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CalifJim
Anonymous"The first thing he should do is take a survey...Right"Isn't the "take a survey" a complement following the copula 'is' ?Isn't the "The first thing he should do" a subject here?
Yes and yes.
I agree with you and Anon here.
I'm wondering if you could characterize this particular complement in some additional way.
Characterize the complement in some additional way? Hmm. Well, it's a non-finite clause without an explicit subject (though the subject can be recovered from the context).

The first thing he should do | is | take a survey.

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It's a sort of highlighting transformation from

He should take a survey first.

You highlight first by pulling it to the beginning and making a noun phrase out of it that can be your subject:

The first thing ... is ...

Now you pull however much you want from the original sentence and put it before the linking verb. For example, you can continue like this:

The first thing he should take is a survey.

Here you're making a survey the complement of the first thing. Here it's a literal thing.

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But if you want the whole action of taking a survey to be the complement, you can't do this:

*The first thing he should is take a survey.

You need a verb after should. So you use the dummy (pro-verb) do.

The first thing he should do is take a survey.

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What is not obvious in the example above is that when the complement is a clause, it loses all its 'finiteness'. The reason is that take is used after should, so it has no inflectional ending to lose. (We're dealing with a case of 'unfortunate coincidence'.)

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Supposing that were not the case, we might have something like this:

He takes a survey first.

> The first thing he does is take a survey.

In the course of this transformation the inflectional ending seems to be "transferred" from the main verb of the original to the do before the linking verb - from takes to does. take is left sitting there in its non-finite state.

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Does that characterize the complement in any way that you might have been looking for? I wasn't sure what sorts of comments you wanted. Emotion: thinking

CJ
electrumSomething in the back of my mind for some time, but I haven't really thought it out:

The first thing we suggested was to take a survey.
The first thing we planned was to take a survey.
The first thing we accomplished was to take a survey.
The first thing we intended was to take a survey.

The first thing we did was to take a survey.
The first thing we did was take a survey.

I think these are all correct.
They are all correct, but I think you are incorrectly analyzing them. These are all predicate nominative constructions. In each of them, the part in red is the subject (the whole thing is the subject). The verb for each sentence is "was". The part in blue (again the whole thing), simply renames the subject (or expresses it in a different way).

These are no different from:

John was a doctor.
The fourth of July was Saturday.

You can think of these as reading like

The first thing we did = to take a survey.
The first thing we did = take a survey.

The question is why an infinitive with antecedent 'do' may shed its 'to'.
I can't think of any other antecedent verbs that can abbreviate the infinitive in this construction.

Anyone care to elaborate?

Ahh...now I get what you're talking about. You think that 'did' is the antecedent of take/to take. Is this what you mean?

OK first of all, it can't be the antecedent of take/to take for a couple of reasons. First, because there's something else between it (was) and second, "did" is part of "we did" which is acting as an adjective modifying "the first thing" in just the same way that "we suggested" and "we planned" are modifying "the first thing" in the earlier examples.

The core subject is simply "thing". Then you have "the thing" (which thing?) "the first thing" (which first thing?) "the first thing we did" (Oh! THAT first thing Emotion: big smile )

So, do (did) isn't an antecedent in any of the examples you've given.

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Now, as to why some of the examples have "to" and some don't, infinitives can take on 3 forms (verb, to+verb, verb+ing). When used as an actual infinitive, you can use all three interchangeably.

This means that every one of your examples could have three forms that would all be correct and convey the same information:

The first thing we suggested was to take a survey.
The first thing we suggested was take a survey.
The first thing we suggested was taking a survey.

This goes back to the same best advice...you can't describe what the grammar is if you don't know the job of each of the individual parts! Emotion: big smile

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CalifJim
electrumThe question is why an infinitive with antecedent 'do' may shed its 'to'.
I believe the answer can be traced to the fact that "do" is a 'pro-verb'.
It's not a "pro-verb". There's actually no such thing as a "pro-verb" (although in CJ's defense, this idea, incorrect as it is, is found in a lot of books and such).

Do is an auxiliary. In particular it is an aspectual auxiliary (an auxiliary used to express aspect -- in English this is mostly the presence or lack of added duration for the verb).

There are two aspectual auxiliaries in English:

Do for the non-durational aspects (usually called "the simple"), and

Be for the durational aspect (called either "continuous" or "progressive").
electrumI can't think of any other antecedent verbs that can abbreviate the infinitive in this construction.
Me neither, but then no other verb is a 'pro-verb'.

And since neither is DO a "pro-verb", you can easily see why the logic that DO is different fails with the examples below:


What did you do? I spoke (did+speak) to him. That's what I did (did+do). What I did (did+do) was ... All I did (did+do) was ...
What did you do? I ate (did+eat) lunch. That's what I did (did+do). The first thing I did (did+do) was ...
What did you do? I swam (did+swim) for three hours. That's what I did (did+do). The only thing I did (did do) was ...
CJ
In the first sentence "What did you do?", the whole verb is in its long form (did+do). In this sentence, 'do' is the main verb, and 'did' is the aspectual auxiliary which is used to express tense and agrees with the subject (you) for person and number. If you change this sentence from a question to a statement, you can see the two parts of the verb together: "What (object) did (aspectual auxiliary) you (subject) do (main verb)?" -> "You (subject) did (aspectual auxiliary) do (main verb) what (object)."

The long version of each verb in all of the examples is shown in parenthesis.

There is nothing special or specific to 'do' happening here. If you were to substitute 'be' it would look the same way:


What were you doing? I was speaking to him. That's what I was doing. What I was doing was ... All I was doing was ...
What were you doing? I was eating lunch. That's what I was doing. The first thing I was doing was ...
What were you doing? I was swimming for three hours. That's what I was doing. The only thing I was doing was ...
drew.wardThe first thing we suggested was to take a survey.
The first thing we suggested was take a survey.
The first thing we suggested was taking a survey.
The only problem with that is that the middle one is ungrammatical. Even the most charitable interpretation would find it borderline grammatical. That pattern cannot be used in the general case.

The first thing we insisted was take a survey.

The first thing we demanded was take a survey.

The first thing we recommended was take a survey.

They all require the "to".

CJ
drew.wardIn the first sentence "What did you do?", the whole verb is in its long form (did+do). In this sentence, 'do' is the main verb, and 'did' is the aspectual auxiliary which is used to express tense and agrees with the subject (you) for person and number. If you change this sentence from a question to a statement, you can see the two parts of the verb together: "What (object) did (aspectual auxiliary) you (subject) do (main verb)?" -> "You (subject) did (aspectual auxiliary) do (main verb) what (object)."
Your analysis is fine, but it's a syntactic analysis. The concept of pro-verb do is part of semantics. Syntactically, as you say, it's a main verb.

The same idea occurs in the noun family with that:

What's that you're holding in your hand? I want the listener to answer with the noun that satisfies the terms of the question.

What are you doing with that hammer? I want the listener to answer with the verb that satisfies the terms of the question.

CJ
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CalifJim
drew.wardThe first thing we suggested was to take a survey. The first thing we suggested was take a survey. The first thing we suggested was taking a survey.
The only problem with that is that the middle one is ungrammatical. Even the most charitable interpretation would find it borderline grammatical. That pattern cannot be used in the general case.

The first thing we insisted was take a survey.
The first thing we demanded was take a survey.
The first thing we recommended was take a survey.

They all require the "to".

CJ
They don't require it, but to me they sound better with it. There's nothing that grammatically separates the three forms as infinitives (when actually used as an infinitive). However, 'take a survey' is the least often used form and that's probably why it sounds odd.

To me "taking a survey" seems more 'natural' that 'to take a survey' but I use both and there isn't any reason why I'd use one over the other.

One of the toughest things I've ever done language wise has been to train myself to look at things like infinitive forms as forms that may have any number of functions rather than as a preconceived unit. So much stuff in English looks identical at first glance that it's really easy to mix them up even when you're trying not to.
Well, we agree that this is a special construction that has to do with "to do" only.

I do take surveys.

What I do is take surveys.

I plan to take surveys.

What I plan is to take surveys, OR

What I plan to do is take surveys.

I never heard of pro-verbs either. But dictionary.com and wikipedia have entries.
electrumthis is a special construction that has to do with "to do" only.
That's my opinion, and I'm sticking to it until proved wrong. Emotion: smile

CJ
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electrumWell, we agree that this is a special construction that has to do with "to do" only.

I (subject) do (aspectual auxiliary) take (vector) surveys (object).
[What I do] (subject) is (predicate) [take surveys] (nominative).

I (subject) (do) (aspectual auxiliary) plan (vector) [to take surveys] (object).

[What I plan] (subject) is (predicate) [to take surveys] (nominative), OR
[What I plan to do] (subject) is (predicate) [take surveys] (nominative).

Now, looking at exactly what the functions of each part of your sentences is, what makes you think there is a special construction involving 'do'?
I never heard of pro-verbs either. But dictionary.com and wikipedia have entries.
Be careful, anyone can edit wikipedia and dictionary.com sometimes copies things off of it.

The concept of pro-verbs is established and in use by many people. But, just because something is in use, doesn't mean it's correct.

Besides, 'do' (whether pro-verb or not) hasn't been used in any of your examples in a way that could affect the form of an infinitive.

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