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In "THE MORPHOLEXICAL NATURE OF ENGLISH to-CONTRACTION", Pullum quotes four examples of usage of "wants to"/"wansta":

(5)
a. Teddy is the man Mike wants to send.
b. Teddy is the man Mike wants to go.
c. Teddy is the man Mike wansta send.
d. *Teddy is the man Mike wansta go.

I would like to understand the difference between 5c and 5d, and what makes 5d ungrammatical.


* is used to mark a sentence as ungrammatical.

2 Answers 2

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Alternative explanation: in colloquial English, wanna, hafta, gonna, have been reanalyzed infinitive constructions to modal verbs exactly like "must," "would," "should," etc. So the following is ungrammatical

*This is the candidate that I wanna win.

because the subject of "wanna" does not match the subject of "win."

(I switched to the first person because I want to separate the issue from wants to vs. "wansta.")

This explanation jives with the intuitive problem when you hear the (*) sentence ("wait, YOU wanna win??") and doesn't require transformational grammar, which, regardless of its truth value, is not so easy to learn for second language learners!

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To understand the difference between 5c and 5d, let's consider the following transformations:

(I)
a. Mike wansta send Teddy.
b. Mike wants Teddy to go.

(II)
a. Teddy is the man; Mike wansta send him.
b. Teddy is the man; Mike wants him to go.

(III)
a. Teddy is the man Mike wansta send.
b. Teddy is the man Mike wants to go.

These transformations suggest that the to-contraction is only grammatical for a string of words of the form "WANT + to + [infinitive]".

Let's try to test how far this rule goes by using a negative infinitive:

(IV)
a. I'll do any damned thing I have to not to drink.
b. I'll do any damned thing I hafta not to drink.

In conclusion, 5d is ungrammatical because it doesn't follow the pattern "WANT + to + [infinitive]".

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  • 1
    Is the "wansta" contraction used in written English, because I've never seen it?
    – jinawee
    Jul 30, 2014 at 10:03
  • @jinawee, no, it is not, it is used specifically by pullum to illustrate this linguistic point (which is very interesting). the point is that the non-pronunciation of the final t is prohibited in certain contexts.
    – hunter
    Jul 30, 2014 at 10:14
  • @jinawee, here's an example. I reckon it is avoided in written English unless there's a reason to reproduce informal speech literally.
    – Nico
    Jul 30, 2014 at 10:18

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