I watched the balloon rise.

I understand that "rise" in this sentence is not in the 3rd person, because otherwise it would have "s" and it doesn't.

Is it infinitive? The why not "to rise"? I kinda understand it but I can't explain to another person why.

  • 1
    It is an infinitive, a so-called bare infinitive. Google bare infinitives for a full explanation and lots of examples. Jul 14, 2020 at 15:39
  • 1
    "Watch" is a catenative verb that takes a bare infinitival complement here. Other verbs of sensory perception that can also take bare infinitival complements include "feel", "hear", "notice", "see" and "watch", though most can take to-infinitivals as well, e.g. "We saw him to be an imposter". I don't know why; it's just the way these verbs work.
    – BillJ
    Jul 14, 2020 at 15:41
  • Incidentally, the intervening noun phrase "the balloon" is object of "watched", but only the understood (semantic) subject of "rise". In other words, "the balloon" is not syntactically subject of the infinitival clause.
    – BillJ
    Jul 14, 2020 at 16:19
  • Thank you. I got it now. Jul 14, 2020 at 17:11

2 Answers 2


I watched the balloon rise.

"Watch" is one of a few verbs of sensory perception that can take a bare infinitival complement, but not a to-infinitival complement.

Most of the other verbs of sensory perception can take both a bare and to-infinitival complements, cf. I saw him leave and the passive He was seen to leave.

There are plenty of resources on the 'Net, where you can find more information about other verbs whose complements are restricted to one or the other, or that can take both kinds of infinitival complement.

  • Thank you. I think I get it now. Jul 14, 2020 at 17:11

Other examples of this structure or form.

  • He saw the man leave.
  • They heard the door bang.
  • She felt her pulse race.
  • We watched the house burn.
  • I listened to the music play.
  • He looked at the squirrel run.
  • We experienced the situation worsen.
  • I perceived the the bell ring.
  • We noticed the door open.

So, those are some of the verbs that can work this way. They all involve having a direct experience of some thing.

If you take the direct object and replace the present simple verb with when it + the verb, the meaning is clear.

  • I saw the man leave. = I saw the man when he left.
  • They heard the door bang. = They heard the door when it banged.

The examples above where the third person plural s is not used, are just like:

  • We suggest you leave.
  • I recommend he go.
  • It is important he play today.

However, in the first group of examples, the main verbs are all in the simple past. Except for stage or movie script directions, the simple present here would be odd, though the continuous would not:

  • He sees the man leave. [theatrical script]
  • He saw the man leave. [real life]
  • I'm seeing the man leave. [real life, as he leaves]

This used to be called subjunctive in English. Many linguists would call this a bare infinitive today.

Personally, I would argue that these examples parse like this:

  • He saw//the man leave

And that "the man leave" is simply a direct object phrase in the form of a subject plus bare infinitive as with verbs like recommend or advise or suggest.

Same as: I watched//the balloon rise.

These can also be analyzed as noun clauses:

For example, from the linked text:

The sales clerk suggested she put the dress on hold.

noun clauses

To summarize, some verbs of observing and experiencing function in a way similar to the verbs advise, recommend and suggest where the noun phrase verb in the third person singular does not take an s.

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