Why does the choice of the first verb "made" vs. "allowed" change the tense of the second verb "eat" vs "to eat"? Using the opposite tense in either case sounds completely wrong. e.g. I'd never say "he made me to eat it" or "he allowed me eat it" Similarly "make him eat it" vs. "force him to eat it"

Is it just "made/make" that is special? I can't think of any other verb that doesn't make the following verb take the infinitive tense (sorry for my bad terminology there). Or is there something else going on here?

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3 Answers 3


Why does the choice of first verb made vs. allowed change the tense of the second verb eat vs to eat?

It doesn't. The main, matrix verb in the main clause is tensed -- both made and allowed are past tense -- but those are the only tensed verbs in the sentence. Both make and allow take infinitive complement clauses, but infinitives are not a verb tense; they're a verb form, but not a tense. English only has present and past tenses, but it has other verb forms, like eaten and eating; these aren't tenses, either.


  • Infinitives Do Not Have Tense

That's why they were named infinitives -- finite verbs have tenses, non-finite verb forms do not. And infinitives never do. OK? So no tenses have been changed in the production of these sentences.

Now, why are there infinitives? Well, many if not most main verbs can have objects (or displaced subjects) that are clauses -- they have a verb, and that verb may be tensed or not, depending on what the main verb is. Quite often, the complement clause is an infinitive clause, and that may have the complementizer to to mark the infinitive. Mostly they do. But there are a small number of "small verbs" -- common, confusing, irregular, and idiomatic, on their way to becoming auxiliary verbs themselves -- that have special properties: sense verbs like see and hear, inchoative, causatives, emotional predicates, etc. These appear often in idiomatic constructions, and may appear without to.

  • She saw him leave. She let him leave. She had him mow her lawn.

Each of these contains two clauses, and the second clause consists of the pronoun and the infinitive verb phrase; that clause is the direct object of saw, let, had, all of which are tensed. The infinitive is not tensed.

  • In your three examples, the object is just "him". The subordinate clause consists of just "leave", "leave" and "mow her lawn". Additionally, in the second, "him" is a raised object. Note that in the plain-complex construction (i.e. with an infinitival subordinate clause) the intervening NP always belongs syntactically in the matrix.
    – BillJ
    May 14, 2023 at 8:42
  • 1
    Yes, I'm aware that you prefer it when I use your favorite terminology. So, if I need to know how CGEL would describe something, I'll ask. May 14, 2023 at 13:08
  • Even websites aimed at learners and ESL's acknowledge that it's just the intervening NP that is the object. See here: link They say "the object of the catenative verb effectively functions as the subject of the second verb, which we understand to mean it functions as the semantic subject of the subordinate clause.
    – BillJ
    May 14, 2023 at 15:42
  • @BillJ Why did you say "Additionally, in the second, "him" is a raised object", when "him" in all three examples are raised objects?
    – JK2
    May 15, 2023 at 3:45

This by no means unusual. You should look up catenative verbs. These are primary verbs that can "chain" to another second verb(s) in the form of the "bare" infinitive, "to" infinitive, or gerund.

These are verb patterns, and depend on common usage, and not some rigid rule.

Also, some of the verbs mentioned in your post could be considered "causative" verbs.

Some grammars disagree about what actually constitutes a causative verb: some grammars only allow make, get, and have...while others consider help, let and allow to follow the same verb patterns

To confuse matters even more difficult , we also have passive-causative constructions.

My suggestion is that you study catenative verb structures. There are no well-defined rules for classification into groups; in fact, verbs such as help can take 2 different verbs forms for the second main verb.

  • Could you name grammarians who don't classify help, let, or allow as a causative verb? More importantly, what's their reasoning for not classifying them as a causative verb?
    – JK2
    May 14, 2023 at 1:54

What comes after make is still an infinitive; it's just a bare infinitive, one not marked by to. There are other verbs like this, even ignoring auxiliaries:

  1. He let me do it.
  2. He helped me do it.
  3. He saw me do it.
  4. He had me do it.

My source for this is Huddleston & Pullum (2002), p. 1244. There isn't a precise rule for which verbs work this way, though many verbs related to perception can follow this pattern, e.g. see, hear, watch, notice.

Modal auxiliary verbs also work this way (as in "He can do it"), though they have a number of other unusual properties.

  • 1
    There are precise rules for each one of those; what there isn't is a single rule that covers all of them and no others. There is also no list of verbs that "work this way" because "this way" is not defined. The question is ill-formed and makes a number of incorrect assumptions. May 13, 2023 at 19:30
  • Auxiliary verbs work this way? * He is walk his dog / * He has walk his dog May 15, 2023 at 14:42
  • @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. Corrected. I meant only modal auxiliary verbs.
    – alphabet
    May 15, 2023 at 14:47
  • @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. Not all verbs that express modality are auxiliaries. Compare: "He ought to do it." (Some speakers will allow "Oughtn't he (to) do it?" but they seem to be in the minority.)
    – alphabet
    May 15, 2023 at 15:03

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