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Postmodification by infinitive clauses. Something about which to have a bit of a discussion

Geneviève Girard and Naomi Malan
p. 31-42

Abstract

On peut se demander s’il est pertinent de définir une catégorie de "relatives infinitives” ou s’il convient plutôt de parler de "postmodification” par une infinitive.
L’article développe des arguments en faveur de la première hypothèse, en proposant une description aussi précise que possible des différences et ressemblances existant entre ces deux types de relative. La relative infinitive se caractérise principalement par l’absence obligatoire du pronom relatif, à une exception près : lorsque le pronom est complément d’une préposition : with which / with whom, etc. Elle diffère des relatives avec temps exprimé en refusant l’opposition which/that, ce qui, dans la mesure où elle fonctionne comme relative déterminative, affaiblit, semble-t-il, toute thèse sur une valeur fondamentale de which et de that.
Ces relatives paraissent proches des circonstancielles de but et des interrogatives indirectes, mais elles s’en distinguent sur plusieurs plans, et constituent donc une catégorie syntaxique bien définie.

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  • 1 R Huddleston, Introduction to the Grammar of English. Reprint (1st ed. 1984). Cambridge University (...)
  • 2 R. Quirk, S. Greenbaum, G. Leech, J. Svartvik, A Comprehensive Grammar of the English language. Rep (...)

1As is often the case, the above structure, something about which to have a bit of a discussion, has been given more than one name by grammarians and linguists. Basically, the various labels reflect a dichotomous interpretation of the nature of the structure. Many linguists include it in the category of relative clauses. This is the case for R. Huddleston1, for instance. Some linguists, however, do not appear to consider it as such. R. Quirk et al.2, for example, merely place it within a broader category termed "Postmodification by infinitive clauses”. They concede, however, that the whole category allows correspondences with relative clauses (whether or not the relative pronoun is structured). (1) - (7) are examples quoted by these authors as belonging to this broad category. [In (l)-(5) we see there is no relative pronoun].

1) The man to help you is Mr. Johnson.
2) The man (for you) to see is Mr Johnson.
3) The thing (for you) to be these days is a systems analyst.
4) The time (for you) to go is July.
5) The place (for you) to stay is the university guest house.
6) She is not a person on whom to rely.
7) This is a good instrument with which to measure vibration.

  • 3 A. Radford, Transformational Grammar. A First Course. Reprint [1st ed., 1988]. Cambridge: Universit (...)

2For A. Radford3, this whole broad category - whether or not a relative pronoun is, or can be, structured - is termed an “infinitival relative clause”.

3In this paper, we shall be mainly comparing this type of structure with standard relative clauses. The fact that they have an infinitive verbal form will lead us to discuss the differences between this structure and infinitival purpose clauses before dealing with infinitival relative clauses vs. infinitival indirect interrogatives.

I. Infinite relative clauses vs. non finite

4For the time being we are adopting the label “non finite relative clauses”. It is indeed true that infinitive clauses as postmodifiers in noun phrases allow correspondences with relative clauses:

5(a) such clauses determine the antecedent’s reference,
(b) in the sentence, they occupy the same slot as the relative,
(c) finally, some actually contain a relative pronoun.

6We may add that:

7(d) there is co-reference between a Noun Phrase belonging to the higher clause and a Noun Phrase in the relative clause.
(e) this co-referential Noun Phrase in the relative clause is absent, or else replaced by a relative pronoun under circumstances to be defined.

8Having pointed out what this structure has in common with the relative clause, we propose here and now to discuss what parameters distinguish it from the relative clause.

1. Tense

9As indicated by its name, it is not a finite clause. But the time of the moment alluded to plays a part in the interpretation of the whole sentence and it has to be construed: the tense has to be inferred. It is generally understood as posterior (future) to the moment expressed by the tense carried by the tensed verb, even if the past infinitive can be found in some occurrences. We shall come back to the interpretation of the tense later on.

10As regards aspect, it can be introduced but there are certain constraints. It seems to be impossible to have the perfective aspect when the relative pronoun is present, which, of course, is not the case with a finite relative clause:

8a) He was not a man to have done without them.
8b) ?He is not a man in whom to have put your trust.

11This suggests that tense is not the only distinguishing factor: the presence or absence of the relative pronoun is another parameter to be considered.

12As regards the progressive aspect, such a constraint does not seem to hold:

9a) He’s not a man to be working at night.
9b) Be careful. He’s not the sort of man with whom to be having an affair. He’s got mistresses all over the world.
9c) Be careful. He’s not the sort of man to be having an affair with. He's got mistresses all over the world.

2. Relative pronouns and syntactic functions

132.1. With standard defining relative clauses -when the relative pronoun is the Subject or the Direct Object- the pronoun which, or who, can always be replaced by that (that), even if this substitution is sometimes pragmatically inappropriate.

14With the Prepositional Phrase, only which can appear in the pied-piping construction (when the preposition and the NP are moved to the left of the clause: the house in which I lived).

15The pronoun that appears in the preposition stranding construction only:

- *the house in that I lived,
- the house that I lived in.

  • 4 We know that that [thƋt] is excluded from all infinitival contexts.

16We shall see that that can never appear in the infinitival clause. This is not because of the constraints on that (*prep + that), but for more general reasons4 .

17One can have:

10a) We need to explore the milieu to which she belonged. (E. W. Ives, Anne Bolyn)
10b) We need to explore the milieu which she belonged to.
10c) We need to explore the milieu that she belonged to.

18But with the infinitive clause, such a substitution is not possible:

11a) This is a good instrument with which to measure vibration.
11b) *This is a good instrument that to measure vibration with.

19Nor is it even possible to keep the which and to allow preposition stranding [as with (10b), just referred to]:

12) *This is a good instrument which to measure vibration with.

20This syntactic constraint is far from being the only one.

212.2. If the Noun Phrase (co-referential with the antecedent) is not in a Prepositional Phrase, it is not possible to structure a relative pronoun:

13a) She is not a person on whom to rely.
13b) *She is not a person whom to trust.

22(13a) is grammatical because the NP whom is part of the Prepositional Phrase on whom; (13b) is not grammatical because whom is not in a Prepositional Phrase, since it is the Direct Object of trust.

  • 5 except for “push-down” structures; See N. Malan, thèse, p 129-132. We can have, for instance: the p (...)

23This means that the relative pronoun cannot be the direct object in the infinitive clause; it can only be a prepositional object. Nor can it be the subject5:

14a) *She is not a person who to rely on just anybody.
14b) *This is the first of several Newsweek issues which to be devoted to the millennium.

24The grammatical forms are:

14a) She is not a person to rely on just anybody.
14b) This is the first of several Newsweek issues to be devoted to the millennium. (Newsweek,
27/1/98)

252.3. Another syntactic constraint is that, not only can the relative pronoun not be in subject position but NO subject at all can be structured when a relative pronoun is present:

15a) This is a good instrument with which to measure vibration.
15b) *This is a good instrument for a physicist with which to measure vibration.

16a) He was looking for a box in which to store her letters. (R. Huddleston)
16b) *He was looking for a box in which for his daughter to store her letters.

17a) It was a room for hopes to die in. (H. Mantel, A Place of Greater Safety, p 446)
17b) It was a room in which to die.
17c) *It was a room in which for hopes to die.

26Note that if the subject is not obvious (as in 15a) or understood to be the same as the subject of the matrix clause, as in (16a), then there is no way of deducing it (e.g. 17b). This means that one has to do without the relative pronoun to make it clear what the referent of the subject is. In other words, if one expresses the subject one has to omit the relative pronoun; if one chooses to express the relative pronoun, one has to omit the subject.

27With no subject (17b) is understood to have a generic human subject, the most logical in context, e.g. “one”.

282.4. With tensed relative clauses, where can always be substituted for which accompanied by a preposition such as in or at.:

18) It took place in a city in which recrimination is plentiful, inspiration all too rare. (Newsweek, 27/1/98)
18 a) It took place in a city where recrimination is plentiful, inspiration all too rare.
19) The president will have to fashion a whole new way of governing, in which Washington doesn’t run many programs or pass many laws but instead coordinates and leverages broader social change. (Newsweek,
27/l/98)
19a) The president will have to fashion a whole new way of governing, where Washington doesn’t run many programs or pass many laws but instead coordinates and leverages broader social change.

29But with infinitive structures, it is not possible to substitute where for which + prep:

20) China is acquiring a reputation as a difficult country in which to invest. (Newsweek, 27/1/98)
20a) China is acquiring a reputation as a *difficult country where to invest.

21) The slaughter of cows, pigs, farmers, dogs, and highway signs makes autumn a dangerous season in which to travel. (John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley, p 51)
21a) The slaughter of cows, pigs, farmers, dogs, and highway signs makes autumn a *dangerous season where to travel.

22) He was looking for a box in which to store her letters.
22 a) *He was looking for a box where to store her letters.

30Incidentally, a propos of (21), it is interesting to note that a tensed relative clause cannot be substituted for the infinitive structure:

23) ? The slaughter of cows, pigs, farmers, dogs, and highway signs makes autumn a dangerous season in which people travel.

31People travel in a dangerous season does not have the same propositional meaning as that conveyed in the infinitive structure, where no assertion is implicit. (20) provides another example of this.

3. Role played by the infinitival clause

3.1. Relation between the antecedent and the clause

32Moving towards the semantic and pragmatic poles, it was mentioned earlier on that infinitive structures have in common with the relative clause that they determine the antecedent’s reference. With detached relative clauses however (i.e. non- defining), the reference is considered to be already known to the hearer. But such knowledge is incompatible with the structuring of an infinitive clause. If the reference is already entirely determined, an infinitive clause is ungrammatical:

  • 6 The meaning of look for is not the same. In: I’m looking for Mary, the meaning is: I do not know wh (...)

24a) I’m looking for someone with whom to go on holiday.
24b) *I’m looking for Mary with whom to go on holiday.
6

33In other words, the infinitive clause has something in common with the attached relative clause (defining) but nothing with the detached relative clause (non-defining) - apart from the fact that it occupies the same slot in the sentence and sometimes contains a relative pronoun.

34As regards the choice of the relative pronoun, it should be pointed out that in finite relative clauses that seems to be impossible with a non-defining interpretation when the referent is entirely determined; who is called for instead:

25 a) *My mother, that’s in hospital, is making life difficult for me.
25 b) *Peter, that’s my best friend, has gone away.
25 c) *My husband, that I’m divorcing, has got hold of a good lawyer.

35With the infinitival relative clause, however, the pronoun - when it is expressed - must always be a w/z- one, even though the clause has a defining interpretation as regards the reference of the antecedent.

36Any opposition between that and who/which (relevant for instance in finite clauses when the relative pronoun is the Subject or the Direct Object) proves to be irrelevant here, all the more so as the Subject and the Direct Object are always Ø.

  • 7 Three parameters at least play a role: the tense parameter (the opposition finite/ non-finite), the (...)

37Is it still possible then to talk about fundamental values concerning that and which irrespective of the syntactic contexts they appear in7 ? We do not have time to go into this matter but it is worth thinking about.

3.2. The verb governing the antecedent

38The verb in the matrix clause accompanying this structure has a semantic range that seems to be restricted to:

39(a) copular verbs,
(b) world-creating verbs,
(c) existential verbs (there is/I have etc.).

40
(a) In the first instance (copular verbs), the infinitive segment predicates a characteristic of the referent of the subject of the matrix clause:

26) She is not a person on whom to rely.
27) It would be a pleasant environment for his daughter to grow up in. (
P. Auster, The Music of Chance, p. 9)
28) When this happened, where were Danton’s servants? He was not a man to do without them. (H. Mantel, A Place of Greater Safety)
29) Camille would have been the one to appreciate it most. (
H. Mantel, A Place of Greater Safety)

41(b) Examples of world-creating verbs:

30) He was looking for a box in which to store her letters.
31) I’m looking for someone with whom to go on holiday.

42As soon as the same verb is used to refer to an identifiable entity, this structure sounds wrong, as is expected (see above):

32) ?He was looking for the box in which to store her letters.
33) *I’m looking for the South African with whom to go on holiday.

43If such a structure does not easily accept a definite antecedent, this might be yet another characteristic distinguishing it from the tensed defining relative. In other words the difference between:

a -I’m looking for the box I bought yesterday,
b -I'm looking for a box that could contain my jewels.

44does not exist with the infinitival clause. This type of clause only serves to express the inherent properties of the object "box" relevant in the situation.

45c) existential verbs (there is/I have):

34) There were three older cousins for her to play with. (P. Auster, The Music of Chance, p 2)
35) There were constant perils to watch out for, and anything could happen at any moment. (
P. Auster, The Music of Chance, p 12)
36) I must rush now; I’ve got a class to go to.

3.3. The antecedent as Subject of the matrix clause

46Another interesting point to consider is the function of the antecedent in the matrix clause. At first sight it seems that the function does not play any particular role, as the following is correct:

37) A man to invite to your party is Claude.

47with a man the Subject of is.

48But what is possible for a matrix clause with a copular verb does not seem to be so with other verbs. Indeed we cannot have:

38) *A man to invite to your party will give a speech.
39) *A girl to do the housework knocked at the door.

49with a man and a girl the Subject in the matrix clause.

50It appears then that the antecedent is always the second argument of the matrix verb. It is not the Subject, except with the “be” construction. Is this always so?

51We do not have the time to go into this matter here, but it is certainly worth considering.

II. Relative clauses vs. purpose clauses

52At the beginning of this paper we suggested that the infinitival relative clause locates the event it expresses in a time period subsequent to the moment referred to by the tensed verb of the matrix clause.

53Can we then hypothesize that such clauses are similar to purpose clauses, as the latter also point to future potential events? If this were the case, the to could be replaced by in order to. But the manipulations in examples (40)-(42) do not confirm such a hypothesis. These examples represent the 3 semantic categories mentioned earlier on to which this structure appears to be restricted (copular verbs / world creating verbs / existential verbs).

40a) This is a good car to drive around town in.
40b) *This is a good car in order to drive around town in.

54(In (40b), the manipulation substituting in order to for to is not only ungrammatical, it does not make sense. Only (40a) is grammatical.

55Why? The difference does not lie in the temporal interpretation: both clauses point to a future time period. The difference lies in their structure. In 40a) the preposition in needs a complement to be interpreted, and the complement in this infinitival relative clause is [0]: it is preferential with the antecedent a good car.

56In an infinitival purpose clause, however, no Noun Phrase can be covert except the Subject, when it is co-referential with the Subject of the higher clause. In 40b) the preposition in cannot be interpreted then, and the clause in not grammatical.

57The same can be said of the following examples:

41) I'm looking for some liquid polish to shine parquet floors with.
41a) I'm looking for some liquid polish in order to shine parquet floors.
41b) *I’m looking for some liquid polish in order to shine parquet floors with.
41c) I'm looking for some liquid polish in order to shine parquet floors with it.

58In (41) we have an infinitival relative clause, and with (with + Ø) can be interpreted thanks to the antecedent.

59In (41a) we have a purpose clause, and with does not appear, because it cannot appear without its complement. In (41c) with appears with its complement it, whose reference is some liquid polish, and the sentence is grammatical.

42) I’ve bought a wonderfully Widmerpool tie to go home in. (A. Powell, A Question of Upbringing)
42a) I’ve bought a tie in order to go home.
42b) *I've bought a tie in order to go home in.
42c) I’ve bought a tie in order to go home in it.

60Here again (42) is grammatical because the preposition in finds its complement in the [Ø] relative pronoun whose antecedent is a tie.

  • 8 We do not have the time to analyse this structure. But it shares at least one characteristic with t (...)

61A possible paraphrase is: I’ve bought a tie, suitable for going home in8.

62We can now say that the infinitival relative clause specifies the type of NP required, whereas in order to specifies the intention of the referent of the subject in the matrix clause.

63We have then two completely different syntactic structures although they both contain to.

III. Relative clauses vs. indirect interrogative clauses

64The resemblances between indirect interrogatives and relative clauses have often been discussed. Before dealing with this final point, it might be appropriate to remind ourselves what they have in common:

(a) they share the same wh- pronouns,
(b) this wh-pronoun is always fronted when it is present.

65But there seem to be more differences than resemblances.

66As regards the wh- pronoun, it should be pointed out that, for the indirect interrogative, this pronoun is compulsory:

a) she does not know who to invite/ *she doesn’t know Ø to invite.
b) he wonders who to talk to.
c) he would like to know where to meet them.

67And it is not possible to have a Subject pronoun in the interrogative:

d) *she does not know who to pass the exam (she does not know who will pass the exam)

68Let us now compare the interrogative with the relative clause:

a’) this is not the best man [Ø] to invite.
b’) he met someone interesting [Ø] to talk to.
c’) he was looking for a new house in which to live.

69The [Ø] relative pronoun can be the subject:

d) the man [Ø] to help you is Mr Johnson.

70Another difference is that with the relative clause, one can have pied piping. It seems, however, that pied piping is not possible with the indirect interrogative:

43) I don’t know who(m) to rely on any more.
43a) ?*I don’t know on whom to rely any more.
43b) The student on whom to rely for this job is Peter.

44) I wonder who to play tennis with.
44a) */ wonder with whom to play tennis.
44b) The best partner with whom to play tennis is Harry.

71A final important point is that the interrogative has no antecedent, and thus no interpretation can be given to the pronoun: no referent is available for the speaker. The interrogative w/z-element is not anaphoric, the relative pronoun is. This explains why the interrogative w/z-pronoun must be overt. This also partly explains why the relative pronoun can be covert.

72There may be other differences, but our main concern in introducing this last section is to stress that there is a distinction to be made between the wh- interrogative and the w/z-relative. Their status varies according to the way they function in a given clause, and the meaning they convey depends on this.

Conclusion

73We have seen that the infinitival relative clause differs from the tensed relative clause in that it is subject to numerous syntactic constraints. The lack of tense induces a lack of syntactic flexibility (see chart below).

74Note that with V-ing the syntax is still more constrained: the only argument preferential with the antecedent is the subject:

- Ask the man reading his newspaper on the bench.
- *She asked the man seeing on the platform (she asked the man she saw on the platform)

75Our title “Postmodification by Infinitive Clauses” suggests that there are various types of postmodification, one being characterised by the presence of an infinitive. However there is another type of postmodification with to, which has no link whatsoever with a relative clause. We have in mind sentences such as the following:

- She hardly had a moment to tidy the flat for Pamela. (B. Bainbridge, Sweet William)
- The Gulf states found themselves in a position to raise oil prices by 387 percent in a three-month period. (Newsweek)

76Although we have a Noun Phrase modified by an infinitival clause, there is no covert element in the clause that needs to be interpreted by an antecedent. In fact there is no NP antecedent. So this type of clause is not a relative.

77So we are back to square one. Is the type of clause under discussion in this article better characterised by the label “postmodification” or by the label “relative clause? It might be better to call it a relative clause in that it contains an NP more often than not covert whose antecedent supplies its reference.

Functions

Relative pronoun in a Tensed clause

Relative pronoun in an infinitival clause

Subject

compulsory

Ø

Direct Object

-compulsory for non-defining clauses

- overt or Ø for defining clauses

Ø

Prepositional complement

with whom/ with which who(m)/which... with Ø.... with

that... with

with whom/ with which

*who(m)/ which ...with

Ø .... with

*that... with

Space adjunct

Where

in which

*where

in which

Genitive

whose of which

not possible

78The chart shows that the relative pronoun only appears when it follows a preposition (with whom / with which / in which, etc.).

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Bibliography

COTTE, P., (1996) L ’explication grammaticale de textes anglais. Paris, P.U.F. (pp. 271-302).

DELMAS, C. et al, (1993) Faits de langue en anglais. Paris, Dunod (pp. 153-161).

FLINTHAM, R., (1995) “Les relatifs which et that dans un corpus journalistique” in Cahiers Charles V (19). Paris: Denis Diderot.

GIRARD, G., “L’interprétation temporelle dans les propositions infinitives”, in CIEREC. À paraître.

GRESSET, S., (1984) “That / which marqueurs de relatives en anglais contemporain,” in Cahiers de recherche en grammaire anglaise. Tome 2, Paris : Ophrys.

HAEGERMAN, L., et GUERON, J. (1999) English Grammar: A Generative Perspective. Oxford : Blackwell. Chapitre 2, section 1.2. (pp 185-199).

HUDDLESTON, R., (1984) Introduction to the Grammar of English. C.U.P. Chapitre 12, section 12.4. (pp 393-405).

MALAN, N., (1998) Sémantique, Syntaxe et Pragmatique de la relative en anglais contemporain. Thèse Paris III.

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RADFORD, A., (1988) Transformational Grammar. A First Course. C.U.P.

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Notes

1 R Huddleston, Introduction to the Grammar of English. Reprint (1st ed. 1984). Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp 392-393.

2 R. Quirk, S. Greenbaum, G. Leech, J. Svartvik, A Comprehensive Grammar of the English language. Reprint [1st ed. 1985]. London: Longman, 1992, p 1267.

3 A. Radford, Transformational Grammar. A First Course. Reprint [1st ed., 1988]. Cambridge: University Press, 1995, pp. 483-484.

4 We know that that [thƋt] is excluded from all infinitival contexts.

5 except for “push-down” structures; See N. Malan, thèse, p 129-132. We can have, for instance: the proposal is that "haveoriginates in the functional head ASP which has been argued above to license the event-argument.

6 The meaning of look for is not the same. In: I’m looking for Mary, the meaning is: I do not know where Mary is. With: I’m looking for someone with whom to go on holiday, I do not mean: I’m looking for the place where this someone is. I mean: I’m looking for someone with certain properties.

7 Three parameters at least play a role: the tense parameter (the opposition finite/ non-finite), the case parameter: the Genitive is always whose, or of which., the linear order parameter: *in that / that ....in

8 We do not have the time to analyse this structure. But it shares at least one characteristic with the clauses under discussion: the preposition in (in + Ø) is interpreted thanks to the antecedent with which Ø is coreferential: a tie.

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References

Bibliographical reference

Geneviève Girard and Naomi Malan, « Postmodification by infinitive clauses. Something about which to have a bit of a discussion », Anglophonia/Sigma, 10 (6) | 1999, 31-42.

Electronic reference

Geneviève Girard and Naomi Malan, « Postmodification by infinitive clauses. Something about which to have a bit of a discussion », Anglophonia/Sigma [Online], 10 (6) | 1999, Online since 15 June 2016, connection on 17 October 2017. URL : http://anglophonia.revues.org/674 ; DOI : 10.4000/anglophonia.674

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About the authors

Geneviève Girard

Université de rattachement : Paris III.

Naomi Malan

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Copyright

Licence Creative Commons
Anglophonia – French Journal of English Linguistics est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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