Why do some verbs can have “to infinitive” as object complement?

I found him to be marvelous

But others cannot:

I painted the house blue

And why do some verbs can omit the “to” in infinitive but some others cannot?

Can omit: I found him (to be ) marvelous

Cannot omit: We want him to be a man

  • In your first example, the subordinate infinitival clause is not an objective complement, but a catenative complement of the catenative verb "find". Grammatically, the intervening NP is object of "find" and the understood (semantic) subject of the subordinate clause. "Find can also take either and AdjP or an NP: "I find him very Intelligent / a fool".
    – BillJ
    Jan 28 at 11:50
  • "Paint" takes only AdjPs and NPs, while "want" takes NPs ("I want a new car") as well as catenative complements as in "I want to speak to Ed" / "I want them standing when the President enters".
    – BillJ
    Jan 28 at 11:52
  • The issue is not naming the grammar. The issue is being able to use verbs in the same categories. So, you might know what all that grammar means but if you don't do the memorizing work, you won't be able to use them correctly. I don't think learners need CGEL.
    – Lambie
    Jan 28 at 18:46
  • @Lambie Hey, how about we just call it regência verbal like everybody else does then? :)
    – tchrist
    Jan 28 at 23:27
  • I don’t know if this is right, after reading about the catenative rules I have some bold thought. So since the catenative would always follow either gerund or infinitive, even if there is a direct object, we can say that if it is a catenative, the complement object is ok to use infinitive like “I found it to be funny”. If this catenative verb can also function as a non catenative verb, then it would simply add a adj : I found it funny. And conversely, if the non catenative verb cannot function as a catenative at all, then infinitive would not be a choice, it won’t have a infinitive to follow.
    – Gimletful
    Jan 29 at 3:59

2 Answers 2


The particular rules for what complements are required or possible for a verb are called its valency. The rules are part of the grammar of the verb and may not have a logical reason. Just as some verbs are transitive and some are intransitive, and you may not be able to logically work out that (for example) "search" is intransitive, you may not be able to work out that "find" permits an infinitive complement, but not "paint".

There can also be differences of meaning. "I found him a man" and "I found him to be a man" are very different. The first may be a verb with direct and indirect object, and the use of the infinitive has the effect of removing the ambiguity.

So there isn't a logical pattern to follow here, just the usual fact that syntax matters. I would not say that "to be" is omitted in "I found him marvellous", instead I'd say that "find" licences an adjective (phrase) as an object complement, but "want" does not licence a noun as an object complement.

  • But I'd have thought most instances of the verb to search are transitive, as in We searched the house. Jan 28 at 14:40
  • Okay, but it may be surprising that the object that is sought is not the direct object of "search".
    – James K
    Jan 28 at 15:52
  • Yeah - with "search" I think you must have a preposition before "the thing sought / searched for". But with near-synonymous "seek", I'm okay with prepositionless He sought the truth in books. Jan 28 at 17:44

The verbs listed in 1) and 2) are taken from the British Council site.

  1. Some verbs take a to-infinitive, others do not. You have to memorize them. Also, some can take a to-infinitive or -ing.

verbs of thinking and feeling:



would like/love

verbs of saying:

others: others arrange attempt fail help manage tend try

verb + noun + to + infinitive [partial list] Some verbs are followed by a noun and the infinitive with to:

*She asked him to send her a text message.
*He wanted all his friends to come to his party.

See the full scoop for these English rules from the British Council (note that these verbs are the same in AmE

  1. I painted the house blue:

Here is what John Lawler said about a sentence like that:

[...] many sentence types fit into a single sentence frame like Subject Verb Object{?} Adjective, where the nature of the "Verb-Object" relation is subject to {?}, which is a very broad range. For instance, from memory, some possibilities, with different predicates but the same Subject Verb Object{?} Adjective [italics mine] structure: They shot him dead. They found him alive. They buried him alive. They painted it black. They called it black. They named it "Peace Vermillion".

language log_ Please see the full discussion

Bear in mind: All the verbs above are action (or active) verbs in those examples. This is a common structure in English. SUBJECT + ACTIVE VERB+AdJ

However: *We want him to be a man.

is an example of Verb + Noun [or pronoun] plus to-infinitive (see the British Council link above) The verbs, among others, ask, want, advise, encourage take this pattern.

*I found him [to be] marvelous.

Find is an active (action) verb as it is followed by an object. And the to be can be omitted when the object, here a pronoun, is followed by an adjective.

  • Well to remember is the easier part, whether there is still certain logic behind it or not. The hard part is really the grammar concerning the verb and infinitive as object complement. You have to first understand finite- non finite verbs, then to infinitive serves as different part of speech, then infinitive serves as subject predicate such as in linking verb sentence, then infinitive serves as object infinitive, only by then do I finally reached this far and asked this questions It feels just much easier to just remember words and it’s own rules
    – Gimletful
    Jan 29 at 4:18
  • To choose between gerund and infinitive is relatively easier part I mean.
    – Gimletful
    Jan 29 at 4:25
  • @Gimletful Have you studied French? There are verbs that take de and verbs that take à. You have to memorize them at first until you internatlize them. [You might want to check your grammar in your comments. I'm sorry but it's full of mistakes.]
    – Lambie
    Jan 29 at 13:48
  • Well, I had some shallow experience with French, about a and de I mean. But since I didn’t delve deeper, that had been shelved. As for the mistakes, I learn by making them, or when I was driving.
    – Gimletful
    Jan 30 at 9:22
  • @Gimletful Yes, you can learn by making mistakes. For example, Since I didn't dig deeper, I shelved that. Not had shelved. But that is a different question.
    – Lambie
    Jan 30 at 15:40

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