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I'm supposed to fill in the blank in the following sentence:

Herbicides used to clear railways and railway embankments are not selective ______ all plants with which they come into contact.

in the above sentence, the correct answer is "and kill".

But I want to know if "to kill" is correct too or not?

Do we have this structure: "be+selective+infinitive"?

in my view, "to kill" means "in order to kill all the things..."

"and kill" means "so they kill all the things..."

So both of them are correct!

  • I think that it may become more evident that and kill is correct if you insert a comma after selective. Herbicides used to clear railways and railway embankments are not selective, and kill all plants with which they come into contact. Here, and is functioning as a conjunction, which means that another way of saying it is: Herbicides used to clear railways and railway embankments are not selective. They kill all plants with which they come into contact. – Chris Cirefice Apr 13 '15 at 14:14
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Herbicides ... are not selective to kill all plants ...

The to kill construction you propose will not bear the interpretation you intend. The scope of not in this position cannot be restricted to the single term selective; it modifies the entire predicate are selective in order to kill all the plants:

NOT [they are selective in order to kill all the plants],

which is at best tautologous: the proposition in brackets is self-evidently false, because a selective herbicide by definition will not kill all the plants.

To bear your interpretation, you would have to replace not selective with unselective.

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It is ambiguous to begin with. The negative "not selective" is synonymous with killing all plants, but the use of "and" makes it seem as if "not selective" and "killing all plants" are two different things!

Instead the sentence needs either a semicolon after "selective";

  • Herbicides. . . are not selective; they kill all plants. . .

(or a colon):

  • Herbicides. . . are not selective: they kill all plants. . .

This would make it clear that "kill all plants" is a restatement of "not selective", rather than an additional feature/effect of the herbicides.

Now, if you want to use the infinitive "to kill", you might construct a sentence like this:

  • Herbicides. . . are not selective; they are designed to kill all plants . . .

(note that in any case, "all plants" are plural.

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