I have this report from Reuters report on Yahoo! containing a sentence, the grammar of which I can't understand:

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Is the grammar correct here?

the best way of gauging the number to have died from a disease

If yes, can you, please, break it down for me?

I mean something like "gauging the number of those who have died" or "gauging the number of those to have died" would look more understandable to me.

2 Answers 2


Interesting question. My intuition is that it is not grammatical, and may be the result of contamination (the technical term) from other phrases frequently found in news reports such as:

  • n people are thought to have died...
  • n people are believed to have died...

which both involve passive catenative verbs + perfect infinitivals. (These terms are from the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Huddlestone & Pullum); Class 3Aii catenatives include allege, assume, deem, estimate, suspect... ---all acceptable in the above construction.)

However, a cursory Google indicates that number to have died is widespread on leading news outlets such as the BBC and Reuters.

I prefer:

  • gauging the number of deaths
  • gauging the number of those who have died
  • gauging the number of fatalities
  • gauging the number of the fallen ;-)
  • It doesn't feel wrong to me. Dec 17, 2020 at 13:05
  • @KateBunting it's only just on the ungrammatical side to me, a close call. But if it feels right to you, how would you analyse it grammatically and what analogues would you suggest for the construction? For instance, if we analyse it as simply N + PAP, would you say that N + PPP (Look at all these cakes, the number to be thrown away is huge) is a) grammatical and b) truly analogous?
    – legatrix
    Dec 17, 2020 at 13:08
  • I'm not sure what you mean by PAP and PPP. I've been racking my brains to try to work out why it sounds OK to me. NGrams found results for number to have died, particularly in the mid-19th century, though some are from phrases like "assuming a number to have died of XXX". Yes, I do find the number to be thrown away grammatical. Dec 17, 2020 at 17:19

It's a typo, I assume.

The correct phrasing would be

gauging the number of the people who have died

gauging the number of those who have died

"gauging the number of those to have died" doesn't look correct to me, though.

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