Recently a student of mine made the following mistake : "I want my family don't need anything". I corrected it to "I want my family not to need anything". But when asked why I used "not to" instead of "don't", I couldn't explain why.

Can anybody help me with this?

Thank you very much.

  • Does it help simplify things if you take out the negation and compare “I want my family to need” vs. “I want my family need”/“I want my family do need”? – Ry- Oct 15 '18 at 15:59
  • I would have corrected it to "I want my family to not need anything" in this case the split infinitive makes the sentence meaning clearer. – JeffUK Oct 15 '18 at 16:44
  • Hm... would "I want that my family don't need anything" be considered correct? – Mr Lister Oct 15 '18 at 18:30
  • Hello, thank you all for your help! It was explained to be by a colleague: – Dayle Oct 16 '18 at 19:28
  • With the verbs want and expect you have to put an infinitive not an auxiliary. – Dayle Oct 16 '18 at 19:31

The verb want takes an infinitive after it, not an auxiliary verb.

For example, you can't say

*I want can fly.

You have to say

I want to be able to fly.

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To want takes an object, when that object is a thing.

I want a pony.

I want more money.

I want world peace.

To want takes to + infinitive, when an action is wanted, for the subject to do.

I want to sleep.

I don’t want to work.

I want to go to the beach.

I want to be able to fly.

To want takes an object + to + infinitive, when an action is wanted, for another person to do.

I want the baby to sleep.

I want him to work.

I want you to go to the beach with me.

I want my brother to be able to swim.

I don’t want them to need me.

I want my family not to need anything.

To want can also take a noun clause describing an action, starting with that. But these formulations are not preferred. The ones above sound better.

I want that the baby sleeps.

I want that I can fly.

I want that my brother can swim.

I don’t want that they need me.

I want that my family doesn’t need anything.

You can add stress by changing the order of the sentence, starting with the noun clause, and referring to it with a second that.

That my family doesn’t need anything, that’s what I want!

That works with regular objects as well.

A pony, that’s what I want!

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