Hermione opened her mouth, perhaps to tell Ron exactly how to use the Curse of the Bogies, but Harry hissed at her to be quiet and beckoned them all forward.
(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

Harry waved madly at the other three to follow him as quickly as possible.
(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

Do we say that the highlighted parts are the semantic subjects of to-infinitives?

2 Answers 2


Harry hissed at her to be quiet.
Harry waved madly at the other three to follow him.

Her and the other three are the semantic Agents of the following infinitives; but I whether they are the grammatical subjects of those infinitives is tricky. What is clearly not the case is this parsing:

[SUBJECT Harry ] [VERB hissed at ] [COMPLEMENT she BE quiet ]
[SUBJECT Harry ] [VERB waved at ] [COMPLEMENT they FOLLOW him ]

That makes no sense. I think rather what we have here are the verbs HISS and WAVE employed bitransitively, taking two complements—an indirect object representing the person to whom a communication is addressed and a direct object representing the content of the communication. I thus see these sentences as having this structure:

[SUBJECT Harry ] [VERB hissed ] [COMPL-IndObj at her  ] [COMPL-DirObj she BE quiet ]
[SUBJECT Harry ] [VERB waved ] [COMPL-IndObj at them ] [COMPL-DirObj they FOLLOW him ]

The final DirObj complement is realized as an infinitival subordinate clause (she to be quiet, they to follow him) whose subject is deleted because it is the same as the preceding indirect object of the main clause. This is the ‘Equi’ process which Prof. Lawler describes in pellucid detail here.

So the actual subjects of these infinitives have been deleted; but the indirect objects which are left indicate what they would be if they were still there.

marks an utterance as unacceptable
This will trouble traditional grammarians: the radicals declare that the object of a preposition cannot be an indirect object, while the merely conservative declare that an indirect object must be introduced by to or for. I ground my analysis in analogies like these:*

enter image description here

It's entirely natural for verbs like hiss, wave, bark, growl which have common monotransitive uses with at to carry that preposition over into bitransitive uses.

  • When a preposition followed, they are likely to call the indirect object differently: McCawley -> to-dative (The Syntactic Phenomena of English, ch.4; Angela Downing, English Grammar, 11.2 Say and Tell -> oblique object)
    – Listenever
    Jun 6, 2013 at 2:52
  • @Listenever That's very handy, thank you; henceforward I shall call these at-datives ! Jun 6, 2013 at 2:58
  • I guess, "prepositional object" [link](en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Object_(grammar) is a lot more understandable for me.
    – Listenever
    Jun 6, 2013 at 3:05

The other three is part of the prepositional phrase at the other three; it is not the subject of the infinitive, which is used to show purpose of intention.

To open the door, push the button.

To follow him as quickly as possible describes the reason why Harry waved madly. It was not to greet them, but to make them follow him.

  • 2
    Not so fast! The infinitives do not express Harry's purpose: that is for her and the other three to perform the actions which the infinitives express. Hissed and waved here are bi-transitive here, like say, but employing at rather than to to designate their indirect objects; and the indirect objects are the agents/subjects of the following infinitives. Check out John Lawler's discussion. Jun 5, 2013 at 17:02
  • The example as given here can only be parsed one way, which interpretation is still available if it's re-sequenced as Push the button to open the door. But the resequenced version can also be parsed as Push the button whose function is to open the door (as opposed to pushing the button that dims the lights, say). Jun 5, 2013 at 17:41
  • @StoneyB, A sentence in professor John Lawer’s article, ‘I listened to him tell the story once again’, it seems like we have to say ‘[listened][to him tell the story]’(transitive verb ‘listened’ and its object. But Oxford possibly has different thought link : intransitive ‘listen’ and preposition ‘to’ together come to a transitive group. Is this old, and the previous new?
    – Listenever
    Jun 6, 2013 at 2:00
  • @Listenever Prof. Lawler's analysis doesn't take account of this collocation, because it isn't really affected either way (note that he says the verb is listen (to)). I'd be a little more comfortable with treating the verb as transitive listen to = hear. Jun 6, 2013 at 2:24
  • @StoneyB I can see that Oxford has the same opinion as you: hiss and wave are di-transitive verbs. Thank you very much.
    – Listenever
    Jun 6, 2013 at 2:35

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