1. I don't care about what they say.

In the sentence above, they phrase what they say, is presumably the complement of the preposition about, and the preposition phrase about what they say is presumably the complement of the verb care.

I am interested in the following sentence

  1. I don't care what they say.

My question here is: Is what they say the direct object of the verb care. If so, why and if not, why not? What evidence do we have either way.

  • To me, example 1 means "I don't care about what they say I care about." – Greg Lee Oct 23 '17 at 11:35
  • @GregLee Yes, I can get that reading out of that too (as well as the (2)-style reading). – Araucaria Oct 23 '17 at 11:36
  • @GregLee This is a preparatory question regarding an analysis of "I don't give a crap what they say" and whether "a crap what they say" is a constituent there, or whether give is taking two complements. Any ideas? – Araucaria Oct 23 '17 at 11:38
  • @GregLee... yes, that's one way to understand it, but surely not the only/most obvious way? To me, both sentences are equivalent to "Their stated opinion is irrelevant to me", unless contextual information says otherwise. – ArchContrarian Oct 23 '17 at 11:41
  • 1
    My suggestion: "I don't [V give a crap] [PP (about) what they say]." – Greg Lee Oct 23 '17 at 11:52

Merriam-Webster should give us an indication, with two different definitions:

care (intransitive): to feel interest or concern . care about freedom

care (transitive): to be concerned about or to the extent of . don't care what they say. doesn't care a damn

In summary, the transitive sense:

  1. Is more restrictive, since "interest" is not part of it. In fact, as the examples show it is used chiefly in the negative, i.e. to deny that one is concerned. Furthermore, there is a limit on the construction: one could say "I don't care what they say", but one wouldn't say "I don't care my friends".

  2. May imply a degree: I don't care (a bit, the least, a damn, a hoot, etc.)

(In the second case, however, I would rather consider "the least" as an adverbial phrase, as it would be in e.g. French, but that might be question onto itself.)

As matter of fact, I have the suspicion that this particular phrase "I don't care what" is an ellipsis of "I don't care about what", but I don't have enough elements to support that assertion, except that it belongs to a more casual register.

  • Sadly, dictionaries often become quite sloppy when they need to venture into areas of grammar. They either make gross oversimplifications or adopt one analysis out of many available, and are slow to change when more modern scholarship is seen to have better explanations (some still don't accept the determiner/determinative class). – Edwin Ashworth Oct 23 '17 at 16:40

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