Quirk's CGEL (p.1171) classifies "B8 They want us to help." under Type SVO (To-infinitive+S as O), where "us" is supposed to be the semantic subject of the verb "help." If so, what exactly is supposed to be the single O (object) in this sentence? Is it "us to help" as a whole?

16.41 [B8] Complementation by to-infinitive clause (with subject) The verbs in this group (as distinct from the apparently similar 'object + infinitive' construction; cf 16.50) are restricted to a small number chiefly denoting (not) liking or wanting: (can't) bear, desire, hate, like, love, prefer, want, and wish:

  • They don't like the house to be left empty.
  • I wouldn't want you to lose your way.

After these verbs, the noun phrase preceding the infinitive cannot be made the subject of a passive main clause: *The house isn't liked to be left empty (by them).

There is moreover an alternative construction (chiefly restricted to AmE) in which the noun phrase is preceded by for which marks it as the subject of an infinitive clause, rather than as object of the main clause:

  • Jack prefers for his wife to drive the truck. (esp AmE)

These two observations point in the direction of a monotransitive analysis of such verbs. (p. 1193)

  • That is what it looks like to me. What they want is for you to help. You helping is the object of their wanting. Jan 17, 2021 at 7:13
  • Or to phrase it as if I am one of you, "Us helping is what they want." I'm just answering as a native speaker, but I think I follow the material. Jan 17, 2021 at 7:16

1 Answer 1


They want us to help.

No: clauses do not function as objects.

This is a catenative construction with "want" as the catenative verb and the infinitival clause "to help" its catenative complement.

The intervening NP "us" is the syntactic object of "want" and the understood (semantic) subject of the subordinate clause.

"Us" is called a 'raised object' here because the verb it relates to syntactically is higher in the constituent structure than the one it relates to semantically.

The term 'catenative' comes from the Latin word for "chain", which is appropriate here for the verbs "want" and "help" do indeed form a chain, in this case separated by the NP "us". The presence of the intervening NP marks this as a 'complex catenative' construction.

  • Then this is a kind of raising construction like “I expect that he knows it." → “I expect him to know it."? (in CaGEL rather than CGEL?)
    – Exp
    Jan 17, 2021 at 10:03
  • @fugue Yes, "want" is a raised object verb.
    – BillJ
    Jan 17, 2021 at 10:09

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