Could the infinitive phrase "to go" be a complement of the noun phrase "a coffee"?

  • 6
    "To go" is a fixed phrase and functions as the predicate of a Whiz-Deleted relative clause, like a burger with everything, a politician on the take, one ring to rule them all. Whether you should call that a "complement" is a matter between you and your confessor. I wouldn't, personally -- I use the term Complement for a type of noun clause. This excludes relative clauses of all kinds, since they modify nouns, rather than functioning as noun phrases. – John Lawler Aug 27 '14 at 18:46
  • 2
    and as if by magic! while I was just writing it! I'll take it that is is a case of Whiz deletion then ... :) – Araucaria - Not here any more. Aug 27 '14 at 18:47
  • 1
    I'm not sure it is a complement, merely because the word is used by grammarians with conflicting meanings (as John Lawler implies). – Edwin Ashworth Aug 27 '14 at 18:52
  • 3
    @FumbleFingers It's a bit unusual isn't it because you share the pizza and eat the food, but you don't go the coffee? Also there seems to be a kind of anaphoric gap or deletion in the other cases We'd like one pizza (for us) to share (it) I bought this food (for me) to eat (it) tonight. But not I'm buying this coffee (for me) to go (it). The first ones are like infinitives of purpose, it seems to me. But I'm not sure that the to go one is? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Aug 27 '14 at 18:57
  • 2
    @Araucaria Surely that would just be the intransitive counterpart to those: “I’m buying this coffee (for it) to go”? (Although, to be honest, who would want their coffee to go? What’s the point of buying it if it’s just going to do a bunk and leave you as coffeeless as you were before you bought it?) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 27 '14 at 19:17

Yes, I can't see a problem with that.

However, it is normally unnecessary - it makes no difference to the server if it is to go or you will drink it in the shop - it typically is "to go". If, however, it is a shop that offers ceramic cups for non-takeaway, you do need to specify.

  • Thank you Tim...so that's only a post-modifier, isn't it? – Snow Aug 27 '14 at 18:37
  • Yes, and often not required. – Tim Aug 27 '14 at 18:39
  • I've been studying syntax for about 1 year and I find it very interesting, I've got lots of questions and I hope you'll be able to help me :) Thanks!!!! – Snow Aug 27 '14 at 18:42
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth, user79940, If you're a linguistics student nowadays, chances are what you mean is something that's specially licenced by another item. So probably what the OP wants to know is whether to go is something that we'd regard as being specially licensed by the noun coffee (in the same way that certain prepositions are licensed by certain verbs eg: ask for) But, I agree that the term's not used uniformly. I guess User'll have to let us know what they mean? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Aug 27 '14 at 19:23
  • 3
    In many coffee shops, they will serve you coffee in a ceramic cup if you plan to stay and drink it, and a disposable cup otherwise. – Peter Shor Aug 27 '14 at 21:24

Depends on your definition of complement. If you define a complement as anything that completes something then I guess you could call it a complement. I usually reserve complement for predicate nouns or adjectives, tho. I'd call this a post-modifier, ie, an adjectival phrase that occurs after the noun, similar to a prepositional phrase or a participial phrase.


a coffee to go

is a noun group with coffee as head element and "a" and "to go" as sub-elements (or modifiers or attributes).

To-infinitives can be used as modifiers: I'd like a book to read. One could derive such a structure by using three sentences: I'd like a book - what for? - to read it.

The derivation of the fixed expression of coffee shops "coffee to go" is a bit difficult: The sense is a cup of coffee that you can take with you (you don't drink it in the shop). That the expression uses "to go" is a bit funny, but it is short and understandable: coffee to go with you (out of the shop).

I wouldn't use the term complement, as it is ambiguous. Mostly complement is used in connection with linking verbs. In "He is a doctor" "a doctor" is a subject complement.


A coffee to go is like a table to eat. It's a necessary qualifier that indicates purpose, suitability or reason. It's necessary to avoid confusion or a mistake.

When I say: We would like that table to eat, it does not mean I want to eat the table. Neither do I wish for the table to start chewing on something. I'm asking for a menu and checking that the kitchen is open. If not, I will go somewhere else.

A "coffee to go" is a coffee that is for going (walking) and going (leaving) and going (not coming back). It is suitable to go, portable and disposable.

It doesn't always work: I bought this necklace to gift. We'd rather say that it is a present.

  • But OP asks (probably unwisely) '[Is it a] complement [of the noun]?' – Edwin Ashworth Nov 7 '15 at 11:26

You go for a coffee or you go to drink coffee, but you do not say you go a coffee, so the phrase is a bit strange because of the collocations of the word coffee has no the verb go. A coffee to drink sounds better.

  • 1
    "To go" means that the coffee is provided in a form that may be conveniently removed from the establishment, vs being consumed on the premises. – Hot Licks Mar 13 '15 at 11:43

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.