I understand that a clause contains (in order) a subject, verb and object, like below:

He let his daughter.

"He" is the subject, "let" is the verb and "his daughter" is the object. But what about the sentence below? I need some help identifying the subjects and objects.

He let his daughter listen to the music.

Is this sentence two clauses? He let his daughter and his daughter listen to the music? I enquired about this and I was told that the second cannot be a clause because the verb is not finite. Is this true?

My stance at the moment is:

Part 1

  • Subject: He
  • Verb: let
  • Object: his daughter

Part 2

  • Subject: his daughter
  • Verb: listen
  • Object: the music

EDIT: I think I finally have a grasp of the concept after reading the fantastic answers to this question along with some more thinking:

He let his daughter [listen to the music].

In bold I have the subject, italics the verb, bold italics the object and in square brackets I have the phrase.

Could you please confirm if this, and my understanding, is correct?

  • That is a fine way to analyze it. However, a minimal clause in English is not always S-V-O. It depends on the verb. There may or may not be an object and there may be arguments other than the object. Also the constituent order may vary for stylistic reasons or in special clause types (such as questions or relative clauses).
    – user31341
    Apr 17, 2015 at 4:23
  • *He let his daughter is ungrammatical English. In the sentence you present He let his daughter listen to the music, there are two clauses. One clause has let as the main verb, and the other clause has listen as the main verb. The second clause is the object of let. The problem is that his daughter is in just the right place to be the subject of listen and als the indirect object of let. So it could be either Equi or Raising. But Let there be dancing in the streets suggests that it's B-Raising instead of B-Equi. Apr 17, 2015 at 4:35
  • The reason it's incorrect grammar is that the object of let is not my daughter, but (for) my daughter (to) listen to the music, an infinitive clause (with the for..to deleted, a special feature of let). What you call the "object" is just the subject of what you call "the phrase", which is an infinitive verb phrase, and the whole clause, subject and infinitive verb phrase, is the direct object of let. It just looks like his daughter is also the object of let, but it isn't -- it's just in the same place an object would be. Apr 17, 2015 at 13:37

3 Answers 3


Traditionally, a clause is indeed a finite verb and all its dependencies. The subject of the sentence is he, the (direct) object his daughter. The verb let is special in that it often has an object and an infinitive as a tertiary complement (third thingy that strongly depends on it, besides subject and object). You could analyse the infinitive after let as an object complement, because it is very much related to the object, his daughter.

An infinitive is externally much like a noun (it can be governed by a verb); internally it is a verb (it can have arguments that verbs can normally have). It has an argument that depends on it: to the music. One might call the latter an adverbial constituent.

Other linguists use a different definition of clause: they define it as any verb and its dependencies. In that case, the infinitive listen and its argument to the music form a subordinate clause together. It doesn't matter which definition you choose, as long as you are consistent.

But, even according to that definition, I wouldn't call his daughter a subject, because subjects are normally marked as such:

She listened to the music. (she = the subject form of the pronoun)

He let her listen to the music. (her = the non-subject form of the pronoun)

It does fulfil the semantic role that the subject normally has with the verb listen ("experiencer"), whenever there is such a subject; but subject is a syntactic category, not a semantic role, so that is irrelevant. If we called her the subject of listen, then we would have to do the same in this sentence:

She stalked me. (she = subject)

I was stalked by her.

Her expresses the same semantic role as she ("agent"), as is normal in passive sentences with by; but we never call her the subject of the verb in such cases, because semantic role is not what the term subject is all about.


You're just asking about terminology, right? Can one call a phrase with a subject and a non-finite verb a "clause"? The answer is yes, that is an ordinary use of the term "clause". There are both finite clauses (i.e., tensed clauses) and non-finite clauses. And, as you say, your example has two clauses: a main finite clause whose verb is "let" and an embedded non-finite clause whose verb is "listen".

  • In other words does that mean that my identifications are correct? Namely, his daughter is both a subject and an object?
    – Dog Lover
    Apr 17, 2015 at 3:52
  • 2
    No, it doesn't mean that. Maybe your identifications are correct, but there is a complicating issue. Often syntactic theories require phrase structures to be strictly hierarchical and tree-like, so that his daughter can not be simultaneously subject of the lower clause and object in the higher clause. Transformational Grammar would not allow this, but Relational Grammar would allow a single phrase to simultaneously fulfill two grammatical functions.
    – Greg Lee
    Apr 17, 2015 at 4:05
  • You get that simultaneous reading with transfer verbs, like She told me to empty the garbage, where me is simultaneously the indirect object of tell (in one event, in one clause) and the subject of the infinitive clause (for) me to take out the garbage, in another event, in another clause. But tell governs B-Equi; let governs B-Raising. Apr 17, 2015 at 13:43

Rephrased as "He allowed his daughter to listen to the music." it might be taken as an implied infinitive phrase.

  • In this case "daughter" is the indirect object, while the phrase "[to] listen to the music." is the direct object.
    – Neverclear
    Apr 17, 2015 at 4:10

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