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I cannot understand the following sentence because of its grammar.

To borrow a phrase from the old Star Treck series, the "prime directive" of the limbic brain is to ensure our survival as a species.

I am totally bewildered by the first part of the sentence.

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2 Answers 2

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To borrow a phrase from the old Star Trek series, the "prime directive" of the limbic brain is to ensure our survival as a species.

You have explained that it is the preposition "to" at the beginning of this sentence that is confusing you.

It is quite common to introduce a clause with a phrase containing to followed by an infinitive, for example:

To be honest, I don't really like Star Trek.

This means that the statement "I don't really like Star Trek" is you speaking honestly.

Likewise:

To borrow a phrase from the old Star Trek series...

This means that the clause which follows this statement contains a phrase from Star Trek, namely "the prime directive".

A commonly heard example of this is:

To quote Shakespeare... (before a Shakespeare quote!)


For information, in Star Trek, the explorers of space and alien worlds are governed by an overarching rule which they call "the prime directive". What that rule is in the context of the series is largely irrelevant here, but the point is that it is a comprehensive principle which governs all other rules and actions. The need to obey the "prime directive" is more important than following any other rule.

So, the writer is saying that our brain, which may have many different functions and "rules" that govern it, has a "prime directive", or overarching motive, namely survival.

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  • It is a good answer, but it is off the point. What I cannot get is the grammar structure specifically beginning the sentence with "to borrow". I assume that the author means that he borrowed the phrase from the series. Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 10:33
  • I am awere that the to - infinitive can be used as the subject of the sentence, but it appears to have not been used that way. Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 10:41
  • It is the subject: to borrow [...] is to ensure..., @DmytroO'Hope. Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 10:50
  • Lucian Sava: I don't think borrowing a phrase can ensure one's survival Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 11:20
  • @DmytroO'Hope, Is that what you understood from this answer? Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 11:53
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The usage of "To ..., [Independent Clause]" in this case is as follows:

The "To ... " portion tells the reader/listener what the speaker is about to do, or the aim of the Independent Clause. It describes the Independent Clause or the clause's function within a conversation.

In this case it is saying "Hey, I am about to use a Star Trek term so get ready for a weird word with a specific usage"

It also has essentially the same meaning as if the Independent Clause came first, followed by a comma and the to-phrase

Some other examples of this usage:

To be more precise, an inch is exactly 2.54 centimeters

To avoid confusion, I will say this in plain English

To repeat, I cannot go up stairs!

I hope this helps!

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  • I can understand your first and second example sentences. In the first one sentence it seems that "if" could be used. For example: if being more precise.... In the second one "in order to" could be used. Example: in order to avoid confusion.... And I cannot get your third example as well as the sentence in my answer Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 11:29
  • @Dmytro " if being more precise" is quite unnatural, perhaps ungrammatical. It should not be used. "In order to avoid confusion" is perfectly acceptable, but the "In order" adds nothing to the meaning Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 13:21

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