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In writing an email today I came up with the following sentence:

"We have had two other ladies express an interest in the room."

I'm a native English-English speaker and this felt fine to me. My partner (who is Spanish) felt that the bare-infinitive 'express' in conjunction with the 'have had' was wrong. She felt the closest acceptable option would be the gerund form ie:

"We have had two other ladies expressing an interest in the room."

To me that sounds less normal and a slightly different meaning.

It is something to do with the 'had' specifically, because she felt (as I do) that with a different verb it could be correct, eg:

"We have heard two other ladies express an interest in the room."

I searched online for grammar reference sites and the closest I could find to an example matching my construction was specific to having someone do something for you, for example:

"I have had my lawyer look into it"

(and it was noted that this was an American English construction)

But is this valid in my case?

I'd like someone to confirm or refute whether my original phrase is correct, preferably with an external reference :)

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3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

In the original sentence,

We have had two other ladies express an interest in the room.

the perfect construction, and the nature of the particular noun phrases and complement in the sentence are all irrelevant to the grammar. Let's start with a simple sentence without all the bells and whistles and see what's what.

There is an idiom with have plus either an infinitive complement or a gerund complement. It means to cause someone to do something, which is described in the complement.

  • They had us look for her earrings.
  • They had us looking for her earrings.

This is not, by the way, a "bare infinitive" (or gerund) -- it doesn't use to, true, but it has to have a subject (us in the examples above). Without a subject, neither is grammatical.

  • *They had look for her earrings.
  • *They had looking for her earrings.

Nonagentive sense verbs (see, hear, feel, smell, taste) also work like this have construction -- they can occur without a to complementizer for an infinitive, and they can also occur with a gerund, both of which need subjects (I saw him run/running past, I heard him practice/practicing the flute -- but you can't delete him).

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I really admire the clarity of this answer. It's good to strip away the confusing irrelevancies in a case like this. I'm having a bit of trouble seeing how to make taste do this little party trick, but no matter - surely someone will come up with an example. –  FumbleFingers Jan 4 '12 at 2:13
    
Smell and taste are the retarded senses, linguistically speaking. Most languages deal with these senses mostly as metaphors (try explaining how a mango tastes to someone who's never tasted one). But in the right context, you might taste the chef's using far too much cumin in the sauce, or smell the waiter caramelize the crème brûlée at the next table. –  John Lawler Jan 4 '12 at 2:54
    
The chef's using or use of doesn't seem quite the same parts of speech to me. But taste the caviar pop/popping? has just come to mind - a bit weird, but it'll do for me. –  FumbleFingers Jan 4 '12 at 3:07
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Since taste and smell don't normally form linguistic images except metaphorically, they don't need much in the way of complements to describe them the way see and hear do. You can smell the bacon frying, but you can't smell that it's sorry it turned left instead of right at the slaughterhouse. –  John Lawler Jan 4 '12 at 3:11
    
Where the postverbal Noun Phrase is headed by a pronoun, Bas Aarts analyzes such a construction as 'HAVE [clause NP bare infinitive]', explaining that ‘The clause is the Direct Object of the verb’. –  Barrie England Jan 4 '12 at 8:36

There's no problem with any of the sentences you propose. Actually, I find "We have had two other ladies expressing an interest in the room." to be less natural than your alternative. (I don't know how to look up any evidence though.)

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me neither, that's why I posted here. I failed to find any examples of exactly this form via Google, but I am lacking knowledge of proper grammar terminology which might help to search for it. –  Anentropic Jan 4 '12 at 19:24
    
I'm concurring with the other answers which say both are okay grammatically, but "expressing" generates the image the women standing there in a state of currently expressing interest to a certain degree. The obvious intent though sort of overrides this interpretation and makes this wording almost acceptable. It's a very fine nuance. –  ThePopMachine Jan 4 '12 at 20:42

"Have" is functioning as the present perfect here:

I have read the book.
He has gone on a trip.
We have heard something.

"Had", in this case, is the second verb in the construct, like "read", "gone", and "heard". There's nothing special about "had".

So the real question is whether, with any of these verbs, the verbal phrase that follows should be in the gerund (-ing) or infinitive forms. I don't have a source, but the infinitive forms seem correct and more common to me. The gerund form suggests ongoing action to me; "we have had two ladies expressing interest..." evokes an image of them standing there right now saying "we want it", while "we have had two ladies express interest..." pretty clearly means that this has happened. You and your friend agree that the infinitive would be appropriate if the verb were "heard" and not "had"; since the two cases are structurally the same, that supports the infinitive.

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This was my feeling too. I am a native English-English speaker, so I trust my feeling, but I lack formal knowledge of grammar rules and terminology. My partner is Spanish and strongly felt this phrase was wrong. So far I have been unable to justify it :) –  Anentropic Jan 4 '12 at 19:35
    
_ if the verb were "heard" and not "had"; since the two cases are structurally the same_ ...I worried that perhaps the problem was inappropriate use of the 'had' verb - is it really possible that we 'possessed' the action of the two ladies? –  Anentropic Jan 4 '12 at 20:31

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