I have some problems understanding the accurate and precise meaning of the expressions following : "water to drink.." Here We understand that water is for drinking by someone.The action "drink" is supposed to be done by someone or a living entity.What confuses my mind is that what become of the meaning when we say " water to be drunk".. "icecream to be eaten" ". Now as for my second question which is related to what I said above in a way.I gave examples in which noun that comes before "to" is sth not living.My question is that :a husband to be, a girl to marry , a woman to sacrifice , student to get high mark"... Is the way of usage of "to" correct here? The noun before to is sometimes subject and object of the verb that follows "to".How can we differentiate them?

If so, doesn't it contrast with the way of usage in my first question? Because , we suppose that the action of "drinking" for example, is done by someone who is NOT mentioned in the expression.But here , the action(mary,sacrife,be..) is supposed to be done directly by a husband , a girl , a women,...? .. Thanks for your lightining answers in advance..

  • "A student to get high mark" sounds very odd in this construction. It should really be "a student to give a high mark to". And that still sounds odd; it sounds like you need to choose a student so that you can give him a high mark (so that you can justify giving low marks to everybody else?). Commented Dec 9, 2014 at 18:26
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    The construction water to drink is a noun phrase with a head noun water modified by a relative infinitive clause to drink. Relative infinitives have unusual grammar. Commented Dec 9, 2014 at 18:30
  • My mind is still confused.He is the man to see.Here in "Man to see".Is man subject or object of "see"?. Commented Dec 9, 2014 at 23:33
  • In the man to see, man is the object of see. It's a relative clause; either the subject or the object can be relativized -- in fact, any noun can be relativized, as in the way to do it, which relativizes a manner adverb way. If the subject isn't the relative pronoun then the subject is generic one or Indef. Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 0:03
  • To elaborate,I want to ask.In "the man to save us" , man is subject.After we omit "us"..there remains "the man to save"..and thus, the man becomes the object of "save", right?. Secondly ,But still ,my mind keeps being confused.In "husband to be" ,is husband subject or object? If it is subject, how ? Commented Dec 10, 2014 at 0:40

2 Answers 2


My old school grammar explains: A to-infinitive after a noun/pronoun has the function of a relative clause. Examples:

1 When I was in London I bought a map to show me the way ( meaning which could show me the way).

2 Where can I get a bus to take me to the Tower (which can take me to the tower).

3 I hope there will be a guide to show us round (who can show us round).

4 I wish we had someone to act as interpreter (who could act ...).

In colloquial language prepositions are placed after the infinitive:

5 In London children have large parks to play in.

In written language preposition + relative pronoun is preferred:

6 The City Council provides baskets in which to put litter.

You can say these to-infinitives have the function of a relative clause or you can say they correspond to a what-for indication.

It is a bit awkard to show how English may have come to this structure. Maybe from French un livre à lire ( a book to read) and ultimately from Latin constructions. It seems to me that Latin ad + gerund or noun + gerundive were rendered with à + infinitive in French and with to-infinitive in English.

If one tried to explain the English to-infinitive just by filling in other words one would have to use such an awkward formula as

a map which is able to show me the way. - Not exactly a natural way of expression.


"husband-to-be" means fiance. That is, the person who will become a husband. Let someone else say what function "to be" serves. But the whole three hyphenated words serve as a noun.

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