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In the following sentence, what is the function of the boldfaced infinitive phrase? It isn't expressing a purpose.

The sauce was first made in the UK in 1824 but it later became very popular in North America to accompany steak.

https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/a1-saucetm?q=A1+Sauce%E2%84%A2

The intended meaning is admittedly clear, but the issue is whether the pattern in question is natural English. It is nowhere found in learner's dictionaries, unlike "eager to V" or "willing to V." Also, is the pattern available to other adjectives? Could we say, for example, "The book is interesting to provide an insightful discussion in the sense that it is interesting because it is written to provide an insightful discussion? If not, why?

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  • I have no problems with your "people buy it to accompany steak," because the infinitive phrase describes a controllable, conscious action. But that's not the case with "became very popular" in the OP.
    – Apollyon
    Dec 16, 2022 at 8:38
  • I don't see how "become popular" can match "for the purpose of...," although I'd have no problems with "be sold/bought/used, etc. for the purpose of..."
    – Apollyon
    Dec 16, 2022 at 8:41
  • Note that your sentence, "buying it for the purpose of accompanying steak became very popular" is different from the OP, "...but it later became very popular in North America to accompany steak.
    – Apollyon
    Dec 16, 2022 at 8:44
  • 3
    I'm not saying that the grammar is logically correct, but the intended meaning is obvious, so it's hardly worth getting hot under the collar about. Dec 16, 2022 at 9:58
  • 1
    Then learners will often be confused, because native speakers are not always precise in their grammar. Dec 16, 2022 at 10:29

1 Answer 1

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The phrase "to accompany steak." in the example sentence is in fact expressing a purpose. But it is doing so indirectly, or perhaps I might say elliptically.

The sentence is short for something like one of:

  • The sauce was first made in the UK in 1824 but it later became very popular in North America where it was used to accompany steak.
  • The sauce was first made in the UK in 1824 but it later became very popular in North America because people used it to accompany steak
  • .he sauce was first made in the UK in 1824 but it later became very popular in North Americas as it was often provided to accompany steak.

Other versions would be possible, all having much the same meaning. This intended meaning is clear to a fluent speaker from the original form, and so the omitted words do not lead to any confusion or loss of meaning.

The pattern in the example sentence, while in this case clear, is not particularly common. Similar sentences might seem odd to a fluent speaker. The OP asks about:

(2) The book is interesting to provide an insightful discussion?

and about other similar sentences.

I would say that sentence (2) is somewhat less clear than he original sentence. The association of a sauce with a food is rather obvious, and helps make the original sentence clear. The association of a book with a discussion is less obvious, although not implausible, so that aid to comprehension is missing. A fluent speaker will probably find sentence (2) understandable, but at least slightly odd, and it could be improved, in my view. I would call it not fully natural.

The question seems to imply that any given sentence or text is either natural or not. This seems to be a common belief among learners, and perhaps answers on this site often call a given text ‘not natural’ or ‘unidiomatic’, as if these were binary properties, either fully present or fully absent. But the state of being "natural" in this sense is a continuum with many possible degrees from fully natural to totally not-natural. I would say that sentence (2) is somewhat less natural than the original example sentence about A1 sauce, and the original is not as natural as it might have been. A strict application of grammatical "rules" would probably find both at fault. Such sentences can be used, but might well be improved by rewriting. This could make such sentences clearer, and more natural sounding.

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  • The intended meaning is admittedly clear, but the issue is whether the pattern in question is natural English. It is nowehre found in learner's dictionaries, unlike 'eager to V" or "willing to V." Also, is the pattern available to other adjectives? Could we say, "The book is interesting to provide an insightful discussion?
    – Apollyon
    Dec 18, 2022 at 5:19
  • @Apollyon I have responded with an addition to my answer. Dec 18, 2022 at 18:05

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