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I came across this sentence

He has been by my side, my rock and shoulder to lean on literally, every step of the way, caring for me and Erin, holding my hands, holding me and loving me.

This is from a person's autobiography. I wonder if this sentence "my rock and shoulder to lean on literally" needs a verb like "my rock and shoulder lean on literally". What' the meaning of "to lean on" in this sentence? What's the usage of this infinitive?

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  • ...my rock and shoulder on which to lean literally,...
    – user5267
    Oct 5, 2016 at 12:48

1 Answer 1

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In this case "to lean on" refers to the purpose. In other words, the person has been a shoulder on which I could lean. This is also an idiomatic phrase meaning to be an emotional support, similarly to the phrase to be the shoulder to cry on. The reference to being somebody's rock comes from Matthew 16:18 where Christ tells Peter:

That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church

Which finds its reasoning in that "Peter" comes from the Greek petros, meaning "rock" (and hence petrification - turning to rock; petroglyphs - rock carvings; petroleum - "rock oil", etc.). Christ is telling Peter that he will be his support and foundation for his work, and this meaning has been adopted by day-to-day language.

With regards to the infinitive structure, other items can be described in a similar way:

  • A pen to write with
  • A wooden board to chop on
  • A car to drive in

And so on.

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  • Thank you for your answer. So is this his shoulder? Oct 5, 2016 at 13:12
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    Well, no, he is the shoulder. It is an idiomatic phrase. In the same way as someone's shoulder to lean on is helpful when you trip or stumble or are weak, the man was such a support and help when the author's life has been difficult.
    – FatMan
    Oct 5, 2016 at 13:22
  • Thanks again. I got it. That is to say, he has been my rock and shoulder to lean on literally. I misunderstood the subject is my rock and shoulder. Oct 5, 2016 at 13:34

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