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I came across this sentence in an article today.

At the time, Younger, 23, believed herself to be eating the healthiest of all possible diets.

And it reads strange.

Is "believe oneself to do/be doing" commonly used or even grammatically correct?

"Someone is believed/said to do" is of course a very common expression, but that is different, right?

Definitions (as a transitive verb):

Merriam Webster

    1. to consider to be true or honest
      • believe the reports
      • you wouldn't believe how long it took
    2. to accept the word or evidence of
      • I believe you
      • couldn't believe my ears
    • to hold as an opinion
    • suppose
      • I believe it will rain soon

Oxford

  1. Accept that (something) is true, especially without proof.
    ‘the superintendent believed Lancaster's story’
    [with clause] ‘some 23 per cent believe that smoking keeps down weight’
    1. Accept the statement of (someone) as true.
      ‘he didn't believe her’
    2. [no object] Have religious faith.
      ‘there are those on the fringes of the Church who do not really believe’
    3. (believe something of)  Feel sure that (someone) is capable of doing something.
      ‘I wouldn't have believed it of Lavinia—what an extraordinary woman!’
  2. [with clause] Hold (something) as an opinion; think.
    ‘I believe we've already met’
    ‘four men were believed to be trapped’

(I can't post more than two links, but trust me, I have looked at more than 20 online dictionaries.)

These support the “subject believe direct object” model; e.g.,

  • direct object is a statement:

    • I believe that Y eats healthy food.
    • I believe that Y is healthy.
    • I believe the weather forecast.

    or

  • direct object is a person; “I believe him” means

    • I believe what he says (i.e., the statements he makes).

      or

    • I believe that he is honest.

There doesn't seem to be much support for the “subject believe personverb phrase” model; e.g., “I believe her to be healthy.”

I know this may sound like a very simple question. But the fact of the matter is, I had done the due diligence of common English dictionaries. No entry in any dictionary lists this meaning or has a similar example sentence.

I actually have been Googling similar combinations of "believe" and "to be"/"to be doing". To my ears, "believe someone to be" sounds a lot more natural than "believe someone to be doing", which sounds off and just strange. So I was wondering if it is an expression at all. It's hard to get relevant results until I restricted the search to exact phrases like "believed himself to be doing" or "believed herself to be doing" etc., but that only yields several thousand hits for each phrase.

People say "someone is said to do something", but you can't say "people say her to do something", can you?  Or substitute “report” for “say”; same problem.

I guess my question is, what structure is "believe oneself to be"?

  • 1
    I believe myself to be the obvious choice for the post of Keeper of the Imperial Geese. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 19 '17 at 15:48
  • I understand that some might find it a dumb question. I have given it some thought, and it still puzzles me. I edited my question, in hopes that the hold would be lifted. I still think it is a legit question... – user253154 Aug 22 '17 at 22:54
  • Would you be worried by 'I believe him to be the best man for the job'? 'She believed herself to be the best person for the job' is near-identical. Have you checked for similar examples on Google? // 'I believe myself to be suffering from X' is acceptable if formal, and there are a few examples on the internet. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 22 '17 at 23:05
  • Your example indeed made it clearer for me. I actually have been Googling similar combinations of "believe" and "to be"/"to be doing". To my ears, "believe someone to be" sounds a lot more natural than "believe someone to be doing", which sounds off and just strange. So I was wondering if it is an expression at all. It's hard to get relevant results until I restricted the search to exact phrases like "believed himself to be doing" or "believed herself to be doing" etc., but that only yields several thousand hits for each phrase. – user253154 Aug 22 '17 at 23:15
1

Yes, it is a perfectly acceptable expression.

If "someone is believed to do" something, then "people believe her to do" it. "She believes herself to be doing" it is no different.

  • Thank you for answering. I am still kind of confused on this. People say "someone is said to do something", but you can't say "people say her to do something", can you? – user253154 Aug 22 '17 at 22:52

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