I have sometimes problem understanding these structures. I just came across this expression:

Materials to make sarin gas and perhaps other toxic chemicals moved freely cross-border from Turkey to Syria.

"Materials to make sarin gas and perhaps other toxic chemicals ." Here we can sense that materials are not the subject which will make sarin and other chemicals by itself.In this context , we can infer that the infinitive clause is used in a way that the meaning is close to "materials which is necessary to make sarin gas and other chemicals".

I will give another example and hence my confusion will be revealed.

The woman to save you
The institution to supervise the process

In these examples , we can safely infer that the subject is nouns which are both followed by infinitive clause. The woman is subject. The institution is subject.

So why there is difference? Am i missing a point? In the very first example I gave , the subject is not clear as it is understood from the context.We don't know the subject. Genereally , in the pattern of noun+to+verb+object i want to be enlightened as to subject-object relations of this pattern.

  • To put it very briefly, why do you think "materials" is not the subject of the sentence?
    – stangdon
    Dec 14, 2015 at 18:15
  • @stangdon Do you think "materials" have got an ability to make sarin gas and other whatever chemicals? Dec 14, 2015 at 19:56
  • In English, it is perfectly normal for inanimate things to be the subject of a verb phrase, and "X and Y make Z" is a normal phrasing.
    – stangdon
    Dec 14, 2015 at 20:01

2 Answers 2


In your original sentence, "Materials to make sarin gas and perhaps other toxic chemicals moved freely cross-border from Turkey to Syria", yes, "materials" is the subject of the sentence. If you look carefully at the sentence, you will see that at its heart it is a simple subject-verb sentence: Materials moved. Everything else in the sentence is explanatory:
what kind? to make sarin gas and perhaps other toxic chemicals
how did they move? freely cross-border from Turkey to Syria.

Your understanding of the bolded part of the sentence is basically correct, though. The construction noun verb-infinitive, like materials to make sarin gas or the woman to save you or the organization to supervise the process means essentially noun for the purpose of verb-ing. The materials for the purpose of making sarin gas moved freely; the woman for the purpose of saving you did whatever; the organization for the purpose of supervising the process did whatever.

  • Well , the sentence is an excerpt from a facebook page and this sentence was used as headline.Since passive form is mostly ignored in headlines, we can assume that the sentence is passive voice.My point, "materials " are devoid of an ability to create or make gases or whatsoever.Materials can not itself make or produce something.But in the other examples , the action stated by verbs are to be realized by nouns.We can infer that." A women to save you.." Women is to realize the action which is saving. But materials can not realize the action following "materials". Herein lies my confusion . Dec 14, 2015 at 20:04
  • I agree that in headlines a lot of the ordinary rules get thrown out, so yes, it could be short for "materials were moved". However, "materials" is still the subject of the sentence, even if the sentence is passive.
    – stangdon
    Dec 14, 2015 at 20:09

Ingredients to make a birthday cake, and what looked like party hats, were in the shopping basket.

It's not clear whether all of the ingredients required to make a cake were in the basket (maybe sugar was missing, for example, or baking powder), but the ingredients in the basket could be described as those that go into making a cake.

The clause "and what looked like party hats" is simply additional information, unrelated to the ingredients.

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