Here is a question as follows:

Generally speaking, you should arrive at the airport with plenty of time___. A. sparing B.to spare C.spare D.spared

The key is B. I'm wondering why it's not D. Usually, at least from my understanding(maybe wrong),I think if there is a noun before a non-finite verb, then it's usually the relationship between that noun and the verb right after it that determines the form of the non-finite verb to be used(e.g. always so in cases where a noun with a verb following it as a complement or an attributive).In this sense, I can't understand why it is not D. From my perspective, I think 'time' is spared (by you),so it should be D here. A and C are surely wrong. Does C make sense here because 'to spare' is used to show purpose as an infinitive?

Many thanks for any explanations.

2 Answers 2


Generally speaking, you should arrive at the airport with plenty of time to spare.

The simple answer is that past-participials like "spared" do not satisfy the complement requirement of nouns, like "time" for example.

Note that since the clause is a complement, it cannot of course be a purpose adjunct, since adjuncts, unlike complements, do not have to be licensed by the head word.


I think the difficulty here is purely the usage of the verb to spare when applied to time. Its relationship to the adjective is complex; technically, there are two separate routes into the language for different senses of spare. Even for those separate routes, it can mean opposite things. As an adjective it can mean surplus, or it can mean sparse - having more than needed, or very little. As a verb, it can mean to give, to save, or to withhold. It is simply a matter of usage to become familiar with its meaning in different usages. In a sense, most uses of the word could be seen as idiom or set phrase, simply because you have to know what it means in different contexts.

When used with time, it usually means excess as an adjective, or to share or give away as a verb. Your spare time is the time you have that isn't taken up by necessary things. If you can spare someone some time you are 'giving' that time to them. Thus, having time to spare means having more time than you need, much as you might have food to spare, money to spare ("spare a dime, fella?"), and so on.

This contrasts with a "spare meal" (which is frugal and limited), or the expression "spare the rod, spoil the child", which says that withholding corporal punishment will lead to a spoiled child.

Words with multiple contradictory meanings happen. My favourite example is the verb to cleave. If one cleaves rock, one splits it, but if one cleaves to the rock, perhaps while trying to make one's way along a narrow ledge, one is holding close to it. In the case of to cleave, the structure of the sentence usually tells you the meaning. With to spare, it is just a matter of knowing how it is used in different situations.

  • 1
    Many thanks for your typing out so many words to help me and reassuring me that the key is right. I'll take it as a conventional usage as you explained so.Thanks again and wish you a nice day:)
    – Eglantine
    Feb 20, 2019 at 13:05

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