He’s the one to do the job.

(The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, p.174)

CGEL says the meaning of the above “is comparable to that of the one who should do the job or the one whom we should get to do the job, with modal should”.

While I read that to-infinitives have the meaning of ‘potentiality’ (CGEL, p.1240~1243), I’ve not come across any mention about the modal meaning. Is the to-infinitive above has only the meaning of oughtness? Or could it have other meanings? (I think ‘He’s the one who would do the job,’ might be the candidate, but I’m not sure.)


I can only applaud that you're reading such a scholarly grammar. However, bear in mind that it was written for language professionals (linguists and language teachers), not language learners.

To answer your question, I would strongly suggest re-reading the relevant section again, more carefully. The answer is there, in the book. Huddleston discusses ways of expressing modality on pages 173-175. Your example is from section (c) Other verb inflection. Huddleston, who wrote chapter 3, clearly says that

"the plain form of the verb is commonly used with a modal sense [emphasis mine - Alex B.]"


"in non-finite clauses, the plain form is used in the infitinival construction, where it is often associated with non-actuality [i.e. potentiality - Alex B.] in contrast with the gerund-participial construction" [emphasis mine - Alex B.] (p. 174).

  • I’m much obliged. I’ve read again after reading your answer and got what they’re saying better. But the OP’s question is not yet solved. To-infinitve can have the modality, okay, but can’t it be interpreted into “would” instead of “should”? – Listenever Oct 21 '13 at 0:20

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