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Dear respected friends,

I've read a quote confusing my mind. Here is the passage:

Writer David Foster Wallace said that he thought good nonfiction was a chance to “watch somebody reasonably bright but also reasonably average pay far closer attention and think at far more length about all sorts of different stuff than most of us have a chance to in our daily lives.”

My issue starts after "but also" part. I think it simply means that " but also it is [viz. "good nonfiction" which is mentioned in the beginning] to watch reasonably average person who pays* closer attention and thinks at far more length about all sorts of different stuff...."* Shortly, I think it is a reduced clause by deleting"who". Therefore it should have been put "s" after "pay" and "think". But it wasn't.

Could you explain the reason why?

By the way, the book is "show your work" by Austin Kleon.

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    Note that the entire adjectival element reasonably bright but also reasonably average is both syntactically and semantically optional here (the entire sentence would still be perfectly valid, and mean much the same regardless of whether those words were present or not). You might find it easier to parse complex constructions like this if you first look for any such "optional" elements - delete them, and see what you make of whatever's left. – FumbleFingers Apr 29 at 13:53
  • I see. Thank you for your input @FumbleFingers – grammarian Apr 29 at 14:31
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[watch somebody reasonably bright but also reasonably average pay far closer attention and think at far more length] about all sorts of different stuff than most of us have a chance to in our daily lives.

Let's break down the bracketed part of the sentence. Following traditional grammar, it is a coordination of two verb phrases. The repeating words "watch" and "somebody" are omitted because they are retrievable from the context:

Watch somebody reasonably bright but also reasonably average pay far closer attention

Watch somebody reasonably bright but also reasonably average think at far more length

Now, it is clear the verb "pay" and the verb "think" are both complements of "watch" because there's no other verb intervening between "watch" and "pay" or between "watch" and "think".

"Watch" belongs to a special category of verb called the verbs of perception. The verbs of perception must have a verbal complement that is either a bare infinitive or an -ing participle. Therefore, your suggestion is not grammatical:

“watch somebody reasonably bright but also reasonably average pays far closer attention and thinks at far more length about all sorts of different stuff than most of us have a chance to in our daily lives.” (Ungrammatical)

You might want to read more about the verbs of perception here.

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    I am grateful for your explanation. Now, It is clear to me. If I thought for hours I wouldn't have found it. Just to help prospective readers of this post in the future, here is a very simple explanation for verbs of perception. englishgrammar.org/verbs-perception – grammarian Apr 29 at 1:09

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