5

It is impossible for me to finish this work.

It is impossible to me to finish this work.

Are both sentences correct? (Or in the real world are both sentences spoken or written?) Or is the only first sentence correct?

I'm sorry for asking a very basic question, I googled "subject of infinitives" but couldn't get answers.

In my country, in school tests, probably only first sentence is correct.

  • for SUBJECT to VERB is the correct form when VERB is in the infinitive and a SUBJECT is provided. Indeed, some grammarians hold that the construction with just the marked infinitive, no SUBJECT, is a reduced form of the for construction. – StoneyB Oct 8 '13 at 16:33
  • In OP's exact context, most if not all native speakers would only accept for. But it's not obvious to me there's any structural difference in, say, It's offensive to me to see such things, and in that version I think I actually prefer to. So I'm not convinced the choice of preposition is really a matter of "grammar" as such. It feels more like "idiomatic preference". – FumbleFingers Oct 8 '13 at 16:56
  • I would say the first one is correct, but I have no explanation for why should there be "for" instead of "to". "For" does not look like an appropriate preposition to "impossible" either. – Mistu4u Oct 8 '13 at 17:19
  • Thank you for all helps.Anyway, I understand the usage of "to S " as a notional subject. Thanks. – skypescenery29 Oct 9 '13 at 13:00
  • And I appreciate editing my first POST! – skypescenery29 Oct 9 '13 at 13:01
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Unquestionably, OP's first example is "standard/correct" for what I assume is the intended meaning (finishing this work is something that's impossible for me to do myself).

But that's not inherent in the context of constructions involving impossible [preposition] me and an activity expressed using an infinitive form. Consider, for example,...

1: It seems impossible for me to put a man on Mars.
2: It seems impossible to me to put a man on Mars.

Both versions are grammatically valid, but they mean different things.

In #1, for me modifies impossible. Perhaps someone else can put a man on Mars, but apparently I can't.

In #2, to me modifies seems. Perhaps putting a man on Mars seems possible to [some/all] other people.

Note that (probably for semantic reasons), when for me is used in close proximity to a verb like seems, there's a strong tendency for us to interpret them in conjunction. Consider the situation if we slightly reshuffle the word order in #1 above...

1a: For me it seems impossible to put a man on Mars.
1b: It seems for me impossible to put a man on Mars.

I'll admit straight away that #1b is a bit clumsy, but it's not really "ungrammatical". The point is most people would interpret both as semantically equivalent to #2, when for me is moved closer to it seems.


Having said all that, I do not believe all native speakers would always make this semantic distinction in all related contexts. That's to say there's a certain amount of ambiguity that cannot be fully resolved using "rules of grammar".

It often happens in such situations (i.e. - where different prepositions are at least "logically" credible) that if there are also different possible interpretations, idiomatic preference gradually settles on consistently assigning each different interpretation to one particular preposition.

  • 2
    Excellent answer, +1. Following on what you've said, in the OP's case It seems impossible for me to finish this work means "I can't finish the work" and It seems impossible to me to finish the work means "I don't think the work can be finished (with no mention of who is completing the work)". – WendiKidd Oct 8 '13 at 23:10
  • Thank you for your very detailed explanation.I understand "to S to V" is also valid, and the difference between for preposition and to preposition in the sentence of infinitives.I appreciate your help. – skypescenery29 Oct 9 '13 at 12:44
  • @skypescenery29: Note that the verb can also be relevant. Even the verb tense can influence choice of preposition. For example, in Google Books, It was stupid of me to [do something] is over 30 times more common than the same using for. But the unreal/future verb form It would be stupid for me to [do it] occurs almost half as often as the of version. So far as I'm concerned, both prepositions are perfectly grammatical and semantically equivalent, and only habit/local preference can explain the different choices people make. – FumbleFingers Oct 9 '13 at 14:26
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The way this sentence is constructed, the infinitive phrase to finish this work is functioning as an adverb (clarifying is impossible), and you can look at the sentence without that phrase:

It is impossible for (to) me.

It's a rule of English usage that the preposition used in front of me in this case is for, so the first sentence is correct while the second one is incorrect usage.

As @FumbleFingers mentioned, the choice of preposition depends on what the adjective is, so in the case of offensive, the word should be to. (I think this is mostly a reflection of the implied agency in the statements: in the case of impossible, I am the agent, but in the latter case, the offense is happening to me.)

  • I think you're on shaky ground with that It's a rule of English usage bit. There's nothing wrong with "That looks impossible to me", where to me modifies looks (in my judgement it's inherently impossible [for anyone]). As opposed to "That looks impossible for me", where for me modifies impossible (I can't do it, but perhaps others can). – FumbleFingers Oct 8 '13 at 18:44
  • I'd like to see your comments posted as answers. @FumbleFingers – GreaseMonkey Oct 8 '13 at 20:48
  • @Friendly Greasemonkey: I think there's a great deal of "established idiomatic preference" involved here, and I'm pretty sure chrylis is correct here in saying choice of preposition depends on the adjective. I'm not sure I'm competent to post a "generic" answer (I more than suspect there may not even be one). But I'll have a crack. – FumbleFingers Oct 8 '13 at 21:23
  • @FumbleFingers You're correct in your example, but that looks impossible to me means something different. In this case of this question, for is the appropriate preposition. – chrylis Oct 8 '13 at 21:40
  • @ chrylis: Undeniably. But OP could be reasonably sure which preposition was "appropriate" by comparing Google Books hits for impossible for me to do (326,000) with those for impossible to me to do (633). I don't disagree with anything you say (apart from the "rule" bit! :), but I think just saying "this wrong, that right" is of limited use here. – FumbleFingers Oct 8 '13 at 22:22

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