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  1. I am too tired to talk.

I am the actual agent of the action "talk".

  1. Life is too short to count calories.

However, life is not the actual agent of the action "count". I think it should be rewritten as

  1. Life is too short for us to count calories.

Is this omission, or is there another way to parse sentence 2?

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  • It could be literally true, since obsesity can lead to decreased life expectancy. Nov 9, 2022 at 14:39
  • Shirley Conran in The Guardian: When I wrote Superwoman, I became famous for saying life was too short to stuff a mushroom - a phrase I came up with to amuse myself, because writing a book about domestic science was less than riveting. That's the version I hear most often. Nov 9, 2022 at 16:04
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    @MichaelHarvey Can't tell if you're making a joke here, but this doesn't explain whether "life" is the agent of "count calories"
    – gotube
    Nov 9, 2022 at 16:34
  • "Bob is too short to count calories" is grammatically correct. If a cereal= is short enough it might not be worth counting it's calories. Provided it's not too wide. There's always another way to parse. Nov 10, 2022 at 16:40

2 Answers 2

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No, there's nothing wrong with it. There's no rule that a phrase like this has to have the same subject as the main clause or an explicit subject.

You certainly could say, "Life is too short for me to count calories." But we often omit the subject like this.

"This box is too heavy to lift." "A long illness can lead to despair." Etc.

The subject is implied. Usually something like "someone or something affected by this".

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  • 8
    +1, but what does "A long illness can lead to despair" have to do with the question? "A long illness" is unambiguously the subject of "lead", and "despair" is the noun object of preposition "to", rather than a verb.
    – gotube
    Nov 9, 2022 at 16:36
  • @gotube You're right, bad example. I was trying to make an example that wasn't too rigidly the same pattern, "X is too Y to Z". What I was trying to construct was a sentence with a second verb with an implied subject. In this case, "illness" is the subject of lead", but then the subject of "despair" is an implied "the sick person". But yeah, "despair" here is really being using as a noun and not a verb, and one could quibble with the example in other ways, so, whatever.
    – Jay
    Nov 9, 2022 at 19:13
  • The problem with this answer is that it implies that the subject hood of infinitival clauses is usually not controlled. However, more often than not it is. The infinitival clauses licenced by a comparative form of an adjective are an exception, not the generalisation. Consider "I want to leave" or "She likes to cook" or "I persuaded her to leave" etc, etc. Nov 10, 2022 at 17:23
  • @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. I certainly didn't mean to indicate that such an omitted subject was the normal case. Sorry if I gave that impression. It's legal and is done fairly often. Usually? Probably not, but I haven't collected statistics.
    – Jay
    Nov 11, 2022 at 4:50
  • I agree with this answer. I just want to point out that "This box is too heavy to lift" means "This box is too heavy to be lifted", because "lift" is supposed to be a transitive veb here. So this example isn't 100% related to the question. "This box is too heavy (for us) to lift it" has a more direct parallel with "I am too tired (for me) to talk".
    – joy2020
    Jun 23, 2023 at 5:15
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No it's not wrong.

Life is too short to [do something] is a common expression. You can find examples of usage in the Google Ngram Viewer. Scroll down the page, and use the links to google books to find actual examples of this expression in use.

The expression is not a literal statement, it's an observation about life in general, in the sense that life is too valuable to worry or waste one's time thinking about things which are inconsequential. There is nothing wrong and nothing to fix here. You could add "for us" but it's certainly not a requirement, and to be honest I don't think it adds anything useful here.

Furthermore, it's generally not a good idea to mess around with expressions or try to fix them grammar-wise, as though they were literal statements. Expressions and idioms are generally fixed. Many make no literal sense at all. Of course if you want to be creative there is no rule that says you can't mess around with them for effect. You can, but I would be wary of this. It will rattle an English reader's cage in ways that you may not be aware of. "To rattle one's cage" - look it up!!

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  • Can you explain why it's correct in terms of "life" not appearing to be a valid agent for "count"?
    – gotube
    Nov 9, 2022 at 16:38
  • @gotube - who said anything about something being "invalid"? Not sure I follow. Sorry.
    – Billy Kerr
    Nov 9, 2022 at 19:48
  • The OP correctly points out, "...life is not the actual agent of the action "count"." The essence of their question is that to them Sentence 2 appears to mean something like, "Life is too short (for life) to count calories", which is a direct parallel with "I am too tired (for me) to talk".
    – gotube
    Nov 10, 2022 at 3:42

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