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Phrases such as 'the first thing to observe', where the verb 'observe' could be replaced by other verbs, are frequently seen in English sentences, for example in

The first thing to observe is that both of these equations have a coefficient of 1 in front of the x.

Now, what is meant by that phrase?

  1. The first thing that can be observed

  2. The first thing that should be observed

Does its exact meaning depend on the context in which it appears?

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Have you done some research into infinitives? Infinitives are usually formed with to + a verb.

The first thing to observe, what does it mean?

In this context, it means the first thing that should be observed.

The first thing that should be observed is that both of these equations have a coefficient of 1 in front of the x.

However, it may not always mean that. Context can be modified and the meaning will change with it. If you wanted to say The first thing that should be observed you would use to be observed.

The first star in the sky to be observed is one that is not in our galaxy.

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  • I'm familiar with the syntax used here. My question is about its meaning. – apadana Mar 12 '18 at 20:42
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    I was just making sure you were familiar with the technical terms, but I also answered your questions regarding the meaning. – Element115 Mar 12 '18 at 20:44
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    In the specific example you used, the author is using it as a way to guide the teaching he wants to do, so it's like your interpretation #2. I'd translate it as, "The first thing that you the reader should observe is [this] because it's the first thing that I'm going to write about." – Canadian Yankee Mar 12 '18 at 20:46
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The first thing to observe is that the room is painted pink.

This means: The first thing [the reader or listener should observe or anyone in fact] is that the room is pink.

The first thing to see when you go to Paris is the Eiffel Tower.

It is usually spoken but can also be written. This pattern is "instructional". It implies someone is giving advice to someone else about something.

The first thing to do is read the question carefully.

Advice to question readers, for example.

By using this pattern, one can avoid directly addressing someone while still dispensing advice or giving an order.

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