So, I've got a fairly straightforward sentence:

Poe did not think himself a writer of inferior material.

It is my understanding that "a writer of inferior material" is the object of the understood infinitive "to be," and that the sentence is saying that, in simpler terms, "Poe did not think that he (Poe) was a writer of inferior material."

But how does one break this sentence down into parts of sentence?

What I've got so far: Poe is the subject; did think is the simple predicate. My teacher said that "himself" was a reflexive pronoun serving as the direct object, or in other words that...erm..."Poe thought himself." This doesn't make much sense to me, since it seems like Poe is serving as more of an "indirect-object-esque-but-not-really" thing. Could someone please explain (and tie that infinitive in there too ;) )? Thanks!

  • No the noun phrase a writer of inferior material is not the object of the understood infinitive to be. It's the predicate. The be form is simply the auxiliary verb required for predicate nouns and adjectives (he is a doctor, he is tired). Predicates aren't objects, intransitive verbs don't have objects, and be is certainly intransitive. You're right about most of it, though. Sep 16, 2013 at 21:23
  • @AtsutoNagatomo I'm asking what the different parts of sentence (e.g., subject, predicate, direct object, indirect object, etc.) are in this sentence.
    – tehsockz
    Sep 16, 2013 at 21:24
  • @JohnLawler Sorry, I think I've lost you. So Poe thinks...what? What does Poe think? (In relationship to parts of a sentence...he thinks "a writer of inferior material"? So how does "himself" come into play?) Thanks for bearing with me.
    – tehsockz
    Sep 16, 2013 at 21:27
  • [I think you lost me, that is]
    – tehsockz
    Sep 16, 2013 at 21:37
  • possible duplicate of I think him to be about 50 or I think he is about 50? Sep 16, 2013 at 23:18

2 Answers 2


There are three kinds of clauses with lexical verbs in them.

  1. Some clauses have a subject, a direct object, and an indirect object.
    Three different noun phrase arguments.

    • Mike told Billy the story.
      Mary sent the cake to Sylvia.

      These are called Bitransitive clauses.
      There are not very many verbs like tell and send,
      and most of them have to do with transfer.
  2. Some clauses have a subject and a direct object, but no indirect object.
    Two different noun phrase arguments.

    • Mike saw Billy.
      Mary hates Sylvia.

      These are called Transitive clauses.
      There are a lot of verbs that can occur in transitive clauses, of many different kinds.
  3. Some clauses only have a subject, but no object of any kind.
    Only one noun phrase argument.

    • Mike ran yesterday.
      Mary is sleeping now.

      These are called Intransitive clauses.
      There are a lot of verbs that can occur intransitively, too.
      Frequently one verb can swing both ways.

Now, think can be transitive or intransitive. It's an active verb semantically, and always requires an agent subject; if possible, a sapient subject. I.e, human. Intransitively, it can just mean to cerebrate or vacillate, mentally or emotionally. The focus of thought is often represented with about. That's the intransitive use of think; or at least one of them.

But the presenting sentence

  • Poe did not think himself a writer of inferior material.

is transitive. This use of think is equivalent to consider or believe, and means, roughly, 'to have an opinion on X as Y'. And you're correct that the predictable phrase to be has been deleted. All of these except the last one are examples of B-Raising.

  • Poe did not think himself to be a writer of inferior material. (B-Raising)
  • Poe did not consider himself to be a writer of inferior material. (B-Raising)
  • Poe did not believe himself to be a writer of inferior material. (B-Raising)
  • Poe did not have an opinion of himself as a writer of inferior material. (Not B-Raising)

Briefly, that means that the real object of think is the infinitive clause (for) Poe to be a writer...
and its Subject, Poe, gets "lifted up" and reinterpreted as the Object of think
(or believe, or consider, or any other B-Raising verb).
Since Poe is now the object of a transitive clause,
and Poe is also the (co-referential) subject of the same clause,
the rules require that the object Poe has to appear as a reflexive pronoun.

That's all. The reflexive is automatic, given that the subject and object are co-referential.


Subject: Poe. Verb: think. Object: Poe (again).

You could expand it to "Poe did not think of Poe a writer of inferior material." Adding the preposition clarifies the idea. "About" wold also work.

Another question to the Forum: is that "of" part of a prepositional phrase?

  • Yes, of is a preposition and always is a part of a prepositional phrase. Its object may be indefinite, or deleted, or moved, but there is always some object. Of doesn't mean anything more than the relationship between its object and the noun phrase it modifies. Sep 16, 2013 at 21:51
  • Okay, so what is a writer of inferior material?
    – tehsockz
    Sep 16, 2013 at 21:58
  • A writer of inferior material is a person who writes inferior material. Writer is a nominalization of the subject of write, but nouns can't have objects, so the object of write gets marked with of. Sep 16, 2013 at 22:29

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