But then as Mama and Papa drove away, Sal burst into tears. A delayed reaction. It was as if something inside her suddenly broke or popped or was switched on. She was hysterical. Gabby, Billy, and even the Drop Sisters were powerless to soothe her.

The gushing of tears went on.

And on.
And on.

Billy couldn’t stand it. He put his hands over his ears. He’d gone from trying to be helpful, to being annoyed, to feeling angry. “CAN. WE. GO. NOW. PLEASE?” he repeated loudly over the relentless crying.

As for the bold sentence in the paragraph, I'm not very clear about its structure. Why is the first "to be" a to-infinitive, but the last two 'to's are followed by -ing form? What is the ellipsis of this sentence?

2 Answers 2


The use of the present participle with to isn't some strange infinitive thing; to is being used in the prepositional sense. The important thing here is that he had been trying to be helpful, so the other verbs are agreeing in tense.

If you start here (for simplicity's sake, I'll change from past perfect to simple past, since all this applies to any tense):

I was being helpful, then I was getting annoyed, then I was feeling angry.

You could simplify like this:

I went from being helpful to getting annoyed to feeling angry.

(When you say I went from... you're saying My feelings changed from...)

Look also at this:

My feelings changed from helpful to annoyed to angry.

This is the sense in which to is used in your sentence, and is exactly analogous in usage to this one, which will probably be familiar territory to you:

I went from the store to the park to the school.

  • So the structure is go from something to something, which means the feeling changing from being helpful to being annoyed to being angry, right?
    – Henry Wang
    Jan 23, 2017 at 6:46
  • what confuseed me is the comma used after the word helpful. Can I remove it from the original sentence?
    – Henry Wang
    Jan 23, 2017 at 6:48

Your original sentence:

He'd gone from trying to be helpful, to being annoyed, to feeling angry.

This means that he tried to be helpful, then he tried to be annoyed and at the end of all this he tried to feel angry. He had gone from A, to B, to C. Where A is the noun phrase trying to be helpful, B is the noun phrase being annoyed and C is the noun phrase feeling angry. His range of emotions ranged from trying to be helpful, to being annoyed, to feeling angry. Does this now make sense?

  • 1
    I wouldn't say that he "tried to" be annoyed, though. The sentence is saying that he was annoyed, isn't it?
    – BobRodes
    Jan 23, 2017 at 4:50
  • This answer is incorrect. The parallelism is between trying, being, and feeling. He first tried to be helpful; then he was annoyed, and finally felt angry.
    – verbose
    Jan 23, 2017 at 6:11

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .