Lots of people have his photo stuck on their wall.

Lots of people have his photo sticking on their wall.

Lots of people have his photo stick on their wall.

The third sentence doesn't necessarily seem ungrammatical but it feels wrong. Asking for a friend, can't figure it out.

At first I thought it was an aspect(and maybe tense) issue, but now I think it's participles. The first two are past and present participles respectively (stuck, sticking), but "stick" isn't a participle. Is this the reason?


Let's clear away the irrelevant complications, shall we?
The presenting question is equally clear with these examples:

  1. Mary has the photo stuck on her wall.

  2. Mary has the photo sticking on her wall.

  3. Mary has the photo stick on her wall.

As noted, (1-2) contain past and present participles following and modifying the NP the photo, whereas (3) contains stick following the NP. Stick can't be present tense with a singular subject (sticks is singular), so it must be an infinitive without to.

These sentences are all grammatical, but a bit odd, since they mean different things and some of them require unusual contexts and connotations.

(1) is an informal way of saying that Mary's wall has the photo on it. The use of stuck (or in fact use of any form of the verb to stick) is unusual, because it refers to the adhesive coupling of the photo, instead of to the photo, or to Mary, or to the wall. This shifts attention to the method of adhesion, and stuck on her wall connotes a sloppy, possibly temporary job. Maybe it's a photo of her latest teen crush and will change soon. (1) is normal for some people, in some intimate contexts.

(2) goes even farther in focussing on adhesion, since it calls attention to the present stickiness of the photo, with the invited inference (since there must be some reason why the stickiness is relevant) that, while it's currently sticking on her wall, it may fall off in the near future. Adhesion is not normally an activity, and -ing participles are active.

(3) is a different construction from (1-2), since it could be any of several idiomatic have + Infinitive constructions.

For instance, it could mean that Mary arranged for the photo to stick itself on the wall (perhaps via some mechanical arrangement). This would certainly be the meaning of the idiom if stick were transitive and its subject were an agent, e.g,

  • Mary had Frank stick the photo on her wall.

But stick in (3) is intransitive, so it may be a different sense. Perhaps the photo is not very sticky and it's hard to mount, but Mary achieves success on her wall. She's lucky; she has the photo stick on her wall.

As I said, these are not very common situations, and mostly they are created by listeners who are trying to figure out why certain words have been used in certain ways. A lot depends on the imaginations of one's listeners.

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Lots of people have his photo stuck on their wall.

Here "stuck" is in the past tense, implying that something was done (nails, glue, tape, etc.) to place the photo on the wall and keep it there.

Lots of people have his photo sticking on their wall.

"Sticking" indicates that something is active keeping the photo there, and most native US English speakers (probably others, too), would interpret this to mean that the photo had something sticky on it. It may or may not be there on purpose. After a food fight, there could be spaghetti sticking to your wall, but if you deliberately left it there and didn't clean it up, it would be stuck on the wall.

Lots of people have his photo stick on their wall.

This is only grammatical in the sense that a photo stick might be a thing, like another name for a selfie-stick. Using this phrasing to indicate that his photo is on their wall is not right because it is an incorrect tense of "to stick" for that use.

I stick it on the wall, after which I can say I stuck it there, or if I glued it, then it is sticking to the wall.

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  • 'The teacher had them stick to the task'? Admittedly, there's more than a hint of moral compulsion, which would be unfair on a photo. – Edwin Ashworth May 30 '19 at 15:09

Yes, participles are a category of words that are sort of a verb-adjective hybrid: although they are forms of a verb, they can modify nouns. A difference between participles and adjectives is that participles often come after the noun they modify, while normal adjectives generally come before the noun they modify. In the sentence "Lots of people have his photo stuck on their wall", the phrase "stuck on their wall" has a participle modified by a prepositional phrase, and together the participle+prepositional phrase acts as an adjective modifying "photo". In the sentence "Lots of people have his photo stick on their wall", "stick" is a full-fledged verb, and so can't act as an adjective.

The verb "stick" has the same form for both past tense and past participle, but with verbs for which those are different, the past tense can't be used as an adjective. For instance, you can say "This is a photo seen by a lot of people", but not "This is a photo saw by a lot of people".

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