Please help me understand. Can an infinitive phrase function as an object complement noun?

I.e. The teacher told her student to stop complaining.

What is the function of the words ‘her student to stop complaining’?

Teacher (subject, nominative) told (verb, transitive) student (Direct Object?) to stop complaining (Infinitive phrase acting as an OCN?)

Or is ‘her student to stop complaining’ an Infinitival Clause acting as a Direct Object?

  • 1
    It would seem so, although I expect with verbs like "tell" there is a special name for this kind of infinitive phrase. I can't imagine how the distinction is meaningful toward learning English, but I understand some people love classifying things.
    – Andrew
    Apr 3, 2019 at 5:40
  • 3
    No: "Tell" is a catenative verb, so this is a catenative construction in which "her students" is direct object, and the infinitival clause "to stop complaining" is catenative complement of "told".
    – BillJ
    Apr 3, 2019 at 6:39
  • Your parse is incorrect: The teacher | told her student | to stop complaining.
    – Lambie
    Feb 2 at 16:36

1 Answer 1


@BillJ is correct, but let me explain why.

an object complement noun is usually a noun or adjective that modifies the direct object. The phrase "to stop complaining" is neither a noun or an adjective, which gives us the hint that it's not an object complement noun.

The sentence construction is catenative, meaning that the verb (in your case, "told") is followed by a function word ("to," "on," "for," etc.). In other words, a sentence of the form:

Subject verb1 [to|on|for|...] (predicate or...) verb2 (predicate)


You stopped to observe the painting.

You stopped at the painting to observe.

In both examples:

  • Subject = "you"
  • Verb1 = "to stop"
  • Verb2 = "to observe"
  • Predicate = "the painting"

Catenative verbs can be thought of as verbs that need or are benefited by a following or associated action. Using my examples above, you could say...

You stopped at the painting.

Which is a complete sentence. By adding the "to observe" at the end puts the sentence in its catenative form and adds context to why you stopped.

For more information, please read this article at Wikipedia.

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