Historical Sociolinguistics and Sociohistorical Linguistics

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Review of:

Yoko Iyeiri (2010), Verbs of Implicit Negation and their Complements in the History of English. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. Hb edition 2010. xv + 223 pages.

Received October 2010, published December 2011 (HSL/SHL 11)

English verb complementation has received a great deal of attention in both synchronic and diachronic studies. Synchronic studies often discuss differences in verb complementation patterns between British and American English (e.g. Mair 2002; Hommerberg and Tottie 2007). Diachronic studies tend to look at one or more of the shifts in verb complementation patterns, such as the decline of that-clauses, which has been brought into connection with the decline of the subjunctive (e.g. Los 2005; Fischer and van der Wurff 2006; van Gelderen 2006). There are also diachronic studies which comment on the rise of gerunds, a slightly later development than the rise of to-infinitives at the expense of that-clauses (see e.g. Blake 1996; Fanego 1996). Fischer and van der Wurff (2006: 177) note that -ing complements date back to Middle English, although the construction was not yet frequent at this time. Also, they note that “the rise of -ing-complements follows a path of lexical diffusion, with verbs of negative import such as avoid, escape and forbear leading the way” (Fischer and van der Wurff 2006: 177). Such verbs belong to a group of control (and/or raising) verbs, whose treatment has been (and still is) a topic of much debate in generative theoretical linguistics (see e.g. Davies and Dubinsky 2004). It is verbs like these that are the focus of Iyeiri’s historical study, which investigates the syntactic development of eleven “verbs of implicit negation”, as Iyeiri calls them: forbid, refuse, forbear, avoid, prohibit, prevent, hinder, refrain, fear, doubt and deny. In particular, the study examines to what extent these verbs have undergone the two complement shifts already mentioned: the first one being the shift from that-clauses to to-infinitives in later Middle English (1350–1500) and early Modern English (1500–1710), the second one being the shift from to-infinitives to gerunds in later Modern English (1710–).


Most of Iyeiri’s data are collected from “the entire dataset of the quotations in the second edition of The Oxford English Dictionary on CD-ROM (OED)”. According to Hoffmann (2004: 17), one of the advantages of using the OED as a tool for linguistic research is that its database of quotations “is considerably larger” than historical corpora such as the Helsinki Corpus of English Texts, ARCHER (A Representative Corpus of Historical English Registers) and the Corpus of Early English Correspondence (CEEC) (see also Mair 2004). However, there are also drawbacks to using the OED as a linguistic corpus (see e.g. Hoffmann 2004), and Iyeiri repeatedly points out that using the OED as a linguistic corpus should be done with great care, as it is not intended to fulfill this function: it is a historical dictionary. More on this below.


The eleven verbs examined by Iyeiri can be subdivided into four groups according to the type of development they show. The first group contains the verbs forbid and refuse, which have undergone the second complement shift (from to-infinitive to gerund) only partly. That-complements continue to occur with forbid, but only in the fossilised phrase ‘God forbid that ...’. In the second group are the verbs forbear and avoid, which have undergone a significant rise in gerunds (the second complement shift). In the case of avoid, Iyeiri notes the role of the horror aequi-principle: avoiding V-ing was circumvented in favour of infinitival complements, which “affected the timing of the historical development of the ing form” (Iyeiri 2010: 74). The third group contains the verbs prohibit, prevent, hinder and refrain, which have undergone both shifts, but the first shift is not always clearly visible due to the paucity of data. Moreover, the verbs in this group occur in another pattern, where they are followed by the preposition from + gerund. While grammars often treat these together with gerunds without prepositions, Iyeiri considers this pattern to be “a further developed stage of gerundial constructions” (Iyeiri 2010: 85). She also shows that the shifts in the gerundial complementation patterns prevent/hinder + possessive + -ing and prevent/hinder + object + -ing differ depending on “whether the semantic subject of the complement is a personal pronoun or not” (Iyeiri 2010: 111–2). The fourth group consists of the verbs fear, doubt and deny, which show a slightly different development than the verbs in the other groups: they develop a parenthetical use (I fear, I doubt), by which they lose their matrix status. Interestingly, the development of the parenthetical use is noted in affirmative sentences only.


As noted above, most of Iyeiri’s historical data is from the quotation database of the OED. In her introduction, Iyeiri states that “it was one of my central aims to test the usability of the OED as a historical corpus when I embarked upon the present project” (Iyeiri 2010: 20) and her study has left her “fully convinced” of its use as a historical corpus. Indeed, the OED has recently received several appraisals as a linguistic corpus (e.g. Hoffmann 2004; Mair 2001, 2004), which at the same time also point out some obvious drawbacks. Although Iyeiri is clearly aware of these (she repeatedly points out that using the OED as a linguistic corpus should be done with great care), I would like to comment on how she handles and interprets most of her OED data. The majority of the data figures she presents for the eleven verbs of implicit negation provide raw frequencies, and only a small number of figures provide the raw frequency of verb complementation patterns to occurrences per 10,000 quotations. While she indicates several times that the raw frequencies of complementation patterns in different centuries should not be compared “since the number of quotations per century is not constant” (Iyeiri 2010: 94), she nevertheless seems to do so. Although the patterns of development observed by Iyeiri undoubtedly provide a good general picture, her study would have benefited from a normalisation procedure of the data.


Having said this, Iyeiri’s study offers more insight into the development of the complementation patterns of eleven verbs of implicit negation, by providing a wealth of empirical information drawn from the OED, thereby validating its usefulness as a linguistic corpus.

Marion Elenbaas, University of Leiden (contact the reviewer)



ARCHER (A Representative Corpus of Historical English Registers).


Blake, Norman F. 1996. A History of the English Language. Basingstoke: Macmillan.


CEEC (Corpus of Early English Correspondence). 1998. Compiled by Terttu Nevalainen, Helena Raumolin-Brunberg, Jukka Keränen, Minna Nevala, Arja Nurmi and Minna Palander-Collin. Department of English, University of Helsinki.


Davies, William D. and Stanley Dubinsky. 2004. The Grammar of Raising and Control: A Course in Syntactic Argumentation. Malden, MA: Blackwell.


Fanego, Teresa. 1996. The development of gerunds as objects of subject-control verbs in English (1400-1760). Diachronica 113: 29–62.


Fischer, Olga and Wim van der Wurff. 2006. Syntax. In A History of the English Language, eds. Richard Hogg and David Denison, 109–198. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Gelderen, Elly van. 2006. A History of the English Language. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.


Hoffmann, Sebastian. 2004. Using the OED Quotations Database as a corpus: Alinguistic appraisal. ICAME Journal 28: 17–30.


Hommerberg, Charlotte and Gunnel Tottie. 2007. Try to and try and? Verb complementation in British and American English. ICAME Journal 31: 45–64.


Kytö, Merja. 1996. Helsinki Corpus of English Texts. Department of English, University of Helsinki.


Los, Bettelou. 2005. The Rise of the to-Infinitive. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Mair, Christian. 2001. Early or late origin for begin + V-ing?: Using the OED on CD-ROM to settle a dispute between Visser and Jespersen. Anglia 119: 606–610.


Mair, Christian. 2002. Three changing patterns of verb complementation in Late Modern English: A real-time study based on matching text corpora. English Language and Linguistics 6: 105–131.


Mair, Christian. 2004. Corpus linguistics and grammaticalisation theory: Statistics, frequencies, and beyond. In Corpus Approaches to Grammaticalization in English, eds. Hans Lindquist and Christian Mair, 121–150. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.


Simpson, John A. and Edmund S.C. Weiner. 1989. The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.