She told her cat to leave.

Here are two kinds of parsing.

1.Distransitive + indirect object and direct object

She (S) + told (V) her cat (I.O) to leave (D.O)

2.Complex transitive + direct object + object complement

She (S) + told (V) her cat (D.O) + to leave (Objective complement)

Could you tell me which is more close to modern English grammar?

As far as I know, the former means "to leave" is nominal, but the latter "to leave" is adjectival.

1 Answer 1


If you parse this as a ditransitive verb (some sources call it bitransitive), her cat is the direct object, the thing that is being told, and to leave is the indirect object, what the cat was told. That is how this would generally be parsed in modern English, which is (I think) because it would be an incomplete statement without the indirect object. That doesn't mean the indirect is grammatically required, but it is semantically required, so must be provided by context or implication.

Now, you could parse it as a transitive verb with only one object. In that case, to leave would be an adverbial of purpose. That wouldn't make sense here, but in the similarly-parsed "I put my coat on to go out", you can see the meaning of that structure.

Finally, I'm not sure about parsing it as an objective complement. My gut feeling there is that you would phrase it slightly different in that case, making the words of the objective complement be what you might actually say. That parse would make more sense in a case like "I told him no", where the "no" might actually be put in quotation marks or otherwise delineated as reported speech. In that case, I'm not sure if the 'correct' parse would be the ditransitive or the objective complement. The objective complement parse would be more appropriate in verbs that can be used without any indirect object - "I painted the fence" does not immediately raise the question of the colour it was painted, but you can say "I painted the fence red".

  • As far as I know, that "I painted the fence" is a complete sentence can justify that "red" as in "I painted the fence" is not a complement, but a predicative "adjunct." or "secondary predicate" according to "en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secondary_predicate" (A complement is necessary in order to complete the meaning. An adjunct is not necessary, and adds extra information)
    – bookish
    Feb 6, 2019 at 19:04
  • It occures to me that thanks to your explanation, I'm being caught up in the concept "She told her cat" also does not immediately raise the question of what she told her cat. Am I clear? i.e., "She told her cat" is also a complete sentence and it justifies that "to leave" as in "She told her cat to leave" is an adjunct, not a complement. Consequently, She (S) + told (transitive verb) + her cat (D.O) + to leave (Predicative Adjunct)
    – bookish
    Feb 6, 2019 at 19:15
  • "She told her cat" only doesn't raise the question of what she told her cat if the context already provides that. "Who did she tell to leave?" "Oh, she told her cat." Without that context, "she told her cat" is missing essential information, as I see it.
    – SamBC
    Feb 6, 2019 at 19:19
  • I may, however, have got direct and indirect the wrong way around. I'm a native speaker, and that's always tripping me up.
    – SamBC
    Feb 6, 2019 at 19:21
  • Thanks to your hlep, I know that I made a erroneous conclusion. As a learner (non-native), I'm in want of the gut feeling native English speakers have. Then, what can I do for that? Would/could you recommend the/your ultimate/plausible parsing to me? What was "To leave" as in "She told her cat to leave"?
    – bookish
    Feb 6, 2019 at 20:52

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