All I want is _______ to return safe

I have encountered the question like the title in the book "Starter TOEIC" 3rd edition by Anne Taylor, which is in "Infinitives and Gerunds" unit. 4 options are:

(A) he   (B) him   (C) of him   (D) for him

The correct answer is D. I find the complete sentence strange and I wonder whether it is a special case of a more logical one "All I want for him is to return safe".

Would someone give me a further grammatical explanation to clear the confusion?

  • Trung ... have you looked at ell.stackexchange.com ? Answers there may be more helpful to you than answers here. – GEdgar Feb 27 '18 at 11:48

There is a difference in meaning between "All I want is for him to return safe(ly) and "All I want for him is to return safe(ly)".

In the first case the speaker is saying that the desire for the safe return of the other is absolutely overwhelming and eliminates all their other desires (like the desire for food, sleep, shelter, companionship and the good of other loved ones), this is obviously something of an exaggeration but is how such emotions are frequently felt.

In the second case the speaker is saying that they have only one desire for the other person, which is that he returns safely. This suggests that the speaker is concerned for the other's safety but not for, say, his financial security, this is usually also something of an exaggeration.

The second version also implies that the speaker's desire for the other's safe return is not as overwhelming as in the first version and, although they are concerned about him, that concern does not prevent the speaker from getting on with their own life and having ambitions and concerns for the well-being of other loved ones.

This difference is quite subtle but it is very real, the two constructions are not equivalent.

  • +1. Your explanation is correct. However, I feel that All I want is ... constructs are rarely meant to be taken literally. So when someone uses that construct, I don't think they're exaggerating. It's more a figurative way of saying I really want ..., imo. – Tushar Raj Feb 27 '18 at 12:39
  • @TusharRaj I think people are usually reacting emotionally when they use it, so they are speaking as they feel rather than making a considered statement, which is why I said it was an exaggeration. People are just ignoring all the other wants and desires and, in the moment, the expressed desire is the only one they perceive. The "All I want for him..." construction is similar. Thanks for the +1 though. – BoldBen Feb 27 '18 at 13:46
  • @BoldBen: the actual point I can't figure out is the syntax: to be + for smb + to-infinitive. I, however, can take the correct answer by eliminating the 3 obviously false ones, but the syntax is not familiar to me, so any analysis focusing on the grammar of the case will be really helpful – bonniss Feb 27 '18 at 15:51

If you want something for somebody, you express hope for another person's success/happiness/pleasure on a particular occasion. For example, All I want for you is to be happy (= I wish you would be happy, that's my only wish); A second chance is all I want for you (= I only wish you a second chance). So, All I want for him is to return safe means A safe return is the only thing I wish you now (because it's the most important for now).

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