Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I Can Hear You Singing

English verbs of perception like 'see', 'hear', 'feel', 'watch' and 'listen to' can be followed by an object with a verb attached to it. This happens when you talk about some perceived action of that object.

I saw my brother enter the room.

The child heard her sister singing. 

The verb following the object is sometimes in the form of its 'bare infinitive' (i.e. enter, sing, eat...) and at other times its 'gerund' (i.e. entering, singing, eating...). Though in some cases this makes no big difference to the meaning, these two forms can't always be used interchangeably.

The use of the gerund generally tends to indicate that the action was noticed at some point while it was progressing. The bare infinitive, on the other hand, says that more or less the whole action was observed. This distinction will be clearly seen in the following examples:

As I passed the traffic lights, I saw your sister crossing the road. (She was seen while she was crossing the road.)

As I waited at the traffic lights, I saw your sister cross the road and enter the post office. (The whole process of her crossing the road and entering the post office was seen.)

We heard him singing as we entered the hall. (His singing, which was going on, was heard when we entered.)

We heard him sing this song at the concert. (The singing of the whole song was heard, from beginning to end.)

(Image credit: jurvetson

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