This is a quote by Hemingway.

Don't get discouraged because there’s a lot of mechanical work to writing.

Should not the sentence be the following one?

Don't get discouraged because there’s a lot of mechanical work to write.

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    If you are reading a lot of Hemingway in order to support your understanding of English, then take care when you get to For whom the bell tolls, a novel set in the Spanish Civil War. Hemingway renders the speech of his characters as literal translations of Spanish idioms and grammar - most confusing to anyone new to English. When you introduced your question by reference to Hemingway I immediately thought that that was what it would be about - but it wasn't.
    – WS2
    Commented Jan 18, 2022 at 17:02

6 Answers 6


Both those sentences are grammatically correct, but they have very different meanings, and Hemingway's version is the correct one for the intended meaning.

This portion of the quote can have two meanings, depending on the structure you think it has.

...there’s a lot of mechanical work to ____ (some form of "write") ____ .

Hemingway's structure is: [ "there's a lot of" + thing-X + "to" thing-Y ], where "to" is a preposition. The meaning is, "Thing-Y requires a lot of thing-X". In Hemingway's sentence it means:

"Writing requires a lot of mechanical work."

Your structure is: [ "there's a lot of" + object + "to" + bare infinitive ], where "to" is "infinitive-to". The meaning is, "Someone needs to verb a lot of object".

A simple example would be:

There's a lot of clean laundry to fold.

The meaning here is, "Someone needs to fold a lot of clean laundry."

In your sentence it means,

"Someone needs to write a lot of mechanical work."

While this sentence is grammatically correct, it is meaningless since people do not write mechanical work -- that is, "mechanical work" cannot meaningfully be the direct object of "write".

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – gotube
    Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 19:21
  • I think this has missed out the interpretation of 'mechanical work' which I would interpret as: in writing [a novel] there is a lot of double-checking for spelling, syntax, grammar, clarity of meaning etc' i.e. the 'mechanical/technical workings' of your finished piece, as opposed to just the ideas & plot it contains. Commented Jan 20, 2022 at 9:04
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    @gotube I think gone fishin's comment only was only directed at your claim that the "Someone need to write a lot of mechanical work" meaning is impossible. With the (plausible, IMHO) meaning of "mechanical work" that gone fishin proposes, the sentence could be meaningful after all. It seems like it's almost never a good idea to declare of an isolated sentence that it is grammatical but not meaningful; someone can almost always come up with a context where it would work. Better to stick to things like "'mechanical work' would be very unusual as the direct object of 'write'".
    – Ben
    Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 0:12
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    @Ben The sentence still doesn't make sense. "Someone has to do a lot of mechanical work' would be correct. "Mechanical work" cannot be the object of "write", regardless of how it is defined.
    – gotube
    Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 1:39
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    @gotube It's suggesting that "mechanical work" is a figurative phrase referring to a particular kind of writing (a boring "mechanical" kind that is simply work, not creative). IF the phrase is understood in that sense, then it can be the object of "write". Unusual? Yes. Impossible? No.
    – Ben
    Commented Jan 21, 2022 at 3:25

I don't like the Merriam-Webster explanation that is given by another answer, because it is completely opaque even to me (a native speaker). All you need to know is that the phrase in question means:

there’s a lot of mechanical work { when it comes to / with respect to } writing.

Hence the gerund "writing" is needed, to form the noun phrase that is the object of the preposition "to".

  • 2
    +1 for remembering this is a learners' site, and complex, if accurate, answers defeat the purpose.
    – fred2
    Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 2:43

"Writing" is a gerund, and it functions as the object of the preposition "to". Merriam-Webster gives the following definition of "to" (as used here):

used as a function word to indicate the application of an adjective or a noun

In this case, the noun phrase "a lot of mechanical work" is applied to "writing".


There are some implied words left out.

There's a lot of mechanical work to (the action of) writing.

Your way would be this.

There's a lot of mechanical work to (the action of) write.

And that's clearly wrong.

Heh. I don't know which of Hemingway's works it is in, but in one of them he talks about how wonderful it is to be able to make his living by writing. There's a passage about sitting with some paper and a pencil and scribbling up a new novel that supported his life. And he could do this nearly anywhere. So, in his case, there really was mechanical work. He had to drag this pencil across the paper to put each word on the page.

  • activity of writing, not action.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 18, 2022 at 17:33
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    Activity is a synonym of action.
    – Dan
    Commented Jan 18, 2022 at 17:47
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    The "action of writing" is the physical movement of the pen or the keyboard or whatever. The "activity of writing" is everything else surrounding the action, like researching, planning, outlining, communicating with your editor, getting a publisher, and so on. I'm not sure which Hemingway meant here, but they're not the same thing.
    – gotube
    Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 3:26
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    This should be "the act of writing", not "the action of..." or "the activity of..."
    – Ben R.
    Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 10:06

A gerund (-ing) form is required when a verb (action word) is functioning as a noun (a thing).

Even though "writing" sounds like an action, it is functioning grammatically as a noun (thing) -- an activity. Activities sound "active", but they are things.

I write at night. (action) I like writing (the activity).


He's using "writing" as a noun. It's the same structure as "there's a lot of injuries to soccer."

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    This isn't the same structure. If it were, it would mean "The act of soccer requires a lot of injuries*". "There's a lot of injuries in soccer" would be more natural
    – gotube
    Commented Jan 18, 2022 at 8:13
  • 2
    "There're a lot of injuries in soccer". But the basic idea of a noun is right.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 18, 2022 at 17:35

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