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The Structure of Modern English: A Linguistic Introduction, by Laurel J. Brinton (John Benjamins, 2000)


A word (such as that or if) or part of a word used to introduce a complement clause (also known as a complement phrase).

Complementizers include subordinate conjunctions, relative pronouns, and relative adverbs.

In generative grammar, complementizer is sometimes abbreviated as Comp, COMP, or C.

Examples and Observations:

  • "I think that people at the high end, people like myself, should be paying a lot more in taxes."
    (Warren Buffet, interview on This Week, Nov. 21, 2010)

  • "I doubt if a single individual could be found from the whole of mankind free from some form of insanity."
    (Desiderius Erasmus)

  • That, If, and To as Complementizers
    "Complement types often have associated with them a word, particle, clitic, or affix whose function it is to identify the entity as a complement. Such forms are known as complementizers. . . . More than one complementizer may occur with a given complement type. Alternatively, some complement types may have no complementizer associated with them at all. In English, the particle that . . . is a complementizer associated with a complement type named after it, the that-clause. The particle if can also function as a complementizer with this same complement type, as in:
    (10) I don't know if Zeke knows Harry.
    Most infinitives have the complementizer to, but some have no complementizer. Neither the verbal noun nor participial complement types have complementizers in English."
    (Michael Noonan, "Complementation." Language Typology and Syntactic Description: Complex Constructions, ed. by Timothy Shopen. Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985)

  • Complementizers With Adverbial Clauses and Wh-Questions
    "Like the that-clause, the adverbial clause includes a fully formed S [sentence], with the similar restriction that it cannot be interrogative or imperative. Also like the that-clause, it begins with a complementizer, but in adverbial clauses, a much greater variety of lexical items serve as complementizers. We will need to revise our rule for Comp as follows:
    Comp- {while, since, because, although, if, when, so that, as, such, before, after, until, as long as, as soon as, by the time that, now that, once, inasmuch as . . .}
    Note that this is not an exhaustive listing of the complementizers. . . .

    "Like an adverbial clause, the wh-question always begins with a complementizer, in this case, who, whom, whose, what, which, why, when, where, and how. Note that with the exception of how, all of the complementizers begin with wh-, hence the name Wh- Words. However, an important difference between adverbial clauses and wh-questions is that the complementizer in the wh-clause, the wh-word, always has a function in its own clause. If the wh-word is removed, the clause usually becomes incomplete. Furthermore, the form of the wh-complementizer depends upon its function."
    (Laurel J. Brinton, The Structure of Modern English: A Linguistic Introduction. John Benjamins, 2000)

  • Recent Research on Complementizers
    "[A] close look at the properties and functions of complementizers has led to exciting developments in their study . . .. Hence, syntactic theory started out from conceiving Complementizer as the category responsible for introducing subordinate clauses and hosting moved wh-constituents; it has subsequently moved on to exploring the role of C in establishing the illocutionary force of sentences and to examining its central role in providing positions for constituents with a discourse-oriented role. Finally, syntactic theorizing took on the task of spelling out the Complementizer category's correlation with finiteness and, a fortiori, its close relation with category Tense . . .."
    (E. Phoevos Panagiotidis, "Introduction: Complementizers and Their Phase." The Complementiser Phase: Subjects and Operators. Oxford Univ. Press, 2010)
Alternate Spellings: complementiser
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