I am not a native speaker, but just wondering if you can use a non-why question as the embedding clause of confess.

a. I confessed to my wife why I started smoking again.

(Pretty sure this one with why-question is grammatical, right?)

What about:

b. I confessed to my parents what I ate last night.

(Suppose that my parents do not let me eat junk food, but last night I ate potato chips secretly and felt guilty about it.)

c. I want to confess to my parents what I ate last night.

(Same context as (b))

Thank you!


Confess in the sense of admitting to a transgression licenses a prepositional phrase with to as a complement defining the transgression. The object of the preposition can be any noun phrase. Thus

[1a] He confessed to assault. (noun)
[1b] He confessed to cheating.(participle)
[1c] He confessed to whatever he remembered. (clause)

So there's no grammatical barrier to your examples a. and b. (In your example c., you've changed the wording so that confess is part of a non-finite clause -- in fact, an infinitive clause -- instead of being the verb of the independent clause. But that doesn't change the complementary to prepositional phrase.)

Semantically, however, you confess to a bad act, so it's a little strange to confess to the reason for a bad act. But consider the following scenario.

Last night when my wife confronted me with the pack of cigarets that I thought I'd hidden, I confessed to my her why I had started smoking again. "Honey," I said. "I'm sleeping with your sister, and she likes to smoke after sex. I didn't want her to feel uncomfortable smoking alone."

  • Very clear, thank you! Just one follow-up question: "confess" can be followed by declarative complements too, right? e.g. I confessed / want to confess that I've been sleeping with your sister. – iyum Aug 24 '16 at 6:51
  • And also noun phrases: He confessed his guilt or He confessed an abiding love for dahlias. Or is this merely an ellipsis of the "to" in the respective prepositional phrases? – Chappo Says SE Dudded Monica Aug 24 '16 at 7:09

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.