He was working by himself without a supervisor to notify approaching train operators.

Can we use a to-infinitive as a postmodifier after supervisor?

and do it have ambiguity? i mean his job is to notify approaching train operators.

  • 2
    That should be without a supervisor (the article is syntactically required). The ambiguity arises because your phrasing would naturally be understood to mean the supervisor would have done the notifying if he'd been present. To make the intended sense unambiguous, rephrase using ...without a supervisor, notifying approaching train operators (note the comma, as well as the change to continuous verb form). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica May 29 '16 at 14:56
  • He was working unsupervised, to notify approaching train operators. (Unless you convert "without a supervisor" to an adjective, the sentence would be messy and ambigous, no matter where you relocate the to-infinitive phrase.) You could also say "notifying" instead of "to notify". "Working to notify" would be understood to mean "doing what he could in an attempt to notify". – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 29 '16 at 21:51

Yes. It would be very important to note that "to-infinitive" works as an adjective that postmodifies the noun that precedes it.

Let's compare these two sentences:

  1. He didn't have any supervisor to notify her. (simplified version of your example)

  2. He didn't have any book to read.

The two sentences have the same construction, subject + transitive verb (have) + object (supervisor, book) + to infinitive. The two sentences could be rephrased to:

  1. He didn't have any supervisor who (that) could notify her.
  2. He didn't have any book which (that) he could read.

Now, you can see both to-infinitives and relative clauses postmodify the preceding nouns. Your example sentence could be rephrased to:

He was working by himself without any supervisor who could notify approaching train operators.

Of course, there could be ambiguity if you read the sentence without any context. For example, your sentence could be rephrased to the following if you consider "to infinitive" as an adverbial phrase that indicates "purpose" of an action "to work".

The purpose of him working alone without a supervisor was (so as) to notify approaching train operators.

This could mean that the presence of a supervisor could have been a factor that could prevent him from notifying approaching train operators. But, how likely is it to be interpreted that way? I don't think it is very likely that it could be interpreted that way.

  • Are there no ambiguity? i mean i can say his job is to notify approaching train operators. and why did use "any" when "any" doesn't be used , is it weird? – inches May 29 '16 at 15:05
  • @inches Context is very important. I can guess the context is 1. An accident happened. 2. The cause of the accident was failing to notify approaching train operators. 3. The accident could have been prevented if he had worked with a supervisor who could notify them. 4. Since he worked alone without a supervisor, the accident happened. Right? – user24743 May 29 '16 at 15:08
  • I mean he was working by himself to notify approaching train operator. but it is semantically wrong. – inches May 29 '16 at 15:16
  • as you said he died because there are no supervisor. but in another situation, could we say he was working on notifying duty. – inches May 29 '16 at 15:26
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. – inches May 29 '16 at 15:27

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.