You are already familiar with the structure of "noun+to+verb".

cake to make, house to stay in, a city to go to, man to kill, hamburger to eat


We know that there are certain abstract nouns which are followed by to as in

attempt to go, decision to make a cake, order to retreat, tendency to use the weapons


And we can see easily that to used in the middle between certain abstract nouns and verbs does not have got the role it has in the former examples.

In "decision to make a cake" I understand that to is explanatory of the decision and explains what the decision is.

I don't understand it in this way, "decision itself will make a cake", also logic easily says sth abstract can not make a cake.

Once I was confused with these certain abstract nouns and finally came to realize that they are special abstract nouns followed by "to" and I had to accept them as they are.

Let's come to my question.

In first example "cake to make", I do understand that cake is in passive role, and object. What if I just write "decision to make". Does decision still have got the explanatory role? If so, how come? It suggests nothing... Or at this point, must we apply the logic present in the first examples to this case?

I mean, is decision in the position of cake grammatically?

In "cake to make", cake is object and the one effected by the action. In "decision to make" is it like "there is no decision made but a decision must be made"?

If you are willing to answer my question,please firstly write, as a native speaker, how does it sound to you regardless of your linguistic background, then you are more than welcome to mention about grammatical aspects.

  • 1
    This part of your question is not clear to me: "What if I just write 'decision to make'". Do you mean a mere fragment? Or in sentence like "I have a decision to make"? I have some time to kill. I have somewhere to be.
    – TimR
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 16:22
  • First of all, I'm not a native speaker. However, if you're interested in how I think I unconsciously think about these phrases, don't change the channel! This pattern "n.+*to*+v." and similar patterns (such as "adj.+*to*+v.") remind me of a longer pattern ("n./adj.+*for*+someone+*to*+v."). The short and long pattern are basically the same thing, e.g. Let's build a house to stay in ~ Let's build a house for us to stay in; It's time to leave ~ It's time for me to leave; You have a decision to make ~ You have a decision for you to make. I hope this helps a bit. Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 1:56
  • The front placement of the verb's object puts emphasis upon it as something important: Stand aside, I have a cake to bake! Normal order: I have to bake a cake. Stop bothering me, kids! Can't you see I have a problem to solve?
    – TimR
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 12:16

2 Answers 2


The important thing to note about your "special abstract nouns" is that they are all derived from verbs:

attempt .. from attempt, verb
decision ... from decide, verb
order ... from order, verb
* tendency ... from tend, verb

Once you recognize that, the function of the following infinitival clauses becomes clear. These verbs all take infinitival complements:

They attempted to go.
She decided to make a cake.
He ordered the regiment to retreat.
We tend to use these weapons when we are threatened.

The infinitivals have exactly the same function with the derived nouns: they act as complements, expressing what is attempted, decided, ordered, or tended.


As for your second question "a decision to make" is indeed like "a cake to make". The [noun] has not been made, but it needs to be made. The [noun] could be a cake, a decision, a mistake, an impression.... anything that could be "made".

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