To-Infinitive Phrase with an explicit subject?


Hey guys.

In these sentences:

I wanted her to do it;

I need you to do it;

How should the bolded parts be treated?

Either as:

a To-Infinitive Phrase (To do it) with an explicit subject (Her/You) acting as the direct object of the main verbs

or, simply as:

an objective pronoun acting as the direct object of the main verbs with a To-Infinitive Phrase as an adverbial complement?


Posted 2017-06-12T14:44:18.687

Reputation: 1 680



I wanted [[her] to do it].

I need [[you] to do it].

In both the cases it looks like the pronouns - her and you - are the explicit subject of to-infinitive clause in one reading (where to-infinitives doesn't expresses a purpose of the subject of the sentence)

Why am I saying that it's in this reading the explicit subject of the infinitive clause?

Hmmm, I can give you a reason. If you and her were complement of the preceding verb, we could turn them into a subject if we turned the sentences into passive.

She was wanted by me,

You are needed by me.

But in this particular reading this is not possible.

In another reading where to-infinitive clauses express a purpose of the subject of the sentence, we can think of both you and her as the complement of the verb need and want respectively.


Posted 2017-06-12T14:44:18.687

Reputation: 10 615

1I disagree. The fact that we can’t passivise is a lexical property of “want” and "need": there are a fair number of exceptions to passivisation (cf. “John would like them to help him”). "Her" and "you" are direct objects of "want" and "need" and the rest are catenative complements of those verbs. – BillJ – 2017-06-12T18:13:58.717


Neither of your formulations quite fits what appears to be the 'standard' analysis of this sort of construction.

These days the infinitival clauses, including their subjects, are usually characterized as non-finite complements of the main-clause verbs (not objects of the verbs, because that term is restricted to noun phrases, including pronouns, which are actually pro-NPs). Some grammarians maintain that such infinitival clauses are introduced by the complementizer/subordinator, for, which may be omitted in some contexts, just like the complementizer/subordinator that which introduces finite complement clauses ('content clauses').

Pronoun subjects of infinitival clauses are cast in object case, but they are not actual objects of the main-clause verb (or of for, if that is present): the subject I of the main clause doesn’t want or need ‘her’ herself or ‘you’ yourself, what I wants/needs is for the action to be performed by ‘her’ or ‘you’.

These pronouns are rather said to be “raised to object”; this is a metaphor drawn from the structure of syntax trees, where the subject ‘moves upward’ to the object slot of the main-clause verb. You might think of them as objects-by-position as opposed to objects-in-fact.

Man_from_India points out that these sentences, without the context of your question, are ambiguous. The subjects of the infinitivals may not be the pronouns her and you but the subjects I of the main clauses:

I wanted her in order that I might do it.
I need you in order that I may do it.

If this is the case then the pronouns are indeed objects of the main-clause verbs, and the inifinitivals are indeed "adverbial" adjuncts (not complements) modifying the main clauses—they can be moved to the front of their sentences without changing the meaning:

To do it I wanted her.
To do it I need you.

The ambiguity can only be resolved by the discourse context.

StoneyB on hiatus

Posted 2017-06-12T14:44:18.687

Reputation: 176 469

1@Man_From_India I have augmented my answer to include your very pertinent observation. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2017-06-12T16:12:15.440

1Thank Stoney. This looks a very neat complete answer, like all your other answers. +1 – Man_From_India – 2017-06-12T16:28:22.527

@StoneyB - Yes, your explanations are very nice; however, you claimed that this term "direct object" for to-infinitive phrases is invalid only because they are infinitive-phrases, ok, but, regardless of their term, in this sentence: I want him to do it, is "him" the explicit subject of the non-finite phrase? If not, what is it, then? – Davyd – 2017-06-18T19:28:45.600

@Prodigy please read the answer again. It answers your question. And it's not a phrase, Stoney did mention it as a "clause". – Man_From_India – 2017-06-19T13:56:09.150

2@Prodigy The 'default' interpretation of I want him to do it takes him to act as BOTH the subject of to do AND the syntactic "object-by-position" of want. But in some contexts--those addressed in the added passage--this implication is cancelled: him acts as "object-in-fact" of want and I is the implied subject of to do. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2017-06-19T14:22:41.650

@StoneyB - Thank you, I will be studying the raising for the next days in order to understand it better. – Davyd – 2017-06-21T13:04:34.860

@Man_From_India thank you for your explanation as well; by the way, non-finite phrases can be interpreted in many different ways; due to the "EPP" Extended Projection Principle (which requires that every clause have a pronoun), the "PRO" was created (Non-explicit subject), anyway, other sources also argue that in order to be a clause, there needs to be at least one verb showing tense or agreeing with number or person, so, don't get surprise if you witness something calling it a Phrase. – Davyd – 2017-06-21T13:04:55.267

@Prodigy The term 'clause' is used differently by different grammarians. Traditional grammar reserved the term for constituents which contained a verb and all its complements, including its subject; recent grammars include constituents which lack an explicit subject, and some even include 'small clauses' which lack an explicit verb. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2017-06-21T13:10:16.363

@StoneyB - Also "A group of words, consisting of a subject and a predicate including a finite verb, that does not necessarily constitute a sentence"

– Davyd – 2017-06-21T15:42:44.423


These are both complex catenative constructions, the kind with an intervening NP between the two catenative verbs.

I wanted her to do it.

"Want is a catenative verb. "Her" is the syntactic object of "want" and the understood (not syntactic) subject of "do". The infinitival clause to do it is catenative complement of "want".

I need you to do it.

"Need" is also a catenative verb. "You" is the syntactic object of "need" and the understood (not syntactic) subject of "do". The infinitival clause to do it is the catenative complement of "need".

The objects, "her" and "you", are said to be 'raised' objects since the verbs they relate to syntactically are higher in the constituent structure than the ones they relate to semantically.


Posted 2017-06-12T14:44:18.687

Reputation: 9 994