(1) I proved them to be wrong.

(2) I proved them wrong.

In (1), the objective case them is explained with either Raising or Exceptional Case Marking. The case needs explaining because them is not a semantic argument of the verb proved but a semantic argument of the embedded predicate to be wrong. So the explanation is either that the subject of the embedded predicate is "raised" from the subordinate clause to the main clause, or that the subject of the embedded predicate is exceptionally marked as the object case.

Now, when it comes to sentences like (2), neither explanation can be used, because either Raising or ECM is designed to explain sentences where there is a embedded predicate. Note in (2) that wrong itself wouldn't be considered an embedded predicate for the purpose of Raising or ECM. Nevertheless, (2) does have the objective case them, which is not a semantic argument of the verb proved just as in (1).

How can we explain the objective case them in (2)?

  • 6
    Is it any different to "I painted them green" or "I called them stupid"? In other words, object and object complement. I don't know which framework you want it explained within, so I won't attempt to answer.
    – Stuart F
    Jul 18 at 13:15
  • 3
    The subject of an infinitive is objective case. If the infinitive marker to and the auxiliary be are deleted by to be-Deletion, that doesn't change the case. Why should it? Especially when Raising then places it in precisely the position in the sentence where an objective pronoun ought to be. If you want to explain its presence, you have a multitude of choices, all operating simultaneously. Of course, you hafta use derivational means to do it, and that's against some religions. Jul 18 at 14:04
  • 3
    I don't see anything worthy of a big fuss. In both 1. and 2. "them" is object of "prove" and thus is in accusative case. In 1. "them" is a raised object.
    – BillJ
    Jul 18 at 14:49
  • 1
    @StuartF In your examples, the verb "paint" means "cover (something) with paint, or put paint on (something)", so "them" is a semantic argument of the verb "painted", and using the objective case there needs no explaining. Similarly, "call" means "regard or think of (someone or something) in a certain way", so "them" is a semantic argument of "called", and using the objective case there needs no explaining, either. But in "I proved them wrong", "prove" means "to show that (someone or something) has a particular quality", so "them" is not a semantic argument of "proved".
    – JK2
    Jul 19 at 0:21
  • Where is there a finite clause licensing a pronoun in subject case? We can't use subject case otherwise, which is a marked form reserved for that situation only.
    – tchrist
    Jul 26 at 14:50

1 Answer 1


The OED gives this meaning of "to prove"

5.a. transitive. To show the existence or reality of; to give demonstration or proof of by action; to evince. ... to demonstrate (some quality or condition ...).

The answer to “What did you prove?” is = “I proved [that] they were wrong.” -> “I proved them [to be] wrong.”

“that they were wrong” is a content clause and the object of “proved”. Because it is a clause “they” remains in the subject case as it is the subject of “were”.

However, when “[that] they were wrong” is reduced to “them wrong”, because “they” is no longer the subject of a verb, “them wrong” becomes the object and “they” changes to the object case, i.e. them.

  • How about "them to be wrong", where there is a verb? Jul 18 at 12:21
  • 2
    Ordinary English. The Devil made me do it. I painted it green. Jul 18 at 12:59
  • 3
    @YosefBaskin Hmm. No, not really. Reason is that in "I painted it green" the word "it" is semantically like the patient argument of paint. Indeed, you could easily just say "He painted it". The same is not true of the non-resultative prove. In "I proved them wrong" it is not the case that "I proved them" and nor is them semantically the patient of "prove" Jul 18 at 14:13
  • 1
    I don't think 5.a. is the correct definition corresponding to "I proved them wrong". Rather, it's a definition for sentences like "I proved his guilt".
    – JK2
    Jul 19 at 4:22
  • 2
    @Greybeard I don't understand. Where's the preposition in "I proved them to be wrong"? Jul 19 at 12:13

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