I have always been confused about this pattern.

I can't be the first person to forget to pay his taxes.

That was the 11th family member to have been killed.

He can't be the person to have committed the crime.

This pattern makes me confused about when I should use the who-clause and this pattern. Why are using to-infinitive here instead of adding the who-clause?

I can't be the first person who forgets to pay his taxes.

That was the 11th family member who has been killed.

He can't be the person who has committed the crime.

My second question: Are there situations in which the use of one of them is more appropriate than the other?

My third question: What grammatical concept does this particular pattern represent?

1 Answer 1


First Snow in Alsace

The snow came down last night like moths
Burned on the moon; it fell till dawn,
Covered the town with simple cloths.

Absolute snow lies rumpled on
What shellbursts scattered and deranged,
Entangled railings, crevassed lawn.

As if it did not know they'd changed,
Snow smoothly clasps the roofs of homes
Fear-gutted, trustless and estranged.

The ration stacks are milky domes;
Across the ammunition pile
The snow has climbed in sparkling combs.

You think: beyond the town a mile
Or two, this snowfall fills the eyes
Of soldiers dead a little while.

Persons and persons in disguise,
Walking the new air white and fine,
Trade glances quick with shared surprise.

At children's windows, heaped, benign,
As always, winter shines the most,
And frost makes marvelous designs.

The night guard coming from his post,
Ten first-snows back in thought, walks slow
And warms him with a boyish boast:

He was the first to see the snow.

He was the first who has seen the snow.not OK

With "the first", there is already a restriction, so the restrictive relative clause "who has seen the snow" is an unwanted pleonasm. But if we change it to "He was not the only one..." then either pattern is OK.

  • Thank you for answering, but your answer doesn't respond to every part of my question. I have two other examples that don't include "the first", what grammatical concept is this? When can and cannot you use it? Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 23:46
  • I'd say "11th person to be killed" since only one person can occupy that slot. With the person committing the crime example, there are many persons, so we do want a restrictive clause: ".. the person who committed the crime."
    – TimR
    Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 23:53

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