I came across this sentence:

He also believed that virtually all good popular music had its roots in black culture, and thought it an outrage that, as jazz became popular across America, its origins were being obscured from view.

Shouldn't it be "thought it WAS an outrage" instead of "thought it an outrage"? What makes the above sentence correct, if it is?

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    I think it a perfectly acceptable sentence. – StoneyB on hiatus Jul 9 '15 at 3:25
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    Similar to this question? – Alex W Jul 9 '15 at 3:51
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    Idiomatically think is a very flexible verb, much as consider can be. Its flexibility enables it to work in sentences of the syntactical form "He thought/considered it a shame that X happened" and in sentences of the syntactical form "He thought/considered that it was a shame that X happened." – Sven Yargs Jul 9 '15 at 3:55

We're used to having "think" take a preposition -- "think of," "think about" -- or having the object of thought be a clause with "think that ....," but the verb may have a transitive sense of forming a mental picture, and in that case, it can take a simple direct object.

The OED gives a nice example from William James:

We think the ocean as a whole by multiplying mentally the impression we get at any moment when at sea.

That is, we understand the immenseness of the ocean by gathering all the glimpses we get of the seascape when we're on an ocean voyage.

Your quote is from a piece about John Hammond, a music producer responsible for promoting the careers of many black musical artists from Billie Holiday to Aretha Franklin. Hammond is described as forming a mental image of the American musical scene and considering it an "outrage" that black musicians were denied the credit they were due.

thought (verb)    it (direct object)    an outrage (objective complement)


I'm not sure if this falls under strict English or de facto English usage, but in some cases like "I find this to be acceptable" people will drop the being verb and just say "I find this acceptable." It's the same case here. You could even get away with this construction in an academic setting, I believe.

  • I don't think you could get away with this in formal writing, but I agree with the former statement. – Alex W Jul 9 '15 at 3:53
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    @AlexW: It is perfectly good English; if anything, it is more formal than informal, I should say. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jul 9 '15 at 3:56

Transformations of verb constructions

The verb construction verb + object + to-infinitive is a very frequent verb pattern as in:

  • I want you to come and help me.

If the to-infinitive is "to be" it is almost generally omitted. "to be" does not achieve much as it is self-evident.

  • I think him a great writer - from: I think him to be a great writer.

  • I think it necessary - from: I think it to be necessary.

Such shortenings have nothing to do with formal or informal style. The shortened forms are the normal ones and you find them in any style.