Author Topic: I prefer Kate to eat spinach-What is wrong with this sentence  (Read 2962 times)

Offline mallu

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I prefer Kate  to eat spinach- I took this sentence from the book LEXICAL CATEGORIES by MARK C. BAKER.The book tells that the sentence is wrong. I cant figure out why ? Could someone tell me why this sentence is wrong? please

Online Daniel

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Re: I prefer Kate to eat spinach-What is wrong with this sentence
« Reply #1 on: March 14, 2014, 08:09:02 AM »
Grammatical for me. Probably intended in a specific context.
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Offline Jase

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Re: I prefer Kate to eat spinach-What is wrong with this sentence
« Reply #2 on: March 28, 2014, 05:25:38 PM »
I prefer Kate  to eat spinach- I took this sentence from the book LEXICAL CATEGORIES by MARK C. BAKER.The book tells that the sentence is wrong. I cant figure out why ? Could someone tell me why this sentence is wrong? please

The normal structure for preference uses a subjunctive – even in English. Thus, we should say: I prefer that Kate eat [not “eats”] spinach. This is how I would naturally say it in English, and it corresponds to other languages’ forms.

Spanish: Prefiero que Kate coma [subjunctive] las espinacas.
Hebrew: Ani ma'adif she-Kate tochal [future used as subjunctive] tered. אני מעדיף שקייט תאכל תרד

I hope this helps.
Just getting into syntax. Appreciate any help I can find here.
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Online Daniel

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Re: I prefer Kate to eat spinach-What is wrong with this sentence
« Reply #3 on: March 28, 2014, 06:22:18 PM »
That use of the subjunctive is very formal, even awkward in spoken English.

You're right that a complement clause sounds natural:
I prefer that Kate eat(s) spinach.
(With or without the S.)

But it's perfectly fine to say it with an infinitive as well:
I prefer for Kate to eat spinach.

Usually an infinitive with a subject different from the main subject (Kate≠I) is marked with "for" in English.

Still, the original sentence is ok (the least common of the three) and may sound natural in certain circumstances. For example:
Were you upset when that happened?
No, I preferred it to happen. I even wanted it to happen!

Without context, the original sentence is not as natural as those, but it's grammatical.
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Offline Jase

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Re: I prefer Kate to eat spinach-What is wrong with this sentence
« Reply #4 on: March 29, 2014, 03:38:27 AM »
That use of the subjunctive is very formal, even awkward in spoken English.

You're right that a complement clause sounds natural:
I prefer that Kate eat(s) spinach.
(With or without the S.)

But it's perfectly fine to say it with an infinitive as well:
I prefer for Kate to eat spinach.

Usually an infinitive with a subject different from the main subject (Kate≠I) is marked with "for" in English.

Still, the original sentence is ok (the least common of the three) and may sound natural in certain circumstances. For example:
Were you upset when that happened?
No, I preferred it to happen. I even wanted it to happen!

Without context, the original sentence is not as natural as those, but it's grammatical.

While I can imagine someone saying something like what you proposed at the end (I preferred it to happen), that feels absolutely unnatural to me. This might be a dialect thing. I’m from the Midwestern USA, but I adapted to proscriptive grammar during my entire educational track. I may have blocked certain expressions out that would have been natural to me had I not subjected myself to large amounts of reading and listening to lectures and such. For example, I remember that ain’t was perfectly natural to me when I was young, but today I could not imagine myself using the word. It seems awkward and unnatural (even though I understand that its use can and must be justified as a natural form of language: am not > *amn’t > *ann’t > ain’t, and that it was used in regular writing in earlier periods of English). My conscious mind just went with what I was being taught in school, and the use of the subjunctive in English is, in my opinion, not outdated or too formal. With practice, the conscious decision to stop using ain’t, for instance, became an unconscious resistance to improper speech. I use the subjunctive all the time in regular speech, and I’m certain that the British do so regularly as well.

If I were [subjunctive] you, I wouldn’t trust her.
If I lived [subjunctive] in Eilat, I would be bored.
He suggested that she eat [subjunctive] with the rest of the family.
[No one would say: *He suggested that she ate with the rest of the family.]
They prefer that he go [subjunctive] alone.

The second conditional in English uses the subjunctive. It is not the past tense because it doesn’t refer to anything in the past. It refers to a hypothetical situation, and even though it looks like the past tense in most cases, we see by the form of be used with first- and third-person (that is, were) that it is subjunctive and not past tense. By analogy to the past tense, probably the majority of English speakers today do not know that it’s subjunctive, and they regularly change were to was. This is resulting in a less regular use of the subjunctive, but it cannot change the fact that this what is called for in such situations.

Interestingly, no one would say *was I in your situation as the protasis of a second conditional, but they might indeed say were I in your situation. This indicates that somehow we know that it is supposed to be were, but many are inconsistent in their expression.
« Last Edit: March 29, 2014, 03:42:53 AM by Jase »
Just getting into syntax. Appreciate any help I can find here.
χάριν ἔχω ὑμῖν πᾶσιν τοῖς βοηθοῦσί μοι φίλοις.

Online Daniel

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Re: I prefer Kate to eat spinach-What is wrong with this sentence
« Reply #5 on: March 29, 2014, 11:59:16 AM »
You said it clearly: you are basing your answer on prescriptive approaches to English usage, which do not represent how the average English speaker actually speaks. According to a usage guide, sure. According to English speakers, not really.

This is a relevant page; I especially like Fowler's points, from about 90 years ago:
http://www.ceafinney.com/subjunctive/excerpts.html

Note: the distinction between present and past subjunctive uses is an important one, and they behave differently, so speakers may use or the other and not necessarily both.
Also, phrases like "Were I to..." are archaisms that are no longer productive, so that's why you would not encounter "Was I to...", not because English speakers really know such a rule. They just know an archaic idiom.
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