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In "We watched Obama speak," what is the technical reason for it not being "We watched Obama spoke"?

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If you want "spoke" you can say We watched as Obama spoke. – GEdgar May 21 '13 at 18:10

The second verb here is the bare infinitive.

Edit: a participle could also be used, i.e we watched Obama speaking. The difference in meaning would be aspectual. The first implies that his speaking was a single event (which was watched in full) The second implies that it was a process (which may or may not have been watched in full).

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The technical reason is that the object complement clause of We watched, viz.

(for) Obama (to) speak

is an Infinitive object complement and, since infinitives are tenseless, it can't take a past tense form like spoke. Sense verbs like see, watch, listen, etc. often use infinitive complements without the infinitive complementizer to.

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