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Is there any explanantion in theoretical grammar why «to be» in some sentences is allowed to be omitted when used with Adjectives and Nouns as Complements and in some cases it is prohibited.

a) I think him ___ very clever and talented. (Adjective)

b) I found the lecture ___dull and uninteresting. (Adjective)

c) I believe her___ a true friend. (Noun)

d) I consider her ___ a model of feminine beauty. (Noun)

e) I consider him ____ honest. (Adjective)

f) I expect him ____honest. – wrong

g) I consider him ____attentive. – wrong

Passive:

h) I consider it ____ finished.

i) I consider it to be finished.

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    This is a very complicated issue, probably not suitable for ELL. I provided an "answer" of sorts to this question on ELU some years ago, but offhand I couldn't "explain" in this comment why the "subjunctive" to be works fine with I believe you to be honest, whereas native speakers would very rarely say I think you to be honest. Note that I believe you are honest is equally as common as the subjunctive/infinitive version, but it's almost always I think you are honest, not ...to be honest. Commented Sep 2, 2021 at 12:23
  • ...also note that there's nothing particularly "wrong" with your final example I consider him attentive (it's only the expect version that's "invalid" / non-idiomatic). Commented Sep 2, 2021 at 12:26
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    I find it interesting to compare I expect that sailor off my ship by midnight (generally considered "valid") and I expect him honest (generally considered "invalid" without to be). But there's definitely not a simple hard-and-fast "rule" involved there that could be usefully taught to learners. Commented Sep 2, 2021 at 12:33
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    IRINA: I hadn't consciously recognised it until @WS2's last couple of comments, but there are half-a-dozen written instances of I expect you ready in [10 minutes / an hour / ...] in Google Books, and I certainly wouldn't say they're "non-idiomatic". Commented Apr 19, 2022 at 10:30
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    ...and I couldn't begin to say why there should be that difference. So don't feel bad if you too find it confusing! :) Commented Apr 19, 2022 at 10:32

3 Answers 3

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Theory:

All of these verbs already mean "I consider it true that X is Y" even if the second to be in each sentence wasn't there - a meaning similar to a couplar/linking verb is part of that meaning.

Since, for example, "I believe X is Y" already means "I consider it true that X is Y", the second "to be" is somewhat redundant.

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  • LawrenceC, thank you! thanks a lot!
    – IRINA
    Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 13:33
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Is there any explanantion in theoretical grammar why «to be» in some sentences is allowed to be omitted when used with Adjectives and Nouns as Complements and in some cases it is prohibited.

Not really. There might be some general rules, but there are so many exceptions that it would not really be worth the trouble of trying to learn them.

Artificial intelligence software for language initially tried to come up with rules for situations like these. But computer programmers eventually gave up, because their rules didn't work consistently.

Today large language models for artificial intelligence software that uses language simply uses brute force to memorize which phrases are considered correct, and which are not actually used, even though they make logical sense and fit some general rule.

There might be a rule that can be devised to explain the pattern we see in constructions like this. But, basically, for an ELL, the right strategy is to memorize which phrases do and do not take "to be" (and in which phrases either is acceptable). Then the ELL should be cautious and ask a fluent speaker what is correct if you don't know which version is correct or preferred.

This is similar to the fact that not all words in English are spelled the way that they sound, and that words in English with similar spellings don't always make the same sounds. Lots of spelling and lots of usage questions are arbitrary decisions made by English speakers long ago about what is right and what is wrong.

For what it is worth, here is my take on the examples given:

a) I think him ___ very clever and talented. (Adjective)

Not idiomatic in modern American English with or without a "to be". It has to be "I think he is very clever and talented" to sound right, rather than "I think him very clever and talented" which might be technically correct, but sounds very stilted (maybe it is O.K. in old fashioned British English, but even that seems like a stretch), or "I think him to be very clever and talented" which is clearly incorrect. I have no idea why this is the case.

b) I found the lecture ___dull and uninteresting. (Adjective)

Correct either way.

c) I believe her___ a true friend. (Noun)

"to be" is necessary.

d) I consider her ___ a model of feminine beauty. (Noun)

Correct either way.

e) I consider him ____ honest. (Adjective)

Correct either way, but without "to be" it is slightly old fashioned.

f) I expect him ____honest. – wrong

"to be" is required.

g) I consider him ____attentive. – wrong

Correct either way, but "to be" is slightly preferred.

Passive:

h) I consider it ____ finished. i) I consider it to be finished.

Correct either way, but "to be" is slightly preferred.

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  • @ruakh I can't imagine any modern person using either of those sentences in American English. The first might be O.K. in old fashioned British English. Without a "to be" is has the verbal equivalent of an "uncanny valley" feel for a modern American English speaker, and feels like something a poorly programmed robot would say. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny_valley (i..e. when things that "imperfectly resemble actual human beings provoke uncanny or strangely familiar feelings of uneasiness and revulsion in observers.") With a "to be" it just sounds incorrect.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 4:38
  • @ruakh I have reworded it a bit for clarity.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 5:03
  • @ruakh Looking at the examples from the Ngram, almost all of the modern references in the corpus are quoting Jane Austin or earlier era British writers or even older American writers like Paine from the late 18th century) or are intentionally copying that style in an effort to sound archaic and British.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 5:15
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    @ruakh I see what you did. Thanks for that correction. Sometimes someone can be blind to what they've written in the case of mistakes like that.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 5:17
  • My pleasure! FWIW, I definitely knew geeks in high school (in, uh, late-20th-century Michigan) who would use light archaisms like that. (Heck, I may have been one of them.) Of course, that was back when kids interacted in person, so there was no risk of being mistaken for an LLM. ;-)
    – ruakh
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 20:18
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There is a small group of verbs that may be followed by a noun and then an adjective, for example

I find him annoying

They are generally verbs relating to opinions: find, assume, consider, think, hold, want, believe. The only way to know for sure whether this usage is acceptable for a particular verb is to check in a good dictionary. In the Cambridge Dictionary, such verbs have an example marked [+ obj + adj].

Note that believe is in the list, so you can say

I believe him honest

This would have been perfectly acceptable in the 1850s: currently it is still considered correct, but overly formal.


Looking at FumbleFingers' example

I expect that sailor off my ship by midnight

I would regard off my ship as a prepositional phrase- basically an adverbial that modifies expect, in the same way as by midnight does.

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  • I don't think "off my ship" is an adverbial. If it is omitted, the sentence has a very different meaning: "I expect that sailor by midnight" means that the sailor is expected to arrive.
    – nschneid
    Commented Oct 23, 2021 at 1:17

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