I saw him smiling.

Here the participle smiling acts as an adjective, right? I think something is omitted in the sentence. The complete sentence is:

I saw him who was smiling.

Is my concept correct?

  • 1
    No. "See" is one of the verbs that take a gerund-participial clause as a catenative complement. It is not an adjective and doesn't act as an adjective either. Jun 1, 2020 at 10:06
  • @user178049 That is one possible interpretation. Another is that "smiling" is an object-modifying predicate adjective. Jan 2, 2022 at 19:26

3 Answers 3


Nothing is omitted, and your two sentences have slightly different meanings.

In the example, the thing that you saw was the "smiling". You can parse the sentence in different ways. You can say the object is "him" and "smiling" is a participle. The verb "saw" in particular can take an object followed by a participle. This is used in such verbs of perception.

saw him playing tennis
heard him laughing at the clown felt it kicking inside me

It means you see the smile, whereas "I saw him who was smiling" means you saw a person. This person is distinguished by being the smiling person. This would be a very unusual meaning.

My son has been very unhappy since he broke up with his girlfriend, but when she called this morning, I saw him smiling.

Thirty boys came into the class. Most were unhappy to have maths on Monday. But did you see the one who was smiling?

  • Please see the link I've given above. But the answer I got contradicts to your answer. Jun 1, 2020 at 11:31
  • I think the answer you got was wrong. Screaming was what the girl was doing when she was found. Jun 1, 2020 at 12:22
  • I'm happy that this answer is broadly correct. Smiling is not an adjective, it is a participle. You can parse it as a gerund, but I think it is better to understand this as a participle, and the structure is special for verbs of sensation.
    – James K
    Jun 1, 2020 at 13:03

Verbs of perception

Special Usage of Certain Verbs of Perception

Some verbs of perception see, look at, hear, listen to, and feel, along with watch and sense can be used with objects followed by other verbs (base form or gerunds, but not infinitives).

Note the examples below:

We heard you leave. (Okay. Emphasis on our hearing.)

We heard you leaving. (Okay. Emphasis on your leaving.)

We heard you to leave. (Incorrect!)

Verbs of perception_special uses

We heard you leaving. is the same structure as: I saw him smiling.

smiling and leaving put an emphasis on the activity since they are gerund-nouns.


In the sentence "I saw him smiling," smiling is a past progressive form of a verb and answers the question "What was he doing?" There is nothing missing in the sentence.

Smiling acts as an adjective when it shows a characteristic of a noun, so, when it answers "What kind of a man?", for example: "I saw a smiling man."

  • How can 'smiling' be a gerund in this sentence ? It isn't acting as a noun. It is a participle. Jun 1, 2020 at 11:35
  • @SahilLaskar, I can see "smiling" in your example as a past progressive form of the verb smile. In any case, it is not an adjective. Adjectives describe characteristics of the nouns, while in your case, smiling is an action, so a verb.I edited my answer.
    – Jan
    Jun 1, 2020 at 11:44
  • Isn't 'smiling' describing 'him' ? He was smiling and I saw him. So I saw him smiling. Adjective also modifies the pronoun 'him'. Jun 1, 2020 at 11:50
  • @SahilLaskar, bay saying "I saw him smiling" you answer the question "What was he doing when you saw him?" Smiling here is an act, so a verb. Smiling is an adjective when it describes a characteristic of a noun, such as in "a smiling man." In "I saw a tall smiling man," tall and smiling are both adjectives, because they describe his characteristics.. In "I saw a man running and smiling," running and smiling are both verbs, because they describe his actions.
    – Jan
    Jun 1, 2020 at 11:57
  • 2
    Past progressive? The participle on its own has no tense, and the construction "was smiling" does not appear in the sentence. The traditional (but misleading) name for that form is present participle. Jun 1, 2020 at 22:03

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