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In a sentence like the following:

What a wonderful thing to have happen on your birthday!

what is the grammatical form of to have happen? I know the sentence is grammatical, but I can't identify how. It isn't a perfect infinitive, as in the following:

What a wonderful place to have visited on your birthday!

because to have happened would be incorrect in the original sentence. I thought it might just be the infinitive of a phrasal verb have happen, as one can in fact say something like:

I have happened to visit her in Atlanta quite recently.

But on reflection, the latter construction just appears to be the present perfect of happen. So I discarded that idea.

I searched online, but 'have happen' grammar and 'have happen' definition didn't yield anything useful.

  • I'd say it was the bare infinitive. Analyze it as "to have [to] happen". – deadrat Feb 11 '17 at 2:49
  • @deadrat But one doesn't use the bare infinitive in such constructions, does one? What a terrible ordeal to have to undergo. I can't think of any analogous construction without the to here. – verbose Feb 11 '17 at 2:52
  • Sure, it happens with synonyms for happen (to have occur, to have befall) and with synonyms for have -- I ought not deceive you. Happen is the plain form of the verb and it functions as an object in the sentence. What else can it be? – deadrat Feb 11 '17 at 3:18
  • The idiom is a Adj thing to have VP. The VP can be either an infinitive (happen), or a gerund (happening). – John Lawler Feb 11 '17 at 3:22
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    The causative catenation is well known: Select the first bullet point that you wish to have[/make/cause to] appear. / There's a repair to the car I must have/get done. But here, there is no cause attaching to 'have', but rather an experiencing. We don't want to have this happen while we are on the island. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 11 '17 at 10:34
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Start with "Something wonderful happened to me", copy "me/I" at the beginning as a new subject and insert "have" as the verb for that subject after the Aux complex. This gets you "I had something wonderful happen to me". Now optionally omit "to me", giving "I had something wonderful happen". Your example is an exclamation corresponding to this.

I don't know that this construction has a customary name, but it is quite common. I have seen it compared to the Japanese "adversative passive" construction. It topicalizes someone/something affected by an event or condition. In the case of the affected person or thing possessing something inalienably (like a body part), the possessor is ordinarily deleted from its original position:

A mole is on his nose. (= There is a mole on his nose.)  
He has a mole (*be) on his nose.  
He has a mole on the nose.  

Evidently an original verb "be" is lost.

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