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Watching a game review, I've noticed a phrase whose meaning confused me. The reason why I got confused is that the author used a base form of the verb "to explore" in pair with the singular subject "friend". The question is, is it correct to do this?

I will write below two more options as I would use this verb in that case. Could you also explain if my bets are correct or, maybe, even preferable (I doubt it)?

Here's the original sentence:

  1. Watching my friend explore the environment with only a sense of wonder was my favourite part of the game.

Needless to say, this sentence might be grammatically correct, furthermore, it sounds natural for me, yet I must admit I do not speak and write English perfectly, not even close.

These are two more mentioned options:

  1. Watching my friend exploring the environment with only a sense of wonder was my favourite part of the game.

or

  1. Watching my friend explores the environment with only a sense of wonder was my favourite part of the game.

Are these two both also acceptable?

I appreciate your help. Besides, I ask for your forgiveness for the mistakes if there are some in my question.

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    Not third person singular. That would make it a tensed clause, and watch can't take a that-complement. The other two are both OK, because watch is a sense verb, and they can take either gerund complements (look at/watch him skiing) or infinitive complements without to (look at/watch him ski). Jun 26, 2020 at 23:03
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    @JohnLawler Your answer wasn't there when I started typing my own, believe me. :) But I think I've said the same thing as you have, just using far more words to do so. If I've left something out or hand-waved too broadly, do please let me know.
    – tchrist
    Jun 26, 2020 at 23:42
  • Why not trim back to the basics? I like hearing him sing / I like hearing him singing / *I like hearing him sings. Jun 27, 2020 at 18:43

1 Answer 1

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Your sentence has a main clause and two subordinate clauses, and so three verbs total.

The main verb of your sentence, by which I mean the matrix clause with a subject and a tensed or finite verb, is was, which is the singular past tense of the copular verb be. But neither subordinate clause here can be a finite verb like explores or watches; either of those would be ungrammatical. Only non-finite verb forms are allowed for your situation because those clauses are core arguments to other verbs.

Whenever you have clauses serving in the direct object role of another verb, as here you have with the verb watching, these must be non-finite clauses, not finite clauses with tensed verbs. In other words, they must not be inflected for person, number, or tense.

The two possible non-finite clause types able to serve as the core argument of another verb are those that use the -ing form of the verb and those that use the root form of the verb. You sentence happens to have both kinds.

  • The subject of the main verb was is a non-finite clause of the first sort:
    Watching my friend explore the environment
  • The object of the that clause’s verb watching is a non-finite clause of the second sort:
    my friend explore the environment.

This is sometimes called a bare infinitive because it doesn’t require the normal to particle that infinitives usually require, let alone the for-to complementizer needed when the infinitive clause has an expressed subject, especially when that clause is the subject of a tensed verb.

The lack of specific marker for the infinitive happens with sense verbs, so verbs like watch, see, hear. Two different possibilities exist when choosing a clause as the complement of one of these verbs. These two are not interchangeable because they mean different things. An infinitival clause lacks the continuous aspect that a gerund clause provides.

  1. Watching my friend explore the environment with only a sense of wonder was my favourite part of the game.
  2. Watching my friend exploring the environment with only a sense of wonder was my favourite part of the game.

A shorter sentence may better illustrate the distinction in aspect.

  1. Last night I heard my brother come in through the upstairs window.

  2. Last night I heard my brother coming in through the upstairs window.

Do you see the difference there? The second emphasizes the progressive aspect of an ongoing action. You could easily add when the phone rang to the second sentence — but less felicitously (if at all) to the first sentence. It would not make sense.

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    A clear duplicate. Jun 27, 2020 at 13:26
  • @EdwinAshworth I have granted your request, but the reason I did not do so before this is simply because the question here was, in effect, specifically asking why not to use a finite clause with a tensed verb when said clause had to serve as a core argument (subject or object complement) to another verb, which your duplicate does not explain. Do you see the added nuance?
    – tchrist
    Jun 27, 2020 at 18:29
  • OP asks whether the options are correct. Considering the third option is not suitable on ELU. Your answer may be clearer than some at other threads, but isn't protocol then to merge? Jun 27, 2020 at 18:35
  • @EdwinAshworth Again, explaining why core arguments cannot be finite clauses seems lost in any presumed duplicate. To merge would lose track of the original question's nuance.
    – tchrist
    Jun 27, 2020 at 18:38