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Seen many sentences that had "as if to" and they had a comma before "as if to", which makes me think that "as if to" does not work as a preposition but as a clause. Is "as if to" the reduce form of "as if it were to"?

For example:

  • He runs, as if to flee a tiger.
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The to in "as if to" isn't a preposition, it's the start of the infinitive noun ("to flee").

As Daniel Lloyd very tersely pointed out, if you were to insert a were in the sentence, you'd have to change the rest of the verb to match.

Overall, "as if to flee a tiger" is an infinitive phrase, modifying the verb in the main clause. In contrast, "as if he were fleeing a tiger" would be a subordinate clause in the subjunctive tense.

Of course, both express the same semantics (meaning), however the infinitive sounds a little more terse and immediate compared to the subjunctive.

If you were to remove the hypothetical, you would have

He runs to flee a tiger.

Again, "to flee a tiger" would be an infinitive phrase describing why he runs. Compare with:

He runs; he is fleeing from a tiger.
He runs because he is fleeing from a tiger.

Two separate clauses, optionally linked by a conjunction.

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... as if he were fleeing (from) a tiger.

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Firstly, "as if" is a conjunction not a preposition. Secondly, we mostly use as if with another independent clause For instance:

He felt as if I had a crush on the handsome man in the class.

But sometimes we use other structures such as non-finite clause and prepositional phrase after that, which is the case that you've mentioned. So I suggest you that consider "as if" as a whole and separate "to" from it. For more clarification, I added the example below:

He grasped my arm as if to keep me as a hostage.

About the meaning, I think it varies from case to case, but you can use like instead of that and you can find the meaning (although I'm not sure about it, It's just my idea.) But In your example, I think your paraphrasing is correct. I hope it will be helpful

  • Hello, Ali. How can 'as if' be considered a conjunction in 'He grasped my arm as if to keep me there all night'? – Edwin Ashworth Sep 12 at 19:02
  • @EdwinAshworth Hi Edwin! first part of the sentence is an independent clause and to keep me ... is considered as a kind of non-finite clause. For more information, I suggest you read about non-finite clauses and their types because it seems the confusing part. I think the site that I will mention below helps you to understand it concisely. I hope it helps. myenglishgrammar.com/lesson-17-clauses/… – Ali Sirous Sep 13 at 6:01
  • @EdwinAshworth and also not to mention that you can join two clauses whether independent with dependent or independent with independent by a conjunction. – Ali Sirous Sep 13 at 6:03
  • Sorry, Ali. '[I]t’s not unusual for an infinitive—bare or not—to be the object of a preposition. For example, in all of these sentences, infinitives (both bare and with “to”) are the objects of prepositions: “He can do everything but cook” / “He had no choice except to lie” / “I’d rather starve instead of steal” / “We have better things to do than to argue” / ”They were about to leave” // “He opened his mouth as if to speak.” (When used in this way, “as if” has a prepositional function, according to CGEL.)' Grammarphobia. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 13 at 14:13
  • @EdwinAshworth Although what your saying is correct but in case of As if , according to Cambridge, it's a conjunction. For more information: dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/… – Ali Sirous Sep 14 at 4:55

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