I know that an intransitive verb accepts only one argument, i.e., the subject. So, such verbs do not need a complement. But how could one understand the concept of an intransitive complementizer, in Chomskyan syntax? After all, isn’t the very nature of complementizers to accept a complement?

Edit: According to Andrew Radford, "none of the English finite complementisers (e.g. if, that, that and the null finite complementiser ∅ found in main clauses) are transitive". So, in what sense is the complementizer that, for example, intransitive? How does it differ from other complementizers that could be classified as transitive in other languages?

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    You should give at least one example.
    – Alan H.
    Sep 13, 2011 at 23:11
  • I also think you have an unusual definition of transitivity: in my book, a transitive verb is one that can have a direct object, whereas an intransitive one cannot; it says nothing about other complements. Copulae, for example, are intransitive, but they have a subject complement as a complement (don't be confused by the two entirely different kinds of "complement" in that sentence).
    – Cerberus
    Sep 14, 2011 at 0:24
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    Hmmmm. Every search for "(in)transitive complementizer" ends in Radford or someone quoting him. Is he the only one to use the term? It seems he is referring solely to case assignment; he doesn't discuss how arguments come into play. I don't yet see how for, his only example of a transitive complementizer, would have two arguments.
    – tdhsmith
    Sep 14, 2011 at 1:25
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    Well I tried to find what I could (motivated by my own curiosity at this point) but it seems his only criteria are that the immediately following nominal is given accusative case by transitives and nominative case by intransitives (he makes some reference to an agreement phrase dominating CP, but it doesn't seem to have any relevant surface effects). So determining this type of "transitivity" doesn't seem that difficult. Of course, this all assumes you're onboard with C being the primary source of case assignment. ;)
    – tdhsmith
    Sep 14, 2011 at 6:34
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    @lettuce Thank you. I had understood that the following nominal (technically, the closest nominal c-commanded by the complementizer) being given accusative case was a mere consequence of the complementizer being transitive, instead of being what defines a transitive complementizer. But after your last comment, I decided to review the matter more carefully and it seems that I have overcomplicated things a bit. It's just that simple. Could you turn your comment into an answer, so I can accept it? Sep 14, 2011 at 13:41

1 Answer 1


This question was based on the assumption that the transitivity of a complementizer was some inherent feature of it. One of the consequences of that feature would be that the closest nominal c-commanded by that complementizer would be given accusative case. So, if there was such kind of complementizers in English, it would be something like:

*I asked if her would go to the party.

But, as it turns out, that assumption is wrong. What defines a transitive complementizer is precisely the fact that it assigns accusative case to nominals, and not the other way around.

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