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We were driven into our rooms to shelter us from the spray of the sea.

What is this to?

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3 Answers 3

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The "to" here before the infinitive "shelter" has the meaning of "in order to shelter" or "with the purpose to shelter". The to-infinitive explains why we were driven to our quarters. This infinitive is a bit different from normal to-infinitives which are mostly connected to verbs (I want to do it, I'll try to do it). Here the to-infinitive is added to a complete sentence (We were driven into our quarters) so you know it can only be a to-infinitive explaining why? - If you want to be clearer you can use the longer formula with "in order to + infinitive". In German Grammars this special infinitive is called "finaler Infinitiv" (final from Latin fin-is end pupose). I have looked into the register of an English grammar (Eastwood/Oxford) but I don't find a term for this special kind of infinitive. PS As I have just found out this kind of to-infinitive is treated in English grammars under the heading "clauses of purpose".

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  • See for yourself: Link to BBC, Learning English: bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/grammar/learnit/…
    – rogermue
    Jan 31, 2014 at 12:20
  • The passive sentence: We were driven into our quarters lets assume that the to-infinitive gives the reason why they were driven into their quarters. Of course, if you want to, you can say the infinitive indicates the consequence: so that they were sheltered from foam and spray of the sea. The difference is only slight and in the end the meaning is the same.
    – rogermue
    Jan 31, 2014 at 12:27
  • I'm not sure if it helps to talk about German grammar, but what about this
    – Em1
    Jan 31, 2014 at 13:02
  • I should have written "English grammars written by German authors". Very long, and I thought "German grammars" would be understood, as in grammars about German you don't find explanations of English. - Your link to wikipedia "final infinitive" is interesting. I doubted that this term is used in English as the word "final" normally means "something at the end". And I think the term is not often used in English grammars.
    – rogermue
    Jan 31, 2014 at 13:10
  • Isn't this true for German as well. And actually its usage in linguistics is based on this definition.
    – Em1
    Jan 31, 2014 at 13:23
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In this sentence, to is an infinitive marker, a type of subordinator. It indicates that the following verb (in its plain form) is the head of a subordinate infinitival clause.

We were driven into our rooms [ to shelter us from the spray of the sea ] .

Here, the infinitival clause is an adjunct of purpose. It tells us why they were driven into their rooms.

As an adjunct, it is a non-essential part of the sentence and can be removed without rendering the sentence ungrammatical:

We were driven into our rooms.

Adjuncts of purpose are not entailed, so it's possible to write your sentence even if they were not ultimately sheltered from the spray of the sea. It only tells us the purpose at the time of the action.

There are a number of other ways to phrase adjuncts of purpose. Here are two alternatives:

We were driven into our rooms [ in order to shelter us from the spray of the sea ] .
We were driven into our rooms [ so as to shelter us from the spray of the sea ] .

These alternatives have roughly the same meaning.

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The "To" is the grammar particle of the the verb "to shelter". It is also a preposition.

Basically, it gives "shelter" the meaning of "taking cover" as an action, instead of a noun.

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    Oh well, that is a different question :) What about "We were led into our close quarters at once, to cover ourselves / to take cover from the very foam and spray of the sea"?
    – AeroCross
    Jan 31, 2014 at 11:49

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