For instance, they can learn that boats float and can practice ways to make boats move across water.

Is it a subject or an object (the bolded word)?

  • This sentence is a complicated one! Note, we're talking about a small clause inside a longer sentence. The subject of the whole sentence is "they," and it has two main verbs, "learn" and "practice." We can simplify it: "They can learn and practice ways." "Boats" is part of a clause that's at a deeper level than the main subject and objects of the sentence. Nov 27, 2023 at 22:40
  • @Bubbles "Boats" is object of "make". See my comment below to Andy Bonner.
    – BillJ
    Nov 28, 2023 at 11:25
  • This complicated and highly contested question should NOT have been moved to ELL. It is a classic problem in linguistics. Nov 28, 2023 at 13:48
  • Like I said (and some mod removed), boats is used in two different ways here.
    – Lambie
    Nov 28, 2023 at 16:30

2 Answers 2


There are multiple clauses in this sentence. Some of the clauses are infinitive and don't have explicit subjects. When a clause doesn't have an explicit subject, you can understand the subject from context.

The structure with "make" is "... make {object} {bare infinitive}" For example "make him do something" or "make me be something". The word "him" or "me" is necessarily in the object form. The bare infinitive is a subordinate clause.

This word also provides the understood subject of the bare infinitive. So "boats" is the object of the verb "make". But we also understand the subject of verb move is "boats".

  • I would not analyse it that way. I would say that object of make is the entire clause, and the infinitive clause does have a subject: it's boats. Boats is not the object of anything.
    – tchrist
    Nov 27, 2023 at 23:44
  • I hear you, but that analysis has problems. You need to explain why this word has the object form in "make me do it", and note that the infinitive can be dropped to give "You can't make me!". This can be compared to sentences with -ing verbs like "Hear me singing it" (in which me is object form and provides understood object to the gerund/participle) compared with "Hear my singing of it". Grammatically "boats" is an object, but it's main role is that of "affected" in the clause "move across water".
    – James K
    Nov 28, 2023 at 5:59
  • Yes, "to make boats move across water" is a catenative construction with "boats" as raised object.
    – BillJ
    Nov 28, 2023 at 11:14
  • @tchrist This is a big and once highly-contended issue in linguistics. This should definitely never have been moved from EL&U. Or if so, it should have gone to Linguistics! Nov 28, 2023 at 13:55
  • @tchrist Transformationalists used to argue that boat started off as the subject in the subordinate clause and then got "raised" to the object of make in the surface form. Kind of like it died and went to heaven. Nov 28, 2023 at 13:58

"Boats" would be the object, whereas "they" would be the subject. It is often difficult when trying to decipher object/subject when the sentence is in reference to others.

  • 1
    Sorry, this is off-base. It's true that "they" is the subject of the overall sentence, but whatever "boats"' function is, it's a function within a smaller clause. The sentence is not "they move boats." I haven't answered yet because I'm actually not sure of the right terminology. Nov 27, 2023 at 22:37
  • @AndyBonner And it's not what James K wrote in their answer. James K's answer agrees completely with Sean's. Nov 28, 2023 at 13:53
  • @BillJ I think Sean deserves an upvote! Nov 28, 2023 at 13:56
  • 2
    Sorry guys, in my opinion James' answer has the important part: "There are multiple clauses in this sentence." And "boats" is not "the object" of the sentence. "THE" two objects are the word "ways" and (I guess) the phrase "that boats float." Nothing personal, but this answer doesn't have enough detail. Nov 28, 2023 at 14:43
  • @AndyBonner OK, right, I see that. (Although in the 'make'-clause , the subject is understood to be they through a relationship of control, and boat is the object (in most analyses). So it's not clear to me which clause Sean is talking about, given that OP is specifically interested in the boat in the make-VP. Certainly ot worthy of a downvote, imo) Nov 28, 2023 at 17:26

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .