"I heard him drop his keys"

I = subject

heard = verb

"him drop his keys." = direct object.

But how can I understand 'drop his keys'?

"I heard him singing in the shower."

Here, "singing in the shower" is an adjectival participle phrase.

"I wanted her TO sing in the shower."

"to sing in the shower" is an infinitive phrase.

But in 'him drop his keys", drop is not a participle, and it's not quite an infinitive with an understood 'to' either (who would say, "I heard him to drop his keys"?) and it's not a truncated phrase like "as he dropped his keys."

"drop his keys' answers the question 'what?" which is a noun sort of question, as opposed to the adverbial "when?", "how?, "where?"" questions, or the how many?", "what kind of?" adjectival questions.

  • Possible duplicate of Direct object of the verb "want" – user178049 Apr 5 '19 at 3:45
  • @user178049 I disagree. This question isn't about "to want", it's about verbs as direct objects. – user45266 Apr 5 '19 at 6:19
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    @user45266 "Want" and "hear", in this case, have the same construction and the same kind of complementation. They both take a direct object and a catenative complement. The OP argues that the "him drop his key" is a direct object of the verb and BillJ's answer clearly proves that the premise is wrong because the word string "him drop his key" does not form a constituent. Note that it fails the pseudo-cleft test -- *"What he heard was him drop the key". The direct object here is "him" and the bare-infinitival clause is a catenative complement. – user178049 Apr 5 '19 at 6:35
  • It's a duplicate in the sense that the answer is of the same structure, though I can understand people not 'getting' a bare infinitive catenative complement from reading about a to-infinitive catenative complement. – SamBC Apr 5 '19 at 14:45
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    @user45266 OK. Now the question has become clearer. Thanks to the edit. Patrick Coloney, whether or not the subordinator 'to' is present depends on the verb which licenses the complement. Some verbs such as "see" and "hear" take a bare-infinival clause as a complement. Some verbs such as "decide" and "want" take a to-infinival clause as a complement. Some verbs allow both patterns such as "dare", "know" and "help". – user178049 Apr 5 '19 at 16:04

I think it [drop] is closest to the bare infinitive.

Compare "For him to drop his keys is unusual."

Yes, "him drop his keys" is a noun clause.

From Grammar Monster:

Bare infinitives also follow other verbs. The main ones are feel, hear, help, let, make, see, and watch. This time, there is a direct object involved. For example:

Dawn helped her friend bake his mother a cake.
(The "special" verb is helped. The direct object is her friend. In the infinitive phrase, the bare infinitive is bake. Its direct object is a cake. This time there is an indirect object (his mother) in the infinitive phrase too.) 

As in the question linked in comments, Direct object of the verb "want", we are dealing here with a catenative verb. The direct object is him, and and the remainder, "drop his keys", is the catenative complement. What's different here is what sort of verb is used in the complement.

Catenative verbs can take gerunds (or gerund phrases), and infinitival phrases using either a to-infinitive or a bare infinitive. Each such verb is different; some can only take one, and some can take any one of two, or any of the three, sometimes with the meaning shifting meaning. Hear takes a bare infinitival phrase, and depending on how you like to analyse things, possibly gerund phrases as well.

Thus, drop his keys is a bare infinitival phrase acting as a catenative complement.

  • These are verbs of perception. The rest is really academic. – Lambie Apr 6 '19 at 13:18

Two Patterns You Can Use with Verbs of Perception

I saw him eat [eating] his dinner.

I heard him drop [dropping] his keys.

I watched him wash [washing] the mud off the dog.

These verbs of perception can take the bare infinitive or the gerund.

These verbs of perception function in a particular way: Hear, see, watch, notice, smell, observe and similar verbs of perception can be followed by object + infinitive without to or object + -ing form.

I saw him eating his dinner. I saw him eat his dinner.

When the ing form is used, it implies something in process. For example here, "I saw him while he was eating dinner" has the same meaning as the usage with verb-ing. The bare infinitive means the action is finished. Or, it's a general case in the simple present: I see him eat his dinner every night.

Both forms are fine and have nuances of meaning. Basically, these are verbs you have to memorize in terms of usage. I haven't specifically defined the clauses because I think it's more important to recognize the patterns and the rules governing them. bare infinitives after verbs of perception

verbs of perception can be followed by bare infinitive or verb-ing


This is a construction derived from Latin, called the 'Accusative with infinitive clause.' In "I heard him drop his keys." it's a 'bare infinitive' without the 'to.'

From Wikipedia on Infinitives

"Clauses with subject in the accusative case Following certain verbs or prepositions, infinitives commonly do have an expressed subject, e.g.,

I want them to eat their dinner. For him to fail now would be a disappointment. As these examples illustrate, the subject of the infinitive is in the objective case (them, him) in contrast to the nominative case that would be used with a finite verb, e.g., "They ate their dinner." Such accusative and infinitive constructions are present in Latin and Ancient Greek, as well as many modern languages. The unusual case for the subject of an infinitive is an example of exceptional case-marking, where the infinitive clause's role being an object of a verb or preposition (want, for) overpowers the pronoun's subjective role within the clause."

  • It's a verb of perception. – Lambie Apr 5 '19 at 15:18

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