A ask B to be + past participle

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JungKim

Senior Member
Korean
American talk show host Stephen Colbert says:
...in the Netherlands, a 69-year-old man asked the government to be legally declared 49.
In context, the natural reading is it is the man -- not the government -- that is to be legally declared 49.

The Cambridge Grammar has this pair (p 1230):
[16] i Liz asked Pat to be allowed to leave. [control by matrix subject]
ii Liz asked Pat to be photographed with the children. [control by matrix object]

In (i) we understand that Liz asked for permission to leave, but it is only complements like to be allowed and synonyms that permit matrix subject control in this way. In (ii), for example, we have a passive infinitival, but it still takes control by object...
In [16i] the boldfaced portion, the book seems to be saying that [16ii] cannot mean that it is Liz (the matrix subject) that is to be photographed with the children, because to be photographed does not qualify as complements like to be allowed and synonyms.

But to be legally declared 49 doesn't seem to be complements like to be allowed and synonyms either. If so, I wonder if what Stephen said is somehow ungrammatical.
 
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  • JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    No. I can't untangle the point the Cambridge Grammar is trying to make, but the sentence from Colbert is completely correct and natural.
    Then, do you disagree that in [16ii] it has to be Pat that is to be photographed with the children? That is, do you think it's entirely possible to interpret [16ii] to mean that Liz asked Pat that she be photographed with the children?
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    ...in the Netherlands, a 69-year-old man asked the government to be legally declared 49.

    This is poor grammar (in my opinion) for the same reason OP noticed it. It states that the man is asking for the government to be declared 49. To be clear it should be one of these:

    ...a 69-year-old man asked to be legally declared 49
    ...a 69-year-old man asked the government to legally declare him to be 49
    .

    or the simpler and clearer:

    ...a 69-year-old man asked the court to change his legal age to 49.

    In this sentence "his" makes it clear whose age is meant. "His" can't be the court or the government.
     

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish/AE
    I don't see anything unusual in Colbert's sentence; what he's done, though, is make the agent more prominent, thereby putting more focus on it. In other words, from:

    ... in the Netherlands, a 69-year old man asked for him to be legally declared 49 by the government

    "for him"
    gets deleted because it's not needed (it's understood that the subject of the infinitive is co-referential with "a 69-year-old man"); next, the agent represented by a prepositional phrase gets promoted to a noun phrase, now functioning as object of "asked." This promotion makes "government" stand out more in the sentence. And that gives us:

    in the Netherlands, a 69-year-old man asked the government to be legally declared 49.

    Of course, a native speaker like Colbert doesn't stop to think "ok, first I get rid of "for him," and then I promote the prepositional phrase to noun phrase;" this is done intuitively.

    And then pragmatics/context takes care of the rest; we understand (also intuitively) that it is the man that's to be declared 49 (not the government). More importantly, If it were the government that's to be declared 49, then, given that this is speech, I would expect "the government" to receive particular/noticeable stress, but I doubt that this is the case. Rather, I'd expect "a 69-year-old man " and "to be legally declared 49" to receive stress; put another way, "the government" wouldn't be stressed at all.

    In writing, if it's the government that's be declared 49, we would have a proposition/that-clause functioning as object of "asked," bringing in a bare infinitive: in the Netherlands, a 69-year-old man asked that the government be declared 49 (grammatically correct, but nonsensical).
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    I don't see anything unusual in Colbert's sentence; what he's done, though, is make the agent more prominent, thereby putting more focus on it. In other words, from:

    ... in the Netherlands, a 69-year old man asked for him to be legally declared 49 by the government

    "for him"
    gets deleted because it's not needed (it's understood that the subject of the infinitive is co-referential with "a 69-year-old man"); next, the agent represented by a prepositional phrase gets promoted to a noun phrase, now functioning as object of "asked." This promotion makes "government" stand out more in the sentence. And that gives us:

    in the Netherlands, a 69-year-old man asked the government to be legally declared 49.
    The underlined clause is in the passive voice. So if you want to make 'the government' the object of 'asked', then shouldn't the underlined clause be reworded into the active voice, as dojibear suggested?
    ...a 69-year-old man asked the government to legally declare him (to be) 49.
     

    Glenfarclas

    Senior Member
    English (American)
    ...in the Netherlands, a 69-year-old man asked the government to be legally declared 49.

    This is poor grammar (in my opinion) for the same reason OP noticed it. It states that the man is asking for the government to be declared 49. To be clear it should be one of these
    I'm afraid I disagree completely. Without stating the indirect object, you would have "a 69-year-old man asked to be legally declared 49," which is a completely ordinary sentence and of course means that the man asked that he be declared 49. Adding the indirect object doesn't change the structure of the sentence.

    You might be confusing this with "a 69-year-old man asked for the government to be legally declared 49" or "asked that the government be legally declared 49," both of which have the meaning you seem to suppose.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I agree with doji: I find the Colbert sentence awkward.

    I assume, though, that it was spoken rather than written. I probably wouldn't even have noticed the awkwardness if I'd heard the sentence instead of reading it.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    I'm afraid I disagree completely. Without stating the indirect object, you would have "a 69-year-old man asked to be legally declared 49," which is a completely ordinary sentence and of course means that the man asked that he be declared 49. Adding the indirect object doesn't change the structure of the sentence.

    You might be confusing this with "a 69-year-old man asked for the government to be legally declared 49" or "asked that the government be legally declared 49," both of which have the meaning you seem to suppose.
    Is there any reason why you aren't answering my question in post #3?
     

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish/AE
    As I'd suspected, this is about speech/intonation/stress.
    Watching the clip, the intonation line is sort of like

    -------_____________________________-------------------------------

    a 69-year-old man asked the government to be legally declared 49.

    so you start with a number ("69") and end up with a number ("49"), so there's parallelism too.

    As far as syntax is concerned, infinitives often appear without explicit subjects, and syntax relies on pragmatics/context to match a particular infinitive with its logical subject. In this case, intonation/stress leaves no doubt that it is the 69-year-old man who's to be legally declared 49. Of course, there are other ways of saying the same thing, but that's a different matter.
     
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