My English teachers (Canadian and British) said:

"We usually use infinitive clauses in order to define nouns, however, it doesn't mean that they can never be separated from each other. Sometimes we can do that and separating them may cause the sentence to be unnatural but they may be still correct grammatically."

Then they gave a few examples.

  • I know nothing to play this game. ("To play this game" defines "nothing")
  • To play this game, I know nothing. ("To play this game" says for what verb I know nothing.

  • I have enough money to have a great holiday this year.("To have a great holiday this year" defines "money" and says my money is enough to do that)

  • To have a great holiday this year, I have enough money. ("To have a great holiday this year" says for what/to do what I have enough money.)

What they added at last is

Their emphasis are different and meanings are slightly different, however, they go to the same meaning finally.

What do you think?

  • 2
    I think, "I know nothing to play this game" is not natural English. It's possible you misquoted, or it's some kind of colloquial expression. I can guess what your teacher is trying to say, but there are more idiomatic ways to say it.
    – Andrew
    Jun 5, 2018 at 16:15
  • I agree with Andrew; I don't even understand what "I know nothing to play this game" means. Was that a complete sentence? Did they explain what it was supposed to mean?
    – stangdon
    Jun 5, 2018 at 16:15
  • Also I'm not sure if the phrase "to have a great holiday" modifies money or enough. It seems to me you could substitute anything for money (or nothing at all) and it still works, e.g. "I have enough (flour) to make three loaves of bread"
    – Andrew
    Jun 5, 2018 at 16:18
  • Well, maybe I missed that part. Let's skip that part. What do you think about their opinions? Is putting infinitives at the beginning correct grammatically? Does it change emphasis? @Andrew
    – Jawel7
    Jun 5, 2018 at 16:23
  • 1
    @Jawel As with any language, of course where you put something in a sentence matters, but the actual nuance will vary based on intonation and context. "*To make three loaves of bread, I have enough flour" would sound odd but understandable, but only because it's slightly too dramatic for the subject matter.
    – Andrew
    Jun 5, 2018 at 16:36

1 Answer 1


I think what you've presented as their opinion is total nonsense.

  1. Infinitives are not usually used "in order to define nouns".
    Infinitives have many uses, and "defining nouns" is not one of the big ones.

  2. *I know nothing to play this game is an ungrammatical sentence,
    and the infinitive to to play this game does not define "nothing" (whatever that might mean).

  3. *To play this game, I know nothing is likewise ungrammatical, and the statement that the infinitive is "saying for what verb I know nothing" makes no sense at all; it isn't even false.

  4. I have enough money to have a great holiday this year is at least grammatical, but the infinitive is the focus of the quantifier enough and constitutes a purpose infinitive (i.e, 'enough money for the purpose of my having a great holiday'. Purpose infinitives are very common.

  5. The reversal of (4) is borderline acceptable, but it simply means the same thing as (4). Again, the "explanation" is useless and doesn't really describe what's going on.

Sorry about that.

  • What about when to is a preposition? Or in To err is human, to forgive divine.
    – aesking
    Jun 5, 2018 at 19:22
  • 3
    In those clauses, to is not a preposition, but just an infinitive complementizer, as usual. The two infinitive clauses are being used as subject noun phrases for the two predicate adjectives (human and divine). Jun 5, 2018 at 19:50
  • @JohnLawler Well, I think you didn't read our comments below my main post, which say that I am likely to misunderstand the first part(I know nothing....). The main case here is to relocate infinitives at the beginning with no problem. So I think we can do that as my professors said. Additionally, I don't agree with you on your comment with the number 1. What I meant by "defining nouns" is that one of their usages is adjectival infinitives, it is often used for that function. Of course, the most often-used one is giving a purpose but it doesn't mean that the other usage is very little.
    – Jawel7
    Jun 5, 2018 at 20:30
  • 1
    @Jawel: Do you mean something like: I have no money to bet on the ponies. ? That is a purpose. Can you give an idiomatic example where the infinitive qualifies the noun in a way that does not relate to purpose? Perhaps I have a bone to pick with you.
    – TimR
    Jun 5, 2018 at 21:23

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