Can I omit the third to in the following sentence?

  • She had told him to come straight in if ever she failed to open the door and to leave the bread on the kitchen table.

The context:

After her husband had gone to work. Mrs. Richards sent herchildren to school and went upstairs to her bedroom. She wastoo excited to do any housework that morning, for in theevening she would be going to a fancy-dress part with herhusband. She intended to dress up as a ghost and as she had made her costume the night before,she was impatient to try it on. Though the costume consisted only of a sheet, it was very effective.After putting it on, Mrs. Richards went downstairs. She wanted to find out whether it would becomfortable to wear.

Just as Mrs. Richards was entering the dinning room, there was a knock on the front door. She knew that it must be the baker. She had told him to come straight in if ever she failed to open thedoor and to leave the bread on the kitchen table. Not wanting to frighten the poor man, Mrs.Richards quickly hid in the small storeroom under the stairs. She heard the front door open andheavy footsteps in the hall. Suddenly the door of the storeroom was opened and a man entered.Mrs. Richards realized that it must be the man from the Electricity Board who had come to readthe metre. She tried to explain the situation, saying 'It's only me', but it was too late. The man letout cry and jumped back several paces. When Mrs. Richards walked towards him, he fled,slamming the door behind him.

  • Can you provide some context please? Is it from a test? I ask because this is an awful sentence. I’m not sure it makes logical sense. I can’t imagine someone saying it or writing it. Jan 10, 2020 at 0:55
  • 1
    @OrbitalAussie I have added the context.
    – Y. zeng
    Jan 10, 2020 at 1:02
  • I have a slightly-extended answer to your question, but I don't want to bore you or mislead you by providing something you're not interested in. It would help if you could tell me if you think the sentence is wrong or misleading, and if so, how the presence or absence of the word to is relevant. In other words, what are your thoughts on the sentence?
    – user105719
    Jan 10, 2020 at 2:33
  • @user105719 I think that the presence or absence of the word `it' can not change the meaning of the sentence and they are alright. Am I right?
    – Y. zeng
    Jan 10, 2020 at 2:45
  • 1
    @OrbitalAussie Yes!
    – Y. zeng
    Jan 10, 2020 at 4:41

2 Answers 2


Yes, the highlighted to is not required, since the action which follow it is been added after another one that is already in the infinitive form.

Actually it sounds such more natural without it. But it's usage is allowed.

The same is valid for more actions in a row:

This afternoon I'll be able to do the dishes, buy her gift and call my mom

Besides the first to all the others can be omitted

  • But the OP’s sentence is a conditional construction, not simply “actions in a row” like your new example. Jan 10, 2020 at 20:52
  • The OP’s sentence is more like this sentence: “I asked her TO buy me a gift IF I did the dishes and TO call my mom.” But compare this with, “I asked her TO buy me a gift IF I did the dishes and called my mom.” Jan 10, 2020 at 21:05

No, you can’t omit the third “to” without altering the apparent meaning of the sentence.

The original sentence follows this logical structure:

She had told him to X, if Y, and to Z.

Which has two elements: (Do X if Y is true) and then (do Z)

But if you alter this to say this:

She had told him to X, if Y, and Z.

the meaning changes to almost suggest: Do X if (Y and Z are both true). That is it adds an ambiguity about whether the woman means (paraphrasing), “I told him to come straight in if I left the door shut and bread on the table.” This of course does not fit the context, but it is a distracting ambiguity for the reader.

But notice that this is an unnatural and unnecessarily complex sentence - with or without the to. I suggest you rewrite it in your story.

  • Just what I was hinting about. Readers very likely will understand from the context, but they'll have to fight the grammar to do so. Upvote from me
    – user105719
    Jan 11, 2020 at 0:58
  • @user105719 Even if there is the third to, the sentence She had told him to X, if Y, and to Z can still be understand as (Do X if Y and Z are true) , for failed to has a to too.
    – Y. zeng
    Jan 11, 2020 at 5:51
  • In your example there is an inherent grammatical ambiguity. Is "to open" and "to leave" a compound complement of failed or is "to come" and "to leave" a compound complement of "told"? Leaving out the third to doesn't make a difference because of the operation called zeugma, in which one word governs two grammatical constructs. So you can leave out the third to, but you still don't know if the first to governs "leave" or whether the second to does. Now the only thing that makes sense is that the person told to come in will leave the bread, not the person failing to open the door. ->
    – user105719
    Jan 11, 2020 at 6:11
  • <- And readers will figure that out. But, as Orbial Aussie suggested, the author should be kind to his readers and rewrite: "She had told him to come straight in and leave the bread on the kitchen table if ever she failed to open the door."
    – user105719
    Jan 11, 2020 at 6:14

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