I'm confused because if I said "he cause you to go home", the "you" would be the direct object, correct? But if I said "cause you difficulty", I would think that the direct object would be 'difficulty".

He causes difficulty.

He causes difficulty for you.

He causes you difficultly.

So, 'difficulty' is the direct object, and 'you' is the indirect object, correct?

However, in the next sentences, you becomes the direct object. Am I correct in thinking this?

He causes you to go home.

He causes to go (incorrect)


If there is more than one clause in a sentence, you have to specify which one you're talking about.

In He causes you difficulty, the main clause has he as subject, causes as verb, and
a direct object composed of a infinitive clause something like (for) you (to have) difficulty.

This clause gets ground down by deleting to have (note that you can put it back again, so this is an optional transformation), and by undergoing Subject-Raising, which loses the for and promotes the downstairs subject you to become the upstairs direct object of cause; this can now be passivized and become an upstairs subject, for instance: You were caused considerable difficulty by him.

But you isn't really part of the main clause; it starts out only as the subject of the complement clause and just gets put upstairs by Raising. You can tell this by looking at idiom chunks that get displaced from their ordinary sites, like dummy there and the cat below:

  • They believe [there to be a party tonight]. ==> [There] is believed [to be a party tonight].
  • They consider [the cat to be out of the bag]. ==> [The cat] is considered [to be out of the bag].

Raising moves a noun phrase to object status, and it then behaves like an object (e.g, passive applies); but raised objects don't have any semantic object relation with their verb. If he causes you to have trouble, he doesn't cause you; the causation has to do with a clause, not a person. If they consider you a genius, they're not considering you; they're considering a proposition about you. And so on.

Most important, distinguish complex sentences from clauses. You can only talk about subjects and object of individual clauses.

  • +1, though I’m not so sure “He causes you difficulty” shows any actual evidence of containing a ground-down infinitival clause—unless you consider all ditransitive constructions to do so (“He gives me a book” => “He gives [me to have a book]”, etc.). This answer applies better to “He causes you to go home”, which is after all also the sentence the question revolves around. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 9 '15 at 18:08
  • The point is that this isn't ditransitive. You is not an indirect object. The interesting part is why the have is deleted. That happens also with want complements -- want a drink/baby/new car means want to have a drink/baby/new car -- but I hadn't encountered cause and I'm not sure have is the unmarked predicate with cause the way it is with have. – John Lawler Sep 9 '15 at 18:12
  • Now I think about it, though, He causes you trouble is a transform of He causes trouble for you, with a for Benefactive ending up Dative-moved, as if it were an indirect object. This is like Fix him his supper vs *Fix him his car; he gets the supper but he already has the car. – John Lawler Sep 9 '15 at 18:15
  • 1
    My point is that I can’t see any evidence that cause isn’t just ditransitive (or better, has a dative-moved for benefactor, true). It certainly is historically (back when the indirect object was still in the dative, rather than the accusative). What evidence is there that “He causes me pain” is not entirely comparable to “He gives me booze”? Both me and pain can be raised to subject in passive constructions (“Pain is caused me by him” and “I am caused pain by him”), which is not possible with an embedded infinitive (“He causes you to go home” => “*To go home is caused you by him”). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 9 '15 at 18:18

In "He causes you difficulty", 'difficulty' is the direct object and 'you' is the indirect object: 'He causes difficulty [to/for] you.' In "He causes you to go home", 'you' is the direct object and 'to go home' is an object complement: 'He causes you to [be] go[ing] home.'


I don't think you'll get a definitive answer to your question. After "cause" we get what looks something like an indirect object construction and something like a raising-to-object construction. And maybe indirect object constructions are really raising constructions: He gives it to her = He causes her to have it. It's all very confusing.

I decided to offer an answer in order to mention an interesting argument apparently favoring a raising analysis that starts from a sentential complement: He causes her difficulty < he causes [S she have difficulty ]. The argument is that the embedded sentence in this analysis can be modified by a "for" duration adverb:

This caused her some difficulty for hours.

could perhaps mean that the causation persisted for hours, but more likely would mean that she had the difficulty for hours. If you don't have a sentence complement to "cause", then how can "for hours" modify it?


I can think of two clause structures (also called sentence patterns) in which the verb takes two arguments.  One is subject / verb / indirect object / direct object.  The other is subject / verb / direct object / object complement.


He causes you difficulty. 

This sentence has the S/V/IO/DO structure.  The direct object "difficulty" represents the semantic patient or theme.  It receives the action of its verb.  The indirect object "you" represents the semantic recipient or beneficiary.  You receive the difficulty, or at least the difficulty's effects. 

He causes you to go home. 

This sentence does not have the S/V/IO/DO structure.  There is no indirect object.  The "you" does not represent a recipient or beneficiary.  It represents the patient.  It's a direct object. 

Since "you" is not an indirect object, "to go home" is not a direct object.  That argument slot is already filled.  The infinitive phrase "to go home" can serve as a modifier, and the argument slot for an object complement will accept a modifier.  The structure of "He causes you to go home" is not significantly different than the structure of "He makes you happy."

This sentence does make sense when viewed as a S/V/DO/OC structure.  Your thinking was correct.  The only thing you seemed to lack was the label "object complement".

  • It is significantly different from “He makes you happy”. The whole point of an object complement is that describes a relationship of equality or identification between the object and its complement; i.e., just like the subject complement in “John is ill” describes John = ill, the object complement in “He makes you happy” describes you = happy. It does not make sense to say you = to go home. A complement requires some kind of predicative linking, and there is none in “He causes you to go home”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 9 '15 at 22:39
  • I don't see how "you = to go home" fails if "you = happy" works. Let's ignore undefined symbols and use plain English. "John is ill" can be restated as "John is an ill person." "He makes you happy" implies "you are a happy person". "He causes you to go home" implies in the same fashion that "you are the person to go home." We have three identical grammatical relationships. That must mean either three predicative links or no predicative links, given the same interpretation of "predicative" in each case. – Gary Botnovcan Sep 9 '15 at 23:37

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