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I know we must use bare infinitives with these verbs in the Active.

e.g. I saw a lady cross the street.

There are other verbs with which we are supposed to use a bare infinitive in the Active.

e.g. I wanted him to leave. If we transform this sentence into the pseudo-cleft, we see for:

What I wanted was for him to leave.

My question is can we make pseudo-cleft sentences with the verbs of perception such as see or hear? Will these sentences contain the non-finite embedded clauses or will those be transformed into the finite ones? In the case they should remain non-finite, shall we use for or not?

What I saw was for a lady to cross the street. What I saw was a lady cross the street. What I saw was that a lady crossed the street.

May we use here a gerund? What I saw was a lady crossing the street.

  • If you search on Google for "what I saw was a man", the first page of results includes several instances of 'What I saw was a man' + [ing-form] [ ... ] (eg 'What I saw was a man ... standing by the door'), several other constructions, but no examples of ['What I saw was a man' + inf + noun group.] This accords with what I feel is acceptable. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 12 '17 at 21:13
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    "What I saw was a lady crossing the street" is definitely grammatical for me, but my first interpretation would be to take "crossing" as a participle: i.e. "What I saw was a lady who was crossing the street." I'm not sure if I would find the sentence grammatical if we stipulate that "crossing" must be interpreted as a gerund. – sumelic Aug 12 '17 at 22:36
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    A crucial difference between gerund-participial and to-infinitivals is that a non-genitive NP can function as subject of the former but not of the latter unless for is present. So "What I saw was a lady crossing the street" is fine but not *"What I saw was a lady cross the street". – BillJ Aug 13 '17 at 13:08
  • @sumelic What I saw was a zebra crossing. Now a deverbal noun, taking a plural form. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 13 '17 at 15:08
  • @BillJ I would regard "What I saw was a lady cross the street" as idiomatic, with a slightly different sense to "what I saw was a lady crossing the street". The latter does not indicate that I saw the whole action i.e. of her walking from one pavement to the other - whereas the former does confirm that I saw the whole process. – WS2 Aug 20 '17 at 7:58
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Both bare infinitive and -ing form (leaving aside for a moment the question of whether it is a participle or a gerund) are correct, with a slight difference of meaning/focus (i.e. did you see the whole action, or the activity in progress?)

So: I saw a lady cross the street (whole event, from kerb to kerb) and: I saw a lady crossing the street (perhaps just one instant of the activity in progress)

When it becomes a pseudo-cleft, only the -ing form is generally acceptable: What I saw was a lady crossing the street

  • I think the premise was that verbs of perception take bare (as opposed to marked) infinitives when they do take infinitives; i.e., “I want you to cross the street”, but “I saw you *to cross the street”. I don’t think it was a statement that participle-gerunds can’t be used. Also, the question was really about pseudo-cleft constructions, which you don’t mention at all in your answer. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 22 '17 at 1:00
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"What I saw was for a lady to cross the street." makes no sense unless you're trying to sound pseudo-Medieval. "What I saw was a lady cross the street." and "What I saw was that a lady crossed the street." are unnecessarily wordy. I would just write: "I saw a lady cross the street." It's the most natural way anyone would say it unless they get tongue-tied.

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