This is not one of those women's prisons that we have all seen being all sexy on late-night cable.

I saw this line in a tv-series and then I wonder about the construction of this sentence.

He is the man that I have seen cleaning his car. (I have seen him cleaning his car.)

Can I use verbs of perception like this?

  • I'm confused as to what you mean by "perception"
    – Kaique
    Jul 10, 2019 at 14:05
  • 1
    @Kaique - A verb of perception is something like see, hear, or notice and they have a standard construction where you can follow them with an object and an -ing verb: "I saw the man washing his car." The OP is noting a different construction where the object has been moved from its normal spot and put elsewhere in the sentence. It's grammatical, but I haven't figured out a proper way of logically explaining this construction for a proper answer. Jul 10, 2019 at 14:13

1 Answer 1


This is not something that is specific to a verb of perception. You can use any transitive verb in a restrictive clause where the object of that verb is the noun that the restrictive clause modifies:

(A) I sent the letter.

(B) This is the letter that I sent.

In (A), sent is a transitive verb with [the] letter as its object. In (B), the bolded text is a restrictive clause modifying the noun letter. Note that the transitive verb sent in (B) has no object: it refers back to the noun that the phrase is modifying..

Verbs of perception are no different than ordinary verbs - they can be used in a restrictive clause to modify a noun, which acts like the object of that verb of perception. The -ing verb can either go with the object or stay within the clause:

(A) I have seen the man washing his car.

(B) He is the man that I have seen washing his car.

(C) He is the man washing his car that I have seen.

Note that both (B) and (C) are grammatical and have a slightly different emphasis, where the emphasis is on whatever is last in the sentence. (B) emphasizes the action of the man washing his car, while (C) emphasizes my seeing the man.

  • 1
    I'd say that the relative pronoun ("that")--and not the earlier noun--functions as the DO within the relative clause. Also, I don't know why you limit this to restrictive clauses; it applies equally to nonrestrictive ones: "This is not Women's Municipal Prison, which we have all seen being all sexy on late-night cable." "He is my neighbor, whom I have seen cleaning his car." "This is my application letter, which I sent yesterday." Jan 5, 2022 at 5:50

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