I'm confused about 'want you to do (something)' and 'want you do (something)'.


"I want you to eat fish" instead of "I want you eat fish" or "I want that you eat fish".

Can anyone explain what is the grammar rule for this?

2 Answers 2


The grammatical reason is that that is the rule with want.

As discussed in somewhat more detail here, each English verb allows (the technical term is licenses) a limited set of possible forms in its complements. The only forms of clause which want licenses are those which employ a marked infinitive—that is, a verb in the infinitive preceded by the ‘particle’ to:

okI want you to eat fish.
okI want for you to eat fish.

The construction with a gerund/participle is sometimes acceptable:

I want you eating fish when I return.

It is acceptable in this instance because the time adverbial when I return allows us to understand eating not as a gerund but as the participle in the marked infinitive progressive construction to be eating: you will be eating at a particular time. The to be in this construction has been conventionally deleted, in effect transforming eating into an adjective modifying you.

These are not acceptable:

∗ I want you eat fish. (unmarked infinitive)
∗ I want that you eat fish. (that + finite verb)

Those are the rules with want. Each verb has its own rules, and you have to learn them one by one.

You will find more discussion of licensing here, here, and here

∗  marks an utterance as unacceptable; marks an utterance as usually unacceptable.

  • I am doubtful about one of your example sentences - "I want for you to eat fish". Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 4:16
  • 1
    @Man_From_India About "I want for you to eat fish", check out this answer: ell.stackexchange.com/a/14795/3281. Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 4:57
  • I totally agree with you whatever you wrote there. And in my answer to this question below I have also mentioned that that "wish + for + " construction is possible, but they are not as common. Please see my answer below. Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 5:01
  • +1 a splendid answer. is it possible to have these many things in one brain ;) love you StoneyB again!
    – Maulik V
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 5:41
  • I think that "I want that you eat fish" is acceptable when talking about an unknown present circumstance. "I don't know what you generally eat on Fridays, but what I want is that you eat fish". Commented Nov 9, 2018 at 16:47

Usage of WANT (verb) - a few guidelines

We don’t use want with a that-clause:

I want you to tidy your room before the visitors come.

Not: I want that you tidy your room

From Cambridge

New uses of the verb "want" are arriving all the time. Modern uses, some of them not yet registered in OED (Oxford English Dictionary) and other dictionaries, are shown in the following examples -

(+ that - clause) You want that I should lose both my lieutenants together? - A. Lejeune, 1986

From The New Fowler's Modern English Usage

When want meaning "desire" is followed immediately by an infinitive construction, it does not take for:

I want you to go (not: want for you to go).

When want and the infinitive are separated by a word or phrase, however, for is used:

What I want is for you to go.

I want very much for you to go.

Want in its meaning of "have need, lack" normally takes for: They'll not want for anything now that they've inherited his estate.

From The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language

Though American Heritage Dictionary opposes this usage yet sometimes this kind of usage is around the corner, though they are very rare (decision made by Google Ngram result)

I want for you to eat fish. (Here "want" means "desire", and it's telling my desire)

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