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BACKGROUND

According to this ThoughtCo. article titled "NICE Properties of Auxiliary Verbs":

NICE is an acronym for the four syntactic characteristics that distinguish auxiliary verbs from lexical verbs in English grammar: negation, inversion, code, emphasis.

The NICE properties were identified as such by linguist Rodney Huddleston in the article "Some Theoretical Issues in the Description of the English Verb" (Lingua, 1976).

I won't be explaining in detail what the NICE properties are, because they're fairly straightforward. If you're not familiar with them, please visit the link above for reference.

Here are some NICE property examples shown in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (page 93):

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QUESTIONS

In the above examples, only finite auxiliary verbs are shown to have the NICE properties. Do non-finite auxiliary verbs too have the NICE properties? If the NICE properties are "the four syntactic characteristics that distinguish auxiliary verbs from lexical verbs in English grammar", I think non-finite auxiliary verbs (as well as finite auxiliary verbs) should have the NICE properties. But they don't seem to.

Here are my failed attempts at producing NICE property examples of non-finite auxiliary verbs:

(1) Not having seen it, he had no clue. [Negation]

(2) N/A [Inversion]

(3) He may have seen it and I may have. [Code]

(4) ??They don't think he has seen it but he must HAVE seen it. [Emphasis]

In (1), not typically comes before having rather than after. It's not clear whether the not coming before having should be considered as negation of having. But let's assume for the moment that it should. Also, some speakers might put not after having, in which case not does negate having. It's possible, therefore, to argue that the non-finite auxiliary having does have the Negation property.

I can't think of any examples for (2) because there's no subject-auxiliary inversion in non-finite clauses.

In (3), although some speakers may choose to omit the second have, at least for those speakers who allow the second have, it can be said that the second have, a non-finite auxiliary, has the Code property.

In (4), it's unlikely that you could pronounce HAVE emphatically.

All in all, however hard I try, non-finite auxiliaries cannot seem to allow the Inversion and Emphasis constructions, which means that non-finite auxiliaries don't seem to have the NICE properties.

If non-finite auxiliary verbs don't have the NICE properties, which they don't seem to, is it really correct to say that the NICE properties are "the four syntactic characteristics that distinguish auxiliary verbs from lexical verbs in English grammar"?

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  • You'd probably get more response if you added examples. And one can foresee the simple addition of a 'other than when used in non-finite clauses' caveat rectifying any potential problem. All useful laws in English, except this one, have exceptions. – Edwin Ashworth May 23 '20 at 13:45
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    @JK2 I agree with Edwin Ashworth: the thrust is that it would be extremely useful for you to give examples of auxiliary verbs in non-finite clauses – Greybeard May 23 '20 at 14:09
  • @Greybeard I don't think either Edwin or you (or anyone who's competent enough to answer the question, for that matter) don't fully understand the question for the lack of examples. But I'll edit the question to include some. – JK2 May 23 '20 at 14:20
  • Isn't negation the only operation that can apply? 'Not having given it much thought, I can't really say' ≈ 'Not considering it a real problem, Huddleston didn't address it.' It's hardly comparable to 'I did not' vs *'I slept not', other than illustrating the fact that auxiliaries team up with main verbs to facilitate ways we say things, in ways main verbs don't. – Edwin Ashworth May 23 '20 at 14:47
  • You mean in examples like "[Having read the report], I can see what you mean" / "Ed was believed [to have been abroad at the time]." / "I find "[being nice to Kim] very difficult".? – BillJ May 23 '20 at 14:58
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*I sold the car, sold not I?

I sold the car, didn’t I?

*Sold I a car?"

Have I sold/Did I sell a car?

But

I have a car, haven’t I?

I have a car, don’t I?

Have I a car?

Have I had a car?

Did I have a car?

is it really correct to say that the NICE properties are "the four syntactic characteristics that distinguish auxiliary verbs from lexical verbs in English grammar"?

There are no absolutes in English. Huddleston seems to have made a list of the usages of auxiliaries and then created "Rules" around these by noting patterns. As you will see from the site to which you link, there will be exceptions.

(1) Do auxiliary verbs in non-finite clauses have the NICE properties?

In (1) Not having seen it, he had no clue. [Negation]. The question seems pointless. Whereas in

(i) I saw it, and (ii) "I have seen it" we have (i) SVO and (ii)S-Aux-pp-O, there is no subject and verb to be inverted:

in

(ii) *"I saw it not", and "I have not seen it", we have (ii) an error and (iia) S-Aux-{adv-pp}-O

but there is no subject - verb to invert:

(iii) "Having seen it, ..." and "Not having seen it, ...." We have [Adv]-Aux part- past p.-O

but we can also say

(iiia) "Having not seen it, he had no clue." but (iiib) *"Having seen not it, he had no clue." (Although "Having seen not it, but something else, he had no clue." is correct.)

(3) He may have seen it and I may have. [Code]

The auxiliary is "may" - the second infinite "have" can be omitted.

(4) ??They don't think he has seen it but he must HAVE seen it. [Emphasis]

Must is the auxiliary.

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  • In (3), I know that have can be omitted. But have there is the only non-finite auxiliary. In (3) and (4), may and must are the only finite auxiliaries, so I've discussed the non-finite auxiliary have. So even if you're right about NEGATION, the non-finite auxiliaries still don't have the NICE properties. – JK2 May 24 '20 at 0:25
  • In British English, I think have has the NICE properties. A: Have you a car? B: No, I haven't. A: That's not true. You HAVE a car. Whether to view this British have as an auxiliary or as another piece of evidence that auxiliaries don't have the NICE properties is a different question, I think. // Also, I've edited the question to accommodate your answer. – JK2 May 24 '20 at 2:59

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