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In the Eric Bogle's anti-war song "Welcome Home" (about the Vietnam War) there is a line "I heard old war drums beat.". Is it grammatical or is it licentia poetica? I think I understand the meaning, but I do not understand how it can be grammatical.

On the face of it, it appears to use this grammatical construction that does not exist in Croatian (my native language), but exists in Latin and English, called accusative with infinitive. However, that does not fully explain that sentence. The word beat is the present active infinitive. If we use accusative with infinitive, and the action that the infinitive describes happens at the same time as the main verb (and the drums were being beaten at the same time as he heard them), the tense of the infinitive has to match the tense of the main verb. That is called consecutio temporum (that does not exist in Croatian, but it exists in Latin and English). Furthermore, drums did not beat, they were being beaten, so we need to use the past passive infinitive. The grammatical version of that sentence would be, if I am not mistaken, "I heard old war drums have been beaten."

Am I misunderstanding something about English grammar here?

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    The last "I heard old war drums have been beaten" doesn't say you heard the drums themselves, but heard about them: someone told you. Commented Jul 15, 2023 at 14:37
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    There's nothing wrong with the original phrasing, but your I heard old war drums have been beaten is a bit "peculiar", and doesn't exactly mean the same thing. But you shouldn't waste much time looking into the "grammaticality" or idiomacy of lines from songs. They're often very unlike normal use of English. Note that your assertion drums did not beat, they were being beaten is completely mistaken - both the drums were beating and the drums were being beaten are natural in English. Commented Jul 15, 2023 at 14:38
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    It's perfectly acceptable in English to say I heard the drums beat/the trumpet play/the car start etc. even though we know a person had to make them do so. Commented Jul 15, 2023 at 15:46
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    Yes it's grammatical, but only a handful of verbs can be used this way, generally verbs of perception: such as see, watch, notice, hear, listen, feel etc. More info here
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Jul 15, 2023 at 19:47
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    @QuackE.Duck I'm just curious: You say "the main verb is in the . . . present perfect, or future perfect" and then "it's in the . . . perfect, or pluperfect". What do you mean by unqualified "perfect", and how does it differ from those other three? Commented Jul 16, 2023 at 1:28

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The way some verbs can be used both as transitive and and (the former, in your example of beating drums) has been discussed in this case:

https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/95805/this-wine-is-drinking-nicely-does-anything-else-drink-nicely

In John Lawler's answer in said thread, this double function of the so-called causative verbs is analysed. You can also consult Wikipedia on them.

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    Rather than providing links to the information that answers the question, please edit your answer to provide it in the answer itself.
    – gotube
    Commented Jul 15, 2023 at 17:58
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    Unless I'm missing something, John Lawler doe not provide an answer in that thread. Commented Jul 16, 2023 at 1:38
  • @MarcInManhattan Hmm, you're right... I should have checked before I upvoted this :| Commented Jul 16, 2023 at 2:07
  • @MariaA. Maybe you meant to link this question instead? John Lawler's answer about causative verbs seems to be here: english.stackexchange.com/questions/573025/… Commented Jul 16, 2023 at 2:09
  • Thank you all for the correction. And about indicating me one is not to link to other members' answers. I only discovered this forum, and joined it, ten days ago. Should have read the rules carefully before attempting contribute.
    – Maria A.
    Commented Jul 20, 2023 at 16:40

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