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I am confused between the infinitive “to have” and its gerund counterpart “having". For example,

I wish to see my children to have a happy life.

or

I wish to see my children having a happy life.

Is there any difference in meaning between those two? Which one is grammatically correct?

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    Your first version is invalid / doesn't mean what you think (to shouldn't be there). Note that in most contexts it makes no difference whether you say I want to see you work or ...to see you working. Feb 19, 2023 at 13:13
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    You left out the most obvious: I wish to see my children have a happy life.
    – Lambie
    Feb 19, 2023 at 15:13
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    Wish is a verb addressed to a jinn or a demon; want is the normal verb, and has the most versatile grammar. Want can take a (single) infinitive with to: I want to see my children; I want to see my children grow up; I want to see my children while they're growing up. Feb 19, 2023 at 18:40

4 Answers 4

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Both sentences are grammatical but neither sounds particularly natural to me, and as @Biblasia stated in their answer, the first sentence means the speaker wants to only see their children in order “to have a happy life”.

I would leave out the marker "to" and use the bare infinite instead

I wish to see my children have a happy life.

Here the speaker expresses the desire to see their children's happiness. The same idea can be reduced to

I wish to see my children happy.

After the verbs bid, let, make, see, hear, need, dare etc. the bare infinitive is used.

I wish/want to see my children have children of their own.

From Cambridge Dictionary

Verbs followed by -ing or an infinitive without to
A group of verbs connected with feeling, hearing and seeing can be used with -ing or with an infinitive without to:

feel notice see
hear overhear watch

When they are used with -ing, these verbs emphasise the action or event in progress. When they are used with an infinitive without to, they emphasise the action or event seen as a whole, or as completed. [emphasis in bold mine]

Compare


-ing infinitive without to
A police officer saw him running along the street. Emily saw Philip run out of Sandra’s office.
(emphasises the running as it was happening) (emphasises the whole event from start to finish)
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  • Yes, sense verbs like these are more complex in meaning and thus have more options, with more rules to exploit them. Feb 19, 2023 at 16:19
  • This is not grammatical: I wish to see my children to have a happy life.
    – tchrist
    Feb 19, 2023 at 21:19
  • @tchrist 'I wish to see my children [in order] to have a happy life'. It is grammatical (albeit awkward and unnatural), just not in the intended sense.
    – niemiro
    Feb 19, 2023 at 21:27
  • @tchrist I think–at a stretch–it is grammatical if one considers the possibility of the speaker claiming to be happy if they see their children, i.e. “I must see my children [in order] to have a happy life.” The "wish" part is weirdly standoffish. It's a stretch, so I'm not defending it at any costs. I also think the OP's examples are more complicated and nuanced than the duplicate questions.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 19, 2023 at 21:30
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They are both grammatically correct but have very different meanings. You probably mean to say "having."

If you say:

  • "I wish to see my children to have a happy life."

...it means that in order for you to have a happy life, you need to see your children.

If you say:

  • "I wish to see my children having a happy life."

...it means you want your children to have a happy life.

Which one do you wish to say?

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  • No, "I wish to see my children to have a happy life" is not grammatical in English. You can never see anyone to do anything.
    – tchrist
    Feb 19, 2023 at 21:19
  • @tchrist. Sure you can. Let's rearrange the sentence with a comma so you can see what is actually being said here. "To have a happy life, I wish to see my children." All we have done here is changed the order of the phrases--but this shows exactly what is being said with that wording.
    – Biblasia
    Feb 20, 2023 at 1:57
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This answer was made by using the Oxford advanced learner's dictionary, more specifically, the entry for "see" in this dictionary, and its examples (2005 paper edition).

I wish to see my children to have a happy life.

This construction is of the type "V - object - to inf". It is not used for the verb "to see".
"V (passive) - to inf" is used, but only when this verb means "use eyes", "to become aware of something by using your eyes";

  • He was seen to enter the building about the time when the crime was committed.

The idea cannot be expressed properly by means of this construction when the verb is "to see". The following sentence makes little sense in a current context.

  • I wish to become aware that my children have a happy life.

I wish to see my children having a happy life.

This construction is of the type "V - O - -ing". It is used with "to see", but only according to two senses of "to see":

  • when "to see" means "use eyes", "to become aware of something by using your eyes" (They saw her running away from the scene of the crime.),

  • when "to see" means "imagine" (I can't see her changing her mind.).

"V (passive) - to inf" is used, but only when this verb means "use eyes", "to become aware of something by using your eyes" or when it means "to understand";

  • The government not only has to do something, it must be seen to be doing something. (It must be understood that it is doing something.)

The first possibility in the OP, if changed by removing "to", is nto better.

  • I wish to see my children have a happy life.

This the construction "V - O - inf", and there is just one sense of "to see" for which it can be used; that's when "to see" means "use eyes", "to become aware of something by using your eyes";

  • I saw you put the key in your pocket.

There is also the possibility "V - O - adj", and it has been suggested in another answer, but it won't do either. "I wish to see my children happy." would mean "I wish to see my children when they are happy."; for instance,

  • "I don't like to see her unhappy.",

means precisely "I don't like to be aware that she is unhappy when that happens.".

It appears that, whichever way you may try to adjust this construction, nothing results in an idiomatic sentence; that is so, of course if you want to preserve the initial idea, which seems, clearly enough, to be that someone wants that their children had a happy life, in the present and most certainly in the future too.

One could use "to see" in a construction that renders a somewhat diverging idea; this would result from the use of the multi-word verb "see to sth".

  • I wish to see to my children's happiness in life.

You are then saying that your wishes are to make what is possible so that your children will be happy.

Otherwise, the initial idea is best expressed differently because there is no figurative meaning that associates the idea of seeing literally and that of the enjoyment that results with an abstract concept. Here is a possibility.

  • I wish for my children to have a happy life.
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It would be simpler and more idiomatic to say,

I wish to see my children have a happy life.

A subordinate clause of see (something happen) usually is in the infinitive, without to, like “See Jane run,” “I’d like to see him try!” or “I want to see that happen.” (The rules are different for the idiom “See that it does!” in the imperative.) “[M]y children have a happy life” is subordinate to see, and see is subordinate to wish. You might also want your multiple children to have happy lives, but “a happy life” works here because it implies your family will be sharing a happy life together.

The other two versions have subtly different meanings. “I wish to see my children having” has a progressive aspect—that is, I wish to watch my children as they are having a happy life. “I want to see my children, to have a happy life,” means that seeing your children will bring you happiness. In this context, though, “I wish to see my children,” implies that you are not currently being allowed to.

Want is probably a bit more common than wish in a sentence like this. It’s correct, but some other ways I hear more commonly are:

I want to see my children have a happy life.

My wish is to see my children have a happy life.

I wish [for] my children to have a happy life.

Dropping see also changes the meaning: now I’m no longer also wishing that I be around to see their happy life. Or you could also put the subordinate clause in the future subjunctive:

I wish [that] my children have a happy life.