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I am confused about this sentence pattern (S+V+C):

  1. I am surprised [ to see you ].

  2. I am surprised [ at how many have never heard of it ].

  3. I am surprised [ by his response ].

  4. I am surprised [ that some people study the past ].

I think that the sentence "I am surprised" has the sentence pattern "Subject + Verb + Complement".

So the phrases following the complement should be adverb phrases, because they modify the complement (surprised), right?

But the sentence "that some people study the past" is a nominal clause. It should be unable to modify the complement (surprised).

So why are these following phrases able to modify the complement?

  • to see you
  • at how many have never heard of it
  • by his response
  • that some people study the past
  • +1. Yes, that does seem to be an interesting question. How should those examples be parsed? That's a very good grammar question, imo. :) – F.E. Jul 14 '15 at 18:09
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    There might be some related info in H&P's CGEL, pages 542-7, which covers "Complementation" within the section "The structure of AdjPs", and pages 547-50, which covers "Modification"; and also, there's pages 1256-59, which covers "Non-finite complements of adjectives". – F.E. Jul 15 '15 at 3:23
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Surprise is in a class of verbs that also includes amaze, concern, delight, disappoint, encourage, elate, embarrass, impress, interest, shock, worry which can yield both "true passive" and, depending on who you ask, "quasi passive", "semi-passive", mixed passive" forms.

See, for example,

Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar, page 357.

Classification and SLA Studies of Passive Voice (pdf)

English Forums

Consider

1 Mary surprised me.

passive:

2 I was surprised by Mary.

This can be analyzed as a true passive, where the actor in the active form becomes the agent in the passive form, and the object of the verb in the passive is used in subject position in the active.

Thus, your sentence

3 I am surprised by his response.

can be considered the passive form of

4 His response surprises me.

Semi-passives can exhibit adjectival properties (surprised modified by an adverb):

2a I was rather surprised by Mary.

The use of different prepositions with other verbs can exhibit the true passive sense:

6 His promise satisfied Sally.

7 Sally was satisfied with his promise.

8 English interested me.

9 I was interested in English.

Thus

10 I am surprised at how many have never heard of it.

can be recast as

11 How many have never heard of it surprised me.

Your other two sentences can be analyzed as passive forms of active forms:

12 To see you surprised me.

13 That some people study the past surprised me.

with the active of 13 being a short form of by the fact that....

Other analyses of I was surprised that some people study the past may be possible.

The take-home message is that the classification of English verbs is sometimes slippier than we might like.

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I would understand those sentences as follows:

I = subject

am = verb

surprised | encouraged | saddened | threatened, etcetera... (predicate adjective)

to-clause | how-clause | that-clause | by-phrase = complement

The predication here places the subject in the "quasi-patient" position of feeling an emotion in response to something; the complement refers to what which causes or invokes the emotional state in the subject.

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I am surprised [ that some people study the past ].

But the sentence "that some people study the past" is a nominal clause. It should be unable to modify the complement (surprised).

I think technically here the entire phrase "that some people study the past" is modifying "I am surprised" adverbially. Mostly because you can do this and it will mean the same.

That some people study the past, I am surprised.

A good test for adverbs is to see if you can move them around in the sentence with no or not very much change in meaning.

Above, this is not usual and has a literary sound to it, but is valid. Whereas you can't move phrases in the other three sentences and make sense.

I am surprised [ to see you ] -> To see you, I am surprised. ( Sounds terrible like you are trying to imitate Yoda from Star Wars. )

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1 - I'm surprised to see him here.

I'm surprised to see that it is not so easy to define the structure of the above sentence, i.e. to define the function of the infinitive "to see him here".

Does the infinitive modify the predicative complement surprised? I would say no. A modifier would be "very" in "very surprised". In my view the infinitive has somehow the function as an object with a preposition as in

2 - I'm surprised at seeing him here.

Somehow it seems to me that the construction of "surprised + to-infinitive is elliptical, shortened. But it is not easy to find the preceding formula. What would fill the gap in

3 - I'm surprised --- to see him here.

Perhaps this is the wrong approach to solve the problem. If a satisfying answer can't be found it is only possible to say that the to-infinitive has the same sentence function as an object with "at" as in 2.

Added: "I'm surprised to see him here" may be explained by an elliptical construction: I'm surprised (by the fact) to see him here.

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