I just read this in a book (In Cold Blood):

It's true the children do keep me busy...Donnie has learned to open the door and climb on the chairs & other furniture & he worries me constantly about falling.

I just have an odd feeling of the bold-faced words above. I have learned "worry about ...", I would tend to write the sentence as "I constantly worry him about falling".

To confirm. I consulted my dictionaries and found there is such collocation as "worry one(self) about/over...". So "he worries me constantly about falling" may be correct.

But is "I constantly worry him about falling" also correct?

  • 3
    It is the speaker who is doing the worrying, not the baby, so it is he [Donnie] who worries him [the speaker] about falling
    – Jim
    Dec 3 '13 at 4:22
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    "I constantly worries him about falling" is not grammatical. Instead, I always worry about baby falling. may fit.
    – Maulik V
    Dec 3 '13 at 4:43
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    "I constantly worry him about falling" is possible. I supposed that it could be said by an elderly person, where him could refer to someone who cares him. Dec 3 '13 at 4:59
  • I made a mistake. It should be "I constantly worry him about falling". I have edited the OP.
    – dennylv
    Dec 3 '13 at 5:08
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    The author is creating a character here who is a sloppy writer or speaker, and possibly the user of a dialect. It's good to read literature as you learn English, but watch out for authors' portrayals of nonstandard language. Don't try to learn two-point perspective from a Cubist painting. :)
    – Kaz
    Dec 3 '13 at 7:29

Given it's Truman Capote, I hesitate to say the phrasing is "incorrect" - but it's certainly "non-standard". Most people would say...

...and I worry constantly about him falling.

OP's rephrasing "I constantly worry him about falling" is unlikely English. In the original, to worry = to be concerned [about something], but to worry [someone] = to nag [someone] - a completely different sense.

The problem with Capote's version (the clumsy sequence his fictitious letter-writer uses, anyway) is that...

1: He worries me constantly about falling.
has superficially the same structure as, for example,...
2: He worries me constantly about wanting to go to the circus. [probably him/his "wanting"]
3: He worries me constantly about drinking. [probably me/my "drinking"]

Logically it's not likely that Donnie constantly worries/pesters/nags his mother because he wants to fall and she won't let him (sense #2), or because he's concerned that she might fall (sense #3). But given that worry can be used with those senses, it's obviously better to make the meaning absolutely clear.


"Worry" is one of those verbs -- like "burn" -- that change in sense between the transitive and the intransitive.

The stick burns.

The stick is on fire.

I burn the stick.

The stick is on fire (due to an action of mine).

If Donnie worries, he feels the emotion. If Donnie worries me, I feel the emotion. If I worry him about falling, I cause him to feel fear of falling, though it's unclear who would be falling. If I worry about him falling then I feel a fear of him falling.

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