April 20, 2020
April 20, 2020
Show all

Complementizers and filler-gap dependencies

Look at the following examples:

The head-initialized antecedent (italicized) has a complementizer (bolded) that is the syntactic head of a full clause, the embedded clause (coloured amber).

  • “It’s really an important public health strategy that we have people thinking about.”
  • “Yes, and I think that it’s something thatI had to find a way to understand as an adult.”

The complementizer together with the embedded clause (coloured amber) can perform the role a complement, a subordinate clause that functions as the subject or the object of particular verbs. There can also be a relationship, called a filler-gap dependency, between a wh- complementizer and a gap:

  • Dell-Dell’s life was as what she would have imagined her septuagenarian years to be_ (filler gap)
  • She sipped from a glass what looked like orange juice. (The complement is an object: She sipped what looked like orange juice.)

SUMMARY/OBSERVATIONS: The first two sentences have a that-clause that functions as an appositive or what is known as an expletive because the that-clause does not serve a grammatical function. In the third sentence, there is a filler-gap dependency, wherein the wh- interrogative, or complementizer, introduces an embedded clause. The word what fills a gap created by the verb, i.e., to be what. And in the last sentence, the entire clause functions as a subject, i.e., She sipped what looked like orange juice.

[F]iller–gap dependency refers to a relationship between a filler, which is a wh- complementizer such as ‘what’ or ‘who’, and a gap, which is an empty syntactic position licensed by the filler.

Wilcox, Ethan, et al.[1]Wilcox, Ethan, et al. “What Do RNN Language Models Learn about Filler-Gap Dependencies?: Semantic Scholar [PDF].” Undefined, 21 Aug. 2018, … Continue reading


1 Wilcox, Ethan, et al. “What Do RNN Language Models Learn about Filler-Gap Dependencies?: Semantic Scholar [PDF].” Undefined, 21 Aug. 2018, Accessed 26 Feb. 2020.
Garie McIntosh
Garie McIntosh
Garie started out in administration in the fields of healthcare, project management and database development. Since 2016, he has been working to further develop himself as a fiction writer while working on his grammatical and linguistic pursuits. He considers that storytelling is analogous to communication. Garie writes stories with strong, authentic characters that are defined by strong writing and themes and thereby reinforce the power of communication. Through his educational and grammatical editing-service business, McIntoshLinguistics, Garie facilitates a process-method as an editing solution to enable writers and editors to meet traditional publishing standards. He has written and published his first novel, What's in a Name.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *