1

for example,

  1. My father, to die of lung cancer in 1992, was a good husband to my mother.

  2. My father to die of lung caner in 1992 was a good husband to my mother.

(The situation is that I'm pointing to my father's picture talking with my friend)

Is it better to set off "to die of lung cancer in 1992" with two commas as there was only one father to me?

and, could you bring or make some sentences about this topic as well?

( for those who are weak in English grammar terms to know what's the non-restrictive, if a sentence or phrase is set off by two commas modifying its preceding noun, it's called "non-restrictive sentence or phrase", and "restrictive' doesn't require any commas.)

Could anyone please cite a reliable source in which "to infinitive phrase can be set off by commas to be used non-restrictively" is written?

  • 2
    Commas or not, neither version of that sentence makes sense. You can't use the infinitive in that construction. I would replace to die with who died. Unless you're trying to express the fact that the father was a good husband because he died of lung cancer; if so, it should still be rephrased (although the infinitive might be kept in that case, assuming the right change in phrasing.) – Jason Bassford Apr 28 '19 at 22:40
  • @JasonBassford I've just received an answer from a native speaker that there's some difference in meaning because of commas between "A doctor, to be given an award, will speak at the event" and " A doctor to be given an award will speak at the event". Is there really a little bit of difference ? – Glittering river Apr 28 '19 at 23:02
  • The commas change it from restrictive to nonrestrictive, which is an important semantic difference. – Anonymous Apr 28 '19 at 23:14
  • "A doctor, to be given an award, will speak at the event" and " A doctor to be given an award will speak at the event". Is there really a little bit of difference?: That's an altogether different question. In the first sentence the infinitive expresses purpose and is adverbial, while in the second one it is a infinitival modifier. – Gustavson Apr 28 '19 at 23:14
  • @Gustavson the native speaker didn't answer that "to be given an award" set off by two commas expresses purpose but just it's planned for the doctor to be given an award. – Glittering river Apr 28 '19 at 23:20
2

Yes, to-infinitives can be used non-restrictively as well as restrictively.

"My father to die of lung cancer" only makes sense if you have more than one father, and the restrictive to-infinitive specifies which one: the one who was to die of lung cancer. This is unusual for fathers, but common for other things: "The dough to be baked for dinner was rising on the counter, and the rest was in the freezer."

In contrast, the nonrestrictive "My father, to die of lung cancer less than a year later, was a good husband to my mother." simply provides more information about your father. It means the same thing as "My father was a good husband to my mother. He was to die of lung cancer less than a year later."

As Gustavson mentioned, there's a semantic problem here: these to-infinitives often express intent. They're normal when the future action is purposeful: "Crates of bananas, to be loaded on the next ship, sat on the wharf." They're less common for accidents, so "My father, to die of lung cancer" is possible but unusual.

However, soon to is a common exception: "my father, soon to die of lung cancer" is normal.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.