Joseph has given to you a backpack. He has given it to you to carry the books.

In the second sentence, what does the verb "carry" refer to? The backpack or you or both? What rule of English grammar helps identify who/what is doing the carrying?

  • It is sort of an ambiguous or blended meaning... you are using the backpack as a tool to aid you in your task of carrying the books, but because the books are in the backpack it is also true that the backpack is carrying them. Not sure exactly what the rule and canonical answer is (I would lean toward "you" doing the carrying though); perhaps someone else can answer more assertively.
    – randomhead
    Commented Dec 20, 2021 at 4:12
  • I understand the question you're asking, but since the meaning is clear (as explained nicely in JavaLatte's answer below), can you explain how it matters whether the subject of "carry" is me or the backpack? More to the point, can you give a context where it would make a difference?
    – gotube
    Commented Dec 20, 2021 at 5:45

1 Answer 1


From the grammatical point of view, "to carry the books" does not specify who or what is carrying the books, because infinitives don't have a subject. What that phrase actually does is to specify the purpose for the gift. See the entry for to meaning "to express use or purpose" in the Cambridge dictionary.

Knowing the purpose, you can probably work out that you are supposed to put the books in the backpack and then carry the backpack.

You could describe the resulting situation by saying that the backpack is carrying the books, although it would make more sense to say that the backback contains the books. You could say that you are carrying the books, but you would probably have to qualify it by saying "in the backpack". You can definitely say that you will be carrying the backpack.

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