Inherent Properties of Verbs
When you "know" a word in your native language, you know more than just the meaning of that word. You also know, automatically and unconsciously, what other kinds of words and structures to use along with that word. For example, when you use the verb need in a sentence, you can use an infinitive clause after need, as in the first sentence below, but you will never use a finite clause as in the second sentence. The asterisk (*) means that the sentence is not a grammatical sentence of English.
The manufacturing manager needed to order some new parts.
*The manufacturing manager needed that he ordered some new parts.
You also have unconscious knowledge about interpreting the logical subject of an infinitive in a sentence. In the next sentence, the main verb told can be followed by an object, the technician, and then by an infinitive clause, to repair the computer.
The engineer told the technician § to repair the computer.
In interpreting this sentence, you know that the logical subject of the infinitive to repair, indicated by the symbol §, is the technician, which is also the object of the verb told. In other words, the technician both receives the telling and will repair the computer. Both the technician and the § are highlighted to indicate that the technician is the logical subject of to repair.
Many English verbs that can be followed by both an object and an infinitive clause have the same property as the verb tell. Namely, the logical subject of the infinitive is interpreted to be the same element that serves as the object of the main verb. Here are some of the verbs that have that property: tell, allow, order, permit, persuade, convince , force, require.
Other verbs are exceptions to the pattern exhibited above. When the verb promise is followed by an object and an infinitive clause, it is the subject, and not the object of promise, which is understood as the logical subject of the infinitive:
The engineer promised the technician § to repair the computer.
In this sentence it is the engineer that will do the repairing. This fact follows from an inherent property of the verb promise. It is an exception to the property associated with verbs like tell, order, and persuade.
Verbs like tell and verbs like promise are different but consistent in the way a logical subject is assigned to a following infinitive. However, the verb ask in English is inconsistent in its behavior. When ask means something like "request action," it has the same property as verbs like tell, as indicated in the following sentence.
The engineer asked the technician § to repair the computer.
It is the technician that is being directed to repair the computer. Interestingly, if ask is interpreted to mean "request permission," the above sentence can be understood to mean that the engineer would like to repair the computer and is asking the technician's permission. Such an interpretation is easier to see when the asker has lower authority than the person being asked, as in the following sentence.
The child asked the teacher § to go to the bathroom.
The verb ask has yet another meaning when it is followed by an object and then by an infinitive clause that begins with a WH-word such as who, what, where, how, or which. In sentences like the following, ask means "request information," and in these instances, it is the subject of ask, rather than the object, that is interpreted as the logical subject of the infinitive.
The engineer asked the technician what § to repair.
The engineer asked the technician how § to repair the computer.
The engineer asked the technician which computer § to repair.
In all of these sentences it is the engineer who will do the repairing. This interpretation is guided by the special property of the verb ask, in its meaning of "request information" when it is followed by a WH-word and infinitive clause. This does not mean that an infinitive clause beginning with a WH-word automatically establishes the subject of the main verb as the logical subject of the infinitive. With the verb tell, its object is always the logical subject of the infinitive, whether or not a WH-word is present:
The service representative told the customer § to wait in the reception area.
The service representative told the customer where § to wait.
In fact, most other verbs that are followed by an object and an infinitive clause beginning with a WH-word behave like tell, rather than ask, with respect to interpreting the logical subject of the infinitive:
The service representative showed the customer where § to wait.
The service representative reminded the customer where § to wait.