Is there any difference between these two?

She was a good student, finishing in half the time the others took to finish.

She was a good student, finishing in half the time the others to finish took.

  • Both of them are understandable, but the first one is preferred. I'm not sure why that's the case though, and am hoping someone else has the ability to explain it. I'm assuming that "took to finish" is a specific type of phrase. Commented May 9 at 15:30
  • 1
    The second one is not standard. The idiomatic expression is: take time to finish or take time to finish something. It's a to infinitive.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 9 at 16:04
  • @Lambie: I don't actually believe that's an idiom at all. The idiomatic expression is just "take", when used with some sort of quantifiable consumable. "How much gas did it take?" "How many patches did it take you to fix the tire?" "It took five hours to get there." "Driving to the lake cabin takes half the day." The verb, in short, functions without any grammatical quirks. Commented May 11 at 2:48
  • @NathanTuggy Well, to express something idiomatically is a better way to say it. The second one is not idiomatic in that sense.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 11 at 13:25
  • Merriam-Webster lists take time as an idiom.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jun 10 at 19:24

2 Answers 2


The second is wrong. The phrase "...the others to finish took" violates the typical order of constructing phrases involving time and actions. In English, we generally follow a Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) word order, where the subject performs the action on the object.

In the phrase "the time it took the others to finish," the word order follows this pattern:

Subject: "the time"
Verb: "it took"
Object: "the others to finish"

Correct alternatives include:

  • finishing in half the time it took the others.
  • finishing in half the time the others took.

By avoiding repeating the verb it is possible to vary the word order in the subordinate clause without breaking the rule.

  • "others to finish" is a valid, if confusing and easily-avoided, noun phrase. (Much like that very sentence.) It means the same thing as "successfully-finishing others". Commented May 11 at 17:53
  • @NathanTuggy Yes, that's right. A noun, or noun phrase, is usually the object of a verb. You can't do something to something that doesn't exist.
    – Astralbee
    Commented May 12 at 7:34

The first one, …took to finish, suggests that everyone did finish. The second one, …to finish took, restricts the comparison to omit those who never did finish. Here, to finish could be replaced by who finished, but the second one does sound a bit awkward to my ear.

In any case, took to finish means either “expended in finishing” or the stronger “needed in order to finish.”

  • That is to say, "the others to finish took" can be an elision of "the others who were to finish took", instead of Yoda-speak?
    – Dan Getz
    Commented May 11 at 12:26
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    Pretty much, though I would point out that were to finish refers to a past situation of events that were, at that point, yet to come, as in I was in college when I met the woman I was to marry. I’d say that here the simple past is more applicable. Compare Besides Charles Carroll, the other Marylanders to sign the Declaration of Independence were Samuel Chase, William Paca, and Thomas Stone. Commented May 11 at 13:01

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