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Are the following sentences correct? and what is the difference in meaning?

  • I can't imagine John drives a car.

  • I can't imagine John driving a car.

  • I can't imagine John is driving a car.

I think the middle one is correct, but I don't understand its part of speech, tense and clause elements, and I think the other two are wrong, in the same I can understand it grammar and tense

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    Would you please tell us what you think about these sentences yourself? – Cardinal Feb 28 '17 at 19:52
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    Actuality, I think the middle one is correct, but I don't understand its part of speech, tense and clause elements, and I think the other two are wrong, in the same I can understand it grammar and tense – Shannak Feb 28 '17 at 20:11
  • Fine, you can add this to your question. BTW, some verbs take both infinitives and present participles and in my opinion both "drive" (without s) and "driving" can be used with the verb "imagine". However, I am a learner like yourself. Let's wait for the native friends. – Cardinal Feb 28 '17 at 20:16
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    @Kat <strikeout>I don't think "drives" is right in this context; the only ones that seem right to me (as a native speaker) are "driving" and "that John is driving" (the latter of which isn't in the question), both of which mean slightly different things.</strikeout> Edit: Considering them as different tenses, they all work. – wizzwizz4 Mar 1 '17 at 19:21
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    @Kat what about this: "I watched john climb the wall"? – Cardinal Mar 1 '17 at 19:38
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All of them are grammatically correct, and I can imagine using all of them in different situations.

  • I can't imagine John drives a car.
    The use of the simple present tense implies something that is factual or habitual, so this means "I can't believe that John regularly or habitually drives a car. It might be used in a context like this:

    "I need someone to drive me to the train station tomorrow. Do you think John could drive me?"
    "I can't imagine John drives a car. He lives downtown where there's no parking, he's always talking about how awful cars are, and he's as poor as a church mouse anyway."

  • I can't imagine John driving a car.
    The use of the present participle implies the action of driving a car. I would use it like this:

    "Who will drive the car tomorrow? John?"
    "Ha! I can't imagine John driving a car. He gets confused by anything more technologically complicated than a toaster."

  • I can't imagine John is driving a car.
    The use of "is driving" implies that John is driving the car right now as we speak. I would use it like this:

    "I heard that John is going to Bakersville today. Is he driving there?"
    "I can't imagine John is driving a car. It's a long way and he doesn't know the roads, so he's probably taking a bus."

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    @user178049 No: John driving a car can't be expanded to relative clause because there's no 'gap' (missing constituent) which a relative's referent could fill and yield an independent clause. It's a gerund clause (or gerund-participle clause, if you follow CGEL). – StoneyB Mar 1 '17 at 1:16
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    Shouldn't it be "I can't imagine that John drives a car" and "I can't imagine that John is driving a car" ...? And I thought a gerund clause would always have ing in it somewhere. – John Wu Mar 1 '17 at 3:17
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    @JohnWu, "that" in that meaning can usually be omitted without changing the meaning of the sentence (although in some cases omitting it can make the meaning ambiguous). – Wildcard Mar 1 '17 at 3:28
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    @Cardinal All three sentences are valid in both speaking and writing and stangdon's explanation of the differences holds in both modalities. I think there are people who would use "I can't imagine John's driving a car." with a genitive apostrophe. Their meaning would likely be like the 2nd example. But note that the apostrophe could also indicate a contraction of "is driving" so then this is the same as the third example. – weissj Mar 1 '17 at 17:32
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    I read “…John driving…” with a participle, not a gerund. I can imagine John bald, I can imagine John in a star-spangled top hat and clown shoes, but I cannot imagine John (a-)driving a car: these two phrases are parallel, and their head is John. – Anton Sherwood Mar 2 '17 at 6:28

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