Sound of her voice

Crumbs of its bread


1) What definitions can I refer to the meaning 'complementizer'?

2) Can I refer words as 'her', 'its' to the meaning 'complementizer'

Additional information:

I know for sure that it can be 'that' word (like in its sentence) but I found nothing more

  • 1
    Traditional grammar defines a complementizer as a word that marks a subordinate clause as functioning as a complement to another word. We don't use the term nowadays; instead we simply have a word category (part of speech) called "subordinator" which consists of "that", "for", "to", "whether" and "if", all of which can introduce complement clauses. "Her" and "its" are genitive pronouns, a completely different word category; they typically function as determiners.
    – BillJ
    Apr 9, 2017 at 13:56
  • 1
    @BillJ Complementizer isn't a term in 'traditional' grammar; it seems to have arisen in TFG circles in the 1960s. Apr 9, 2017 at 14:59
  • 1
    The Oxford Dictionary has it listed with the same def as mine. It's a useless term that does no work as far as I can see. Two of my dry-as-dust grammars use the term as well. Maybe you should ask the OP why or where they hit upon the term.
    – BillJ
    Apr 9, 2017 at 15:27
  • 1
    @BillJ Complementizer and subordinator seem to be mostly the same thing, except that the folks who use complementizer tend to include things like relatives and ACC/POSS -ings in the term. Here's a fairly contemporary (2010) discussion, which makes it "clear" that the terminology is middling murky. Apr 9, 2017 at 19:24

2 Answers 2


1. What definitions can I refer to the meaning 'complementizer'?

There's little agreement among grammarians on how to categorize the core 'function' words in English; but the term complementizer is generally used only for words which introduce clauses. According to the SIL Glossary of Linguistic Terms

A complementizer is a conjunction which marks a complement clause.

And the Lexicon of Linguistics at the Utrecht Institute of Linguistics defines complementizer as an

element introducing a subordinate clause

CGEL doesn't use complementizer at all, but it does use subordinator in a very similar sense. It recognizes only five subordinators: that, for, to, whether, if. You should note, however, that CGEL regards to as a subordinator of VPs, not clauses, and that CGEL categorizes most of what traditional and many contemporary grammars call subordinating conjunctions as prepositions.

  • (skip this unless you're really fascinated by grammatical theory:)
    There is very little consensus among contemporary grammarians on the terminology for the 'function' words. Many of these words in fact serve multiple syntactical functions not only across utterances but even in individual instances. Consider, for instance, this sentence:

    I haven't yet decided which theory I will follow.

    Here which acts as (a) a determiner on theory, (b) an 'interrogative' in the sense that it points to a gap, a blank to be filled in, (c) a 'subordinator' in the sense that it marks the following clause as subordinate, and (d) yes, a 'complementizer' in the sense that it marks the following clause as a complement of the verb decide.

    And I can readily imagine a grammarian generalizing the SIL definition to include words which mark entities other than clauses as complements. For instance, an of PP following a noun derived from a transitive verb usually marks its object as a complement of the noun rather than a modifier—the 'direct object' of the noun—

    the conquest of Granada means "the act or fact of conquering Granada"

    So in this case the preposition of could be said to act as a 'complementizer'. ... That's sort of far-fetched; but it points up the fact that in the end, complementizer (or any other grammatical term) means whatever its user's particular approach to syntactic analysis needs it to mean.

2. Can I refer words like 'her', 'its' to the meaning 'complementizer'?

No. In your examples her and its are not complementizers but possessive pronouns acting syntactically as determiners—which is another multivalent term about which scores of articles and many entire books have been written.

Huddleston and Pullum, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, 2002

  • You'd know better than me, but I have the feeling determiner is still a genuinely useful term when analysing words in terms of their function within utterances, even if the precise definition gets hazy around the edges. I'm not sure complementiser fills a useful role in such contexts (practically every definition just cites that as an example, in contexts where it can often be discarded anyway). Apr 9, 2017 at 17:39
  • @FumbleFingers I agree that determiner is useful--it's just pinning down what it is and how it works is complicated. Complementizer is ugly, and seems to be little used these days; but in its heyday it referred to a lot more than CGEL's canonical five, including relatives and Acc/Poss+*ing*, and seems to have had considerable currency in discussion of languages other than English. Apr 9, 2017 at 19:09

Definition of Complementizer
In English Grammar, a Complementizer is a word used to introduce complement clause.
A complementizer is a conjunction which marks a complement clause.
A complementizer is a type of word category that turn the clause into the subject or object of a sentence.

Complementizers include subordinate conjunctions, relative pronouns, and relative adverbs.
Example: I wonder if she will come.
If is a complementizer in the above sentence.
Complement types often have associated with them a word, particle or affix whose function is to identify the entity as a complement. Such form are known as complementizer.

In English:

  • That is a complementizer associated with a complement type named after it: that clause.
  • If is a complementizer
  • To is a complementizer
  • While, since, because, so that, such, before, after, until... are complementizers.
  • Who, whom, whose, what, which, why, when, where and how are also complementizers.

Sound of her voice (her is not a complementizer according to the explanation above)

Crumbs of its bread (also its is not a complementizer)


  • In most modern grammars that use the term complementiser, words like because, before and so forth are prepositions, not complementisers, I believe. Apr 9, 2017 at 19:55

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