I have been reading Men With Brooms for a few days. I read a sentence which did not make any sense to me, so I landed here to get some help on it. I have pasted the sentence from the novel. Please go through it and let me know your valuable feedback on it.

An excerpt from the novel (Men With Brooms: A Sweeping Epic, paperback 2002, a novelization by Diane Baker Mason):

Gordon was about to walk away from the Impala when he saw it stop and his son get out. So it was real the boy had come.

As per my opinion it should have been:

Gordon was about to walk away from the Impala when he saw it stopped and his son got out. So it was real the boy had come.

I have two questions here:

  1. Why did the writer use stop and get instead of stopped and got? As she is telling us a story which happened in the past.
  2. Let's say the writer is telling us her mind's situation and she used the present tense for it but why did she use stop and get instead of stops and gets?
  • 3
    There's a question asked today on the same topic, here. You may also try to google "verbs of perception + bare infinitive". Or "observation verbs + infinitive". Oct 19, 2014 at 15:29
  • @CopperKettle Thanks for your response. I am going to check the link you have sent and if I do not understand it I will ping you! Thanks.
    – user62015
    Oct 19, 2014 at 15:33
  • The suggested linked is good; with regard to your particular text, saying "He saw it stop" means that he was watching the Impala at the moment when its velocity became zero; by contrast, saying "He saw it stopped" would would mean that he could tell from observation that its velocity had become zero, but was not necessarily watching it when it did; the latter formulation would often add the word "that", e.g. "He saw that it stopped" or perhaps "He saw that it had stopped".
    – supercat
    Oct 19, 2014 at 21:47
  • Same question with an excellent answer: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/33187/… Dec 16, 2014 at 6:32

9 Answers 9


Some answers have already been given to this question, I will try to phrase it differently, I hope that helps.

Gordon was about to walk away from the Impala when he saw it stop and (saw) his son get out.

This sentence is correct. As already mentioned, the past tense is "saw". The man saw something. What did he see? Two things:

1) He saw the car stop.

2) He saw his son get out.

That means he observed those two actions from start to finish.

Now if "saw" is the past tense, what form are "stop" and "get out"? This is what I call "a bare infinitive", you can call it "an unmarked infinitive", it is the infinitive of the verb without "to". As mentioned before, verbs of perception (hear, listen, see, etc.) take a bare infinitive:

I heard him slam the door.
I watched them grow.

It is possible to say "got out",

He saw it stop, and his son got out.

but the sentence will have a different meaning: what he saw was the stopping of the car; after that was completed, his son got out. But we are not talking about what he saw in the second part, we are talking about the action of the son getting out, and the sentence sounds a bit clumsy to me without "then" after "and".

You could also say something like

He saw it stopped in the middle of the road.

Then it means that he did not see the action of stopping, when he saw the car it was in the middle of the road and it was not moving.


VERBS OF PERCEPTION are verbs that explain how we use our bodies to know about the world. They explain how we use our "five senses". These are our senses of:

  • touch, taste, sight, hearing and smell

Example verbs are:

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

They also include some mental processes we have when we sense things. For example:

  • observe, notice, witness

Verbs of Perception often take an infinitive clause with a verb in the 'infinitive', or plain form:

  • Tom heard her shout his name.
  • I witnessed her leave the building.
  • We saw Bob eat the pie.
  • I felt the atmosphere lighten.
  • Look at them run.
  • I will watch the sun rise again.

Notice that the pronouns before the verbs are always accusative ( - we use him not he, for example). The verb in the subordinate clause has no tense. The verb in the main clause carries the tense:

When the verb is in the plain form like this, it means that we sensed the whole action. We saw (or heard, etc) that the action was completed. Importantly, we also sensed it while it was happening.

However, sometimes we only see part of the action. We may not see whether the action was completed, but we saw somebody or something while they were doing the action. In one of the examples above we saw Bob eat the pie. This means that we saw him eat the whole pie. He finished it. If we only see part of the action we can use a Verb of Perception with a verb in the --ing form:

  • We saw Bob eating the pie.

In the example above, maybe we only saw Bob eating for a very short time. Maybe a few seconds. Perhaps Bob didn't finish eating the pie. Perhaps he did. The sentence does not give us this information. It emphasises that we saw Bob during the eating process, and it emphasises the eating action, not its completion.

The verb SEE

Sometimes we use the verb SEE with a different meaning. It means something like understood or noticed. When we use it like this it can take a finite clause - a clause with a tensed verb. The finite clause will often use the word that:

  • I saw that Bob had eaten the pie.

This meaning of SEE is a bit different from in the examples further above. When SEE takes a finite clause like this, it doesn't mean that we actually saw the action. It just means that we saw something which made us know that the action happened. In this example, maybe we saw Bob with the pie in front of him. Later we saw him with an empty plate, and the pie was gone. We didn't see the eating action. But we understood that Bob had eaten the pie because we got the information from other things that we saw.

We can only do this with some Verbs of Perception, such as SEE, NOTICE or OBSERVE. If we use a Verb of Perception with a verb in the plain form or --ing form, then it means we actually sensed the action while it was happening.

The Original Poster's example

Gordon was about to walk away from the Impala when he saw it stop and his son get out.

In the example above Gordon actually saw the actions. The actions were:

  1. The impala stopped.
  2. His son got out of the vehicle.

Gordon saw these actions happening, and he saw them finish. The actions were completed whilst Gordon was watching them. Because of this, the verbs in the subordinate verb phrases are in the plain form. They have no tense. We understand when the actions happened, because the Verb of Perception, saw, has past tense. The actions happened at the same time as the "seeing".

The verb saw takes a coordinated complement here:

  • he saw [ it stop ] and [ his son get out ].

The two clauses in brackets, [ ], show what Gordon saw. We do not need to use the verb saw twice. The parts in brackets both function as the complement of saw. The word and shows that they are 'coordinated'.

Hope this is helpful!

  • 2
    I was sorta thinking that maybe a non-finite clause is used as the complement (with its non-tensed verb form) in the excerpt because there is no change in the (sub)situation's time. The time of the sub-situations of the car stopping and of his son getting out are using the "time" of the matrix situation of (him) seeing. One of the main uses of tenses is to change the time of the subordinate situation relative to the matrix situation's time. (Also, maybe also there's a historical competition between the finite and non-finite complements, and it could've caused the specialization of uses.)
    – F.E.
    Dec 22, 2014 at 18:54
  • 2
    Aside: And of course, there's the competition between the -ing clause and the infinitival as complement, e.g. "He saw Tom leave the bank" vs "He saw Tom leaving the bank", as to possible nuances of differences in meaning in some contexts, but that's a while nutter story. :)
    – F.E.
    Dec 22, 2014 at 18:58
  • @F.E. Hmm, this is why I can't get on with H&P and catenatives. In almost anyone's book, a clause is a constituent of some sort, a phrase. But according to H&P, as far as I understand - and I think you're with them on this? - although the 'subject' argument of a putative clause here is a 'semantic subject' of the subordinate verb, it is just a Direct Object of the main verb. The plain form verb is another, separate, complement of the main verb. Very importantly, the two complements don't form a constituent. So I don't see where the benefit of ... (continued) Dec 22, 2014 at 22:29
  • @F.E. ... saying that there is a clause headed by an infinitive is? In the OP's example, would that not imply to a reader that it and his were part of a clause syntactically headed by the infinitives in question? Under H&P's grammar that doesn't seem possible ... Surely it would be misleading? Please explain H&P grammar on this, if it's possible!!! :D [ps, also know that maybe I've got something wrong here, but don't know what it could be?] Dec 22, 2014 at 22:33
  • 2
    @F.E. Am off to hit the hay. 6am here. So I also reserve the right to be wrong .. :) Dec 23, 2014 at 6:05

"He saw it stop" is the past tense, but it's a particular construction, where you use the past tense of see (saw), and the present tense (or infinitive minus the "to") of stop. The two verbs are connected, so the fact that saw is past tense implies that the whole phrase is.

"and his son get out" is a parallel construction, and you can understand that by starting a new sentence: "He saw his son get out", which works the same as "He saw it stop". Having two sentences would be a little more wordy.

There are quite a few similar constructions using "sense" verbs, such as watch, observe or hear, where you can use the past tense in place of saw, to imply you "observed" the second verb happen.

  • I'd use ...*his son getting out* because when he observed, the process must be continued.
    – Maulik V
    Dec 17, 2014 at 5:10

The phrase "he saw it stopped" sounds, to my native ears, that he sees a car that has already stopped. You can use more than one past tense (e.g. past perfect), as in "has stopped" or "had stopped" depending on whether the car continues to be stopped, or if it at some point started up again, or is unknown.

You can say "he saw that it had stopped", but this might imply that after his son got out, the car continued on.

Use of anything but the simple past tense is tricky for some, especially since anything beyond it isn't typically taught in American schools.


The verb in the subordinate clause happens to license bare infinitive object complements. The structure of the clause might be clearer with a verb that licenses ordinary infinitives in that role:

when he observed it to stop and his son to get out

Both of your questions assume that the "stop" and the "get" have a tense. They don't. There is no such thing as a present-tense infinitive or a past-tense infinitive. Your second question also assumes that the infinitives should agree with their subjects in grammatical number. Infinitives don't have subjects, so that isn't possible, either.

There is nothing wrong with the way you paraphrased the line. However, you used quite a different grammatical structure:

when he observed [that] it stopped and [that] his son got out

In this version, the simple past-tense verbs of the subordinate clauses do have both subjects and tenses. The object of the verb "observed" is a compound nominative subordinate clause.

In the original version, the verb "observed" is not followed by any clauses. It has two direct objects ("it" and "his son") and each direct object has its own infinitive object complement ("[to] stop" and "[to] get out").

Parsing this sentence can be difficult simply because the bare infinitive form and the simple plural present-tense form happen to be identical. You're expecting to find a sensible tense in a place where no tense exists.


It appears you are assuming a certain meaning in what the author has written that isn't exactly correct.

To put it simply, the author meant the meaning of the phrase to be:

...he saw it stop and he saw his son get out.

And so to simplify to sentence, the author removed the unnecessary repetition of the action 'he saw' to get the resulting phrase:

...he saw it stop and his son get out.

Technical explanation:

The verbs 'stop' and 'get out' (compound verb) are actually unconjugated, meaning they have no tense. The reason they are correct this way is because they are not the actions being performed in that part of the sentence as it appears you have supposed. They are actually acting as objects instead of as verbs.

The verb acting in this phrase is the verb 'saw' ('to see' conjugated in the past tense). The verbs 'stop' and 'get out' are actions, things, that are being referenced to by the acting verb 'saw', and, for this reason, they are left unconjugated.

The action 'stop' is being 'seen', and the action 'get out' is being 'seen', therefore, 'he saw something stop and something else get out.'


I'm not even going to try to do this 'grammatically' I'm attempting my usual fly by the seat of my pants explanation…

As mentioned in one very much down-voted answer, there is a sense of a single action. Though not quite 'single' there is the sense that the actions were continuous, one followed the other in such a way that the first would not have been important enough to mention, had not the second also happened.

"he saw it stop and his son get out."

He saw the car stop - simple enough, no-one seems to disagree on that part
and his son get out - OK, the conundrum, why 'get'…

… because it is part of the continuing action of 'stopping & getting out'. it's all one move, one play, one action; meant to be seen by the reader as a single entity.

Turn it round, as has been argued...
"he saw it stop and his son got out."
Two different things, of negotiable importance.
Which action do we follow with our attention? Which was important? The car? Hardly. The son? Much more likely.
Yet, the car stopping was important, no?


The stop was merely a precursor to the important action, the appearance of his son.

Pulling both actions into the 'present' [or infinitive, I'm no grammarian] brings the essence of the action to the fore, the son is the important part… the car was merely the vehicle, metaphorically & literally, of the son's arrival.

Think of it, perhaps, as "… when he saw it stop, & when he saw his son get out" with ellipsis.


Both sentences have grammatical errors, in my opinion. Are you sure they were copied from the novel correctly? The simplest way to fix them is to make these two changes:

Gordon was about to walk away from the Impala when he saw it stop and his son GOT out. So it was real. (period) The boy had come.

Additionally, the second sentence does not make sense to me without more context. So what was real? Why was the author surprised that the boy came? Had he never met his son before today?

Let's see what your proposed corrections look like...

Gordon was about to walk away from the Impala when he saw it STOPPED and his son GOT out.

This sentence is also correct. However, changing "saw it stop" to "saw it stopped" changes the meaning slightly. "Saw it stop" means he saw the car go from moving to stopped. "Saw it stopped" means he only saw the car not moving.

Gordon was about to walk away from the Impala when he saw it STOPS and his son GETS out.

This sentence is grammatically incorrect. If you use "he saw it" + verb, the verb has to be in the infinitive form or the gerund form. You can't conjugate it.

"His son gets out" (present tense) doesn't agree with the tense of the earlier part of the sentence ("was", "saw"... past tense). If you use past tense in the beginning of the sentence, and this action is happening at the same time, you need to keep this action in past tense.

Hope that answers your questions. :)

  • Please provide feedback as to why this answer is getting downvoted. The answer analyzes the original sentence AND answers both of the OP's questions. Dec 17, 2014 at 0:56
  • 3
    I'm not one of your downvoters. But your very first sentence in your answer post has a dubious opinion: "Both sentences have grammatical errors, in my opinion." For the OP's excerpt seems quite okay to me. I see no grammatical errors in it.
    – F.E.
    Dec 18, 2014 at 0:18
  • 2
    So? Why should your friend carry any weight here?
    – F.E.
    Dec 18, 2014 at 3:09
  • 2
    What personal attacks? You're supplying credentials to back up your grammatical assessment. I'm asking to see your grammatical argumentation that shows how that excerpt is ungrammatical. Now, if you would do that, then that would be great. Go for it. Please show us the grammatical errors in the OP's excerpt.
    – F.E.
    Dec 18, 2014 at 4:03
  • 5
    There is nothing wrong with "he saw it stop and his son get out". It's an ellipsis, short for "he saw it stop and he saw his son get out". It's not a grammatical error. Dec 18, 2014 at 11:50

The author uses "stop and get out" as a single complex action. While the sentence can be written in other tenses, or passive voice, the immediacy of the single complex action is lost. You might here the same sentence from a Police Officer "Stop and get out", indicating a single complex action is required.

  • 3
    the subject of stop and the subject of get out are different. the Impala is the thing that stopped his son is the thing that got out. Dec 15, 2014 at 19:07

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