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In the sentences Jack wants food and Jack wants to eat, it seems like food and to eat both serve as direct objects of the verb wants. Can a verb in the infinitive serve as a direct object in a sentence like this, or does it play some other role?

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Firstly, infinitive is one kind of verbals that can function as a noun, an adjective, or an adverb. > http://grammar.about.com/od/il/g/infinterm.htm

One of the functions of nouns is it can be the direct object of a verb. >http://www.english-for-students.com/Noun-Functions.html

In the sentence Jack wants to eat, the infinitive to eat functions as a noun because it is the object of the finite verb wants. A direct object answers the questions what? or who?

Therefore, yes. I hope this explanation helps you.

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  • Thank you. I knew that verbs could function as nouns, but I thought that was only when they were in the "ing" form, as in Jack enjoys eating. Your explanation makes perfect sense. – Nicole Dec 15 '14 at 15:46
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    Though Jack wants food and Jack wants to eat have fairly similar-looking structures, and 'to eat' would be called a direct object in this construction by most people, there are very large differences below the surface. The noun-as-DO structure is simple; the verb + to-infinitive construction has many variants. Jack has food / Jack has to eat. *Jack seems food / Jack seems to eat. Jack wastes food / *Jack wastes to eat. I believe the 'to-infinitive as DO' analysis is far from satisfactory. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 15 '14 at 23:44

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