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They criticized my plans to become a musician.

Does this sentence mean the same as They criticized my plans about becoming a musician.?

Or, does the sentence mean that they want to become a musician?

And what about this?

Researchers criticize plans to change Dutch research organization.

Do they criticize plans about changing the research organization? Or they want to change the organization so they criticize some plans?

I'm confused. Can anyone help me understand what the sentences mean?

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  • I am neither native English speaker nor a teacher but I think your sentences are example of reduction relative clause with infinitive.
    – Mrt
    Mar 26, 2016 at 11:18
  • Check this out please random-idea-english.blogspot.com.tr/2014/11/…
    – Mrt
    Mar 26, 2016 at 11:21
  • I found another site grammaring.com/the-to-infinitive-to-replace-a-relative-clause
    – Mrt
    Mar 26, 2016 at 11:27
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    @Mrt These infinitives are not modifiers: you wouldn't paraphrase my plans to become a musician as my plans which will become a musician. They are infinitival clauses which complement the noun plan just as they would the corresponding verb: my plans to become a musician may be understood as a derivative of I plan to become a musician. Mar 26, 2016 at 12:29

1 Answer 1

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Language is ambiguous, and we often decide what meaning is correct by relying on context. But sometimes we can rely on grammar.

Let's take your first example:

They criticized my plans to become a musician.

They (plural) cannot become "a musician" (singular), unless by "they" you mean a single person (in a gender-neutral way). Let's presume that from the context it's clear that "they" are several persons. Then it's easy to understand that it is the author of the sentence who wants to become a musician.

Now, the second example:

Researchers criticize plans to change Dutch research organization.

The most likely interpretation is "they criticize plans about changing the research organization." Why? Because we usually complement the word "plans" either with a "to-phrase" or an "of-phrase" or a "for-phrase". The sentence below would look strange:

Researchers criticize plans.

Do they criticize plans in general? This is strange. That's why even the sentence

They criticized my plans to become fat.

Would be understood as "I have plans of becoming fat. They criticized these plans", and not as "They want to become fat. In order to achieve this goal, they criticized my plans".

But again, context is king. We can come up with a context that will change the meaning of the sentence:

I prepared plans for setting up a playground in the park. I presented the plans at a neighborhood meeting. Several members of the meeting wanted to become fat, and viewed my plans as harmful to this goal. They criticized my plans to become fat.

Voila!

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    I'm a native speaker of a Northeastern US variety of English, and a couple things you say here do not match my intuitions. A minor point, but the first example made me think of singular "they" first, but plural "they" is of course possible. More importantly, in your final example, the criticism itself doesn't help them reach their goal of becoming fat, so I don't think the sentence works. For that sort of interpretation, I feel the criticism has to do the job after "to", as in "She publicly criticized my plans to gain favor among the voters."
    – Mark S.
    Mar 26, 2016 at 20:13

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