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Complementation of the verb

January 31, 2009

Hello again,
I get lots of queries about specific grammar items and how best to teach them. Unfortunately, there is no simple solution as all learners are different and come from different linguistic backgrounds. However, here are some points about complentation of the verb that I...

...hope will be helpful.

When we use verbs it is important to know how they are followed. The grammatical term for this is ‘complementation of the verb’. A few verbs can stand alone. They take no direct or indirect object and are known as ‘intransitive’ verbs. Examples are:

He arrived; she appeared; they came; he died; I digress; we fell; she went; it happened; the sun rose; you waited.

No further complementation is needed, although often it is possible to add other types of complement, such as adverbs or adjectives:
He arrived early; she appeared confused; they came at once; he died instantly; we fell to the ground; she went at once; it happened suddenly; you waited by the cinema.

Other verbs, however, cannot stand alone in this way and, if they take a direct object, we call them ‘transitive’ verbs. A direct object is what is on the receiving end of an action. Think of the action of catching, for example. What might someone catch? It could be an object that is thrown ( a ball, a pen) or it could be an illness that is transmitted (a cold, the ‘flu). When you use a dictionary remember to check if the verb is described as ‘transitive’, because if it is, it must be followed by a direct object. Examples are:
enjoy (he enjoys his job); like (she likes her office); make (they make furniture); buy (she buys the materials); take (she took the apartment).

Many verbs can be both intransitive and transitive:
See, eat, watch, ask, call, ring. In colloquial English the normal rules of complementation are sometimes broken. Thus people often say:"enjoy" without an object. This usage I suggest employs a kind of ellipsis, when the object is understood but not referred to. Thus it means: "enjoy whatever you are doing."

There are more complex forms of verb complementation but learners need to understand these basic patterns first.

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