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A non-native speaker of English used "You can finish to do it soon" when sending a message to me. What is wanted to be said is "You can finish it soon"

It seems wrong, but I can understand why it was used. For me, the "to" could be interpreted as "in order to" which makes it "You can finish (in order to) do it soon" which is completely different in meaning.

However if you think like this: "You can finish it soon" -> "You can finish doing it soon" -> "You can finish to do it soon", it seems understandable.

What is so wrong with this sentence?

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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is better at ELL. – anongoodnurse Jun 13 '14 at 5:28
  • Please can somebody explain why it is off-topic. The name of this site is "English language and usage". What qualifies a question for it to be here or at ELL? – Damien Golding Jun 13 '14 at 5:35
  • This is not meant as an insult; please don't take it wrongly. It is a fine question, especially for ELL - English Language Learners. This question is a bit basic for this site. A short tour of the sites might help you to see the difference. – anongoodnurse Jun 13 '14 at 5:38
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    English catenation patterns (see Wikipedia for reasonably comprehensive lists) are unpredictable. 'Start to do' = 'start doing'. 'Stop to look at' =/= stop looking at'. 'Remember to ask' =/= 'remember asking'. Though 'continue to do' = 'continue doing', 'finish to do' is not used. 'Afford buying' is not used. 'Regret' gets tricky. The reasons for this idiosyncratic behaviour? Probably lost in the mists of time; just possibly hidden away in some buried academic paper. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 13 '14 at 7:25
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    @medica But when someone asks you why they should take Benadryl, isn't it obvious they want a functional-group analysis of 2-(diphenylmethoxy)-N,N-dimethylethanamine? – Edwin Ashworth Jun 13 '14 at 7:48
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The way finish is being used in "Finish X soon" is as a transitive verb, i.e. one that requires an object.

To do is an infinitive. It will not be interpreted as an object.

Doing it will be interpreted as an object.

It will be interpreted as an object.

Your interpretation of "you can finish to do it soon" where to means in order to doesn't make sense semantically.

Consider "you can run to do it soon". It's a similar construction, and suffers the same problem. Soon seems off because, although it's an adverb, it doesn't imply better or different, like nicely or sweatily would. Soon can be used similarly to now (now would work because now is better than later), but it doesn't work in this context.

Replace soon with sooner and the issue seems much less. "You can run to it sooner" is a fine sentence.

"You can finish to do it sooner" is a better construction, however there is still a semantic problem.

The semantic problem might be solved with context, but it might not.

Let's assume the it in your sentence refers to something other than what is being finished, because otherwise the in order to interpretation makes even less sense. What sense is there in saying "you can finish peeling potatoes to finish peeling potatoes sooner"?

So, how about "you can finish [peeling potatoes] [in order] to [go surfing] sooner"? Well, it works, right? It's semantically similar to "if you want to go surfing sooner, finish peeling these potatoes". Or, similarly "You can finish [paying us all our money] to [get out of debt] sooner". You're offered a means of shortening the amount of time before you get something your want.

So, "you can finish to do it soon" is wrong because the intepretation is that by finishing you gain something better and soon doesn't imply improvement. "You can finish to do it sooner" is difficult to understand, so it seems ungramatical, but given the right context it makes sense.

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My guess is that your non-native speaker simply meant to say "finish doing it". In Romance languages, for example, the same verb structure and preposition are used to say "stop/finish doing", "start doing/to do", "try doing /to do", etc. The difference in English usage between the -ing form and the infinitive of the following verb is therefore a slightly tricky one. My French friend often asks whether I would mind "to do" something (as opposed to "mind doing it").

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