I want him to call me tomorrow.

In this sentence we see:

  • I, subject; want, verb; him, object.

What is the subject of to call? Him? But him is the object of the verb want. Is this a correct sentence? Or this better :

  • I want that he calls me tomorrow?"



4 Answers 4


The answer to your general question differs from theory to theory. In context free grammar, ordinary transformational grammar, and probably in traditional grammar, it's no. A single sentence structure may not have a nominal which is simultaneously subject and object. In Relational Grammar, however, this is possible, and it might also be possible in McCawley's version of transformational grammar.

In ordinary transformational grammar, a NP can be subject of an embedded clause at one stage of derivation, then be moved into the higher clause by the transformation Subject Raising to Object. For instance, the "him" in "We believe him to be present" is the object of "believe" and is not a subject, yet at an earlier stage of derivation, it was the subject of "be present" (and not the object of "believe"). In this way, one can describe a construction in which a nominal is a grammatical object, but at the same time a logical subject (i.e., subject in deep structure).

The particular example you give is not clear cut, since the "him" might not be the grammatical object of "want". The passive form ?"He is wanted to call me tomorrow" is not fully acceptable. (But for the example I consider above, the passive "He is believed to be present" is fully acceptable.)

  • Greg Lee. That's far too theoretical to be of much help to the OP. In general grammar, I can assure you that "him" is the grammatical object of "want".
    – BillJ
    Nov 22, 2015 at 19:33
  • 2
    @BillJ, Unless you have evidence to offer, I don't think your assurance is worth anything.
    – Greg Lee
    Nov 22, 2015 at 22:39
  • Greg Lee. Try the adjunct test. With “want”, the intervening NP “him” behaves like an object of the matrix clause in that it cannot be separated from the verb by an adjunct, such as “later”: *”I want later him to call me”. The inadmissibility is like that of *“I want later his call” (cf. “I arranged later for him to call me”, where this time “him” is the syntactic subject in the embedded clause).
    – BillJ
    Nov 23, 2015 at 10:38
  • I'm very pleased that you looked for evidence. In this instance, however, the alternative to a subject-raising analysis is an analysis as a for-to object complement with the "for" deleted. "I want [(for) him to call me]". Then, it is the entire complement "[him to call me]" that is the object, and any adverb that intervenes between the verb and putative object "him" will also intervene between the verb and the object "[him to call me]". So it is not possible to use this test to distinguish the two analyses.
    – Greg Lee
    Nov 23, 2015 at 17:10
  • I subscribe to the view taken by CGEL that in most cases where a non-finite clause is an internal complement of a verb, it is a catenative complement, not an object
    – BillJ
    Nov 23, 2015 at 22:27

First, is it a grammatically correct sentence?  Yes.  This type of sentence is very common. 

As Greg Lee mentions, there are several different theories of English grammar, and different theories may label the parts of this sentence in different ways. 

In the framework that I use, "to call" is an infinitive and infinitives do not take subjects*.  However, infinitives and their phrases act as general modifiers. 

I want him to call me tomorrow. 

In this sentence, we see one clause.  The clause has the subject "I", the verb "want", the direct object "him", and the object complement "to call me tomorrow". 

We can compare this to an example which uses an adjective for its complement: 

I want him happy. 

Under this framework, "to call me tomorrow" has no more need of a subject than "happy".  Both relate to the object "him" in the same way -- as modifiers governed by the verb "want". 

Second, is the proposed substitution better?  No.  Grammatically, it might be just as good.  Idiomatically, it is unnatural. 

By "unnatural" I simply mean that, in my dialect, the sentence sounds foreign and awkward.  Another dialect may find that construction to be perfectly natural and unsurprising. 

Given a different governing verb, a complete clause as the direct object can certainly sound natural:

✓ I want him to call me tomorrow. 
✓ I hope that he calls me tomorrow. 

Swapping the verbs leads to sentences that sound unnatural: 

✗ I hope him to call me tomorrow. 
✗ I want that he calls me tomorrow. 

* That isn't to say that "to call" does not have an agent.  Semantic roles like agent and theme are separate and distinct from grammatical roles like subject and object.  That "him" is the object of "want" prevents it, in my framework, from being the subject of "to call".  At the same time, "him" represents both the theme of "want" and the agent of "to call".

  • Gary Botnovcan. I wouldn't go along with that. I see two clauses in the OP's example: a matrix clause (the sentence as a whole) and an embedded subordinate clause "to call me tomorrow". The embedded clause is analysed as a catenative complement, not an object complement. Also, infinitival clauses can indeed take subjects. For example in "[For them to refuse you a visa] was outrageous", and "All I want is [for us to be reunited]", the subjects of the bracketed infinitival clauses are "them" and "us" respectively
    – BillJ
    Nov 23, 2015 at 9:14
  • Then you're using a framework that differs drastically from traditional English grammar. These instances of "him", "them" and "us" are all objective forms, following a verb or a preposition. When those words are regarded as the objects of the verb or preposition, the forms make sense -- no further explanation is warranted. A subject with an objective form at least requires much more explanation, if it doesn't outright leave the grammar broken. Nov 23, 2015 at 16:46
  • Also, note that you yourself recognize "to call me tomorrow" as the full extent of a coherent structure. That's the wording you quoted when you called it a clause. You did not reference "him to call me tomorrow". The reason you didn't is that this leaves you with something that's no longer a coherent structure. Your own intuition is telling you that it's not a clause. On its own, the "him" doesn't connect with the infinitive phrase. Shouldn't subjects naturally connect to their predicates? Nov 23, 2015 at 16:47
  • It’s a fact of English grammar that when a subject is overtly present in a non-finite clause, its form may differ from that of subjects in finite clauses. In the case of to-infinitival clauses, a personal pronoun with a subjective-objective contrast always takes objective form, as in the examples I cited
    – BillJ
    Nov 23, 2015 at 22:31
  • Though it would be unusual, I don't think there would be anything wrong with I want that he call me tomorrow (in the subjunctive); certainly it would be normal if the main verb were ask, suggest or something similar. Nov 24, 2015 at 12:18

I want him [to call me tomorrow].

Yes, him belongs syntactically in the matrix clause as object of want. But semantically, it belongs solely in the embedded clause as subject.

Him is not an argument of want. What I want is not him, but him to call me tomorrow. Syntactically, him is object of want, but semantically it relates only to the subordinate call clause (as understood subject), not to want. We thus say that him is a raised object because the verb it relates to is syntactically higher in the constituent structure than the one it relates to semantically.

There’s no need to recast your sentence; it’s fine both syntactically and semantically.

  • 1
    Nice answer. Could you explain what you mean by argument to make it clearer, please? Nov 22, 2015 at 21:38

I want him to call me tomorrow is a grammatically perfect sentence. The sentence pattern goes like this;

  1. Subject S ...... (I)
  2. Verb V ........ (want)
  3. Object O ......... (him)
  4. Complement C ....... (to call)
  5. Subject complement (optional) (me)
  6. Here "tomorrow" is a NOUN which functions as time. Hence, an adjunct. A

In the above sentence to him is a nominal phrase, and this nominal phrase refers to a person whose name is implied.

Critically examine the sentence below;

" I want him(Peter) to call me tomorrow"

Now let us analyze the above sentence.

The him is representation of a masculine person we do not know. It functions as the object to the verb want.

However, the "him" is an OBJECTIVE PRONOUN. And objective pronouns like me, him, us, them her ( objective pronoun not that which shows possession, like her book...... ) do not function as Subject

Now to call is a to-infinitive verb, that is a particle "to" and a verb "call" which functions as object complement. Therefore objective pronouns do not occupy the Subject slot.

For example; one can not say,

  • Me like studying literature books. instead
  • I like studying literature books.

Therefore, the objective pronoun him does not function as a Subject.

I want him to call me tomorrow

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