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This is an example from OALD:

a piecemeal approach to dealing with the problem

I think that in "to dealing", 'to' is a preposition, and that if we change it to

a piecemeal approach to deal with the problem

'to' is no more a preposition. I'd like to know if the second sentence is grammatical, and, if so, what it may mean.

2 Answers 2

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Your assumption of 'to' no longer being a preposition is correct.

When you use an infinitive verb, 'to' is a part of that verb. In this case it is not acting as a preposition. On the other hand 'to' + verb + 'ing' would be a gerund wherein 'to' is indeed a preposition.

Both sentences are grammatically correct though and semantically identical (they mean the same thing). Using the infinitive verb is done when we need to present the purpose or the intention of an action. You can memorize it as a simpler way to write "in order to" + verb.

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They are both grammatical, but they are structurally different, and so potentially different in meaning, though I don't think I can find a practical differnce in this case.

The noun approach can take a complement with to. (eg an approach to mathematics). The complement can be an -ing clause (eg an approach to dealing with this problem), but it cannot be an infinitive clause.

Therefore in your second sentence to deal with the problem cannot be a complement of approach, and it must be an adjunct (less tightly bound) with a meaning not specific to approach: most naturally, a purpose clause.

So

a piecemeal [approach to dealing with the problem]

talks about what kind of [approach to dealing with the problem]

whereas

[a piecemeal approach] [to deal with the problem]

talks about the purpose of using a piecemeal approach.

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