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  1. The sentence: The youngest sailor to complete the voyage unassisted is another Australian, Jesse Martin, who was 18 when he completed it in 1999.

  2. The question: How should I understand the construction " The youngest sailor to complete "? If here "to complete..." expresses "finished action" and it means smth like "who completed..." explain, pls, that grammar construction.

  • The first user to answer was FumbleFingers (albeit only in a comment). It's a common alternative to the first X who did something. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Mar 21 '18 at 18:26
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    I'd analyse "The youngest sailor to complete the voyage unassisted" as a noun phrase, in which "to complete the voyage unassisted" is an infinitival relative clause modifying "sailor": "The youngest sailor [ __ to complete the voyage unassisted], where gap is subject. – BillJ Mar 21 '18 at 19:10
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The infinitival (to VINFPHRASE) in this construction is licensed by the superlative adjective youngest; it expresses the domain to which the superlative applies. Just about any superlative can enter into this construction, and the superlative can be 'fused' with its head noun (the noun it modifies) if that head is obvious from context:

The youngest sailor to complete the voyage . . .
The most famous sailor to complete the voyage . . .

As you speculate, it may be paraphrased as a relative clause, and as a matter of style probably should be paraphrased if the superlative is an adverb 'transferred' to the subject of the infinitival:

awkward The most recent sailor to complete the voyage . . .
better The sailor who most recently completed the voyage . . .

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  • It's only awkward with most recent. Nothing at all awkward about The last person to arrive was John, which works fine in many contexts where The last person who arrived was John might be a little "odd". – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Mar 21 '18 at 18:29
  • @FumbleFingers Yes, you're right; same thing applies to first, second, etc. My criterion is clearly inadequate. How then could we distinguish cases like most recent, swiftest? – StoneyB on hiatus Mar 21 '18 at 18:48
  • I'd analyse "to complete the voyage unassisted" as an infinitival relative clause modifying "sailor": "The youngest sailor [ __ to complete the voyage unassisted], where gap is subject. – BillJ Mar 21 '18 at 19:06
  • Why is The most recent strain of flu to hit the region was X preferred over The most recent strain of flu hitting the region was X ? (though best is The strain of flu to hit the region most recently was X). – Tᴚoɯɐuo Mar 21 '18 at 19:13
  • @BillJ But doesn't it really 'modify'--restrict the sense of--youngest? Without the adjective the infinitival is indeed a relative but has a prospective sense; here it has a retrospective sense; with an absolute or comparative it's ambiguous (but evident from context). I suggest that this is a distinct construction in which -est .. to is analogous to -er .. than – StoneyB on hiatus Mar 21 '18 at 20:14
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With respect to your question about "finished action", consider the following sentences, all of which have an infinitival following a noun-phrase. I don't think these infinitives express completion unless there's a perfect ("to have struck", "to have reached").

The way to go is by train.

The movie to see is Jurassic Park.

It was the worst storm to have struck the region in forty years.

At 103, he is the oldest man ever to attempt the summit.

At 103, he was the oldest man ever to attempt the summit.

At 103, he was the oldest man ever to have reached the summit.

At 103, he is the oldest man ever to have reached the summit.

The thing not to do is panic.

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  • Yes, this is exactly what I said. – Lambie Mar 22 '18 at 14:03
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The youngest sailor to complete the voyage unassisted is another Australian ...

You are right. The sentence is equivalent simply to the youngest sailor who completed the voyage unassisted ...

Nominals containing relative clauses with this kind of interpretation usually contain a modifier such as "only", "next", "last", or one of the ordinal numbers "first", "second" etc. Here the modifier is the adjective "youngest".

Here is a simplified tree diagram:

enter image description here

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  • How can "The youngest sailor to complete the voyage" be equivalent "who completed [past tense] the voyage". One is present, the other past. – Lambie Mar 22 '18 at 14:02
  • Isn't the suplerlative etc a red herring here? Every sailor but one needed help finishing the voyage. The sailor to complete the voyage unassisted was an Aussie... (unassisted does the work of only in context). – Tᴚoɯɐuo Mar 22 '18 at 22:05
  • @Lambie The VP "to complete the voyage" is an infintival clause with a plain form verb, not present tense. – BillJ Mar 24 '18 at 17:57
  • @BillJ Again, call it what you like, it is a fact that the youngest sailor to have completed the voyage is not the youngest sailor to complete the voyage. To complete the voyage here is a mistake and any good English-language editor would correct when copy editing. And I do not believe I used the word tense did I? I specifically did not use that word, in fact. – Lambie Mar 24 '18 at 18:04
  • There is most very definitely a time issue in this type of utterance. – Lambie Mar 24 '18 at 18:08
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The sentence: The youngest sailor to complete the voyage unassisted is another Australian, Jesse Martin, who was 18 when he completed it in 1999.

I would edit this as follows:

The sentence: The youngest sailor to have completed the voyage unassisted is another Australian, Jesse Martin, who was 18 when he completed it in 1999.

Why? Because X to Y [present infinitive] doesn't really fit here in the same way that it would not fit in the examples below.

  • The boy to do the job is Paul. [a general statement; job not yet done]

    COMPARE: The boy to have done the job is Paul.

  • The man to see about this problem is Mike. [problem not yet seen to]

    COMPARE: The man to have seen about this problem is Mike.

  • The youngest sailor to compete in the race is John. [competition not yet held]

    COMPARE: The youngest sailor to have competed in the race is John.

Past Tense: - The youngest sailor to have competed in the race is [or was] John.

To me, the "youngest sailor to complete" is understandable but not right. Because the race is over, though John remains John. Or the speaker can decide to use the past: was John.

Since the race is over, I feel that the to followed by the infinitive requires a past tense.

And the adjective really changes nothing in terms of what is past and what isn't past. You can add or remove adjectives in the sentences above and it will not govern the sentence, one way or the other.

I use the term "tense" here loosely: the point is that "to have completed the voyage" it not "to complete the voyage" and any good English-language editor would correct it. Please see the examples I posted above.

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