1. Sue considers Joe a fool.
  2. Sue calls Joe "Daddy-O".
  3. Joe weighs 200 pounds.

It seems that none of these are objects, as witnessed by the fact that you can't raise them to be the subject of a passive clause: *A fool is considered Joe by Sue, *"Daddy-O" is called Joe by Sue, *200 pounds is/are weighed by Joe. What are their syntactic and semantic roles?

I realize that 3 is a completely different kettle of fish than 1-2. My attempt at an answer for 1: it's a predicate in a verbless subordinate clause, cf. "Sue considers Joe to be a fool", with the same meaning and an explicit verb. (This procedure of analyzing the structure of a sentence S by means of a paraphrase S' isn't obviously valid to me, by the way, but I realize it's normal in syntax.) 2 looks similar enough that something along the same lines might work, but here you can't make the subordinate verb explicit (*Sue calls Joe to be "Daddy-O").

3 is obviously something else entirely. "200 pounds" is a required argument of the verb (*Joe weighs), but syntactically not an object (apparently) and semantically not a patient or theme, so what is it?

  • 1
    (1) a fool is short for to be a fool and it's the result of B-Raising, which is governed by the matrix predicate consider, followed by to be-Deletion; (2) "Daddy-O" is the second object of a verb of naming (call); (3) 200 pounds is a quantified measure phrase that modifies the verb weigh. They're all special cases
    – jlawler
    Oct 24, 2013 at 18:10
  • So for (2), does this mean that an argument that can't be raised to subject of a passive can still be an object, i.e. not all objects can be passivized on? And what is the semantic role of this second object? And for (3), assuming that the NP is required by the argument structure of the verb, does that mean you can have a required argument that's neither a subject nor an object?
    – TKR
    Oct 24, 2013 at 18:36
  • Sure. Subject and Object are grammatical categories, not phrase marker categories. Every verb has its own list of possible, impossible, or optional Subjects and Objects, and its own list of possible types of modifier. As to whether they're "Arguments", that depends on what you or your syntax professor mean by "Argument", which is a logical term and not a linguistic one.
    – jlawler
    Oct 24, 2013 at 18:52
  • Are there analyses which attempt to unify types (1) and (2), i.e. treat the two objects of verbs of naming as really constituting a kind of unexpandable small clause? The two types seem close enough semantically (while on the other hand verbs of naming are different enough from other ditransitives) that I wonder if anyone has tried this.
    – TKR
    Oct 24, 2013 at 23:09

1 Answer 1


Traditionally, 1 and 2 are known as verbs with object complements. A number of verbs can have those; they are similar to how copulae can have subject complements in that they either identify the object with its complement (I consider him my best friend) or assign/apply a property to it (I consider him dull), just as copulae do this with a subject and its complement. Other examples:

He painted the house black.

She kept him locked up.

She had him fired. (Alternative analyses are possible.)

He made her his wife.

She bought him free.

She set him free.

He killed her first, her husband second.

He pronounced them wife and wife.

Etc. Some verbs can typically take this construction (like consider), and some adjectives typically allow this construction with many verbs (like first).

  • Right. These are all what Jim McCawley used to call "the remains of deceased clauses". The first verb is often a "small verb" like keep, make, get, and there's often to be-deletion in an infinitive predicate noun or adjective in a complement clause. The sentence about killing her first is an extended conjunction reduction, not a complement reduction. And the verb of naming has two objects - an entity and a name - which are formally (and sometimes performatively) linked by the verb. Like symmetric verbs (Bill married Sue ~ Bill and Sue married ~ Sue married Bill), there is special syntax.
    – jlawler
    Oct 24, 2013 at 19:59
  • 1
    By "deceased" and "reduction", do you mean jargon for something that never actually happened diachronically, as you described "deletion" to me earlier, or the opposite? As to naming, what is the difference between two objects and an object plus object complement? I ask these things because superficially I don't see much of a difference between the constructions above.
    – Cerberus
    Oct 24, 2013 at 20:30
  • Definitely not diachronic. It's a metaphor, like all scientific theories. The precise details are in this recently revised page on Ross Constraints and syntactic islands, which apply to "Movement" rules. Do I have to repeat this about every "Movement" rule discussed? As for "complement", I use the term only to refer to clauses, which may be lacking pieces by the time they get said.
    – jlawler
    Oct 24, 2013 at 21:29
  • @jlawler If your position is that all scientific theories are metaphors, that goes a long way towards clarifying your comments elsewhere for me. If 'metaphor' is used in such a broad sense, i can't help but agree that all linguistic theory is metaphorical. Even in the narrow sense, i would agree that 'movement' is a metaphor, naturally, but underlying the metaphor is a substantive claim that a speaker has knowledge of a dependency between the moved element and the trace position. Would you agree that this impinges on reality, or is it a metaphor in the narrow sense?
    – P Elliott
    Oct 24, 2013 at 21:41
  • 1
    The Null Hypothesis has to be that, as everyone can plainly see, everybody is different. You don't need evidence for that; you need evidence against it. Assuming what you want to prove is not helpful, and certainly not preferable. The problem is to explain human speech, not to wish it away into a metaphorical cloud. Think of it as Existential Grammar.
    – jlawler
    Oct 25, 2013 at 16:13

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.