Cortical representation of verbs with optional complements: The theoretical contribution of fMRI

Einat Shetreet*, Naama Friedmann, Uri Hadar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Verbs like "eat" are special in that they can appear both with a complement (e.g., "John ate ice-cream") and without a complement ("John ate"). How are such verbs with optional complements represented? This fMRI study attempted to provide neurally based constraints for the linguistic theory of the representation of verbs with optional complements. One linguistic approach suggests that the representation of these verbs in the lexicon includes two complementation frames (one with and one without the complement), similarly to verbs that allow two different types of complements (e.g., discover). Another approach assumes that only one frame is represented (with a complement) and, when the complement is omitted, the relevant thematic role is saturated, either lexically or syntactically. We compared the patterns of cortical activation of verbs with optional complements to verbs that take either one or two frames and to verbs with one or two complements. These comparisons - together with prior findings regarding the cortical activation related to the number of complementation frames and the number of complements - were used to decide between the theoretical approaches. We found support for the idea that verbs with optional complements have only one frame and that a lexical operation enables complement omission. We also used fMRI in the traditional manner and identified the fusiform gyrus and the temporo-parieto-occipital junction as the regions that participate in the execution of the omission and saturation of optional complements.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)770-785
Number of pages16
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Fusiform gyrus
  • Lexicon
  • Neurolinguistics
  • Precuneus
  • Syntax
  • Wernicke's area


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