Did John really promise Mary to leave?

  • Thomas Egan


This paper contrasts finite and non-finite complement constructions containing the matrix verb promise. Using data from the British National Corpus, I show that when no explicit mention is made of the promissee the non-finite form of complement is overwhelmingly preferred to its finite counterparts. The exact opposite is the case when the promissee is mentioned between the matrix verb and the complement clause. In addition, the promiser in the x promise y to infinitive construction is almost always pronominal. I suggest that these two facts, the dispreference for the to infinitive form of complement when the promissee is mentioned and the pronominal encoding of the promiser in such cases, are both related to the very rarity of this form of construction in English. Data is adduced showing that another rare construction, the so-called possessive -ing construction, also occurs with a disproportionate number of pronominal subjects. It is suggested that the preference for pronominal subjects in these constructions may be related to a wish to reduce the overall processing complexity of the predications in question.

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