In the sentence "I have never seen it snow", what tense is the verb "snow"?

My coworker who is learning English asked me why "I have never seen it snowed" is incorrect, and I wasn't sure how to explain.

  • See is a sense verb, and they can take either bare infinitive complement clauses, like I have never seen it snow, or gerund complement clauses, like I have never seen it snowing. – John Lawler Jun 8 '18 at 0:53
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    Please see Araucaria's answer in the linked question: ell.stackexchange.com/a/43697/230 – snailplane Jun 17 '18 at 14:00

"Snow" is a bare infinitive here. "Seen" carries the actual tense, and "snow" remains a bare infinitive no matter what the tense is. So:

  • I saw it snow.
  • I will see it snow.
  • I'm seeing it snow.
  • I see it snow.
  • I had seen it snow.
  • I would have seen it snow.
  • I will have seen it snow.

At least some of these can be rephrased so that "snow" takes the tense instead of being a bare infinitive, usually with some differences in meaning or at least connotation.

  • I see it snowed.
  • I see it's snowing.
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    Worth noting that one could say "I have never known it to snow" (though it sounds a little archaic). I suspect "I have never known it snow" is an abbreviation of that. The same thing with "seen" sounds slightly peculiar, but "heard" works. – abligh Jun 7 '18 at 6:20
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    @abligh I have never heard phrasing like "have never known it snow" and would always include the "to". I don't know what makes "known" different from "seen" which I would never use with "to", but both "known it snow" and "seen it to snow" sound very wrong to me. – Kamil Drakari Jun 7 '18 at 13:14
  • What's with this example Would that I could have seen it snow? What does that even mean? Could you just give a normal sentence, please? Also, are you saying I have never seen it snowed is ungrammatical? Can it not be understood as I've never seen that it snowed? @KamilDrakari Know and see are very different, and while you could compare them, I don't see how that might be useful here – there's hundreds of similar-looking sentences you can and can't say. – user3395 Jun 7 '18 at 14:53
  • @userr2684291 Prior question regarding the "Would that I could..." construction. – Kamil Drakari Jun 7 '18 at 15:06
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    You give examples for bare infinitival clauses and that-clauses (declarative content clauses) as complements. For the latter, it might be clearer if you explain that that can be optionally inserted: I see (that) it snowed and I see (that) it's snowing. You could also show that -ing clauses (gerund–participial clauses) are possible, with an atelic meaning: I saw it snowing. – snailplane Jun 17 '18 at 13:33

snow here is not a verb, but an infinitive without to or the base form of the verb "to snow". In your example, snow has been used with a verb of perception: e.g. see, hear, feel. When used in this way, the following formula applies:

Verb + object + infinitive without to.

Let's look at another example: I have never heard her say that before. Here, verb = have heard, object = her, the infinitive without to = say.

In your example, the main verb is have seen with the tense of present perfect, the object is it, followed by snow as the infinitive without to.

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    Infinitive is a verb form, snow is a verb in bare infinitive form here. – rexkogitans Jun 7 '18 at 5:50
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    Interesting. Oxford defines a verbal as "A word or words functioning as a verb", which is the exact opposite of your Norwood Selby's definition. Either way, "snow" here can only be a verb. It's not a noun, adjective, adverb, pronoun, preposition, conjunction or interjection. – Dawood ibn Kareem Jun 7 '18 at 6:14
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    The verb snow can't have tense because it's not finite. – user178049 Jun 7 '18 at 7:25
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    Of course "snow" is a verb in the OP's example. It is the 'plain' form of the verb that is used in infinitival clauses, like the OP's "snow". As with all the secondary verb forms, the plain form is tenseless and used in non-finite clauses. – BillJ Jun 7 '18 at 7:37
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    Yes, the only possible use of the word "verbal" is as an adjective, as in "verbal idiom". Some people publish any rubbish and expect people to believe it! – BillJ Jun 7 '18 at 14:03

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