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I have a question about objects/subjects in catenative clauses such as He told his daughter to tidy her room.

I’ve found two main kinds of analysis of clauses such as these – those where his daughter is considered an object in the superordinate clause, and those where it’s considered the subject of the embedded non-finite clause.

In a couple of comments to an answer at What are these Auxiliary-like verbs?, Bill J mentions the idea of a raised object, which somehow seems to indicate that his daughter can be simultaneously analysed as being an object in the superordinate clause (a raised object), and, at the same time, a subject in the non-finite subclause. Is this a correct understanding?

It seems very odd though... Any clarification would be much appreciated.

  • What I said was: "... syntactically, "his cat" is the direct object of "told", but it's only the understood subject of "to leave". In catenative constructions, when we talk of an 'understood subject', we mean a semantic one not a syntactic one. The semantic subject of the subordinate is then the raised object of the matrix verb, as I explained. – BillJ Apr 14 '18 at 16:12
  • Does that clear things up, Hannah? – BillJ Apr 14 '18 at 17:28
  • Ah, ok – yes, I see now :) Thanks BillJ! So from a syntactic point of view we have Subject ("He") Verb ("told") Object ("his daughter") Catenative Complement ("to tidy her room")? So "his daughter" is not part of the catenative complement? Also, is it a direct or indirect object? There was a discussion about this as well, in the comments to the above mentioned post, but there wasn't really a definite solution to that discussion, I think... – Hannah Apr 14 '18 at 18:16
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    Yes, that's right. It's exactly the same analysis as "the cat" example. The intervening NP "his daughter" is the syntactic direct object of the matrix verb and the understood (semantic) subject of the subordinate clause. We can tell that "his daughter" is direct object of "told" from the fact that it can be made subject of the equivalent passive clause: "His daughter was told to tidy her room". – BillJ Apr 14 '18 at 18:38
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[1] He told [his cat] to leave.

[2] He told [his daughter] to tidy her room.

What I said was that syntactically the intervening noun phrase "his cat" in [1] is the direct object of "told", but only the understood (semantic) subject of the subordinate "to leave" clause. In catenative constructions, when we talk of an 'understood subject', we mean a semantic one, not a syntactic one. The semantic subject of the subordinate clause is then the raised object of the matrix verb, as I explained.

The same analysis applies in your example, [2]. The intervening NP "his daughter" is the syntactic object of "told", but only the understood (semantic) subject of the subordinate "to tidy" clause. The intervening NP "his daughter" is called a 'raised' object because the verb it relates to syntactically is higher in the constituent structure than the one it relates to semantically.

We can tell that the NPs "his cat" and "his daughter" are direct objects of "told" from the fact that they can be made subject of the equivalent passive clauses: "His cat was told to leave" / "His daughter was told to tidy her room".

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