Most of us know about the upcoming Mayweather and McGreggor match.

My friend asked me today

"Who do you want to win?"

That sounds so strange to me. I understand what he's saying but the English is just so strange sounding in that sentence.

Rather something like "Who do you want the winner to be? makes more sense, but the first sentence seems so odd to me. Is it properly formatted in English?

  • Yes, the sentence is correct and common usage. Your version is also correct but people would say it the other way because that's fewer words. What seems odd to you? – fixer1234 Jun 16 '17 at 1:49
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    Maybe it sounds wrong to you because it's slightly ambiguous. Who do you want to win? could have either the answer I want to win McGregor, or I want McGregor to win. (Context, of course, clearly favoring the second.) This ambiguity isn't in your revised version. – Peter Shor Jun 16 '17 at 2:49
  • It's grammatically correct. – Codeformer Jun 16 '17 at 3:19
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    The contraction options are different with those two meanings. George's sentences were (iirc) Teddy is the man I want to succeed, ambiguous in print between speaker wants to succeed Teddy and speaker wants Teddy to succeed; but Teddy is the man I wanna succeed is unambiguous that speaker wants to succeed Teddy. – John Lawler Jun 16 '17 at 3:49

Remember the sentence is a question. Essentially question of preferred "fighter" . A simple alternative might have been 'who is going to win ?'; however since the fight event has not occurred we don't know with certainty the answer. The use of want here seems informative here as it implies the listener to give or form an opinion as too the likely outcome.

  • (1) «Remember the sentence is a question.»  So what?  How does that relate to the rest of your so-called “answer”?  (2) «Essentially question of preferred "fighter" .»   It’s reassuring to see that you understand that the question is about preference, but this makes the rest of your “answer” all the more puzzling.  (3) «A simple alternative might have been 'who is going to win ?'…»  That’s a poor alternative, as it’s about prediction, when the original question is about preference.  A closer rephrasing would be “Whom to you prefer?”  … (Cont’d) – Scott Jun 17 '17 at 2:51
  • (Cont’d) …  (4) The question is not about likelihood; it’s about preference.  A person can expect one outcome and prefer another; people frequently root for the underdog.  (Consider also the case of a lottery.  Do you expect to win?  No. Is it likely that you will win?  No.  Do you want to win?  Yes!)  (5) The question asks, “Is this sentence proper English?”  Do you have an answer?  I don’t see it; please edit your post to make it clearer. – Scott Jun 17 '17 at 2:51

Neither your friend's question nor your version of it is correct; in both, the interrogatory pronoun should be the objective whom. Other than that, the two are both correct.

The construction in both sentences is an infinitive clause, consisting of a subject, an infinitive, and any modifiers. One possible source of confusion in both sentences is the fact that the infinitive clause is noncontiguous, with words not in the clause between parts of the clause.

In an infinitive clause, since there is no predicate (it is instead an infinitive), the subject takes case based on the clause's function in the sentence, not the subject's function in the clause. Because of this, the subjects of both infinitive clauses should be accusative, for both clauses are direct objects (You want whom to win).

Your revision made the infinitive that of a linking verb, which takes a predicate nominative (misleading name) of the same case as the subject. Because the subject (winner) is objective, the predicate nominative must be so as well; hence, whom.

With this replacement, both sentences would be correct, and they would have the same meaning.

  • I understand that whom is rarely used; however, it is correct, so I will continue using it as the rest of the English-speaking world moves on to emoji. – Khuldraeseth na'Barya Jun 16 '17 at 1:56
  • But even by the old rules, this is still wrong. Who is nominative here. it's who wins, not whom wins. It's who do you think you are? Not whom do you think you are? – Peter Shor Jun 16 '17 at 2:11
  • Like I said, the clause's subject's case is based on the clause's function, for it is not the subject of a predicate. – Khuldraeseth na'Barya Jun 16 '17 at 2:14
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    Is it "I want he to win"? – Khuldraeseth na'Barya Jun 16 '17 at 2:15
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    @PeterShor: The answer would be "I want him to win", but the case of "him" is the same either way, so Scrooble has correctly applied the prescriptive rule. – herisson Jun 16 '17 at 3:03

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