Granting a request

I read today about someone ‘granting a request’. Although that common phrase is perfectly clear, it is unusually condensed. What is being granted? It isn’t really the request, it is the thing that was requested.

This phrase is typical of something we often do with language: we shorten a common combination of words into a concise phrase whose meaning is not the sum of the meanings of the individual words.

Subject or object?

I was going to say above that the thing granted isn’t the request itself; the thing granted is the subject of the request. But using subject in this way would also be a little odd, though for a completely different reason. Consider the following sentence.

‘Person A requested thing B from person C.’

In that sentence, person A is the grammatical subject and thing B is the grammatical object. So, thing B is the grammatical object of the verb request. Now, I think I could say that person C granted the object of person A’s request, but to me it feels more natural to say that person C granted the subject of the request.

I think that is because in everyday natural English we don’t use the labels subject and object in the same way as in grammatical analysis:

  • in grammatical analysis, subject often designates the noun that carries out an activity and object often designates the noun that undergoes the activity; but
  • in everyday natural English, subject often designates what the activity is about (its subject matter).

On the other hand, in some similar expressions, it may be natural to use object. For example, I think it is more natural to talk about the object of someone’s desire. It might be interesting to investigate when everyday natural English uses subject in such cases and when it uses object.

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