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Consider these sentences, please:

Try to complete the examination

He tried to climb a cliff.

Are the to-infinitives the objects of the verb try Or are they infinitives of purpose?

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  • The "object of the verb" sense would apply in contexts such as He tried the door, but it was locked, which is semantically the same as He tried to open the door, even though the syntax is different. Mar 12, 2020 at 17:55
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    Yes, clauses, like infinitive clauses, gerund clauses, that-clauses, and wh-clauses, can be direct objects of certain verbs. Each verb is different. Try can take a noun or pronoun object (He never tried that before), a gerund object (He tried waterskiing and didn't like it), or an infinitive object, as you point out. There is a minor usage difference between the gerund and infinitive complements of try, though. Mar 12, 2020 at 18:14
  • Although, come to think of it, there is no real semantic difference between the complement of try, which describes what the attempt is sposta accomplish, and a real infinitive of purpose. Try means 'purpose'. Mar 12, 2020 at 18:16
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    @JohnLawler: With my "bare" example He tried the door (no to open or opening) there could in principle be a genuine semantic difference. Usually, trying a door would imply attempting to open it just a little bit (the default "purpose" being to establish whether or not it's actually locked). But it seems like there's a significant difference in how the verb works between He tried the door, but it was locked and, say, He tried the door, but it was too small for him to get through. Mar 12, 2020 at 18:50
  • That's the "minor usage difference" I noted above; follow that link for more details. Mar 12, 2020 at 19:08

1 Answer 1

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In comments John Lawler wrote:

Yes, clauses, like infinitive clauses, gerund clauses, that-clauses, and wh-clauses, can be direct objects of certain verbs. Each verb is different. Try can take a noun or pronoun object (He never tried that before), a gerund object (He tried waterskiing and didn't like it), or an infinitive object, as you point out. There is a minor usage difference between the gerund and infinitive complements of try, though.

And also:

Although, come to think of it, there is no real semantic difference between the complement of try, which describes what the attempt is supposed to accomplish, and a real infinitive of purpose. Try means 'purpose'.

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