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Thread: wh-questions with perception verbs

  1. #1
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    wh-questions with perception verbs

    Hello. I would like to know whether the following sentences (1b,2b) are grammatical or not.
    Do you think that it is possible to make questions like (1b,2b) from (1a,1b)?

    (1)
    a. I saw John enter the building.
    b. Who did you see enter the building?

    (2)
    a. I heard Mary ring the bell.
    b. Who did you hear ring the bell?

    Thank you for your cooperation.
    Last edited by Takahero; 24th December 2010 at 8:36 AM.

  2. #2
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    Re: wh-questions with perception verbs

    What do you think, Takahero? Is there a reason you doubt that these sentences are correct?

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    Re: wh-questions with perception verbs

    I just wanted to know whether these sentences are correct or not.
    I thought that John enter the building in 1a and Mary ring the bell in 2a make a group, so they cannot be extracted. In fact, they can be replaced with it. For example, I saw it and I heard it.

    If 1b and 2b are grammatical, can you give me example sentences used in newspapers or books?
    Last edited by Takahero; 24th December 2010 at 1:52 PM.

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    Re: wh-questions with perception verbs

    Examples of what? Which part of the grammar do you have a question about?

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    Re: wh-questions with perception verbs

    On a grammatical basis they are all correct, i.e. they make sense

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    Re: wh-questions with perception verbs

    I really appreciate your help, giorgio antonio.

    I understand that it is possible to extract a noun from a embedded clause as in (1b, 2b).
    But, different from (1b, 2b), why is it impossible to move a noun like John in (3b)?
    (3)
    a. It was difficult to see John draw a circle.
    b. *John was difficult to see draw a circle.
    Last edited by Takahero; 24th December 2010 at 2:00 PM.

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    Re: wh-questions with perception verbs

    You cannot move the subject (John) because it will no longer be related to the object (circle) in b).

    the subject in b now relates to difficult: John was difficult (to see) - meaning it was hard to see John. The circle now has nobody drawing it as John is too busy being difficult!

    If you want to rearrange then you could say: 'John drawing a circle was difficult to see'
    This sentence keeps the circle and John together as subject and object. Whilst being correct this way is unnecessarily long compared to 3a and i would always opt for a. rather than using the passive here.

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    Re: wh-questions with perception verbs

    Hi Takahero,

    Really good question. Let me repeat (3) below, and add two extra lines (c and d):

    (3)
    a. It was difficult to see John draw a circle.
    b. *John was difficult to see draw a circle.
    c. *Who was difficult to see draw a circle?
    d. Who was it difficult to see draw a circle?

    Notice that (3d) shows how wh-extraction is possible in this sort of construction. What's not possible, however, is raising. What is raising? Raising is something like the following:

    (4)
    a. It was difficult to convince John.
    b. John was difficult to convince.
    c. Who was difficult to convince?
    d. Who was it difficult to convince?

    (4a) is the un-raised construction; (4b) is the raised version of (4a); (4c) is the question-version of (4b), i.e. raised; (4d) is the question-version of (4a), i.e. un-raised. The presence of the expletive it denotes an un-raised construction; raised constructions have a raised subject in place of it.

    So the real question is not "Why is wh-extraction not possible in (3a)?" -- because it is possible, as evidenced in (3d), and because, as (1) and (2) show, wh-extraction from clauses embedded under perception verbs is possible.

    Rather, the question is: "Why is raising not possible in (3a)?"

    I think the answer to this might simply be: it is impossible to raise outside of an embedded clause. This explains why (3b) and (3c), which involve raising John (or who) from the embedded clause [John draw a circle], are ungrammatical, whereas (3d), which does not involve raising (it's simple wh-movement) is grammatical.

    Likewise, all the sentences in (4) are grammatical because, even though (4b) and (4c) involve raising, [to convince John/who] is not the same sort of embedded clause as [John draw a circle] in (3).
    "I don't give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way."

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    Re: wh-questions with perception verbs

    Thank you for answering questions, brian.
    Your explanation is really informative.
    May I ask a question again?

    Grammarians such as Jespersen argue that John draw a cricle in (5a) forms a unit(constituent) because John draw a cricle can be replaced with it as in (5b).

    (5)
    a.Mary saw [John draw a circle] and Bill saw [John draw a cricle] too.
    b.Mary saw [John draw a circle], and Bill saw it too.

    If John draw a cricle is a unit, why can part of it be moved with wh-movement or passivization as in (6b,c)?
    And brian said it is impossible to raise outside of an embedded clause when explaining the ungrammaticality of (3b) and (3c), but why is the same kind of NP-movement allowed in (6c)?

    (6)
    a.Mary saw John draw a circle.
    b.Who did Mary see draw a circle?
    c.John was seen to draw a cricle.

    Thank you for your reply as always.
    Last edited by Takahero; 25th December 2010 at 3:55 PM.

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    Re: wh-questions with perception verbs

    Hi Takahero,

    Just because [draw a circle] is a clausal constituent does not mean things cannot be extracted -- this is totally normal. Take another example, without perception verbs:

    (7)
    a. Mary thinks [John drew a circle] and Bill thinks so, too.
    b. Who does Mary think drew a circle?
    c. John was thought to have drawn (to draw) a circle.

    And similarly as before, extraction is impossible in raising constructions:

    (8)
    a. It is difficult to think John drew a circle.
    b. *John is difficult to think drew a circle.

    So basically, it seems there's nothing particularly special about the clauses that perception verbs introduce; rather, they seem to work just like other clauses with respect to passivization and wh-extraction.
    "I don't give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way."

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    Re: wh-questions with perception verbs

    I really appreciate your help, brian.
    From your explanation, I got a question.

    (9)a. I saw it rain.
    b.It was seen to rain

    Is it possible to passivize (9a) to (9b)? 
    If not, it seems that passivization is not always allowed.
    In what condition, passivization is possible?

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    Re: wh-questions with perception verbs

    Quote Originally Posted by Takahero View Post
    Hello. I would like to know whether the following sentences (1b,2b) are grammatical or not.
    Do you think that it is possible to make questions like (1b,2b) from (1a,1b)?

    (1)
    a. I saw John enter the building.
    b. Whom did you see enter the building?

    (2)
    a. I heard Mary ring the bell.
    b. Whom did you hear ring the bell?

    Thank you for your cooperation.

    "Whom" seems to be going out of style but is still grammatically correct.

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    Re: wh-questions with perception verbs

    Quote Originally Posted by Takahero View Post
    Is it possible to passivize (9a) to (9b)?
    Post #10 approves of the following active/passive pair:
    active: Mary saw John draw a circle.
    passive: John was seen to draw a circle.
    Your question is: Would the following corresponding pair with an expletive 'it' also be approved of?
    active: I saw it rain.
    passive: It was seen to rain.
    Noticing that Google suggests it can't, and that Google Books contains only one instance of the construction (which is from the contents of an book named Orosius, translated from Anglo-Saxon (Old English) in 1853:
    How it was seen to rain milk from heaven, and blood to bubble from the earth (Oros. iv. 5),)
    I too would be interested in knowing the answer.

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    Re: wh-questions with perception verbs

    No, I would say that (9b), It was seen to rain, is not possible in present-day English. Then again, (6c), John was seen to draw a circle, sounds very odd as well, to be honest.

    I think one important thing to keep in mind is that, even if a word can be moved via wh-movement, it does not necessarily mean that that word can be moved up in passivization. This is most clearly demonstrated with object words:

    (6)
    a.Mary saw John draw a circle.

    b.Who did Mary see draw a circle? <-- OK
    c.?John was seen to draw a cricle. <-- odd-sounding

    d. What did Mary see John draw? <-- OK
    e. *A circle was seen John draw. <-- completely ungrammatical, even if we add to before draw

    So wh-extraction (movement) and passivization certainly have a lot in common, but they are not completely identical phenomena, nor are they always licensed in the same environments.

    On a related note, perception verbs seem to introduce the same sort of clauses that a verb like want introduces:

    (10)
    a. Mary wants John to draw a circle.
    b. Who did Mary want to draw a circle?
    c. ?John was wanted to draw a circle.
    d. What did Mary want John to draw?
    e. *A circle was wanted John (to) draw.

    f. Mary wanted it to rain.
    g. *It was wanted to rain.

    Verbs like want and see introduce small clauses.* This contrasts with ECM (exceptional case-marking) verbs like expect:

    (11)
    a. Mary expects John to draw a circle.
    b. Who did Mary expect to draw a circle?
    c. John was expected to draw a circle. <-- OK, unlike (10c)
    d. What did Mary expect John to draw?
    e. *A circle was expected John to draw.
    f. Mary expected it to rain.
    g. It was expected to rain. <-- OK, unlike (10g)

    *Want is a little more complicated since it can also act as a control verb: John wants to draw a circle is grammatical, and it means that John wants himself to draw a circle; whereas *John sees (to) draw a circle, in the sense that John sees himself draw a circle, is ungrammatical.
    "I don't give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way."

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    Re: wh-questions with perception verbs

    Quote Originally Posted by EStjarn View Post
    Your question is: Would the following corresponding pair with an expletive 'it' also be approved of?
    active: I saw it rain.
    passive: It was seen to rain.
    **I'm not sure about I saw it rain in the first place. Rain is a continuous activity, and so here raining would be better, as it keeps going on. If you were talking about a similarly impersonal verb, to get colder, then you could say I felt it become colder [suddenly] **or** I felt it becoming colder [over some time]. However, rain is only (usually) something which occurs for more than one instant (imperfective action?). Thus:

    I saw it raining.

    Now the passive version. Note that a much more commonly used and less clumsy version of to be seen to, to be felt to, to be heard to in this context is to seem. Thus I would say (and understand easily):

    It seemed to be raining.
    not
    It seemed to rain. or It was seen to be raining.

    With I felt it get colder, that could become:

    It seemed to become colder [suddenly].
    not It seemed to have become colder. or It was felt to have become colder.

    So, I would say that the passive version of impersonal statements like It was seen to be raining are rare, and found mostly nowadays in poetry. A much more modern and less clumsy version is It seemed to be raining

    If there are any errors in this post please point them out!

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    Re: wh-questions with perception verbs

    I have no errors to point out, only a couple of comments to make:

    Google Books, as a representation of language usage, doesn't support that 'I saw it raining' would be preferable to 'I saw it rain'. I suppose one should not rule out either of the alternatives. (Cf. to run is also a continuous activity, yet we would use both 'I saw her run' and 'I saw her running' depending on the context and what we want to express.)

    I didn't know that It seemed to be raining could be synonymous with a passive form of I saw it raining/rain (the suggested form being It was seen to be raining). I don't quite follow the transition because to me 'seem' is 'be' with a qualification. This qualification appears to be related to the insufficiency of perception or logic. For example, over there is a pond, but if it's dark as we drive past it, we may only be able to state that it seems to be a pond since we can perceive only some faint glitter on its surface. But if in broad daylight we clearly saw the pond, we wouldn't use 'seem' to describe our perception.

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    Re: wh-questions with perception verbs

    Just as the ripples spread out when a pebble is tossed into a pool and might so extend to infinity, so does this thread seem to be expanding from the original topic.

    The thread has been closed for moderation.

    Cagey, moderator.

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