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Can I use "to-infinitive and relative clause" in a row for the same noun? I have an example about it. The main sentence:

The idea to make children happy that I always cared about, is something people usually consider unimportant.

I would like to focus on the part "the idea to make children happy that I always cared about". I meant that "I always cared about the idea to make children happy and this idea is not usually considered important by people".

Does the main sentence have my indented meaning?

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    I do not find the idea to make ... idiomatic. In that sense, idea takes an -ing clause. The iWeb corpus has 6000 instances of "the idea to VERB" against 103000 of "the idea of VERBing".
    – Colin Fine
    May 6, 2021 at 17:21
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    What @ColinFine said. The idea of making children happy that I always cared about [no comma] is something people usually consider unimportant. Note that it's very rarely valid to introduce a comma immediately before a verb. Or to put it another way, With few exceptions, a comma should not separate a subject from its verb. May 6, 2021 at 17:28
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    I agree with Colin: we say "the idea of making", not "the idea to make". Also, it would sound a lot more fluent with "the idea... which I always cared about".
    – stangdon
    May 6, 2021 at 17:29
  • @stangdon: I can't endorse your preference for which over that here. Both are syntactically fine so far as I'm concerned, but which is very much the minority position. May 6, 2021 at 17:39
  • @FumbleFingers Fair enough. I just find "The idea of X that I always cared about is something etc. etc." to be stilted-sounding, and I just think, "The idea of X, which I always cared about, is...." is a lot beter.
    – stangdon
    May 6, 2021 at 18:13

1 Answer 1

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I've pointed out in a comment that the idea of making would be much more natural than the idea to make.

The idea of making children happy that I always cared about is ambiguous, as to whether it is the idea or the children that you cared about.

The fact that you haven't put a comma before 'that' means that that I always cared about is a restrictive relative clause, so (assuming that it is meant to qualify idea) it is talking about that particular idea (of making children happy) that you always cared about, as opposed to all the other ideas of making children happy that you didn't care at all about. I don't think that is what you mean.

I would say

The idea of making children happy, which I always cared about, is something people usually consider unimportant.

(I don't agree that they usually consider it so, but that is another question).

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  • I'm not convinced about that "ambiguity". If speaker cared about the children rather than the idea, that should more properly be phrased as The idea of making happy [the / these / those] children that I always cared about. May 6, 2021 at 17:32
  • I agree that that would be clearer, @FumbleFingers. But I think the form is possible. I found "when they are making people redundant that are able to do the job" in the GloWbE corpus.
    – Colin Fine
    May 6, 2021 at 17:56
  • I understood some of the problems here. What if I made up a sentence by eliminating that ambiguity like "The opportunity to be rich that I always cared about has never come to me." In this sentence, did I succeed making it mean "I always cared about the opportunity to be rich, but it never came to me."
    – Jawel7
    May 6, 2021 at 18:57
  • Yes, @Jawel, that sentence is quite clear.
    – Colin Fine
    May 6, 2021 at 19:41
  • As the last question, @ColinFine I also need to use commas if I put there one more relative clause, right? "The opportunity to be rich, that I always cared about, that generally comes to lucky people has never come to me." Is this also grammatical and are its commas right?
    – Jawel7
    May 6, 2021 at 20:43

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