5

The military government is committed to a very different policy – postponing for many years a return to democratic rule, giving first priority to economic recovery and the elimination of Marxist influence, and relying ideologically on a combination of Catholic integralism and free-enterpise economics. Why that government has felt it necessary to engage in repressive measures is also related to what went before…

Source: Paul E. Sigmund: The Overthrow of Allende and the Politics of Chile, 1964-1976, p. 11.

Is the last sentence OK? I mean whether there is not by chance ommitted "is" ("has felt it is necessary"). Or is this the example of usage of dummy "it"?

  • Since the Present Perfect is used, the supposed missing verb after 'it' needs to be in the same tense: "government has felt [that] it has been necessary..." which makes the phrase awkward at best. It's easier to omit the verb after 'it'. Similar to phrases like "I see it growing", "we consider it done", "she gauged it important"... – Victor Bazarov Oct 1 '15 at 18:19
  • @VictorBazarov The construction used with feel does not constrain the tense in the complement clause--that's driven by semantics. For instance "Until yesterday the government felt that it will be necessary to find an additional revenue source next year. – StoneyB on hiatus Oct 1 '15 at 18:25
  • "Until yesterday the government felt that it will be necessary to find an additional revenue source next year.“ Why is not "would" used in this sentence instead "will"? – bart-leby Oct 1 '15 at 19:09
  • @StoneyB : I didn't say it was necessary to constrain it. If you explicitly use "felt that it will be", fine. But for the implicit verb, they are assumed the same, was my point. – Victor Bazarov Oct 1 '15 at 20:43
  • @bart-leby You are quite right; would would be far more likely in my clumsily edited sentence. – StoneyB on hiatus Oct 1 '15 at 21:01
2

Why that government has felt it necessary to engage in repressive measures is also related to what went before.

This sentence has a finite clause embedded in the Subject:

  • That government has felt it necessary to engage in repressive measures.

The verb FEEL often takes a Predicative Complement.

  • She felt silly.

In the sentence above, the Predicative Complement is the adjective silly. Predicative Complements normally describe the Subject or Object of the verb. Here the adjective silly describes the Subject, she.

Sometimes what we feel isn't about ourselves but about something else. Here's an example:

  • We felt the measures necessary.

Here the verb is taking a Direct Object, the measures, and a Predicative Complement, necessary. When the verb FEEL takes an Object and a Predicative Complement like this, the Predicative Complement describes the Object, not the Subject. So here the adjective necessary describes the measures.

Notice that the words silly and necessary are adjectives. When we make normal sentences with these adjectives using the verb BE we often like to use a special kind of sentence:

  • It was silly to ask her to marry him.
  • It's dangerous to stick your head inside the mouth of a lion.
  • It is necessary to revise for your exams.

Here we are using a dummy Subject, the word it. This is because the thing that we think is silly, or dangerous, or necessary isn't a physical thing. It's a situation or action. We need to use a clause to describe this situation or action. Here we have used an infinitival clause to describe these actions. In the first sentence the thing that was silly was to ask her to marry him. The thing that is dangerous in the second sentence is to stick your head inside the mouth of a lion. The thing that's necessary is to revise for your exams in the last example.

We could just use the infinitives as Subjects in these examples, but sentence like this are awkward and quite difficult to read and understand. They're difficult to parse:

  • [To ask her to marry him] was silly.
  • [To stick your head inside the mouth of a lion] is dangerous.
  • [To revise for your exams] is necessary.

Because it is awkward to have a long infinitival clause as a Subject, we like to use the dummy pronoun it as the Subject, and move the infinitive to the end of the clause:

  • It is necessary [to revise for your exams].

In the Original Poster's example clause we have a similar situation. The sentence is similar to:

  • We felt the measures necessary.

We could write Original Poster's clause like this, but it would be difficult to understand:

  • The government felt [to engage in repressive measures] necessary.

Here the Object is the infinitive clause to engage in repressive measures. We find it awkward to use infinitival clauses like this. The writer has used a dummy Object in this sentence and moved the infinitival clause to the end. This is a very common pattern:

  • The government felt it necessary [to engage in repressive measures].

There are many other verbs that we use with this kind of pattern. Here are a few of them:

  • believe, consider, declare, deem, find, judge, presume, pronounce, proved, rule, think.
1

I don't think "has been" has been omitted here; I rather believe it is "to be" that is taken out. "Why the government has felt it to be necessary...".

I don't know why the (to be) part is not spoken, it has to do with sounding more eloquent, but I know that there are other verbs where the same thing happens like "consider" or "deem".

I consider it to be true that he stole from us v.s. I consider it true that he stole from us.

He deemed it to be wise to not say much. v.s. He deemed it wise to be not say much.

1

Noting @John B's comment "felt it necessary" is commonly used and "felt it was necessary" is a distant second, I think I should show this NGram chart...

enter image description here

...and point out that NGrams primarily reflects (always slightly outdated and formal) written rather than (bang up-to-date) colloquial spoken usages. It's easy to see where common usage is headed.


The reality is that although native speakers are used to feel [it] necessary with no intervening form of the verb to be, the construction is increasingly seen as formal, dated, starchy, and avoided in speech. We can illustrate this by considering closely-related usages...

I think it [is] useful
I feel it [is] pointless
They believe it [is] beneficial
etc., etc.

As the linked NGrams for those examples clearly show, in every case the version with the verb supplanted the "older" version within the last 40-50 years. I didn't chart (also formal / dated) They believe it to be beneficial, but that's also declined massively over the past century (here's an ELU question about that "subjunctive" usage, if you're interested).

It's also worth noting that exceptionally formal utterances are still firmly wedded to the past...

They consider it [is] imperative
We deem it [is] prudent


TL;DR: OP's cited usage is perfectly "valid", but it's really more of a "historical hangover" than an example of how English normally works today (and more particularly, how it will work tomorrow).

  • I agree the phrase felt it necessary sounds overly formal and becoming outdated. I wonder whether it will continue declining to the level of usage in the 18th century or plateau at about the same level as between 1820-1920: Ngram. – John B Oct 2 '15 at 18:21
  • @John B: Unless a few examples become immortalised as "set phrases", I'd have thought that eventually everything will fall into line with the up-and-coming style. It seems like a fairly clear syntactic context, easily recognised. On average people like to think there is (or should be) consistency in grammar, so over time they tend to nudge things into conformity unless there's some new external factor actively creating the inconsistency. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Oct 2 '15 at 22:26

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