“There are two ways of ridding ourselves of a thing which burdens us, casting it away or letting it fall. To cast away requires an effort of which we may not be capable, to let fall imposes no labour, is simpler, without peril, within reach of all. To cast away, again, implies a certain interest, a certain animation, even a certain fear; to let fall is absolute indifference, absolute contempt; believe me, use this method, and Satan will flee.” ― Joris-Karl Huysmans, En Route

Is to let fall is absolute indifference, absolute contempt a complete sentence? A complete sentence I think requires a verb and an argument. is seems a verb here, but I do not see a noun or subject. to let fall almost seems like an infinitive phrase. I have frequently seen infinitive phrases like To win at chess. In such phrase, is to a preposition, win an infinitive verb, at another preposition, and chess a noun?

But I don't get it —It seems that in my sample above, to is a preposition followed by two verbs let and fall. If so, what would be the subject of the clause?

  • 1
    "to let fall" is being used as a noun phrase and is the subject. You can think of it as a shortened version of "The act of letting something fall" - another noun phrase.
    – Jim
    Jul 4, 2015 at 2:13
  • The same goes for "to win at chess". to is not a preposition, it is part of the infinitive verb to win. Jul 4, 2015 at 7:35
  • Similar constructions: Seeing is believing. To believe is to see. Jul 4, 2015 at 9:31
  • I think I may get those “Seeing is believing. To believe is to see.” I thank you, Damkerng T..
    – saySay
    Jul 4, 2015 at 19:29

1 Answer 1


There are, in fact, two infinitives in the subject, "to let" and "[to] fall". 

There are a few verbs that license a bare infinitive as an object complement.  "To let" happens to be one of these verbs.  Most verbs that license an object complement license an ordinary infinitive for that role.  "To allow" happens to be one of those.

The phrase "to let it fall" has the same structure as "to allow it to fall", except that the infinitive after "to let" is bare.

In the phrase "to let fall", the direct object of "to let" is missing.  I wouldn't expect to see this ellipsis in a modern dialect, but it seems reasonable for a translation of a late 17th century work.

The complete infinitive phrase "to let [something] [to] fall" is the subject of its clause.  The verb is "is".  The rest of the predicate, "absolute indifference, absolute contempt" is an asyndetic coordinate subject complement.  The clause is a complete independent clause and could stand on its own as a sentence.  In its original context, it is one part of a long and involved compound sentence.

An infinitive takes arguments and adjuncts in the same manner as a finite verb form.  In "to let fall", the "fall" is an argument.  In "to win at chess", the "at chess" is an adjunct.

  • So I guess it seems like two infinitives one containing a to which I may get to fall and one not containing a to let. That information on why it may not contain a to I may got to maybe read upon. This seems new. So it seems like two infinitives and one noun phrase or two infinitives and an infinitive phrase? May one phrase seem like two phrases an infinitive and a noun phrase? asyndetic coordinate subject complement seems new. That seems interesting. I thank you, Gary Botnovcan.
    – saySay
    Jul 4, 2015 at 19:28
  • "Asyndetic" only means that there is no conjunction that governs the coordination. The usual case is syndetic coordination, such as in "absolute indifference and absolute contempt" or "absolute indifference or absolute contempt". Jul 5, 2015 at 20:31
  • The list of verbs that license a bare infinitive object complement is fairly small. I can't find a comprehensive list, but that list includes "let", "make", "see", "watch", "notice", "hear", "feel", and "help". "Help" is a special case, because it licenses both a bare and a full infinitive for object complements. Jul 5, 2015 at 20:38
  • Bare infinitives may somewhat get me. I think I get infinitives to verb maybe mostly in infinitive phrases maybe like To run hastily. I may not get bare infinitives. I may not get why and how they get utilized.
    – saySay
    Jul 5, 2015 at 23:45

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