There's the next sentence: "I saw Mr Brown ..... the building at two o'clock."

Which option would be the most appropriate to put in and why ? I really want to put in "was leaving", but there's no such option.

leave / to leave / having left

  • Since there's no 'was leaving' option, which do you think is the most suitable out of the options? – marcellothearcane Dec 29 '18 at 22:16
  • @marcellothearcane i have no idea. i would choose 'having left'... 'to leave' - certainly no, infinitive there is not needed. 'leave' - hmm, may be 'saw' indicates past time and there's no necessity to indicate this time again, but (he\she\it) need to have ['s] ending... but for the last option I don't have any thoughts, so would choose it in the exam – Yevhenii Nadtochii Dec 29 '18 at 22:26
  • I think you're right in that saw already indicates past tense, but I'm not sure if that is correct. Idiomatically 'leave' sounds right to me. – marcellothearcane Dec 29 '18 at 22:30
  • Also you might be interested in ell.stackexchange.com for english learners :) – marcellothearcane Dec 29 '18 at 22:31
  • @marcellothearcane you're right, but why ? ... I'm sorry that for me it doesn't sound idiomatically :( – Yevhenii Nadtochii Dec 29 '18 at 22:36

Leave is indeed the correct option. However, there is also some intuition behind this seemingly strange usage. Let's first clarify that was leaving is actually incorrect, so even if that option was given you still couldn't use it. To see this, we replace Mr.Brown by him. So we get I saw him.... Now we can see that the sentence that starts with him actually has no subject at all! So was is wrong since Mr.Brown isn't the subject anywhere at all!

However, we know that each sentence must have a subject. And yet, there is none here. In fact, this sentence is gramatically wrong since the modern English language doesn't allow for such constructions. The exact name of this construction of a sentence is Accusativus cum Infinitivo, and it is widely used in ancient languages such as Greek or Latin. What happens here is that the object (him) is taken to be the subject and the infinitive (leave) is taken to be the primal verb. So note that leave isn't a verb in the present tense but the full infinitive.

All in all, this is a rather antique construction that one can expect to find in ancient texts. So even though this usage might seem idiomatic, it was a common way of speaking a few thousand years ago.

  • great, thank you! also, I found out that it's called 'complex object' in modern grammar – Yevhenii Nadtochii Dec 30 '18 at 3:56

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