Consider the bracketed verb phrase in the following sentence:
In formal terms, we can analyse this VP using the familiar three-part structure:
Let us now consider the functions of each of these three parts.
Actually, we already know the function of one of the parts -- the word plays functions as the Head of this VP. The term "Head" is a functional label, indicated by the capital (upper case) letter. Remember that we also capitalize the other functions -- Subject, Object, Predicate, etc.
Turning now to the post-Head string the piano, we can see that it completes the meaning of the Head plays. In functional terms, we refer to this string as the COMPLEMENT of the Head. Here are some more examples of Complements in verb phrases:
In each case, the Complement completes the meaning of the Head, so there is a strong syntactic link between these two strings.
At this point you may be wondering why we do not simply say that these post-Head strings are Direct Objects. Why do we need the further term Complement?
The string which completes the meaning of the Head is not always a Direct Object. Consider the following:
Here the post-Head string (the Complement) is an Indirect Object. With ditransitive verbs, two Objects appear:
Here, the meaning of the Head gave is completed by two strings -- James and a present. Each string is a Complement of the Head gave.
The post-Head strings here are neither Direct Objects nor Indirect Objects. The verb be is known as a COPULAR verb. It takes a special type of Complement which we will refer to generally as a COPULAR COMPLEMENT. There is a small number of other copular verbs. In the following examples, we have highlighted the Head, and italicised the Complement:
It is clear from this that we require the general term Complement to encompass all post-Head strings, regardless of their type. In verb phrases, a wide range of Complements can appear, but in all cases there is a strong syntactic link between the Complement and the Head. The Complement is that part of the VP which is required to complete the meaning of the Head.
copyright The Survey of English Usage 1996-1998
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