I roughly understand that certain sentences can be restructured like this:

I believed that he was insane. -> I believed him insane.

He thought that I was incapable of doing so. -> He thought me incapable of doing so.

I wished that they were dead. -> I wished them dead.

What is this pattern called, and how exactly does it work?

I don't mean the removal of 'that', but rather, removing the verb 'to be' and the "inner" subject (eg. 'they') into an object (eg. 'them').

  • Simple elision of to be in each case. The conversion of the form to use the dative case is a separate question. – Kris Apr 8 '15 at 11:52
  • My older question here seems alike: ell.stackexchange.com/q/49138/8712 – NNOX Apps Apr 10 '15 at 4:17
  1. I believed him insane.

  2. He thought me incapable of doing so.

  3. I wished them dead.

Many verbs take more than one complementation pattern. These verbs above are best thought of as verbs which can take different types of complements, because there are many verbs that take infinitival clauses as complements which cannot be "reduced" in this way. For example:

  • I know him to be an idiot.
  • *I know him an idiot. (ungrammatical)

In sentences (1-3) insane, incapable of doing so and dead are predicative complements. Predicative complements are complements of the verb that describe another argument of the verb, usually the subject or the object. In this case they are adjective phrases describing the objects him, me and them.

This means we can parse the sentences like this:

  • I believed [him] [insane].

  • He thought [me] [incapable of doing so].

  • I wished [them] [dead].

Huddleston & Pullum (2002) call clauses like this which have a verb which takes both a direct object and a predicative complement complex-transitive clauses. Other such examples are:

  • I found her quite friendly.
  • I consider the proposal preposterous.

Other examples which don't have parallel infinitive clause variants are:

  • We made them angry.
  • I painted it green.
| improve this answer | |
  • Thanks for the detailed answer! Many of your points are a bit too technical for me for now. My main take-away, if I'm understanding correctly, is that this is happens to be a quality of the verbs in question, rather than a general pattern which can be applied to all sentences of this grammatical structure. – lk- Apr 10 '15 at 7:10
  • @lk- Yes, that's pretty much it. :) – Araucaria - Not here any more. Apr 10 '15 at 18:46

The backwards construction is actually easier than you are suspecting. These are just examples of elliptical sentences: sentences which have had part removed as understood. In all of these, the ellipsis is "to be".

I believed him [to be] insane.
He thought me [to be] incapable of doing so.
I wished them [to be] dead.

Elliptical clauses are very common in English, particularly in speech. Perplexing, isn't it [perplexing]? The use of [elliptical clauses] is dependent on a great many factors, but is enabled by context. In the particular case of elliptical "to be", it is left as understood, historically probably because it is the most common of verbs. Now it is just convention.

| improve this answer | |
  • Thanks, this does help me better understand what's happening, but doesn't answer exactly what I was trying to ask. – lk- Apr 10 '15 at 7:15

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.