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The Complementive in Thai Syntax

by Don Sena

A complementive is a set of one or more modifiers that can occur just both before and just after the sequence of [subject + verb(s) + object(s)]. A complementive is usually an adverbial or adverbial-like structure made up of one or more modifiers. It can occur either just before the subject – call it “compl-L” (‘L’ for “leading”) – or just after the sequence of subject + verb (phrase) + (any) object(s) – call it “compl-F” (‘F’ for “following”).

So, {topic} {compl-L} [subject + verb(s) + object(s)] {compl-F}, where the { … } means the “…” are optional and the [ ... ] simply group the “…” collectively.

True to its name, the complementive “complements” this central structure [subject + verb(s) + object(s)].

(The optional topic is a noun, noun phrase or noun clause that serves as an introduction to the sentence by referring to something or to someone already understood in context.)

Most such modifiers in this position are adverbs and prepositional phrases which, as a whole, are being used as adverbs. Some adverbs can only occur in the compl-L position, and some in the compl-F. Some, including prepositional phrases, can occur in either compl-L or compl-F.
บังเอิญเขาขับรถเข้าไปในคู  ➔  บังเอิญ [เขาขับรถเข้าไป] ในคู
‘He accidentally drove the car into a ditch.’ (บังเอิญ ‘accidentally’ is found only in compl-L; ในคู here occurs in compl-F.)

เขาก็กลับบ้านเลย  ➔  [เขาก็กลับบ้าน] เลย
‘He went straight home.’ (เลย ‘directly; simply, without doing anything else first’ is found only in compl-F.)

ในเมืองนี้ไม่มีร้านเน็ต  ➔  ในเมืองนี้ [ไม่มีร้านเน็ต] ‘In this town, there’s *no* internet café.’ (ในเมืองนี้ occurs in compl-L, where its effect is only incidental.)

ไม่มีร้านเน็ตในเมืองนี้  ➔  [ไม่มีร้านเน็ต] ในเมืองนี้ ‘There’s no internet café *in this town*.’ (ในเมืองนี้ occurs in compl-R, where its effect is distinctive.)
There are several different subtypes of complementives, depending on how certain adverbial modifiers combine with each other (and sometimes with other items).

Complementives that occur only in the compl-L position include:

บังเอิญ, เผอิญ ‘accidentally, by chance’ (See example above.)

บางที ‘perhaps; sometimes’ (Use of sentence particle มั้ง‘could be’ in same sentence with บางที selects ‘perhaps’; see entry 2F in the paper on the codaphrase:

ธรรมดา, ปกตี ‘normally, generally, ordinarily’

อยู่ดีๆ ‘suddenly, unexpectedly, from out of nowhere, abruptly, without warning’
อยู่ดี ๆ อยากหัวเราะ ‘All of a sudden, I felt like laughing.’

ช่วงไหนจะจีบก็มาถี่อยู่ดี ๆ ก็หายไปซะงั้น ‘Whenever he would come to court me, he’d flirt again and again. Then, suddenly, he’d disappear, just like that.’
(ถี่ๆ ‘at close intervals, repeatedly, frequently’ and ซ่ะงั้น ‘unexpectedly, just like that’ occur in the compl-F slot.)

อย่างมาก, อย่างน้อย ‘at most, at least (respectively)’
ภรรยาของผมอย่างน้อยผมสามารถจะเลี้ยงดูแลหล่อนได้ดีพอ  ➔  [ภรรยาของผม] [อย่างน้อย] ผมสามารถจะเลี้ยงดูแลหล่อนได้ [ดีพอ]

‘I’m at least able to support my wife well enough.’

 ➔  [wife of mine] [at least] me able to support her: can-do [good enough]

 ➔  [topic] [compl-L] subject-predicate, completive verb [compl-F]; this model illustrates the fundamental syntax of the Thai sentence.
โดยเฉพาะ(อย่างยิ่ง) ‘in particular, especially;

โดยมาก, ส่วนมาก ‘usually, for the most part’

เสร็จแล้ว ‘after that, subsequently, once that was done’

เพราะฉนั้น ‘consequently, because of that’

มิฉนั้น, ไม่งั้น, ไม่ยังงั้น, เดี๋ยว ‘otherwise, except for that’
ต้องทำการบ้านให้ได้ ไม่งั้นคงไม่ผ่านวิชานี้
‘You’ve got to do your homework; otherwise, you’re not likely to pass this course.’

Here, ให้ได้, commonly paired with the leading auxiliary verb ต้อง, fills the compl-F slot. The combination ต้องให้ได้ means ‘has *got* to [do], have *got* to [do] (come hell or high water)’.
ถึงนั้น, (ถึง)ยังไงก็ตาม, (ถึง)ยังไงก็ดี (more formally, อย่างไรก็ตาม, อย่างไรก็ดี)

‘nonetheless, in spite of that, even at that’
ถึงยังไงก็ตาม ผมยังไม่ค่อยกล้าไปขอสู่

‘Even so, I’m still afraid to go ask her to marry me.’

Complementives that occur only in the compl-F position include: เอง ‘by him/her/itself, by themselves (without assistance or 16outside influence)’
แมวมันมาซะเอง  ➔  [แมว] [มัน] มาซะ [เอง]  ➔  [topic: แมว] [subject: มัน] [main verb: มา] [trailing auxiliary verb:ซะ (derivative of เสีย)] [compl-F: เอง]

‘The cat came all by itself.’

(Significance of ซะ: Action of มา seen as something that was simply done as a completed fact.)


‘It’s only normal.’ (It’s the usual situation apart from any interference.)

(Trailing auxiliaries ซะ and อยู่ are explained further below.)
ด้วยกัน ‘along with or together with others, in company’
ผมขอเดินไปด้วยกันได้ไหม  ➔  [ผม] ขอเดินไป [ด้วยกัน] [ได้] [ไหม]

 ➔  [subject] verb phrase [compl-F] [completive verb] [subjective question particle]

‘May I walk along [with you]?’

เขาสมัครจะเล่นกับพวกเด็ก ๆ ด้วยกัน

‘He offered to play along with the kids.’
อีก ‘in addition, further, still’

‘And he didn’t come *this* time, either.’


 ➔  [ครู] [ตอนนั้น] [ ] ยังเป็นนักเรียน [อีก]  ➔  [topic] [compl-L] [null subject] verb phrase [compl-F] ‘The teacher at that time was still a student.’

ตอนนั้น can occur as a complementive in either the compl-L or the compl-F position. ยัง ‘still [does]’ and อีก (as a complementive) often occur together in the same sentence clause.
The subject slot is empty, as it often is in Thai, when the subject can be identified in context. (The “null subject” is not unique to Thai, but is found in other, mutually unrelated languages, as well – as in Italian and Japanese, for example.)

เท่านั้น ‘only, no more than that’

‘We just ought to get it finished, that’s all.’


‘The only thing that dog wants to do is to eat.’
Preposition แต่ ‘only/just [that thing]’ and เท่านั้น often occur in the same sentence clause.

ด้วย ‘also, in addition to doing some other thing (as another action performed by the same subject)’
ครูเป็นนักร้องเพลงอยู่ด้วย  ➔  [ครู] [ ] เป็นนักร้องเพลงอยู่ [ด้วย]  ➔  [topic] [null subject] predicate [compl-F]

‘The teacher is also a singer (in addition to being an instructor).’
ครู, the topic, here is “set off’ by a rhythmic pause and what is called “normal sustained stress.” (See the paper on the prosodic features of Thai.)
ตอนนั้นผมทำงานไปด้วย เรียนไปด้วย

‘At that time, I was working and studying, both.’


‘And he *didn’t come*, either.’ (Neither did he come, as well as not doing some other thing.)
เหมือนกัน ‘too, as did (or as does) someone else, likewise (in comparison with someone else doing more or less the same thing); anyway, even at that’

‘The teacher is a student, too (like the rest of us).’


‘I don’t know, either (don’t know, myself).’

เขาก็ตั้งใจว่า จะมาเหมือนกัน

‘He decided he would come, anyway.’
ต่างหาก ‘on the contrary, instead’
ผมไม่ได้ไปกรุงเทพฯ ไปปทุมธานีต่างหาก

‘I didn’t go to Bangkok. Went to *Pathumthani* (instead).’

It is often superfluous to translate the ต่างหาก explicitly in English.


‘He shut the door (instead of doing something else, like coming out of the room).’

ผมไม่ใช่ชื่อแดน ชื่อดอนต่างหาก

‘My name isn’t Dan. It’s Don.’
อยู่ดี ‘in spite of everything, contrary to expectations, paradoxically’
ทันที ‘immediately, right away’

‘Call him right away.’

(ซิ is a sentence particle that occurs in the second relative position of a sentence-final “codaphrase”, and adds the meaning ‘This is the way it is or must be.’)
เลย, affirmative sentence: ‘directly (without stopping on the way), absolutely, simply *that* just stated’; negative sentence: ‘at all, whatever’

‘The two of us went right to [or straight to] the hotel (without stopping on the way to do or to get anything).’

เมืองนี้ผมไม่รู้จักใครเลย ‘In this town, I don’t know anybody at all.’
ที, ทีนึง ‘this one time, for once (at least)’
ขอให้เขาดูที ‘Let him have a look at it (at least this once).’

‘I’d like to win the lottery this once! (Now is the time for me to do it, at long last.)’
ซะ is the same trailing auxiliary as under the example for เอง above, and described further below.

‘Why don’t you go?!’ (ซิ่ is a variant of the particle ซิ mentioned above under the example for ทันที.)

หน่อย ‘this little thing, no big deal here, for just a moment’
‘I’d like to try reading it (for just a bit; it’s the thing for me to do.)’

‘Stop off (along the way) and pay me a little visit, won’t you?

Notice that the use of the verb แวะ ‘to stop along the way (and possibly call on someone or get something at a store)’ is mutually exclusive with เลย in the compl-F position.

ก็แล้วกัน ‘so let’s just settle on that or leave it at that, and let’s just be done with it’
A special subset of complementives (“specific adverbs”) that occur only in the compl-F are these ten, headed by แล้ว:

แล้ว ‘already; (as of) now (from what has just happened)’
ผมกินแล้ว  ➔  [ผมกิน] แล้ว ‘I already ate.’

พ่อผมเป็นพลเรือนแล้ว  ➔  [พ่อผมเป็นพลเรือน] แล้ว ‘My father is a civilian now.’
Subject พ่อ is now (แล้ว) a civilian as a result of a recent development, possibly discharge from the military. (The concept of “now” here is not the “now” of ตอนนี้ or เดี๋ยวนี้.)

เขาทำงานซะแล้ว  ➔  [เขาทำงานซะ] แล้ว ‘He has done the work.’ (The action of ทำงาน is done already.)
ซะ is a trailing auxiliary, following the main verb ทำงาน. ซะ affects the aspect of the verb such that the action of “working” is treated or viewed as a unit, or as an action that is done as a simple fact, without belaboring the action of the main verb. ซะ is derived from เสีย and is often followed by แล้ว.

(One other main function of แล้ว  is its use as a member of a certain subclass of conjunctions. แล้ว, in that use, introduces an independent sentence clause without being part of the clause. See first example under อีก above.)

เรื่อย ‘continuously, continually’ เสมอ ‘always’ บ่อย ‘often’ แย่ ‘excruciatingly, with unbearable difficulty, having a hard time’ เพลิน ‘delightfully, with pleasurable absorption’ ยุ่ง ‘unpleasantly involved’ (as adjective, ‘in disorder; overly busy’) เบื่อ ‘boringly’ (as adjective, ‘bored’) จริง ‘really’ (as adjective, ‘true, real’) ก่อน : ‘previously, firstly, (now) before doing anything else’

Compare the two ideas of “now” under แล้ว above with a third notion of “now” expressed by ก่อน in:
ฉันไปทำงานก่อนนะคะ  ➔  [ฉันไปทำงาน] ก่อน | นะคะ ‘I’m going to work, now – OK?’

(What I’m going to do before (ก่อน) anything else now is to go to work.) “นะคะ” are two consecutive sentence particles. They are found in the second and third relative positions of a four-place “codaphrase” that occurs in sentence-final position. (See items 2C and 3A in the paper on the codaphrase.)
In a negative sentence, … ไม่ก่อน says that the subject is not going to do something just yet:
In general, แล้ว can be directly preceded by any of the nine listed beneath it just above to form a larger adverbial phrase:
เราติดธุระยุ่งแล้ว ➔  [พ่อติดธุระ] อยุ่ง | แล้ว
‘We’re already tied up in all kinds of business.’

มีคนนั่งอยู่ก่อนแล้ว  ➔  [มีคนนั่งอยู่] ก่อน | แล้ว
‘There had already been someone sitting there sometime earlier.’
อยู่ here is a trailing auxiliary following the main verb นั่ง. It indicates that the action of นั่ง was in effect for the time being only and was subject to change, with no necessary future relevance.
The set of specific adverbs above (the list of nine + แล้ว) is further identified by the ability of each member of the set to be immediately preceded by อยู่ (as in มีคนนั่งอยู่ก่อนแล้ว just above).

A number of reduplicated adjectives, nouns and verbs occur in the compl-F slot with adverbial force. Certain adjectives, when reduplicated, must be prefixed by อย่าง or แบบ in order to function as complementives. Some of the non-reduplicated complementives in the compl-F slot shown above area among those that can be reduplicated. Most such reduplications occur only in the compl-F:
จริงๆ ‘truly, really true, actually so’
ผมต้องฝืนกินยา ตราบใดหมอเห็นว่า จำเป็นจริง ๆ
‘I’ve got to take [this] medicine as long as the doctor thinks it’s really necessary.’

(ฝืน is a leading auxiliary indicating that the action of the main verb it precedes is distasteful to the subject of the sentence.)

(In the compl-L slot, จริงๆ occurs with the meaning ‘in fact, truth [of the matter] is … ‘. Followed by แล้ว, compl-L  ➔  จริงๆ แล้ว ‘as a matter of fact’
จริง ๆ แล้วหล่อนเรียนเลขดีกว่าคุณคงคิด
‘Truth is, she’s learning her arithmetic better than you may think.’
แบบจริงจัง, อย่างจริงจัง, เอาจริงเอาจัง ‘in earnest, seriously (without humor)’

(Adjective: จริงจัง, ‘earnest, earnest, serious (about it, not in jest)’; จริงจัง is a quasi-reduplication, in which จัง is an alliterative re-duplicator.)
‘When I was a kid, I never took my studies seriously.’
(อย่าง, แบบ + Adj  ➔  adverbial modifier in compl-F slot)
อย่างสนุกสนาน, สนุกสนาน ‘joyful, cheerful, enjoyable, delightful’ (as adjective, in which สนาน is an alliterative re-duplicator):
 ➔  [งานปาร์ตี้] [คราวนั้น] [ ] ดูช่างสนุกสนานกัน [จริงๆ]  ➔  [topic] [compl-L] [null subject] predicate [compl-F] ‘That time the party seemed to be quite enjoyable indeed.’
(ช่าง prefixed to adjectives: ‘quite, really so’)
 ➔  [พวกเขา] คุยกัน [อย่างสนุกสนาน]  ➔  [subject] predicate [compl-F] ‘They’re cheerfully chatting together.’
รอบๆ ‘(moving or positioned) around, all around, round and round ’ (as compl-F):
‘Passing lighted candles round and round’ (compl-F  ➔  รอบๆ). ‘all around (a thing)’ (as preposition):

. ‘Butterflies are circling around the flowers’, in which the prepositional phrase รอบ ดอกไม้ is in the compl-F slot.

(รอบ un-reduplicated is a noun ‘round, cycle, circuit’ and a classifier for rounds, cycles and circuits.)
อย่างเพลิดเพลิน ‘with pleasure, pleasurably, pleasingly’
เด็ก ๆ นั่ง ทานไอศกรีมกันอย่างเพลิดเพลิน
‘The kids are seated, pleasurably eating ice-cream’ (compl-F  ➔  อย่างเพลิดเพลิน).

เพลิดเพลิน ‘to enjoy’ (as verb, in which เพลิด is an alliterative re-duplicator of เพลิน; which may be either a verb ‘to enjoy’ or complementive [compl-F] ‘with pleasurable absorption’)
‘We enjoy our natural surroundings.’ (เพลิดเพลิน is the main verb here.)
เนิ่นๆ ‘very early; very soon; as early as possible’ แต่เนิ่นๆ ‘earlier (than initially planned)’ มาแต่เนิ่นๆ ‘to come earlier’; ตื่นแต่เนิ่นๆ ‘to rise/awaken earlier’ นานเนิ่นไกล ‘far into the future’ เนิ่นนาน ‘for a long time’ ช้าๆ ‘slowly, unhurriedly, leisurely’ เร็วๆ ‘quickly, (at a) fast (rate of movement)’
‘He reads fast!’
ชัดๆ ‘clearly’ เขียนชัดๆ ‘Write clearly!’

สม่ำเสมอ ‘normally, regularly, ordinarily, commonly; always; ceaselessly, over and over again’
‘You don’t have to love me very much, but I do ask that you love me always and forever.”
ถี่ๆ ‘at close intervals, repeatedly, frequently’ ซ่ะงั้น ‘unexpectedly, just like that’
 ➔  [ช่วงไหน] จะจีบก็มา [ถี่ๆ]; [อยู่ดีๆ] ก็หายไป [ซะงั้น]
 ➔  [compl-L] verb phrase + conjunction + main verb [compl-F]; [compl-L] conjunction + verb phrase [compl-F]
‘Whenever he was in a courtship relationship with me, he’d come [to see me] again and again. Then, suddenly, he’d disappear, just like that.’
(This last sentence replicates the second example under อยู่ดีๆ, which occurs in the compl-L slot.)
คาที่ ‘(right) on the spot’, คามือ ‘in the act, red-handed; in hand, ’, คาตา ‘with one’s own eyes’
‘The terrorist was shot dead on the spot.’
ตาย here is a completive (or resultative) verb that takes the entirety of ผุ้ก่อการร้ายถูกยิง as its subject.

‘He was so angry at the person facing him he felt like squishing him to death (crushing him) in his hand.’

‘The thief was caught red-handed with the stolen goods (with the goods in his hand).’

‘I saw him fly up into the air with my own eyes!’

There are a number of complementives that can occur in either the compl-L or compl-F slot.

Prepositional phrases that indicate location or time, like ในเมืองนี้ and ต่อจากนี้ไป can, in general, occur as either leading or following complementives. Occurrence as compl-L is incidental (ในเมืองนี้ or ต่อจากนี้ไป something happens/happened/will happen) and as compl-F is distinctive (with action happening specifically ในเมืองนี้ or ต่อจากนี้ไป).
Complementives that occur in either position include locational and time expressions (like ในเมืองนี้ and ต่อจากนี้ไป above), and various interrogatives or indefinites that resemble adjectives, pronouns and adverbs.

ทำไม ‘why, for what reason, how come, what for?’
‘How come you’re wearing a hat in this sweltering hot weather?’

ใส่หมวกในตอนที่อากาศร้อนอบอ้าวเช่นนี้ซะ ทำไม
‘What are you wearing a hat in this sweltering hot weather for?

Notice how the occurrence in either compl-L (incidental) or compl-F (distinctive) affects the emphasis the speaker places on the question.
อย่างนี้, ยังงี้; อย่างนั้น, ยังงั้น ‘(in) this way; (in) that way’
อย่างไร, ยังไง ‘How, in what way?’
ยังไง ถึงเขียนหนังสือยังงั้นล่ะ
‘How is it that you’re writing like that?’

Notice that ยังไง in this last example occurs in the compl-L slot and ยังงั้น in the compl-F slot.

‘How can you write like that?

The sentence particle ล่ะ here is interrogative and expresses an insistence on knowing an answer. See entry 2E in the paper on the codaphrase.
เมื่อไหร่, เมื่อไร, เมอะไร ‘When?’
เขาจะไปหาซื้อรถยนต์คันใหม่ เมื่อไหร่
‘When is he going to buy [that] new car?’

‘When would he [ever] buy a new car?’

‘When were you in the Service?’

(“The Service” implies the military in US English.’)
ที่ไหน ‘Where?’
‘Before going to bed, just where on earth did you leave your cell phone?!’

(กัน here is a postposition that follows an interrogative, expressing anticipation of an unreasonable or unlikely answer. Thus, อะไรกัน ‘what the #$&$# ?!’ and ทำไมกัน ‘why the #$&$# ?!’ as examples of อะไร+กัน and ทำไม+กัน.)
ก่อนจะเข้านอน ฉันอยากรู้ว่า ที่ไหนที่เธอวางมือถือตัวเองนะจ๊ะ
‘Before you go to bed, I want to know where *you left your cell phone*, ohh-kayy?.’
ที่นี้; ที่นั่น; ที่โน่น ‘here’; ‘there (nearby)’; ‘(over) there (afar off)’
‘There’s no work to do at all here (with emphasis on lack of work in this place).’

‘The most work there is to do is over there (over there is where the work is).’

‘They have a pool-shooting competition there *every month* (*that’s* one of the things they have there, and they have it every month).

Notice that the classifier phrase ทุกเดือน is in the compl-F slot; its antecedent is the verb phrase แข่งบิลเลียด.
พอดี ‘just then, at that very moment; just right’
เดี๋ยวนี้, ตอนนี้; ตอนนั้น ‘now; then, at that time’
‘Now, she’s *doing her homework*. (what she’s doing now).’
‘She’s doing her homework *now* (doing it now)’.

‘At that time he was still in school.’
ต่อไป (นี้), (ในเวลา) ต่อมา ‘from now on, from then on’
ต่อไปนี้ผมจะตั้งใจเรียนเพื่ออนาคตข้างหน้า ‘From now on, I'm going to make up my mind to study for the benefit of my future.’

หลังจากที่ได้ร่างรัฐธรรมนูญเสร็จเรียบร้อยแล้ว อเมริกาก็มีรัฐบาลที่มั่นคงในเวลาต่อมา
‘Once the drafting of the Constitution was complete and final, America *from that time on* had a stable government.’
A certain subset of Thai prepositions – ten in number – are frequently compounded (and prefixed) with the noun ข้าง ‘side’ to make nouns with meanings related to the prepositions prefixed by ข้าง. These nouns are also complementives that fill either the compl-L or compl-F slot in the Thai sentence.
ใน: ข้างในมีน้ำอยู่
‘There’s *water* inside.’

ใน: มีน้ำอยู่ข้างใน
‘There’s water *inside*.’
นอก มีน้ำอยู่ข้างนอก ‘…………… outside.’
บน ………ข้างบน ‘…………… up on top, upstairs.’
ล่าง ………ข้างล่าง ‘…………… down below/stairs.’
เหนือ ………ข้างเหนือ ‘…………… ([t]here) up above.’
ใต้ ………ข้างใต้ ‘…………… underneath.’
หน้า ………ข้างหน้า ‘……………… at/up front.’
หลัง ………ข้างหลัง ‘……………… in back.’
ข้าง ………ข้างๆ ‘……………… alongside.’
กลาง ………ข้างกลาง ‘……………… in the middle.’

The nouns เบื้อง ‘side’, ภาย ‘place, side, time, scope’ and ทาง ‘way, route’ combine with certain members of this subset of prepositions. The resulting derivatives are like those built upon ข้าง above. The prepositions that combine with each of these nouns differ, in general, according to the specific co-constituent noun.

เบื้องหลัง ‘in/to/at the rear; in the past’ เบื้องหน้า ‘in front; in the future’ เบื้องล่าง ‘down below, on the lower side’ เบื้องบน ‘up above, on the upper side’ ภายใน ‘(from) within’ ภายนอก ‘(from) without’ ภายหน้า ‘in the future’ ภายหลัง ‘afterwards’ ทางเหนือ ‘northward’ ทางใต้ ‘southward’

All of the compounds with the ten simple prepositions listed above are also prepositions themselves, as well as nouns and complementives.
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