Author Topic: Can intransitive verbs take a gerund or infinitive phrase as direct object?  (Read 16247 times)

Joe Carillo

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Question sent in by e-mail by Miss Mae, Forum member (July 11, 2011):

Dear Mr. Carillo,

Which of these two sentences are more properly constructed, Sir?

1. Andres insisted to carry out the notice of eviction to avoid suspension.
2. Andres insisted carrying out the notice of eviction to avoid suspension.

Also, I wonder if the adjectives “much better,” “much longer,” “too much,” and “more harder” are legitimate descriptions. It’s not just once that I fumbled with them. Are there no exceptions?

I hope you would continue to be patient with those still struggling to learn English. Thank you in advance.

My reply to Miss Mae:

Both of the following sentences are grammatically incorrect because they are improperly using “insist” as an intransitive verb:

1. “Andres insisted to carry out the notice of eviction to avoid suspension.”
2. “Andres insisted carrying out the notice of eviction to avoid suspension.”

 In English grammar, an intransitive verb can’t take a direct object in a sentence; only transitive verbs can do so. In your first sentence, the infinitive phrase “to carry out the notice of eviction to avoid suspension” is functioning as a noun that serves as direct object of the verb “insisted.” In the second sentence, the gerund phrase “carrying out the notice of eviction to avoid suspension” similarly functions as a noun that serves as the direct object of the verb “insisted.” Both sentences are therefore grammatically anomalous constructions.

An intransitive verb can link up with an object in a sentence only when it uses a preposition as grammatical intermediary. In the case of the verb “insist” in the sentence in question, the appropriate preposition is “on” and, grammatically, the linkage will only work when the object of the preposition is a regular noun, as in “Andres insisted on Jose as his tactical adviser,” or a gerund or gerund phrase, as in this revision of your second sentence: “Andres insisted on carrying out the notice of eviction to avoid suspension.” That linkage won’t work when the object of the preposition is an infinitive or infinitive phrase, as in this grammatically flawed revision of your first sentence: “Andres insisted on to carry out the notice of eviction to avoid suspension.” This is how it is with intransitive verbs in English.

In contrast, when “insist” is used as a transitive verb, it can legitimately have a direct object but that direct object should be in the form of a relative “that” clause, as in this sentence: “Andres insisted that he carry out the notice of suspension so he can avoid being suspended.” Take note that the relative clause in such sentences is in the subjunctive mood, so the verb takes the bare infinitive form (without the “to” of the infinitive form) instead of the present-tense indicative form; in the sentence in question, the subjunctive form of the verb will be “carry” instead of “carries” for the singular-form pronoun “he.”

As to your second question, the comparative adjectives “much better,” “much longer,” and “too much” are grammatically correct; “more harder” is grammatically wrong and the grammatically correct usage is “much harder.” Conversely, we can’t say “more better,” “more longer,” and “more much.” It’s just the way it is in English and I’m afraid there are no exceptions.

Joe Carillo

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P.S. to my reply to Miss Mae:

I overlooked the headline of your e-mail, which asked this question regarding the sample sentences you presented:

“Can infinitive phrases be used more than once in a sentence?”

The answer is yes, definitely. Your two sentences as corrected are good examples. And you can actually use as many infinitive phrases as needed in a serial sequence, as in the following sentence:

“The misfortune that befell his family prompted the prodigal student to cut down on his living expenses to the bone, to quit drinking and smoking cold turkey, to sell his luxury car, and to stop his very frequent all-night weekend partying altogether.”
 
That’s all of four infinitive phrases in a row, and more can be added to the serial sequence for as long as you like. (The phrase “to the bone” is excluded from this count, for it's not an infinitive phrase but a prepositional phrase modifying the verb phrase “cut down” adverbially).

Miss Mae

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It didn't occur to me that the sentence I was deliberating on poses another problem. Will inserting on improved it? (Andres insisted on carrying out the notice of eviction to avoid suspension.)

Joe Carillo

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Yes, definitely! Adding the preposition "on" enables the intransitive verb "addressed" to link up properly with the gerund phrase in that sentence, "Andres insisted on carrying out the notice of eviction to avoid suspension." That gerund phrase, "carrying out the notice of eviction to avoid suspension," becomes the grammatically legitimate object of the preposition in that sentence.