Why do we use singular verb in sentences like this:

Just sitting here and watching the world go by. (not goes)

Just sitting here and watching paint dry. (not dries)

The world goes, doesn't it?

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    I watch the sun set. I hear the bird sing. I felt the shirt rip. Verbs of perception have object complements with bare infinitive.
    – TimR
    Apr 17, 2015 at 12:18
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    @TRomano But For weeks I watched him drowning himself in a bottle. (I just wanted to add another possibility.) Apr 17, 2015 at 14:35
  • @Damkerng T. Right. We can say I saw him painting and I saw him paint. The former I understand to mean "I saw that he was painting" and the latter to mean "I saw his painting technique".
    – TimR
    Apr 17, 2015 at 15:08
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    @TRomano: I don't think either OP's examples or yours feature gerunds, but I agree go by, dry, paint are all bare infinitives. Your semantic distinction doesn't seem to me to be inherent in the choice of verb form - it's just that because there are two alternatives, we're tempted to assign them different meanings. Personally, if I had to "invent" a distinction between "I heard you laughing" and "I heard you laugh" I'd probably say the latter implied I only heard you come out with one short burst of laughter, which seems almost "opposite" to your paint difference. Apr 17, 2015 at 16:17
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    @FumbleFingers: I wouldn't argue for any grammatical difference, but for one based on usage. If I wanted to say that I could hear the faint sound of a female vocalist off in the distance, I'd say I could hear her singing off in the distance but if I wanted to say that I'd been to a concert at which June Tabor performed, I'd say "I've heard June Tabor sing".
    – TimR
    Apr 17, 2015 at 22:12

1 Answer 1


Because the world and the paint aren't the subjects of the sentences, which means there's not a fixed point in time when the world goes or the paint dries. Consider this sentence:

The clock ticks

The clock is the subject, so we conjugate "to tick" into the present simple. However if the clock is not the subject, then the verb "to tick" doesn't get conjugated:

Electricity makes the clock tick

This is because the ticking doesn't just happen in the present tense, the electricity gives the clock the ability to tick, which is why we use the infinitive.

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    OK, I think I got it. So, in the same manner: I was watching the river flow. I will be watching the river flow. Is that correct?
    – Dmitry
    Apr 17, 2015 at 9:59
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    Yes that's correct!
    – Mark
    Apr 17, 2015 at 10:22

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