2

I see a sentence in a commercial article

Then in 2006, Amazon launched its Elastic Compute cloud (EC2) as a commercial web service that allows small companies and individuals to rent computers on which to run their own computer applications.

I could not figure out the usage of 'to' in the relative clause. Is it wrong or some grammatical rule?

  • 1
    I think this is General Reference for ELU. You might want to look at English Language Learners. – FumbleFingers Nov 16 '14 at 22:07
  • 3
    No it's not. Where does one look up Relative Infinitives in General Reference or ELL? This is a very complex construction. – John Lawler Nov 16 '14 at 23:11
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers Why is that clause not finite, and why doesn't it have a subject? I don't understand ... why anyone would think that's not a question worth answering or reading about ...? – Araucaria Nov 17 '14 at 19:46
  • @Araucaria: I can hardly disagree with John that a formal deconstruction of what's going on in such usages is "very complex". I was mainly responding to OP's "Is it wrong?", on the grounds that all native speakers know perfectly well they need to in constructions like "I bought a diary in which to record my daily activity". – FumbleFingers Nov 17 '14 at 20:47
  • @FumbleFingers Yes, I agree they do. The question I suppose, which I find interesting is why do they...? :) – Araucaria Nov 17 '14 at 23:07
5

This is not about "to following which in a relative clause"; grammar is not strings of words.

This is about a different type of Relative clause, a Relative Infinitive clause.
The to is the infinitive verbal complementizer (for is the subject marker, but there's no subject here), marking the infinitive verb phrase run their own computer applications.

A regular relative clause NP with the same meaning as
computers on which to run their own computer applications is
computers on which they can run their own computer applications.

Both of these relative clauses have undergone Pied-Piping of the of with its object which;
however, it's much more common to strand the of at the end of the clause. If we don't pied-pipe
the preposition, we can just move the relative pronoun to the front and strand the preposition.
Watch what happens when we do that:

  • computers on which they can run their own computer applications
    -- with a regular relative clause -- becomes
    computers which they can run their own computer applications on
    with which, or
    computers that they can run their own computer applications on
    with that, or just
    computers they can run their own computer applications on
    without any relative pronoun at all.

However,

  • computers on which to run their own computer applications
    -- with a relative infinitive clause -- becomes
    computers to run their own computer applications on
    but not
    *computers which to run their own computer applications on
    and not
    *computers that to run their own computer applications on
    either.

In general, relative infinitives only use relative pronouns when they are pied-piped with a preposition; in any other situation, relative pronouns of any kind are forbidden.

  • 1
    Thanks for the excellent explanation! The rules are much clearer to me now! – zx_wing Nov 17 '14 at 3:30
0

It means the purpose of companies is to run their own computer applications on these computers. It indicates a purpose.

  • Then, can I rewrite it as " rent computers to run their own computer applications", without relative clause? – zx_wing Nov 16 '14 at 21:56
  • You can. Hovewer your sentence doesn't indicate that the applications run on these computers. – Salih Erikci Nov 16 '14 at 22:00
  • @zx_wing but you need on. There's a gap at the end of that infinitive construction. It means: rent computers [which] to run their own computer applications on [them]. You can leave out the relative pronoun 'which' because it's not the subject of the verb 'rent'. – Araucaria Nov 17 '14 at 20:19

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.