Why does the term "raising" suggest directionality? Consider the sentence

We want him to buy the groceries.

People who describe such sentences often speak of the subject of "he to buy groceries*" being raised to the object position of the matrix clause to yield "We want him etc."

I don't have nearly enough linguistics knowledge to critique such accounts intelligently. I am merely curious about why the above account implies directionality when there aren't any sentences that contain phrases like "he to buy the groceries*".

  • 4
    The subject of an infinitive takes a for complementizer, the same way the verb takes a to complementizer. Both are often omitted. So the clause is not "he to buy groceries", but rather "for him to buy groceries". The him clearly belongs and originates as the subject of buy, but it winds up as the object of want (though this is not so clear with want since it normally doesn't passivize Raised objects). If you use the metaphor of the main clause at the top and the subordinate clauses underneath it, calling it "Raising" seems natural.
    – jlawler
    Mar 23, 2013 at 21:54
  • Silly me, I forgot the "for"! Thanks. Mar 24, 2013 at 6:18
  • 2
    The fact that *We want [he to buy groceries] can be 'repaired' by either inserting for or raising the embedded subject to the matrix object position suggests that the sentence is bad for reasons of case. In other words, suppose that the subject of an infinitival clause can't be assigned case - it therefore must be moved to a position where it does receive case (complement of want), or a prepositional case-assigner for must be inserted. That's why these are often referred to as Exceptional Case Marking constructions.
    – P Elliott
    Oct 24, 2013 at 8:30
  • 1
    Note that the pronoun receives oblique case in the good version of the sentence - subjects normally aren't assigned oblique case. This isn't always obvious in a language with impoverished morphology like English, but it's very obvious in many other languages.
    – P Elliott
    Oct 24, 2013 at 8:32

1 Answer 1


As I understand it, the raising is from *we want that he buys groceries to we want him to buy groceries, and the "high" level is the main clause; the content of a fictional subordinate that clause is raised to the level of the main clause, in the form of an object plus an infinitive (in this case). After all, sub-ordination means "ordering below".

Why do we even posit such a fictional subordinate clause that never really existed? You could argue against this practice. But I think the main reason is semanto-pragmatic; that is, it cannot really be proven syntactically in any way. We somehow presume that there is in language a "standard" model of expressing an agent and a situation that the agent applies a modal opinion to, and that this model is a main clause with agent plus modality, followed by a subordinate clause containing the situation.

  • 5
    I'm afraid it doesn't work that way. If you want to know what "Raising" means, read Postal's On Raising; McCawley 1998 might be helpful for background. Here's a short summary of Raising and Equi, from a college grammar course; and here are a couple of background guides to logic and to the verb phrase.
    – jlawler
    Mar 23, 2013 at 21:49
  • And it's not *we want that he buys groceries, but rather we want for him to buy groceries. Infinitives take infinitive complementizers.
    – jlawler
    Mar 23, 2013 at 21:56
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    We want for him to VP is perfectly grammatical (if uncommon) in my idiolect of English. That's why I said Raising isn't necessarily involved with want, which in any case also takes Equi. Pick a better example, like believe.
    – jlawler
    Mar 24, 2013 at 4:53
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    @jlawler: If you ever give your information as an answer, I will upvote it and check-mark it. But even if you don't, I appreciate the three links that your provided above. Mar 24, 2013 at 6:22
  • 2
    @jlawler Why do you say that for is dropped in sentences like this, rather than that for is inserted in other infinitival clauses (as P Elliott seems to imply in his comments on the OQ)? Isn't it simpler to insert a form only when you can actually see it rather than to insert it and then delete it later in the same derivation?
    – TKR
    Oct 24, 2013 at 18:27

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