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Do they always have to be next to nouns? Examples;

To talk about, We should find a topic.

To live lots of amazing moments with, I need some friends.

To study with, I will invite my friend to the library.

etc.

Do you think that this usage is possible in English? Or we have to complete the infinitive clauses with nouns?

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  • You're confusing two rules. One moves infinitive clauses to the beginning of a sentence, and one strands prepositions at the end of a clause. They have nothing to do with one another. Forget about putting the infinitives at the beginning. Jun 7, 2018 at 21:43

4 Answers 4

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You can't do this with an introductory infinitive clause, the way you have. If you leave off the object of a preposition, English speakers expect to be able to find the elided object somewhere before what you said, not after it. It's the way we parse language.

However, you can certainly do this if you move the infinitive clause to the end of the sentence. These are grammatical and idiomatic:

We should find a topic to talk about.
I need some friends to live lots of amazing moments with.

However, we would just say:

I will invite my friend to the library to study.

Or we might say:

I will invite my friend to the library to study with me

(The implied object of "with" is "me," but it was never explicitly stated in the sentence and can't easily be elided.)

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None of these three sentences is possible in English.At the very least you need to have a noun following the preposition, but in most cases even this results in a clumsy sentence. e.g.:

To talk about History, we should find a topic.

To live lots of amazing moments with other people, I need some friends.

To study with others, I will invite my friends to the library.

These sentences are now grammatically acceptable, however, people do not normally speak like this. This sounds more like someone making a dot-point list of things to accomplish.

To the best of my knowledge there is no specific rule against starting sentences with infinitives, "To be or not to be." and "To boldly go where no man has gone before.", are sentences familiar to most people (although the second sentence actually starts with a split infinitive.) However, starting sentences with infinitives should be done with care. They can make sentences sound archaic and stilted.

The following sentences retain the infinitive, but place it within the sentence. They are phrased in a more normal sounding way.

If we are going to talk about History, perhaps we should decide on a topic we are both interested in.

If I am going to live a life full of amazing moments with other people, I will need to make some friends.

I think that I could study better if I had some company, so I will invite my friends to the library.

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Building on what others have said above, the construction at issue is preposition stranding in an infinitival clause. There are a few reasons that a preposition can be stranded, but in all of them, the noun that logically would be the object of the preposition occurs earlier in the sentence. For example, certain questions:

  • What are you talking about?

In general, an infinitival clause expressing a purpose of a full sentence may occur at the beginning of the sentence. If such a clause ends in a stranded preposition, it has to be stranded because of something in the clause:

  • To determine what they are talking about, listen closely.

Infinitival clauses following a noun may be relative clauses, which also allow preposition stranding:

  • a topic to talk about [infinitival relative]
  • a topic we talked about [ordinary relative]
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Short answer

Do they always have to be next to nouns?

In spoken, colloquial English, no, they don't.

Do you think that this usage is possible in English?

In your examples, no, but see below.

Your examples

Your first example

To talk about, We should find a topic.

How this is said in colloquial spoken English

We should find a topic to talk about.

This is not "textbook" correct grammar, however. To make this "textbook" correct:

We should find a topic about which to talk.

Your second example

To live lots of amazing moments with, I need some friends.

How this is said in colloquial spoken English

I need some friends to live lots of amazing moments with.

This is not "textbook" correct grammar, however. To make this "textbook" correct:

I need some friends with whom to live lots of amazing moments.

Details

"To talk about", "to live lots of amazing moments with", in colloquial English, modify nouns - (topic) to talk about, (friends) to live lots of amazing moments with. Therefore, these function as adjectives in these examples, so they stick to their nouns.

However, (to + infinitive form of verb) + (preposition with no object) isn't "textbook" English. To correct this, in the case of modifying a noun, we must use + (preposition) + (object of preposition that refers back to noun) + (to + infinitive form of verb). (In the above two examples, they are adjective phrases, but as a side note these types of infinitive phrases can also function as nouns, for example in the examples in your comment).

Personally, many people use the "colloquial spoken" version even in written English, and many people don't seem to mind that it's not "textbook" grammar

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  • I see, but one more question is born from your answer. Do they mean that the following sentences are also not correct English? - This topic is hard to talk about. - She is very hard to be with. They don't also have any objects after the prepositions. What do you think?
    – Jawel7
    Jun 7, 2018 at 17:50
  • @Jawel I believe that even the vast majority of "textbooks" have dropped the idiotic rule about sentences not ending with prepositions. That rule was invented and imposed on the language; it has never described the way people actually speak. Jun 7, 2018 at 17:54
  • Those additional two examples are also correct colloquially but here are the "textbook" correct versions: "To talk about this topic is hard" and "To be with her is very hard". In these cases. In these cases, these infinitive clauses function as nouns. I'll edit my answer to address this point. Thank you for the question Jun 7, 2018 at 17:54
  • @joiedevivre I understand you but I know that sentences can end with prepositions. However, if that preposition has no object, I start to look for what it refers to, because, as you know, there must be something it refers to.
    – Jawel7
    Jun 7, 2018 at 18:00
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    @joiedevivre Yeah, I don't disagree that sentences can end with prepositions. I talk and write all the time with "dangling prepositions", provided that they have something to refer TO (see what i did there hehe). However, I admit that what "textbook" correct means is definitely open to debate, and in my answer I indicated my (likely outdated? haha) understanding of "textbook" correct. Jun 7, 2018 at 18:07

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