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1. He is hard to defeat.

We can write the first sentence as:

a. To defeat him is hard.
b. It is hard to defeat him.(extraposed)

2. He is happy to see you.

Here, the doer or agent of the Infinitive clause,'to see you', is 'He' which is understood. But in 'he is hard to defeat', 'he' is not the doer, 'he' is actually the patient of the Infinitive verb. But both sentence (1 and 2) has similar structure. Why it's like that?

I think '1' should be written as 'he is hard to be defeated.' or he is hard for me or for everyone to defeat?

Another question I want to ask

When we say, 'to defeat him is hard'...then we mean the the action of 'defeating him' is hard. But when we say 'he is hard to defeat'...we are actually saying 'he' is hard not 'defeating him' is hard. So, how these two sentences (1 and 1a) give the same meaning?

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1 Answer 1

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Although the surface appearances of "hard to defeat" and "happy to see" are the same, the underlying structure is different. There are different groups of adjectives that take "to"-infinitive complements, and your two sentences are from different groups.

Your first example sentence, "He is hard to defeat" is from a group of adjectives that take "hollow clauses" or which describe "tough movement" (the names aren't important unless you want to do your own research). In this group, the subject of the infinitive verb is not defined, but might be understood from the context.

"He is hard [for me/you/someone] to defeat",

or more clearly by using an "it" subject and moving "him" to after the infinitive verb:

"It is hard [for someone] to defeat him".

In other words, the subject of the original sentence is the object of the infinitive verb.

Adjectives in this group can be used as attributive adjectives:

"He is a hard-to-defeat person"


"He is happy to see you" falls under a group called "control adjectives", where the subject of the main clause is also the subject of the infinitive verb, like:

"He is happy [for him] to see you."

Adjectives in this group cannot form attributive adjectives:

*"You are a happy-to-see person" or *"He is a happy-to-see (you) person."

The topic of all three groups is described more thoroughly in this article on English Language & Usage, where I just learned all this.

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