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I am confused why does below sentence use "to live" which implies a future state as far as I know.

“The first human beings to live in the Americas came from Asia more than 15,000 years ago.”

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In this sentence "to live" is an infinitive being used as an adjective. The infinitive does not indicate any particular tense, but to the concept of living (used as another part of speech). The adjective infinitive phrase "to live in the Americas" is a modifier of "human beings" in this case.

From the Free Dictionary:

"Infinitives are used to express an action as a concept, rather than what is being done or performed by the subject of a clause. In this way, they can function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs—that is, nearly any role in a sentence except that of a main verb.

Infinitives can stand on their own to complete these functions, or they can work together with their own predicates (any additional information that modifies or completes them) to form infinitive phrases. Infinitive phrases function as a nouns, adjectives, or adverbs as a single, holistic unit."

  • Adjective is a category (parts of speech) and not a function. – Man_From_India May 13 at 16:58
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    Adjective is a part of speech, but it is also a function in that other words and phrases can be used in the place of an adjective, as in this case. I'm not sure what you're trying to say or how it helps answer the question. – geekahedron May 13 at 17:28
  • HI geekahedron, thanks for your reply. In this case, can I use "lived" or "living" to replace "to live" for a modifier? – Austin May 14 at 1:57
  • @geekahedron my point is an adjective can be used as many ways. These ways are called functions. So when you say that a particular word is used as an adjective, it doesn't say explicitly what way that is used or more precisely what function that word play there. Well, an word or phrase can however be placed in place of an adjective. And an adjective is not a function. My whole point is that please keep the category and function apart. Don't mix it up. It's not good for learners and future readers and not for the OP as well. You however can do some more research before editing your answer. – Man_From_India May 14 at 4:09
  • @Man_From_India HI Man_From_India, thanks for your reply. In this case, can I use "lived" or "living" to replace "to live" for a modifier? – Austin May 16 at 3:33
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1. The first police to arrive neglected to cordon off the gas station, where broken glass and blood stains lay everywhere. Police allowed reporters and photographers to walk around inside, contaminating the crime scene.

2. I'm waiting for the police to arrive.

Consider the sentences above, specifically the Noun Phrase (NP) the first police to arrive in sentence #1 and the police to arrive in sentence #2.

The infinitive clause - to arrive - in both the cases instills two different meaning. In the first case the police has already arrived but in the second case the police is yet to arrive.

From your quoted sentence too we can derive such meaning -

The first human beings to live in the Americas came from Asia more than 15,000 years ago

The meaning is the first human beings who lived in America came from Asia more than 15000 years ago.

As a side note (because you asked in comments), you can write the following sentences -

The first human beings lived in the Americas came from Asia more than 15,000 years ago. (Doubtful acceptability)

The first human beings living in the Americas came from Asia more than 15,000 years ago.

Reference Note:
On page 1265 Quirk et al in The Comprehensive English Grammar marked the sentence The train arrived at platform 1 is from York. as "tending to unacceptability but not fully unacceptable".

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