I saw the following on the Facebook page of Time. Is "has scientists excited" or the perfect version "has excited scientists" correct?

What's the difference if both are correct?

The recent discovery of a subterranean sea, deep inside earth, has scientists excited.

  • 3
    They are both correct, with the Time rendering striking a less formal register. – anongoodnurse Jun 15 '14 at 8:05

This is an interesting question, because although it looks as if the two alternative sentences are very similar, they are, in actual fact, completely different constructions. First let's consider:

The discovery has excited scientists.

This has the clause structure:

  • Subject, Predicator, Object (where predicator is the function carried out by the verb)

The subject is the discovery, the predicator is has excited, and the object is scientists. The verb form has excited is the present perfect form of EXCITE. Has is the perfect auxiliary and excited is the past participle. Excited is definitely a verb in this sentence.

The verb form in this sentence is present perfect, so we do not know when the act of exciting the scientists took place: it might have been yesterday, last week, or over the last century (of course, given that the example is from Time we might guess that it was probably recently - but this isn't encoded in the sentence meaning).

It is worth taking a second to consider the function of scientists here. We have said that is the direct object of the verb. Direct object has a very particular meaning. We use it to mean that the word is a complement of the verb. However, direct object means, more specifically, that the word indicates the patient, or recipient of the action described. So in the sentence:

  • The elephant ate the donut.

... the donut indicates the recipient of the eating action. Compare this with:

  • Our guide seems a nice guy.

Here a nice guy is the complement of the verb seems, but it is not a direct object. There is no nice guy who is being 'seemed' by the guide. Rather, a nice guy is indicating a perceived quality of the guide. We call this type of complement a predicative complement because it 'predicates' (describes) something about one of the entities in the sentence, in this case the subject. Predicative complements can be adjectives as well as nouns:

  • The cat was ecstatic.

Here the adjective ecstatic is denoting a quality of the cat.

Now let us consider the second sentence:

The discovery has scientists excited.

Although it looks similar to the first sentence, it is not. In this sentence, the subject is still the discovery, but the predicator is has - not has excited. In this sentence scientists and excited are both complements of the verb.

Scientists is a direct object of the verb and excited is the predicative complement of the verb. However, this time it is describing the object of the sentence, the scientists, not the subject. It is the scientists who are excited.

The parts of speech in the sentence are: The dicovery, a noun phrase; has, present simple of the lexical verb HAVE; the scientists, a noun phrase; and lastly excited, which is an adjective, not a verb.

The meaning of the sentence is that the discovery is causing the scientists to be in a current state of excitedness. This use of the verb HAVE is often called 'causative have', because it shows that the subject caused the object to be in a particular state. The structure of the sentence is the same as we often see with the verb MAKE:

The flowers made her happy.

Here again we see the form:

  • Subject (the flowers), predicator (made), object (her), predicative complement (happy)

The answer to the question, then, is that both sentences are correct, although they have very different structures. Importantly, excited is a verb in the first sentence, and an adjective in the second.

Hope this is helpful!

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  • Thank you for your answer. If the 'has' in the original Time sentence is a lexical, causative verb, why isn't it in the perfective, i.e. "has had the scientists excited"? – Apollyon Jun 15 '14 at 11:07
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    @Apollyon Just because it implies the excitedness is a present state, and the discovery is causing it. The present perfect usage implies that the action caused has been completed. So I have had my hair cut, implies that the cutting already took place. We can see that has is not the auxiliary but lexical HAVE, because if we make it negative, the sentence requires do as an auxiliary: the discovery doesn't have the scientists excited. In reality 'causative have' covers a range of meanings and slightly different constructions (also depends on who's using The term). – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jun 15 '14 at 11:20
  • @Apollyon ...actually, you could well say has had the scientists excited. This would show that you're thinking about this as a situation that started in the past and is continuing now. It's just a small difference in the way you're thinking about it. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jun 15 '14 at 11:24
  • @Apollyon Btw, you can have causative have in any tense: It had had them in a frenzy; it had them in a frenzy; it has had them in a frenzy; it has them in a frenzy; it's going to have them in a frenzy; it will have them in a frenzy; it will have had them in a frenzy etc – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jun 15 '14 at 11:40
  • Can you say "he has the report ready now" in the present simple tense, just like you can say "the discovery has the scientists excited"? – Apollyon Jun 15 '14 at 11:58

Based on my own feeling:

"has scientists excited" sounds more like they have been and still are excited


"has excited scientists" sounds like they were excited and might not be anymore.

Neither are incorrect though.

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  • 13
    When you excite a scientist, the scientist eventually falls back to its ground state. – 200_success Jun 15 '14 at 18:23
  • 3
    Neither is incorrect. – 200_success Jun 15 '14 at 18:23
  • @200_success Neither is you. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Aug 21 '14 at 16:32

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