I saw a duck fly across the sky.

skyfox007

Senior Member
English, Canada
Hey guys. In a sentence like number one, the main verb is "saw", but what about "fly?" To my understanding, fly cannot be a main verb like "saw" because the subject is not the one "flying," so what is the role of "fly?"

1. I saw a duck fly across the sky.
 
  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    A useful newish term for the verb is 'catenative', because it forms a chain (catena) with previous verbs. The simplest situation is where two verbs group together to form a tense/aspect: I will eat, I am eating, I have eaten. There are only a small number of modals and auxiliaries that do this.

    There is a much larger group that take 'to' and the plain form: I want to eat, I prefer to eat, I begin to eat, I continue to eat, and many more.

    Many of these allow the subject of the second verb to be different: I want you to eat, I force you to eat, I trust you to eat, and many more.

    Sometimes this middle subject doesn't feel like the object of the first verb: 'I want you to eat' doesn't imply 'I want you'. But we would say that I force you, and I trust you.

    Sense verbs ('see', 'hear', 'feel' etc.) don't use 'to', and the subject of the second verb is almost always naturally also the object of the first one: if I saw the duck fly, then I saw the duck, and also the duck flew. There is a theoretical problem about how to describe the middle noun phrase: is it object of the first verb or subject of the second one? I think of them as object-subjects; for practical purposes, they have both roles. The second verb is in its plain form ('fly') not a tensed form ('flies', 'flew') because it is catenative; it comes after another verb that controls it. But it acts like another clause embedded in the first one.
     

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Hey guys. In a sentence like number one, the main verb is "saw", but what about "fly?" To my understanding, fly cannot be a main verb like "saw" because the subject is not the one "flying," so what is the role of "fly?"

    1. I saw a duck fly across the sky.
    There are two verbs (saw, fly), and therefore two clauses. Let's put them in brackets:

    [I saw] [a duck fly home]

    As to your question, the "role" of fly is what it is: a verb, taking as subject the noun phrase "a duck." The verb is part of the predicate fly home.

    The verb fly appears in the second/subordinate clause, so it can't be the "main" verb. That's one reason why the subordinate verb fly can't carry tense inflection; it must be non-finite. Thus, both

    I saw a duck flies home
    and
    I saw a duck flew home
    are ungrammatical*.

    Another reason for the bare infinitive is that the verb "saw" is actually stating a proposition/fact: an event seen prior to the moment of speaking. If I want to report the event as concurrent with the act of "seeing" in the past, I use another non-finite verb, the -ing verb:

    I saw a duck flying home.

    Now, is fly an "object complement"? That's the traditional analysis, which treats "a duck" as the direct object, and "fly home" as the object complement. There is another analysis, which treats the entire subordinate infinitive clause as the complement of the transitive verb "saw."

    Usually, the bare infinitive and its subject are introduced by particular markings: the bare infinitive is introduced by "to" and the subject of the infinitive is introduced by "for." The technical term for the combination for ... to is "complementizer." If we put those marks, we get

    I saw for a duck to fly home

    but this is ungrammatical. The "for" and "to" markings get deleted when the infinitive appears in a subordinate clause. This is done (intuitively, by the way) so that the subordinate infinitive clause can function as complement of a transitive verb. (In the trade, this is known as "raising;" the subordinate clause is "raised" to function as complement).

    I saw a duck fly home

    (And some will further say that "a duck" is both the direct object of "saw" and the subject of the infinitive "fly". Notice that if you use a pronoun, the pronoun necessarily takes the object form: I saw a duck fly home ~ I saw her fly home)

    If the infinitive clause appears as "subject" of a sentence, the complementizer for ... to is a requirement and can't be dropped, as in

    For a duck to fly home means that winter is coming
    -----
    *The verb see belongs to a group known as sense verbs. A feature of these verbs is that they can take as complement an untensed clause (bare infinitive, -ing) or a tensed clause, with inflection of the subordinate verb. The tensed clause, for example, can be a that-clause, but with different meaning: I saw that the duck flew home.
     

    skyfox007

    Senior Member
    English, Canada
    There are two verbs (saw, fly), and therefore two clauses. Let's put them in brackets:

    [I saw] [a duck fly home]

    As to your question, the "role" of fly is what it is: a verb, taking as subject the noun phrase "a duck." The verb is part of the predicate fly home.

    The verb fly appears in the second/subordinate clause, so it can't be the "main" verb. That's one reason why the subordinate verb fly can't carry tense inflection; it must be non-finite. Thus, both

    I saw a duck flies home
    and
    I saw a duck flew home
    are ungrammatical*.

    Another reason for the bare infinitive is that the verb "saw" is actually stating a proposition/fact: an event seen prior to the moment of speaking. If I want to report the event as concurrent with the act of "seeing" in the past, I use another non-finite verb, the -ing verb:

    I saw a duck flying home.

    Now, is fly an "object complement"? That's the traditional analysis, which treats "a duck" as the direct object, and "fly home" as the object complement. There is another analysis, which treats the entire subordinate infinitive clause as the complement of the transitive verb "saw."

    Usually, the bare infinitive and its subject are introduced by particular markings: the bare infinitive is introduced by "to" and the subject of the infinitive is introduced by "for." The technical term for the combination for ... to is "complementizer." If we put those marks, we get

    I saw for a duck to fly home

    but this is ungrammatical. The "for" and "to" markings get deleted when the infinitive appears in a subordinate clause. This is done (intuitively, by the way) so that the subordinate infinitive clause can function as complement of a transitive verb. (In the trade, this is known as "raising;" the subordinate clause is "raised" to function as complement).

    I saw a duck fly home

    (And some will further say that "a duck" is both the direct object of "saw" and the subject of the infinitive "fly". Notice that if you use a pronoun, the pronoun necessarily takes the object form: I saw a duck fly home ~ I saw her fly home)

    If the infinitive clause appears as "subject" of a sentence, the complementizer for ... to is a requirement and can't be dropped, as in

    For a duck to fly home means that winter is coming
    -----
    *The verb see belongs to a group known as sense verbs. A feature of these verbs is that they can take as complement an untensed clause (bare infinitive, -ing) or a tensed clause, with inflection of the subordinate verb. The tensed clause, for example, can be a that-clause, but with different meaning: I saw that the duck flew home.
    Thank you for your wonderfully well written post Seven; it's always a pleasure to read your replies, but it usually takes me a bit of time to digest and always tends to lead me further down the rabbit hole😵🥰

    @ dojibear Thank you! Makes a lot of sense when you see it from that perspective.
     

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Thank you for your wonderfully well written post Seven; it's always a pleasure to read your replies, but it usually takes me a bit of time to digest and always tends to lead me further down the rabbit hole😵🥰

    @ dojibear Thank you! Makes a lot of sense when you see it from that perspective.
    It's ok. Sometimes, you need to go down a metaphorical hole, to climb out of it. Coming out of darkness can give you a better perspective on things (hopefully).
     
    Top