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I found the box to be empty

Does the sentence mean that the box was empty for real, does it or mean that I guessed the box was empty (i.e. I was not really sure about it but implies only a possibility of the box being empty in a few seconds when you open it).

If the given sentence means that the box was empty for real, then, it means the same as the following sentence, right?

I found the box empty

Formulated a little differently:

(1) I found the box empty
(2) I found the box to be empty

Do these mean the same?

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5 Answers 5

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A similar question has been asked in Should I say 'find...interesting' or 'find...to be interesting'?. According to the approved answer there, "find to be" is exchangeable with "find".

However, I think in this case there may actually be a difference. Looking at yet another question, I find X to be Y vs. I find that X is Y, the real equivalence would be that

I found the box to be empty

is equivalent to

I found that the box is empty

Both sentences use "found" to relate to a fact (that the box is empty). The sentence without "to be" has a different equivalent:

I found the box empty

is equivalent to

The box was empty when I found it

Here, "found" relates to the box itself, not to the fact. With "to be" it can't have this meaning.

So, one answer says they are equivalent and I'm saying there is a difference - what gives?

It means that "I found the box empty" is ambiguous. Context may make the meaning clear, but if you refer to the finding the fact and want to avoid an interpretation of finding the actual box, adding "to be" makes the difference.

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They do mean the same, yes. The complement has just been expanded to give more information about the object in this case.

In short, (2) is much more formal and would be found on a written letter (why you would be writing about empty boxes, I'm not sure). On the other hand, (1) is informal and would be more commonly spoken.

In actual fact, the more likely phrase to be spoken would be:

I found the box was empty

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Both the sentences are grammatical, without any difference in meaning.

You can use the structure find + something/someone + adj. or the structure find + something/someone + to be +adj. However, the former structure is far more common and idiomatic. So we prfer to say:

I found the box empty.

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There is a nuanced difference.

Consider the following definitions:

find verb 1 Discover or perceive by chance or unexpectedly. ‘When the search party returned they found Brush in the kitchen raiding the fridge.’ - ODO

find verb 2.2 Ascertain by study, calculation, or inquiry. ‘The survey also finds a high correlation between overcrowding and incidents of fighting between students.’ - ODO

The version without to be corresponds better with definition 1 (where 'found' relates to a search), whereas the version with to be only works with the second definition (where 'found' has the sense of finding out).

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To me this strikes as a matter of perception.

Consider the following:

If I found the box to be empty, then the box should be empty. Someone else looked inside the box and found it to not be empty after all.

So did I find the box empty, or was my perception deceived?

to be speaks to me electing (categorizing) the box to be empty.

Leaving to be out of the statement, adds more weight to the surety that the box was found to absolutely be empty.

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