You need to practise your proofreading.

In this sentence, "you" is the subject and "need" is the verb. But is there an object? At the moment I am guessing that there isn't and that to practise your proofreading is just a phrase.

I asked someone else and they too did not think there was an object.

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    There's a verbal phrase "need to practice". "proofreading" is the object of the sentence. Think of "I practice proofreading." The word "need" is just indicating the modality of necessity. – A.Ellett May 20 '15 at 22:13
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    This is a complex sentence, with two clauses (and therefore two verbs). Both are transitive; the object of the verb need in the main clause is (for you) to practice your penmanship, which is an infinitive complement clause. The object of the verb practice in the complement clause is your penmanship. So, yes, there is an object in this sentence; but that's not the way I'd put it. – John Lawler May 20 '15 at 23:05
  • @JohnLawler, I just want to congratulate you on 999 answers. – Dog Lover May 21 '15 at 1:01
  • @JohnLawler, your comment was really helpful. Could you please add it as an answer? – Dog Lover May 21 '15 at 1:04
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    If you go over 1000 answers, you get leprosy. – John Lawler May 21 '15 at 1:29
  1. You need [to practise your proofreading].

One test to see if a phrase is an Object in a clause is to see if the phrase concerned can become the Subject of a passivised version of that clause. If it can, even if the result is awkward, then it is definitely an Object. If it can't then it is much less likely to be an Object -- but it still might be.

The noun phrase your proofreading will indeed become the Subject of a passivised version of the clause that it occurs in:

    1. You need [your proofreading to be practised]. -- (passivised)

This shows that, in version #1, your proofreading is an object of the clause headed by practised (which appears in brackets). Of course this means that your proofreading (in version #1) has the syntactic function of Object in relation to this clause. It is not however the direct object of the sentence (version #1) as a whole.

In the original example,

  1. You need [to practise your proofreading].

the sentence has a Subject, You. The predicate consists of the Predicator (read that as meaning "verb"), need, and the complement of that verb, which appears in brackets and is: to practise your proofreading. This complement is an infinitival clause. Whether you regard this infinitival clause as the object of the verb need depends on which grammar you subscribe to. Notice, however, that if we try to passivise the sentence by making this complement the subject, the result is not good. Indeed we may well regard it as ungrammatical:

    1. *[To practise your proofreading] is needed.

For this reason, as well as many others, many grammarians (such as Postal or Huddleston & Pullum) reject the idea that such infinitival clauses are the direct objects of the verbs in such constructions. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language describe the syntactic function of such clauses as catenative complements ruling out their status as direct objects. However, this debate is an ongoing one.

The Original Poster's question

The main clause headed by the verb need here may or may not have a direct object, depending on which grammar framework you use. However, if it is a direct object, it is an atypical one. The clause embedded in this sentence, headed by the verb practise does indeed have a direct object, the noun phrase your proofreading.

  • er, hmm, er, okay, +1. Though, the framework I'm currently using (H&P CGEL), passivization is not either a sufficient or necessary condition for object-hood. :) . . . There's recently been a crop of interesting questions! – F.E. May 21 '15 at 1:14
  • @F.E. I was aware of the not "necessary" (as indicated, I hope in my answer) but not the not "sufficient". Could you expand? – Araucaria - Not here any more. May 21 '15 at 1:17
  • "Also, I might have been too general in my previous comment about passivization being a sufficient test for object-hood, for it seems that sufficiency applies only if it is a core-complement NP of an active clause." <== Just copied that a recent comment of mine. -- If the complement is a clause, I think that things are rather unclear, or could be, or something like that. -- You're still up? wow! – F.E. May 21 '15 at 1:21

What a lot of wrong answers! (Except for John's, of course.) In "You need to practise your proofreading.", the subject of "need" is (as you say) "you", and the object of "need" is "to practice your proofreading". A test for objects is whether they can be passivized, and here we have "To practice your proofreading is needed". A test for noun phrases is whether they can be pronominalized, and here, we have "(...Practice your proofreading ...) You need it."

"To practice your proofreading" is a nominalization of the sentence "you practice your proofreading", which means the sentence has been converted into a noun phrase, where it can stand where noun phrases generally stand, for instance as direct object. That is what is going on in this example, where you practicing your proofreading is said to be what you need.

  • The OP asked "is there an object" in this sentence. If you accept a grammar where "to practise your proofreading" is an object, then there's two objects in this sentence - unless you'd like to argue that "your proofreading" isn't an object of the verb practise? – Araucaria - Not here any more. May 20 '15 at 23:39
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    Well, @Araucaria, there are two sentences involved in the construction, but it seems clear that in the question, "this sentence" refers to the sentence whose subject is "you" and whose verb is "need". – Greg Lee May 20 '15 at 23:43
  • In any case, as you'd appreciate, not every grammar's going to accept "to practise your proofreading" as an object - and no native speaker's going to accept "To practise your proofreading is needed" as a felicitous or grammatical sentence!!! – Araucaria - Not here any more. May 20 '15 at 23:43
  • No, there's one sentence and two clauses - it seems to me. In addition, if the infinitival clause "To practise your proofreading" was the bona fide grammatical subject of a sentence, the subject of the clause would not be "you" any more than the subject of "To err is human" is "you". Sorry if I seem a little pugnacious, but so's your opening sentence. – Araucaria - Not here any more. May 20 '15 at 23:51
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    "To practice your proofreading is needed" <== That sounds a bit off to my ear, imo. Maybe I'll need a specific context, er, . . . okay, I'll butt out now. :) – F.E. May 21 '15 at 1:27

Proofreading is the object. The possessive pronoun "your" may be the reason why you think there is no object. Assuming the sentence is made without "your"-You need to practise proofreading. It becomes more obvious that proofreading is the object.




You need


To pratise

Object of the infinitive:

Your proofreading

Your proofreading is the object of the infinitive phrase to practise. However, the entire phrase to practise your proofreading is the object of the verb need.

Quick answer:

There are two objects. One is the object of the infinitive. One is a phrase, which is the object of the verb.

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