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I am testing whether "A wants B to guess..." can be followed by both declarative and interrogative clauses. I am not a native speaker but "A wants B to guess that.." does not sound acceptable to me.

Do you think they are natural sentences in English?

[1a] Mary wants Sue to guess who John talked to.

(This should be perfectly natural, right?)

[1b] Mary wants Sue to guess that John talked to Prof. Smith.

(If this sounds natural, how do you interpret this sentence?)

As a contrast, compared with 1b, what do you think about

[1c] Mary wants to guess that John talked to Prof. Smith.

(Is 1b better than 1c?)

Thank you!

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1a. Well, maybe not perfectly natural. You're probably better off with whom John talked to, especially in more formal writing.

1b vs 1c. In 1c, Mary desires something of herself; in 1b, Mary desires something of Sue.

1b & 1c. Both admit of two interpretations. I'll illustrate with 1b, but the same may be said of 1c:

[1ba] Mary wants Sue to guess that John talked to Prof. Smith, in preference to Sue knowing for sure that John talked to Prof. Smith.

[1bb] Mary wants Sue to guess that John talked to Prof. Smith, in preference to Sue guessing that someone else other than John talked to Prof. Smith.

  • Thank you! It kind of surprised that [b] and [c] were acceptable. Can I understand the two interpretations this way: in both [1ba] and [1bb], Mary assumes that Sue doesn't know the answer to the question "who did John talk to?", and wants Sue to guess the answer to this question. In [1b] Sue prefers Sue's answer to be Prof. Smith, and in [1c] someone other than Prof. Smith. – iyum Aug 27 '16 at 7:37
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    'Mary wants to guess that ...' doesn't make sense as a paraphrase of 'Mary wishes to guess that'. The only sensible reading is the colloquial sense of 'want' meaning a hedged 'need': 'Mary really needs to guess that ...'. And even this is not great. // And 'whom' here is worse than 'who' nowadays in all registers. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 27 '16 at 9:39
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    EA is right. ='who was he talking to, whom was he talking to' gave the following result Ngrams not found: 'whom was he talking to' (Ngram search is a resource for usage, phraseology.) – Hugh Aug 27 '16 at 12:22
  • Thank you @EdwinAshworth, that's exactly what I wanted to ask! What do you think of "Mary wants Sue to guess that..."? Is it better than "Mary wants to guess that..."? – iyum Aug 28 '16 at 4:07
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    The meaning hinges on what what Mary wants, i.e., what Mary would choose to happen. In [1ba] Mary would choose that Sue has to guess. The disfavored alternative is that Sue doesn't have to guess because she already knows for sure. Mary is unsure whether Sue knows the answer. In [1bb] Mary would choose for Sue to guess that John talked to Prof Smith. The disfavored alternative is that Sue guesses that someone else talked to Prof Smith. Mary is sure that Sue doesn't know the answer but that she has to guess. – deadrat Aug 28 '16 at 4:22

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