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Today I saw this tweet from Donald Trump:

Russia, Syria, and Iran are killing, or on their way to killing, thousands of innocent civilians in Idlib Province. Don’t do it! Turkey is working hard to stop this carnage.

I am not a native English speaker (unlike Mr Trump!) but as far as I have learned, the verb after to is in the infinitive form and this tweet doesn't sound grammatically correct to me. Is this form commonly used in today's English?

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    Just because something is uttered or written by a native English speaker, it doesn't automatically make it grammatical, but there is a high chance that it is. I'm not saying whether it is grammatical or not in this comment because the answers below have already explained this. – CJ Dennis Dec 27 '19 at 2:35
  • @CJDennis I think it is just wrong. It's a really great question because of how weird the usage is and unusual it is. That makes it a bit harder to figure out why it is wrong. Even if it was technically correct (which I doubt) it would still be extremely uncolloquial. You should not speak or write English like this. – Rentsy Dec 27 '19 at 7:04
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    @Rentsy Comments on the question are not the place to discuss the answer. If you believe the correct answer has not been given you are free post an answer yourself as two users have already done here. People can then up or down vote your answer, which is a measure of quality. Comments can't be down voted, only up voted and replied to. – CJ Dennis Dec 27 '19 at 7:31
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    The irony about this tweet is, it has two versions. The old one is deleted seemingly because of typos such as inocent and if. Apparently, it took him 70 minutes to realize this and fix it (see the time stamps). This made me suspicious that maybe the word in the question is another one he missed. – polfosol ఠ_ఠ Dec 27 '19 at 14:41
  • @Rentsy This is incorrect. While Trump's tweets are often not usually great guides to correct English, this expression is perfectly standard. – mattdm Dec 29 '19 at 17:07
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Not every "to" marks an infinitive:

  • on their way to the store
  • on their way to victory or defeat
  • on their way to doing something

This is the ordinary preposition "to". In general, it takes an object that serves as a destination or target. This may be more obvious when the object is a simple noun like "store" or "victory".

When the object is a gerund or a gerund phrase, we still have the same ordinary kind of prepositional phrase. We can treat this "to" the same as we do when the preposition is followed by a simple noun.

 

Those countries are killing, or are going to kill, innocent civilians.

This is a reasonable paraphrasing of the tweet. This is probably the structure that you expected to see -- a structure that uses the infinitive-marking "to".

As a native reader, I find the grammar of the original tweet to be perfectly ordinary. My paraphrasing is also perfectly ordinary. There's more than one way to be grammatically right.

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    But I find a difference in meaning. On the way to [infinitive] means a literal journey: somebody is going somewhere in order to do the thing. On the way to [verb-ing] can be (and usually is) a metaphorical journey: if somebody continues what they are doing, the will end up verb-ing. – Colin Fine Dec 26 '19 at 19:31
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    What @ColinFine said. I'm on my way to buy a car would probably mean I'm literally going somewhere in order to complete the purchase. But I'm on my way to buying a car is far more "metaphorical" (perhaps I've just received some extra money, bringing me one step closer to being able to afford the car). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Dec 26 '19 at 19:40
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    @ColinFine the small difference I'm seeing here is that the original phrase states not that they're "on their way to kill thousands of innocent civilians" but rather that they're "on their way to have killed thousands of innocent civilians"; i.e. on their way to a result or an outcome, not on their way to a process or an act. – Peteris Dec 27 '19 at 1:49
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    @Rentsy But I (as a native English speaker) don't find this weird at all (the second sentence is slightly odd, but in no way erroneous). It's not even an Americanism; it's universally correct English. – Will Crawford Dec 27 '19 at 13:26
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    @Rentsy Trump is not a great writer or speaker, and many of his tweets are confusing (and often mocked by TV comedians), but this one is actually pretty reasonable. – Barmar Dec 27 '19 at 14:25
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To is a sign of the infinitive, but it's also a preposition. Since nouns are the objects of prepositions, gerunds (which take the place of nouns) can appear after to as well.

In the phrase the way to X, to has the meaning of destination. It's the same as saying "The destination of the way is X".

It's not incorrect to say to kill either.

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In this case, to is part of the phrase on the way to, which is suggesting that the people he is talking about are engaged in a course of action that if unchecked could or will lead to multiple deaths.

If you wanted to make it easier to understand, you could rephrase it slightly:

... are, or are on the way to, ...

but regardless of one's opinion of Donald Trump, this is not bad grammar :·).

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"Killing" is a noun (gerund) in this case. It's perfectly correct grammatically. It's a commonly used construction and quite familiar to me as a native speaker. In this case it means that Russia, Syria and Iran have killed a number of civilians, and that Mr Trump expects that the number killed will eventually be thousands. I was on my way to simply up-voting another response, but I like to hear myself talk.

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