This sentence is from a famous British film(Downton Abbey). There is a guy whose face was completely hurt in the war and being treated in a hospital. Almost all of the face is wrapped in bandages, and barely any part (only the eyes may be) can be seen.

And this guy with the unrecognizable face claims that he is Patrick, the heir of the family that runs that hospital. So the family gets shocked -because they have been looking for him and have never seen since his childhood years ago- and do not want to believe him.

So they discuss how can they make sure that this guy is really the Patrick. Some of them says "he may be Patrick, and some others say he must be a liar after the money. So they can't decide. During these discussions, one lady asks the people there?

"Is he like Patrick to look at?"

This structure sounded very different to me. What kind of structure is it? If I got it correctly, I think she means "Does he look like Patrick, when you look at his face?" or may be she means "Does he look at you like Patrick did -when he was a child?"

Can we use this structure for similar situations, when you cant make sure if a voice on the radio is of someone whom you can make sure? Eg "Is she like Madonna to listen to?"


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    Is he like Patrick to look at? = Does he look like Patrick? Is she like Madonna to listen to? = Does she sound like Madonna?. But neither (particularly the second) are particularly idiomatic, so if you do use them, native speakers are likely to start dreaming up inappropriate interpretations to justify you not using the more natural forms. In short, you should probably avoid such pointless "circumlocution". Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 16:16
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    I don't know the grammatical terminology for the construction here (whereby the "subject" of an embedded verb phrase is only partially "passivised"), but in practice people never actually say what would in theory be the more "logically correct" verb form - Is he like Patrick to be looked at? (or even ...when being looked at?). That's to say, the true underlying question might more "accurately" be paraphrased as Is looking at him like looking at Patrick? Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 16:26
  • "Is he like Patrick in appearance" would be a more formal way of expressing it. Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 16:31
  • @FumbleFingers Did you miss the part about Downton Abbey?? [Is he like Patrick to be looked at?? Really??]
    – Lambie
    Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 18:01
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    What on earth makes you think I need to be told that the English in Downtown Abbey is particularly good? Unquestionably Is he like Patrick to look at? would be far less common than Does he look like Patrick?, and anyone who claims they have different meanings doesn't know what they're talking about. There is a potential problem for non-Anglophones trying to understand the syntax of the less common version, and if you don't like the way I added to be in one attempt to clarify, perhaps you'll accept Is he like Patrick for us to look at? to identify the "subject". Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 18:44

1 Answer 1

  • to look at, he is like Patrick.

  • to listen to, she is like Madonna.

  • to look at someone

  • to listen to someone

Those are infinitival clauses.

Question: Who are you listening to? [how people speak]
Question: To whom are you listening?

Question: Who are you looking at? [how people speak]
Question: At whom are you looking?

Prepositions are usually at the end in speech and these infinitival clauses, to look at and to listen to do not require an object in speech as the objects are usually dropped in speech:

Who are you talking to?

  • to be like someone or something or to do something, comparisons

What's it like to cross the Atlantic by boat?

We are dealing with speech here, not written English.

  1. Question: What is she like?

  2. Question: Is she like you?

So, "Is John like Patrick to look at?" = is the question form of this statement:

John is like Patrick to look at. [no need to repeat the object of the preposition but it does hover in the background as if the person were saying]

To look at John is like looking at Patrick. OR
Looking at John is like looking at Patrick. Both those would be more formal.

Question form: Is looking at John like looking at Patrick?

[I used John and Patrick to make for easier reading.]


  • Patrick is horrible to look at.
  • Patrick is wonderful to look at.

Question form for the spoken sentences above: What is Patrick like to look at?

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