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Complement means required by the head. How many internal complements are required in the below sentence?

I blame him for the failure of the report.

and is it possible to say "I failed the report"?

  • A reference to the failure of the report implies the report failed (to achieve whatever it was supposed to do). Nothing to do with I, him or anyone else "failing" it (a rather odd usage which could only mean I/he assigned a "fail" grade to the report). – FumbleFingers Apr 4 '15 at 20:50
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    +1 Interesting question. It would be interesting to see whether people thought that for the failure of the report was a complement or an adjunct (read adverbial) here. Let's see if any poeple interested in grammar decide to reopen this question ... – Araucaria Apr 5 '15 at 14:49
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    @Araucaria I voted to reopen, mainly to see your argumentation as to the status of the PP in the example as to whether it is a complement or an adjunct. :) – F.E. Apr 5 '15 at 18:25
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For the purposes of this post, unless stated otherwise, the word complement only refers to internal complements of the verb.

I blame him for the failure of the report.

A complement is a phrase which fills a slot set up by another word in a sentence. It is often said that complements are obligatory, but this is not quite true. The real situation is a bit more complicated. For example, take the verb teach. This can have two complements:

  • I teach [students] [karate].

Here the words students and karate are complements of the verb. The verb TEACH allows a slot for a learner of some description and a subject of some description too. We can contrast this with the verb LEARN, for example which only allows a slot for a topic or subject, but not one for a learner (not an internal one):

  • I learned English.
  • *I learned myself English. (ungrammatical in standard English)

Notice though that these complements are not obligatory. If someone asks me what I do for a living, I can say simply:

  • I teach.

Here the verb TEACH has no complements. The sentence is still perfectly grammatical. But as we have seen, the verb "TEACH" can have complements. For this reason, it's not quite true that complements are obligatory.

Now, we can contrast complements, words that fill a special slot, with adjuncts. Adjuncts are bits of a phrase or sentence, that do not fill one of these special slots. They are just extra bits of information.They do not have any special relationship with the head word in a phrase. For example, take the phrase on Mondays in the following sentence:

  • I teach students karate on Mondays.

This phrase on Mondays has no special relationship with the verb teach. We can stick this phrase on to all kinds of sentences, in fact almost any sentence and it will still be grammatical:

  • I am Araucaria on Mondays.

Notice as well that sentences like these will be grammatical with or without this type of phrase. There is no special relationship between on Mondays and the verb BE.

There are all kinds of tests we can do to see if a phrase is a complement of a verb or an adjunct. My favourite test with action verbs, however, is this: if we replace the verb phrase in a sentence with the pro-verb DO, and the pronoun it or this, then the complements have to disappear, they are replaced by do it or do this:

  • I teach students karate.
  • I do this.
  • I do it.

If we add the complements back on to the do it phrase, the sentence will change it's meaning or be ungrammatical:

  • *I do it karate. (ungrammatical)
  • *I do it students. (ungrammatical)

If we do the same test with adjuncts, we can add the adjunct back onto the end of the sentence and it will still be good:

  • I teach students karate on Mondays.
  • I do it.
  • I do it on Mondays.

Here we have put on Mondays back into the sentence and it is still grammatical. It also still has the same meaning. This shows that on Mondays is not a complement of the verb.

The Original Poster's example

The only verb in this sentence (and therefore the head of the verb phrase) is the word blame. It has an external complement, which is not important in terms of the Original Poster's question, which the subject of the sentence, I. It's external because it does not appear within the verb phrase itself.

The verb blame has a direct object, "him". This is a complement of the verb. The verb BLAME sets up a slot for a person or thing. It also has a slot for a phrase which explains a bad thing which that person is responsible for. In the Original Poster's example, this phrase is "for the failure of the report". This means that this phrase is a complement of the verb.

Let's use a do it substitution to test this theory and see what happens. We can contrast for the failure of the report with an adjunct. I'm going to use the adjunct every single day:

  • I blame him for the failure of the report every single day.
  • I do it every single day.
  • *I do it for the failure of the report. (ungrammatical or different meaning)
  • *I do it him (ungrammatical)

Because we cannot put for the failure of the report back into the sentence when we use do it, it must be a complement not an adjunct. There are other reason to think this is true. Firstly, for the failure of the report is a preposition phrase. The head preposition here is the word for. This definitely seems to have a special relationship with the verb BLAME. We need to use a phrase with for, not just any preposition phrase:

  • *I blame him at the failure of the report. (ungrammatical)
  • *I blame him of the report. (ungrammatical)
  • *I blame him by the report. (ungrammatical)

Also we cannot just add this preposition phrase to any sentence:

  • *I am Araucaria for the failure of the report. (ungrammatical)

Notice that we can do this with the adjunct every single day:

  • I am Araucaria every single day.

This seems to show that this for preposition phrase is indeed a complement of the word blame.

One last piece of evidence that for the failure of the report is a complement and not an adjunct, is that usually we can move adjuncts from the end of a sentence to the beginning and the sentence will still sound perfectly fine. If we move complements to the beginning, the sentence will sound strange, it will sound "marked":

  • I blame him for the failure of the report every single day.
  • Every single day I blame him for the failure of the report.
  • I blame him for the failure of the report.
  • #For the failure of the report I blame him. (very strange)

In the examples above, the adjunct every single day can appear at the beginning or end of the sentence and it still sounds good. When we move the complement for the failure of the report to the beginning, the sentence sounds very odd. We definitely need a very special reason to organise the sentence in this way. This also seems to show that for the failure of the report is a complement, not an adjunct.

There is one last thing we need to think about. Perhaps of the report is a separate complement of the verb blame. Maybe the sentence is organised like this:

  • I blame [him] [for the failure][of the report].

We can show that this is not correct. The string of the report is part of the noun phrase the failure of the report. We can show this by substituting the noun phrase with the pronoun it:

  • I blame him for it.

In the example above, we can see that the pronoun it means "the failure of the report". It must replace the whole noun phrase. If of the report was a separate complement of the verb, we would be able to organise the sentence like this:

  • I blame [him] [for it] [of the report]

However, this is ungrammatical, because the phrase of the report is inside the complement beginning with for. More specifically, it is inside the noun phrase which is inside the for complement. The sentence is organised like this:

  • I blame [him] [for the failure of the report].

So to answer the Original Poster's first question: there are two internal complements of the verb in this sentence.

Regarding the Original Poster's second question, we can say I failed the report. This would usually mean that the report had to be officially assessed by you, and it could either pass or fail. You decided to fail it. There are other possible meanings, but this is the most natural one. I don't think this is the meaning that the Original Poster was really asking about, so perhaps the real answer is that we cannot use this sentence to mean the same thing ans the original sentence.

Hope this is helpful!

  • +1. Nice post for showing how to determine constituency. :) – F.E. Apr 6 '15 at 18:26

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