Expression "saw happen"

A friend of mine said the following

“what i saw happen last night was this”

My question is, if you use “saw” then don’t you need to use “happened”
My guess is HAPPEN isn’t a verb. It’s an infinitive? Because you can’t say SAW HAPPENED?

What’s the grammar rule on this? SAW is a special verb but you need an object to use the infinitive of “to happen”.


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“what i saw happen last night was this”

He could also have said, “What /happened/ I saw happening/ last night was this…”

This is a perfectly valid manner of using “saw”

He certainly saw what had happened., and is merely relating it in a proper fashion.


Thanks, but i still don’t understand why he used the present tense of HAPPEN? It was the past right? Unless it’s the infinitive

Grammar rule please

He didn’t say WHEN he saw it happen. It could have been a moment ago.

This is one of those occurrences which have an implied meaning.

It is sufficient that you accept that saw is the infinitive of “to see.”

Happen is as you say, a special verb.


But HAPPEN cant’ be an infinitive
because it doesn’t follow the special verb rule

Subject + special verb + direct object + to verb - to

But in order to make this work, you have to have a “direct object”
This sentence is missing a direct object

If the direct object is missing, then the “special verb infinitive rule” doesn’t apply here


Does anyone else have any thoughts?
Aso, assume today we are disccusing what happened last night, so it can’t just happen moments ago

Hi Monday,
As you know we can say: I saw IT happen/happening last night.
But in the sentence: What I saw happen … , What=the thing(s) that… .Therefore,we can omit the object “IT”.
What I saw happen=The thing that I saw happen.
Compare what and that:
What happened was my fault.(=The thing that happened was my fault.)
Hope that helps!

But let me dig in a little deeper
In this sentence, “what i saw happen was”
Which word is the subject and which is the direct object?

I saw it happen = “I” is the subject and “it” is the direct object
but when you add “what” in the sentence, it seems like “what” becomes the subject of the sentence, and “I” becomes the direct object?

What part of speech is the word “HAPPEN”
I just can’t seem to fiqure it out

If it’s an infinitive, then what is the direct object? I don’t think you can omit that?

“What I saw happen last night” is a noun clause and is considered as a subject.
(What=The thing that) is an object- (I) is a subject-…

You probably need ‘happen’ in the context. In any case, ‘happen’ is a bare infinitive, and this sort of structure is reasonably common:

What did you see happen?
What did you have done to your hair?
Did you help pack the suitcases?
Did you notice anyone leave?

We use the base form of the verb in these expressions. I saw it happen. What I saw happen was… Also, to see/hear someone do something: I saw him approach the door. I heard him ring the bell. Etc. (This form of the infinitive without “to” is called by various names. I’m American and to me this is the “base form”. Others call it the “bare infinitive.”) Base form verbs are also used in causative expressions with make/let/have (someone do something) and with modals (can/should/must/will do, etc.)


I’d like to add something to this, compare:

  • ‘I saw him crossing the street’, suggests that you only watched a male crossing the street for a few seconds whereas
  • ‘I saw him cross the street’, suggests you saw the entire action from the beginning to the end.
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Isn’t this a simple case of relative tense vs absolute tense? Absolute tense is relative to NOW. Relative tense is relative to some other time other than now.

“What I saw” places the viewer in THAT time. So the tenses are relative to that time.

What I saw happen [ at that time ] was…
What I saw happening [ at that time ] was…
What I saw had happened [ at that time ] was…
What I saw about to happen [ at that time ] was…

These are different tenses relative to that time - NOT relative to now.


You’re right! The viewer is making a statement now about what happened at a particular time in the past. I would avoid using words like ‘absolute’ and ‘relative’, because they might make things difficult to understand. Therefore, I think, it would be better if you said: ‘not connected to the present, but to that time and stated in the present’.

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