Are the following two sentences correct?

I want you to go to sleep.


I want you going to sleep.

If they are both correct, what's the difference?


The first sentence is correct. I can imagine just about anyone saying this in the proper context:

I want you to go to sleep.

The second sentence is gramatically incorrect:

I want you going to sleep.

There are grammatical rules regarding which verbs can be followed by infinitives, gerunds, or both. The first (correct) sentence acts as a present tense statement of a desire at the time of the utterance. The desire has a future meaning in the sense that the fulfillment of the desire must occur in the future. However, in the second (incorrect) sentence, the verb "want" requires an infinitive ("to verb" such as to sleep, to play, etc), not a gerund ("verb-ing" such as sleeping, etc). The following are some good resources on this topic:

Is the second sentence comprehensible in some sense? Yes. But so is the incorrect sentence, "I wanting you to going to sleeping." It's not standard English, and an English language learner should stay far away from using the second sentence form.

I stand by the above prescriptive standard and advice. There's no grammatical source that supports any phrase in the form of "I want you gerund to infinitive." Furthermore, Google NGRAM and corpora at corpus.byu.edu show extremely limited usage of this even as a non-standard usage. However, I will likely follow up with this on linguistics.se and will update this answer with a cross-reference when I do so.

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I can only imagine three people who would say "I want you to go to sleep" -- an anaesthetist, a hypnotist, and a parent. The first two plan to act directly to bring about the state of affairs that they "want".

In the case of a parent speaking to a child, the words "I want you to" are simply padding placed around the real instruction "Go to sleep!".

The expression "I want you going to sleep [in a specified state]" might be used by a doctor or other therapist who is recommending a change in your past practice such as "before you are too tired", "absolutely exhausted", "completely satisfied" or "without taking a sedative".

If used alone (as you have quoted it), then I believe it is a regional spoken variant that would not be used in standard written English.

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"I want you" can be followed by an -ing form, but it is unusual. To me it implies that the speaker is expecting to remain in control of the whole situation, not simply requesting an action. Fortiter's suggestion of a doctor is consistent with this: the doctor is looking after the whole situation of which your going to sleep is a part.


I want you to go to the bank.

is a normal request, but

I want you going to the bank.

means that the speaker is setting up a situation as part of which you are to go to the bank.

For normal circumstances, always prefer the I want you to form.

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  • I get where you're coming from with the idea that "-ing" implies a controlled situation, and I do agree that it would be a very apt usage of that form, but I don't believe it is as universal as you state here. I can easily envision a counterexample. In fact, as @Fortiter suggested, I believe it can be used simply as an alternate form of "I want to you...", and in fact is rather common in certain regions. – Ken Bellows Jun 4 '13 at 16:01

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