So I'm writing a term paper for my introductory syntax class on Larson's and Jackendoff's theories of the structure of double object verbs. Jackendoff argues for a more linear, tertiary branching structure, and Larson argues for more complex a hierarchical, binary branching structure that involves movement.

In the two papers I've read there's nothing about extending the theories to verbs with more objects (perhaps because they are rare). So I was wondering if there's a reason that verbs with more than two complements/arguments are so rare and also if there's any way that this phenomena could be explained by structural constraints following from the theories proposed by Jackendoff and Larson. Also, if anyone has suggestions for other articles/papers that discuss syntactic theories of verbs that take more than two arguments that would be great too.

Edit: Does Greg Lee's answer address the following sentences?: "John gave the book to Mary" "I bet you five dollars that I will win the race"

  • [ John gave [ the book (goes) to Mary ] ]; [ I bet [you (will get) five dollars ] ]. I argued for the first aeons ago in my MA thesis at OSU, on the grounds that the subjecthood of "the book" is reflected by the "with" that turns up when certain other IO verbs are used: "John presented Mary with a book" (and then Mary became the one with a book).
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Apr 5, 2015 at 16:27

1 Answer 1


The constructions where verbs appear to take 2 complements are really cases of a verb taking one sentential complement, but where this complement has lost its verb, so that its identity as a sentence is no longer obvious. "John kept [his beer (stayed) in the fridge until it froze]." Because we don't notice the concealed sentence after the main verb, we are fooled into thinking there are two complements. So the question asked can be interpreted this way: is there a way to fool us into thinking that a verb takes more than two complements?

No, because we'd have to start with a sentential complement that had three or more parts. But sentences have only two parts -- subject and predicate.

  • is there a formal name for this theory? If not, could you provide an article or paper I could reference for my project? Commented Apr 11, 2015 at 15:27
  • The theory that you can find a ceiling to the number of apparent verb complements is something I just now made up. Should I give it a name? The theory that there is a variety of hidden sentential complements comes mostly from McCawley's paper "On identifying the remains of deceased clauses", IULC, in the version he incorporated into his textbook The Syntactic Phenomena of English.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Apr 11, 2015 at 15:58
  • Doesn't this mean that the problem with John kept his beer stayed in the fridge until it froze is just that it is not idiomatic, not that it is ungrammatical - and is that your view?
    – user23078
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 4:36
  • @Minty, The example sentence does not have an explicit verb "stayed". With an explicit "stayed", it is ungrammatical. I guess I don't understand your distinction between "not idiomatic" and "ungrammatical". It's just a fact that it isn't good English.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 3:45
  • Well, maybe it's not a helpful distinction after all. What about I'll tell you a story? Does that sentence have a hidden verb?
    – user23078
    Commented Jul 14, 2019 at 2:55

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