed by a verb of existence, the subjects in (63) have whatever idiomatic force they have only in connection with the rest of the idiom, but not otherwise.

The relation between subject idiom chunks and their predicates is actually even stronger than the relationship between expletive there and its licensers, since predicate idiom chunks also have no independent idiomatic meaning of their own, whereas verbs of existence can occur independently of existential there.

For instance, neither cat in (63a) nor pot in (63d) have a metaphorical sense of secret or hypocrite, respectively, in other syntactic contexts. So sentences as in (64) have only literal interpretations.

(64) a.   The cat is safe with her.
(can't mean: 'The secret is safe with her.')
b. # Fortunately, the pot retracted that piece of duplicitous slander.
(can't mean: 'The hypocrite retracted that piece of duplicitous slander.')

Second, presumably because they are not interpreted literally, subject idiom chunks don't seem to be associated with any thematic role, and so they can occupy the nonthematic subject position of raising predicates. As a result of these two properties, contrasts as in (65) are expected.

(65) a. # The cat agreed [ PRO to be out of the bag ] .
b.   [The cat]i seems [ ti to be out of the bag ] .

(65a) is ruled out both on a literal and an idiomatic reading. Agree selects rational beings as subjects and is therefore incompatible with the cat either as a literal or as an idiomatic (nonthematic) subject. In addition, the cat isn't licensed as an idiom chunk in the representation in (65a) because it doesn't form a constituent with the rest of the idiom. By contrast, both readings, and in particular the idiomatic one, are possible in (65b). This is expected, since the matrix subject originates in the complement clause, forming a constituent with the remainder of the idiom.

Note that examples like (66) do not invalidate the diagnostic value of subject idiom chunks in distinguishing between subject control and raising predicates.

(66)     The cat wanted [ PRO to be out of the bag ] . (only literal interpretation)

Here, want imposes less strict selectional restrictions on its subject. Since the subject needn't be rational (only have a reasonably well-developed nervous system), the sentence is grammatical, unlike (65a). However, unlike in (65b), the matrix subject position isn't nonthematic and the matrix subject doesn't move out of the lower clause, so the sentence has only a literal interpretation.

Weather it

The third type of nonthematic subject is weather it, the subject of verbs of precipitation.

(67)   ok It is { hailing, pouring, raining, sleeting, snowing. }

As with subject idiom chunks and their predicates, the licensing relationship between weather it and their predicates is mutual: not only is weather it licensed by weather verbs, but the weather verbs are in turn themselves licensed by weather it, as shown in (68).

(68)   * The { air, atmosphere, environment, precipitation, sky, weather } is { hailing, pouring, raining, sleeting, snowing. }

Given the nonthematic character of weather it, contrasts as in (69) are expected.

(70) a. # It decided to rain at night.
b. It tends to rain at night.

Unexpectedly, given what we have said so far, sentences like (71) are not that unacceptable.

(71)   ? It's trying to rain; it finally managed to rain.

What is going on here? A simple explanation is that the selectional restrictions of try and manage are being violated at a literal level (recall the discussion of the little girl lapping up her teacher's praise), prompting the hearer to conceptualize the weather as an animate being.


We have seen that expletive there is licensed as the subject of verbs of (coming into) existence. Subject idiom chunks and their predicates stand in a mutual licensing relationship, as does weather it with weather predicates. Because of their special licensing requirements, none of these subjects is licensed as the subject of a subject control predicate (or as the apparent object of an object control predicate). Nor can a control predicate's selectional restrictions not be met by a nonthematic subject. By contrast, raising predicates neither interfere with the licensing of nonthematic subjects (which takes place in a lower clause) nor do they impose selectional restrictions that the nonthematic subjects cannot meet. It is precisely because of their semantic defectiveness that they are able to act as grammatical catalysts, allowing licensing relations that are normally confined to the same clause to extend across clause boundaries.

As we have seen, the special properties of nonthematic subjects make them useful diagnostics to distinguish subject control from raising predicates (and, mutatis mutandis, ECM from object control predicates). The relevant judgments are summarized in (72); for convenience, we also include the judgments for manner adverbs discussed in connection with promise.

Subject control Raising
(72)   Expletive there * ok
Subject idiom chunk # (or only literal) ok (both idiomatic and literal)
Weather it # (or metaphorical) ok
Manner adverbs ok *


1. It might occur to a careful reader that an alternative approach to the facts in (20) and (21) is possible, according to which control sentences contain a single subject (not two, as in the text), which must simultaneously satisfy the selectional restrictions of both the higher and the lower verbs. Regardless of whether such an approach might be worked out in detail for English, we do not adopt it, since it cannot be extended to handle control constructions universally. In particular, the approach in question fails for Icelandic, as we briefly describe in what follows.

In contrast to English (and most other languages), Icelandic has certain verbs whose subjects appear in some non-nominative case (genitive, dative, or accusative), even in finite clauses. The analysis of these so-called 'quirky case' subjects is beyond the scope of this textbook, but it is well established that they are true subjects (despite the lack of subject-verb agreement) (see, for instance, Zaenen, Maling, and Thraínsson 1985, Sigurðsson 1991, and the many references therein). (i) gives examples of Icelandic finite clauses with an ordinary nominative subject and with a quirky case subject. The subjects are in boldface. Note that the underlined quantifiers agree in case with the subjects; this fact will be important directly.

(i) a. Ordinary nominative subject  
Strákarnir     komust allir          i  skóla.
the-boys (nom) got    all (nom pl m) in school
'The boys all got to school.' (Sigurðsson 1991:***, (**))
b. 'Quirky dative' subject  
Strákanum       leiddist  öllum          i  skóla.
the-boys (dat)  was-bored all (dat pl m) in school
'The boys were all bored in school.' (Sigurðsson 1991:***, (**))

(ii) shows that the clauses in (i) can be embedded under a subject control verb (here, vonast til 'hope for'). As in English, the subject of the embedded clauses is silent, but note that the quantifiers continue to exhibit the same case that they did in (i).

(ii) a. Embedded ordinary subject  
Strákarnir     vonast til að   PRO komast allir          í  skóla.
the-boys (nom) hope   for Comp     get    all (nom pl m) in school
'The boys hope to all get to school.' (Sigurðsson 1991:***, (**))
b. Embedded quirky subject  
Strákarnir     vonast til að   PRO leidhast ekki öllum          í  skóla.
the-boys (nom) hope   for Comp     be-bored not  all (dat pl m) in school
'The boys hope to all not be bored in school.' (Sigurðsson 1991:***, (**))

In particular, in (ii.b), the quantifier must appear in the dative. From this, we conclude that the silent subject of the lower clause in (ii.b) checks quirky dative case in (ii.b), just as it did in the finite clause in (i.b). The fact that the matrix and embedded subjects don't bear the same case feature in (ii.b) provides conclusive evidence that control constructions are indeed biclausal, since a single noun phrase cannot check more than one case (even though it might satisfy more than one selectional restriction at the same time).

2. The statement in the text is an oversimplification. In fact, there is a bit of overlap in the distribution of PRO and overt noun phrases - for instance, the subject position of gerunds.

(i) a.   [ PRO going out with him ] would bother me.
b.   [ { Kim's, Kim } going out with him ] would bother me.

3. For simplicity, we focus on the proposition argument of seem and disregard the optional experiencer (It seems to me that you've solved the problem). Including the latter in our considerations would not affect our conclusions.

4. Even clearer evidence that the specifier position at issue is the Spec(VP) associated with seem (and not, say, some higher specifier position, such as Spec(IP)) comes from small clauses like (i).

(i) a.   They made [ it seem [ that the problem was hard ] ] .
b. * They made [ [ that the problem was hard ] seem ] .

Exercises and problems

Exercise 9.1

A. As mentioned in the text, certain subject control predicates, like try, cannot take finite complements. Provide evidence that in subject control sentences containing these predicates, both the matrix predicate and the complement predicate impose their own selectional restrictions, thus motivating a biclausal analysis even for such sentences.

B. Explain the acceptability contrast in (1).

(1) a.   The children seemed to learn Twi.
b. # The children seemed to { elapse, evaporate }.

C. What is the evidence that the case feature on there in (2) is nominative?

(2)     There seemed to be a problem.

D. Show that threaten is both a subject control verb and a raising verb.

Exercise 9.2

A. The premises of the following argument are correct, and the conclusion itself may be correct, but the argument is invalid. Where is the fallacy?
(1) is grammatical; (2) is ungrammatical. Therefore, manage must be a subject control predicate, not a raising predicate.

(1)     She managed to solve the problem.
(2)   * There managed to solve the problem.

B. Using the sample answers in (2)-(4) as a model, determine whether the verbs in (5) are subject control predicates, raising predicates, or neither. For the purposes of this exercise, use only active verb forms.

Note that sometimes two pieces of evidence are necessary to conclusively determine a verb's status.

Evidence: Conclusion:
(2) ok There chanced to be an opening. Chance is a raising verb.
(3) a. ok It slipped out that there was a problem. Slip out is like occur. It has a nonthematic subject position (3a), but can't take nonfinite complements (3b), so it isn't a raising verb.
b. * There slipped out to be a problem.
(4) a. * It resolved that there would be a solution. Resolve is a subject control verb.
b. * There resolved to be a solution.

(5)     agree, aspire, attempt, be, beg, cease, choose, claim, come, commence, continue, dare, demand, deserve, desire, determine, elect, end up, endeavor, expect, fail, forget, happen, have, hope, intend, look, mean, need, neglect, plan, pledge, prefer, presume, pretend, proceed, prove, purport, remember, request, start, strive, swear, tend, train, try, volunteer, vow, wish, yearn

C. Subject control and raising predicates can be of other syntactic categories than V. The predicates in (6) are adjectives, those in (7) are participles and it's not always completely clear whether they are adjectives or verbs, and about in (8) is a preposition. As in (B), determine which class each of these predicates belong to, giving the evidence on which your decision is based.

(6)     afraid, anxious, apt, certain, content, eager, ecstatic, evident, fortunate, glad, happy, hesitant, liable, likely, lucky, necessary, possible, ready, reluctant, sorry, sure, unlikely
(7)     bound, delighted, destined, determined, embarrassed, excited, fated, going, inclined, itching, jonesing, prepared, scared, (all) set, supposed, thrilled
(8)     about

D. Using (9)-(11) as a model, determine whether the verbs in (12) are ECM verbs or object control verbs. Once again, use only active verb forms. For the purpose of this exercise, do not worry about how you would semantically decompose any object control verbs that you find.

Evidence: Conclusion:
(9)   ok I assumed there to be a problem. Assume is an ECM verb.
(10) a. ok I convinced John to take the job. Convince is an object control verb.
b. * I convinced there to be a problem.
(11) a. ok I noticed that the problem was difficult. Notice doesn't allow nonfinite complements; therefore it is neither an ECM verb nor an object control verb.
b. * I noticed the problem to be difficult.

(12)     acknowledge, advise, allow, anticipate, ask, beg, blackmail, challenge, command, consider, convince, corral, dare, deem, determine, discover, encourage, enjoin, expect, fear, find, forbid, get, help, instruct, invite, know, order, perceive, permit, predict, pressure, prompt, prove, provoke, remind, report, request, require, tell, tempt, urge, warn

Exercise 9.3

For this exercise, find verbs that have not been discussed in the book.

Be sure to provide the evidence (grammatical or ungrammatical sentences) on the basis of which you decide that a particular verb belongs to a particular class. Not much in the way of discussion is required beyond that.

A. As was mentioned in this chapter, raising verbs are logically distinct from there licensers. There are, however, some verbs that belong to both classes (this is comparable to a single person belonging to two distinct clubs). Can you think of any?

B. As we mentioned in this chapter, there are raising verbs that cannot take finite complements. Can you think of other verbs besides tend with this property?

C. Expect is an ECM verb. Which other class(es) of verbs discussed in this chapter does it belong to?

Exercise 9.4

A. Using the guidelines from Exercise 9.2, determine which class the matrix predicates in (1) belong to. In (1e,f), you will also have to decide which syntactic category the matrix predicate belongs to; briefly explain your decision.

(1) a.   They failed to be on time.
b.   They aspired to get the job.
c.   They reminded him to solve the problem.
d.   They aren't hesitant to move.
e.   They are fated to get the job.
f.   They are about to graduate.

B. Using the grammar tool in x-bar 2, build structures for the sentences in (1). Provide suitable decompositions for any object control predicates.

Exercise 9.5

Explain why the following sentences are ungrammatical. The intended meaning in all cases is It seems that they like caviar (or the semantically equivalent They seem to like caviar). If convenient, you can use the grammar tool in x-bar 2 to build structures for the sentences.

(1) a. * There seems that they like caviar.
b. * They1 seem that they1 like caviar.
c. * Theyi seem that ti like caviar.
d. * Caviari seems that they like ti.

Exercise 9.6

A. You have been asked to review an article for Linguistic Inquiry by Professor Richard Gerneweis, in which he concludes on the basis of the contrast in (1) that volunteer is a control verb. What is wrong with his argument?

(1) a. ok Amy volunteered to do the job.
b. * There volunteered to do the job.

B. In your review, you graciously provide the conclusive evidence that Professor Gerneweis should have provided himself.

Exercise 9.7

A. Using the grammar tool in x-bar 2, build structures for the ungrammatical sentences in (1). (Assume that expletive it substitutes directly into Spec(IP).)

(1) a. * It seems Jackie to have solved the problem.
b. * Jackie seems that has solved the problem.

B. Briefly explain the contrast between the sentences in (1) and (2) in terms of the principles of Universal Grammar covered in the class. (You don't need to build structures for the sentences in (2).)

(2) a. ok Jackie seems to have solved the problem.
b. ok It seems that Jackie has solved the problem.

Problem 9.1

Based on the analysis of object control verbs in this chapter, explain the contrast between (1) and (2).

(1)     I persuaded them to come.
(2) a. * I was persuasive them to come.
b. * I was persuasive of them to come.

Problem 9.2

Some of the predicates discussed in this chapter take either a finite or a nonfinite clausal complement; others take only a nonfinite complement. Finally, some predicates that in principle might take a nonfinite complement don't.

(1) a.   The children agreed that they would dance; the children agreed to dance.
b.   It appears that the bear is hibernating; the bear appears to be hibernating.
(2) a.   The children tried to dance; *the children tried that they would dance.
b.   The bear tends to hibernate in winter; *it tends that the bear hibernates in winter.
(3)     It is evident that there is a problem; *there is evident to be a problem.

The analysis presented in the chapter is not detailed enough to account for these facts. Suggest how the analysis could be appropriately extended or revised.