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The leader created a term which the members of their group would use to describe people who had never contributed to the community.

The infinitive clause " to describe people ... to the community" confuses me. What is the function of the infinitive in this context and what are the possible interpretations?

I think there are three possibilities here, but I am not sure which is correct.

1)Is the infinitive an adverb modifying the verb "created" ,

Then it probably might mean that: The leader created a term in order to describe those people.

Can it possibly be interpreted this way?

2)or is it part of the relative clause leads by "which" and modify the verb "use", making it an adverb or a complement?

Then it means: the members of their group would use the term created by the leader to describe those people.

3)or the infinitive is an adjective modifying the noun "term", which adds extra information to the "term"

Then it means: the leader created a term which describes those people.

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The leader created a term which the members of their group would use ____ to describe people who had never contributed to the community.

The infinitival clause is a purpose adjunct in clause structure. The gap notation '___' represents the direct object "term", so we understand that the leader created a term, and members of their group would use that term in order to describe people who had never contributed to the community.

Essentially, the clause modifies the VP "would use the term".

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  • Thanks for the answer, it is really helpful. " He gave us an opportunity which we accepted to join the competition ". In this case, the sentence structure is similar, does the infinitive clause still share the same function as the original sentence? – jessie Feb 5 '19 at 2:37
  • I think it modifies "opportunity", making it an adjective. If that's correct, can i use PP instead of infinitive to describe "opportunity", cause the gap ______ represents opportunity. "He gave us an opportunity which we accepted of joining the competition ". – jessie Feb 5 '19 at 2:37
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It is modifying "use". The subject of 'use' here is the "members of their group", the object is the term that has been created, and the "to describe..." is an adverbial of purpose, I think (it's certainly an adverbial).

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I think the meaning of the sentence would be the same in all three of your proposed interpretations.

But if you are interested in analyzing the grammar just to see how the words interact with each other, then here goes:

1) Does "to describe" go with "created"? No. Because "to describe" is too far away from "created", and there is another verb ("used") in between. If the author had meant to say that, he should have written something like this: "There was a term that the leader created to describe people who ..."

2) Does "to describe" go with "use"? Yes, because it follows "use" immediately. I wouldn't call it an adverb though. It is still the infinitive form of a verb. It makes up a compound verb along with "use", "use to describe ..."

3) Does "to describe" modify "term"? No. If that was the author's intent, he should have put commas around "which the members of their group would use" so that phrase would become a parenthetical aside and a second modifier of "term". In other words, "The leader created a term, which the members of their group would use, to describe people who had never contributed to the community.

That is an interesting exercise, but please note that all 3 of these possibilities result in statements meaning the exact same thing.

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  • Thank you for explaining each of my interpretations, it makes it clear. " He gave us an opportunity which we accepted to join the competition ". In this case, the sentence structure is similar, does the infinitive clause still same the same function as the original sentence, going with the verb "accepted" , or this time it could modify " opportunity" – jessie Feb 5 '19 at 2:39
  • This one is not quite as "slippery" as your other example. In the previous sentence, all 3 of your proposed possibilities were very idiomatic. "Created to describe", "use to describe", and "term to describe" all resonate with our "sense of English" as expressions we recognize. In this new example, "opportunity to join" resonates with us. "Accepted to join" ... does not jump out at us. So it seems clear that the author meant "to join the competition" should go with "opportunity." (continued) – Lorel C. Feb 5 '19 at 4:14
  • I guess people will think I am being pedantic, but I think the sentence should have a couple of commas: "He gave us an opportunity, which we accepted, to join the competition". With commas, it is clearly an opportunity-to-join. Without commas, you get "accepted-to-join-the-competition", which sounds goofy. My 2 cents. – Lorel C. Feb 5 '19 at 4:18
  • Thank you so much again, sorry, but I still have one more question to be solved. If it goes with the "opportunity", can I use Prepositional phrases to replace the infinitive form(cause I learned that they both can serve as an adjective). "He gave us an opportunity, which we accepted, of joining the competition". Does this one flow? – jessie Feb 5 '19 at 4:51

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