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I didn't come to offer help.

As far as I can tell, this is how I would analyze this sentence from a grammatical perspective.

  • I = pronoun

  • didn't = aux. verb with "not" for negation.

  • come = zero infintive verb.

  • to offer = infinitive acting as an adverb modifying the verb come.

  • help = ?

I suppose we could consider to offer help to be an adverbial noun phrase, but I'm wondering what the word help would be considered on its own? It certainly can't be an object since an infinitive acts as a noun so having an object seems illogical.

  • If the "to infintive" form of a verb is a verb capable of taking an object, then how come it could also be used as a subject/object in some cases ? i thought only nouns can assume such positions. – PlagueDoc Sep 8 '18 at 22:51
  • The infinitival clause is "to offer help" (not just "to offer"). It functions as an adjunct in clause structure. The noun "help" is direct object of "offer". Infinitival clauses don't act as nouns - that's nonsense. – BillJ Sep 9 '18 at 7:17
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Here help is the direct object of the infinitive, to offer. Infinitives are always verbs; they are never adverbs.

If you went to see your sister, your sister would be the direct object of that infinitive. Similarly in the case of you wanting to give your sister a call: there she is the indirect object of that infinitive clause.

Nouns don't take direct object arguments. These do; hence they are verbs.

Infinitives are always verbs. They are non-finite verbs capable of doing anything else a verb can do, particularly in that they take adverbs as modifiers and they take noun phrases as arguments.

To imagine otherwise is going to lead you into contradiction and confusion. Notice how there the infinitive took the adverb otherwise. Nouns don’t take adverbs; verbs do. Just because to imagine otherwise is here the subject of the verb is does not make imagine a noun. That’s just silly. It’s still a verb. The entire clause is a noun phrase, and hence can be the subject. But there are no nouns involved. It’s only just a verb.

This is the same facile error that people so frequently make with gerunds, which are another kind of verb that can be used substantively. That does not make such verbs nouns, and only the entire clause counts as a noun phrase. There is no noun.

There are many kinds of noun phrases, and not all of them even contain any nouns. A noun phrase is a syntactic constituent that can, amongst other things, fulfill the grammatical roles of the subject or object of a verb. Phrases do not have parts of speech.

  • 'The entire clause is a noun phrase, and hence can be the subject.' This cleared up the confusion. I have been this very mistake that you mention actually. Thanks a lot, this was really helpful. – PlagueDoc Sep 8 '18 at 23:03
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    @PlagueDoc There are many kinds of noun phrases, and not all of them even contain any nouns. A noun phrase is a syntactic constituent that can, amongst other things, fulfill the grammatical roles of the subject or object of a verb. Phrases do not have parts of speech. – tchrist Sep 8 '18 at 23:04
  • "There are many kinds of noun phrases, and not all of them even contain any nouns." That's rather strange as all the definitions of noun phrase I've read say that it contains a noun. 3 defs here thefreedictionary.com/noun+phrase A def here: merriam-webster.com/dictionary/noun%20phrase , a def here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noun_phrase ,a def here: dictionary.com/browse/noun-phrase a def here(noun or pronoun): grammar-monster.com/glossary/noun_phrases.htm , here: myenglishpages.com/site_php_files/… – Zebrafish Sep 9 '18 at 8:36
  • @Zebrafish Pity that. To read closely is all you have to do. ← That subject is, by definition, an NP. And yet you will note that it contains zero nouns. An infinitive phrase (clause) can be an NP, and it need not contain any nouns. Even the Wikipedia entry mentions that NPs can be infinitive phrases. – tchrist Sep 9 '18 at 13:17
  • I did read closely, that's not what the article I linked says. The part in that article that refers to infinitive phrases is this one: "A typical noun phrase consists of a noun (the head of the phrase) together with zero or more dependents of various types." The infinitive phrase is one of the dependent types that it lists. If a noun phrase doesn't have to contain a noun then all of those dictionary definitions I gave must be wrong, which is quite surprising. – Zebrafish Sep 9 '18 at 21:24
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I didn't come [to offer help].

"Help" is part of the infinitival clause -- it's the direct object of "offer". The infinitival clause functions as an adjunct of purpose in clause structure.

Your error is in assuming that infinitivals function as noun phrases-- they don't. Just because they can function as subject, extraposed object, complement of a prep etc., doesn't make them NPs. That's just nonsense.

  • If S = NP VP, and you have an infinitive clause acting as that sentence’s subject, what is it if not an NP? My model of these things must be lacking some nuance that yours supports if the sentence subject can be something other than an NP, so I'm truly interested in learning where you're coming from here. – tchrist Sep 9 '18 at 13:24

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