I heard the clock strike ten.

Why is strike in the simple present in this sentence?

What are the conditions for using a simple present verb after a past tense verb to talk about the past?

  • 6
    It's the infinitive - simple present would be "I heard the clock strikes ten", which would mean something very different (and would need a fairly contrived context to make sense). – FumbleFingers Oct 19 '14 at 12:37
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    But note that the past, "I heard the clock struck ten", also has a different meaning. – Peter Shor Oct 19 '14 at 13:45
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    It also has a different structure: that is optional in "I heard [(that) the clock struck ten]", but "I heard [the clock strike ten]" can't have that at all. – snailplane Oct 19 '14 at 19:19
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    In case non-native speakers are wondering about the meanings alluded to by FumbleFingers or Peter Shor, their examples would basically mean "I heard someone say that the clock strikes ten" or "I heard someone say that the clock struck ten"; both sentences would describe things that were said about the clock, rather than describing the sound of the clock itself. – supercat Oct 19 '14 at 21:51
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    Since no one else has mentioned it: "striked" isn't correct in any case; the past of "strike" is "struck" (strike is an irregular verb). – hobbs Oct 20 '14 at 5:48

VERBS OF PERCEPTION can take a clause with the verb in the infinitive or plain form. Verbs of perception are verbs about how our bodies detect things in the world. Some examples are:

  • hear, listen, see, watch, look, taste, feel, sense

If these clauses take a verb in the plain form, then the pronoun before the verb will always be accusative (an 'object' pronoun). It does not matter what tense the verb of perception is in:

  • I heard her leave the building
  • I listened to her tell her story.
  • I saw him jump over the elephant.
  • I 'll be watching them clean the building.
  • Look at him run!
  • I could literally literally taste it go sour as I drank it.
  • I felt her touch my arm.
  • I sensed him move the table sightly.

Hope this helps!

  • 1
    Can you give an example for taste? – snailplane Oct 19 '14 at 19:05
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    @snailboat Duly added! :) – Araucaria - Not here any more. Oct 19 '14 at 19:08
  • @Araucaria: The "taste" example seems a bit contrived; I think it would be more natural to "taste" nouns, e.g. "After licking the orange layer for a couple minutes, I began to taste the strawberry one." – supercat Oct 19 '14 at 21:43
  • @supercat Well, I was thinking about a lolly, yes - actually Veruca Salt - if you know the book, then you'll know what I mean! Your example's better, clearer, as an example of a verb taste (but orange and strawberry are nouns nonetheless!) More pertinent, though, is that we need an example of the verb taste which takes an infinitival clause ... otherwise it's not relevant to the OP's question. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Oct 19 '14 at 23:55
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    @Araucaria: My point was that I can't think of any situations where using "taste" with an infinitive clause would sound "natural"; if you can come up with one I'd like to see it (as would snailboat, presumably). – supercat Oct 20 '14 at 2:39

I'd say here the pattern is:

special verb + direct object + infinitive - to

For example:

As soon as Theodore felt the rain splatter on his hot, dusty skin...(Source)

So, in the above sentence we wouldn't normally say ".....felt the rain splattered on his...". Unless we use "that" in that sentence, which would completely change the sentence's meaning.

In your example if you think that it should be 'struck' not 'strike' then you would need "that" in your sentence which would also change your sentence's meaning.

Other examples like your sentence could be (here):

1) She made him take her out for an expensive dinner.

2) I saw my friends mount the Kumba, a frightening roller coaster

3) Rachel went to the airport to watch passenger planes take off and land


Michael Swan writes in "Practical English Usage", topic 281.2, that certain verbs are followed by an object ("clock") and then by an infinitive without "to" (clock strike ten; not to strike ten).

He writes that such verbs include see, hear, feel, watch and notice ("verbs of perception") and let and make.

There's a great example with heard, a poem by A. E. Housman:

He stood, and heard the steeple
Sprinkle the quarters on the morning town.
One, two, three, four, to market-place and people
It tossed them down.

Sprinkle, the infinitive form without "to" (it's called "bare infinitive").

Note that the verb tossed is in the past tense, because it is not included in a similar structure (let/make/hear + object + verb), but works as the only verb in its sentence.

We can rephrase to make the tossed assume the infinitive form toss:

He also noticed the steeple toss them down.
He also let it toss them down.
He also watched it toss them down.
He also felt it toss them down.

In passive versions of the same structure, we use the infinitive with to:

The steeple was heard to toss the quarters down.
The steeple was made to toss the quarters down.

If you want to get into the intricacies of grammar, strike in your example is a non-finite verb.

When we use a verb in a non-finite form, we don't place it in the past tense or in the future. In your kind of sentence, we can only switch it to the form with the -ing ending, to stress the fact that the action is repetitive or takes place over a length of time:

I heard the clock striking so long I doubted it would stop.

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