Infinitive phrase as direct object

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FromPA

Senior Member
USA English
Can someone please confirm or correct my understanding of the following sentence structure:
  • I taught him to speak Spanish
  • I asked him to go to the store
The pronoun "him" in both sentences would appear to be the direct object (answering the question "whom?"), but then what part of speech is the trailing infinitive phrase? I have read in my old grammar book that the pronoun "him" in these sentences is actually the subject of the infinitive phrase (with the subject of an infinitive taking objective case), and my supposition is that the direct object of the main verb is actually the entire infinitive clause (including the pronoun subject). If this is the case, the nuanced meaning of the sentence changes from "I taught whom?" (him) or "I asked whom?" (him) to "I taught what?" (him to speak Spanish) or "I asked what?" (him to go to the store).

Is that the correct analysis of this structure?
 
  • Cypherpunk

    Senior Member
    US, English
    Yes. I would agree that him is the indirect object in both cases, and the infinitive phrases serve as the direct objects.
    The rules of thumb that I learned are:
    What is acted upon or receives the action? The direct object.
    To whom or for whom was the action performed? The indirect object.

    Did you teach a course about him? No. You taught it to him, so him is the indirect object.
    What was taught? Speaking Spanish, so it's the direct object.

    Likewise, what did you ask? You asked someone to go to the store, so that's the direct object.
    (To) Who(m) did you ask? You asked him, so him is the indirect object.
     

    FromPA

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Interesting observation that I hadn't considered - that "him" is the indirect object instead of the direct object and that the infinitive phrase is the direct object. That structure is more obvious in a sentence such as "I gave him (IO) the book (DO)," which can then be seen as equivalent to "I taught him the lesson" or "I taught him to speak Spanish."

    Thanks. It's much clearer to me now.
     
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