Are complement clauses that contain finite verbs be noun phrases? Consider English's "that" complementizer.

A. Clauses introduced with "that" can be be replaced with pronouns.

(1) I know that the insects will rule the Earth. --> I know it. I know this.

B. "That" clauses can also be subjects, objects, and complements of at least one copular verb.

(2) That Erin left Joe bothered me.

(3) I heard that Erin left Joe.

(4) Sue told me that Erin left Joe.

(5) The truth is that Erin left Joe.

C. But I can't think of an example in which a "that" clause can serve as an object complement.

(6) *I find the music that it sickens me.

D. And the choice of prepositions that can take "that" clauses as objects seems restricted.

(7) Everything was fine, except that Mary had fallen ill.

(8) *The apartment was okay before that the rats showed up.

E. And since when can a noun phrase have tense?

Part of my quandary may lie in my mis-analysis of some of the preceding sentences. Part of my quandary may have to do with the possibility that the choice of finite vs. non-finite complement clauses in given contexts vary from language to language.

  • 1
    I don't think that it's accurate to say that a complement 'clause' is, all of a sudden, a noun 'phrase'. A clause is a clause and a phrase is a phrase. It is, however, accurate to say that a complement clause is a noun clause, because that's what some people call them. Commented Jul 9, 2014 at 4:04
  • "Object complement" may simply not be defined well enough in C. If it's the object and it's a complement, why isn't it the object complement? Sounds like a name instead of a description, and that means a theoretical distinction that may or may not be determinable in reality.
    – jlawler
    Commented Jul 9, 2014 at 15:36

2 Answers 2


The finite clause (with or without the complementizer that) is a different syntactic category than the noun phrase, as can be seen from the fact that finite clauses have a different distribution than noun phrases. Some examples are given in your question and in @curiousdannii’s answer above; two more examples are given in (1) and (2).

(1) a.  I resent it that he never visited
    b.  * I resent it his behavior
    c.  I resent his behavior   
(2) a.  They consider [his behavior] rude
    b.  *They consider [that he left early] rude  

(1) demonstrates that certain verbs that take finite clauses as semantic complements can (or must) be separated from them by non-referential it; but this is not an option for noun phrase complements of the same verbs. (2) demonstrates that noun phrases can appear between a verb that selects them as argument and a predicate (rude above) that is also an argument of the verb; but this is not an option for finite clauses.

However, phrases of different syntactic categories may sometime overlap with respect to the grammatical functions they realize in the sentence. Both noun phrases and finite clauses (with the complementizer that) may be the subject of a sentence, for example. You can read a little bit more about the difference between syntactic category and grammatical function in this post.

  • 1
    Noun clauses are subject to a number of rules that don't apply to individual nouns. Like Extraposition, Equi, Raising, Tough-Movement, etc, all of which take advantage of the structural ambiguities of the [s [np [s s] np] s] bracketing to facilitate various meaning combinations.
    – jlawler
    Commented Jul 9, 2014 at 15:34

No, there's no reason to analyse them as noun phrases. We can test it by considering whether they can occur in the types of phrases that noun phrases can occur in, such as:

With an adjective modifier:

*big that Erin left Joe

With a possessor:

*your that Erin left Joe

Or with a plural or quantifier:

*five that Erin left Joes

All of these are ungrammatical which is strong evidence that these that phrases are not noun phrases.

  • 1
    Those are all rules that apply only to nouns, not noun clauses. Certainly if they were grammatical, they would indicate that it was a noun clause. But noun clauses do not take articles and are not modified by adjectives or possessives, so those tests are inconclusive. They can function as subject or object, however, which is another test for NP, and thus can be affected by passivization (That she resigned was not generally mentioned), another test. That's just for starts. The simplest solution is to consider them [np [ S ] np]; deviating from that requires a good reason.
    – jlawler
    Commented Jul 9, 2014 at 15:30

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