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I always wonder if there is difference between "to + verb" and "verb". For example,

"It is not only to deepen students’ understanding of positive values, but also to enable them to know how to uphold positive values."

vs

"It not only deepens students’ understanding of positive values, but also enables them to know how to uphold positive values."

Is there any difference between the two structures?

1

Your first example (with the infinitive) expresses purpose. Whatever "it" is, its intended purpose is to deepen understanding and teach positive values.

Your second example (with the finite verb form) make a declaration. Whatever "it" is and whatever purpose anyone had for "it," what happened was a deepening of understanding and a teaching of positive values.

  • I agree but I think you need to mention that the first example is grammatically deficient if you give it that meaning. I tried to explain that in part 6 (!!) of my answer. – chasly from UK Jul 22 '15 at 8:45
  • (!!) I agree, and not in the sense of chess moves but TL;DR. You presume quite a bit, including that the OP wanted the two versions to be the same. What is grammatically deficient about this scenario? "People ask the purpose of the school's policy of flogging its students. It is not only to deepen students’ understanding of positive values, but also to enable them to know how to uphold positive values." – deadrat Jul 22 '15 at 9:04
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Answer

They are completely different.

Explanation

1.

A. "It not only deepens students’ understanding of positive values, but also enables them to know how to uphold positive values."

Let us extract the bare structure of this sentence:

It [not only] deepens [students’] understanding [of positive values], but [also] enables them [to know how to uphold positive values].

It deepens understanding, but enables them.

That looks a little odd so we can separate it into two sentences.

It enables understanding. It enables them. (i.e, the students)

2.

B. "It is not only to deepen students’ understanding of positive values, but also to enable them to know how to uphold positive values."

Now let's extract the structure from that sentence.

"It is [not only] to deepen [students’] understanding [of positive values], but to enable them [to know how to uphold positive values.]"

It is to deepen understanding. It is to enable them.

3.

We can see that all we really need to understand is the difference between:

a. It enables them.

and

b. It is to enable them.

Sentence a is very straightforward ---> (subject) (verb) (object)

4.

Sentence b is not so obvious and is the one that requires explanation.

The sentence, It is to enable them., can be parsed in only one way in English, and that is as an example of future obligation.

When we write about future obligations, we can use a formal pattern composed of two elements the verb to be in the present tense conjugated to match the subject + the infinitive of the main verb

http://www.edufind.com/english-grammar/future-obligation/

It is to enable them. means It must enable them.

5.

The analysis so far tells us that:

A. "It is not only to deepen students’ understanding of positive values, but also to enable them to know how to uphold positive values."

means

"It must not only deepen students’ understanding of positive values, but also must enable them to know how to uphold positive values."

That meaning is quite different from the meaning of sentence B.

6.

Now, I am well aware that in your initial question, you intended A and B to have the same meaning. I have shown that they don't. What can be done about it?

In fact there is no way to make A equivalent to B, they are essentially different.

What I can offer is an approximation. We add another grammatical element.

C. "It's purpose is not only to deepen students’ understanding of positive values, but also to enable them to know how to uphold positive values."

I hope this helps.

  • thanks. it helps. One has not happened yet. Another has happened. – Louis Liu Jul 22 '15 at 8:29
  • No, I think you have misunderstood. As deadrat says (and much more succinctly than I) one expresses purpose and the other is a simple declaration. – chasly from UK Jul 22 '15 at 8:47
  • What is the difference? An oven is to bake. An oven bakes. So similar! – Louis Liu Jul 22 '15 at 8:50
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    @Louis: Consider: Tobacco companies make cigarettes that kill half a million people per year. Or: Tobacco companies make cigarettes to kill half a million people per year. The second one says that the goal of tobacco companies is to kill people rather than to make money. – Peter Shor Jul 22 '15 at 10:59
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Non-finite verbs and their derivatives in English language (and many languages), include an idea called infinitives.

If you are a programmer, and is part of the modular/plug-in movement, you would easier understand the motivation behind non-finite elements found in languages.

Non-finite elements are modular grammatical units that you could plug in to any phrase with little or no change regardless of time, tense, number or mood, and possibly gender.

The concepts of Application Programming Interface (API) and functional Interface contract is part of the practice of using semantic interface contract linguistic phenomenon frequently practiced in human-developed communications. Semantic interface-contracts is a method of communication whereby communicators do not have to bother modifying the communicant too much when connecting to a modular communicant.

Each type/mode of non-finite elements has its own semantic interface contract - grammatical rules on how to use it without modifying its innards.

For example, the semantic interface contract

Success = print(paper size, resolution, colour-grey-scale)

Regardless which printer is implementing this print contract, and who the communicator is that initiated the print, the communicator does/should not need to modify the innards of the print functionality offered by the communicant.

For example the question: Who killed the mockingbird?

This question is non-finitely applicable to whomever might have killed the mockingbird. It does not restrict the participants, in terms of time/tense, gender, number, or mood.

Hence the infinitive phrase to kill a mockingbird:

  • Who wants to kill a mockingbird?
  • A girl wants to kill a mockingbird.
  • Nobody wants to kill a mockingbird.
  • 666 men want to kill a mockingbird.
  • 999 women to kill a mockingbird, is an overkill.
  • Having only 111 workers to kill a mockingbird is inadequate.
  • One person, or a thousand could have come to kill a mockingbird, and it would never be possible without our Golden Horse Brand pellet projector.

Besides the infinitive, another type of non-finite element is the present participle

  • Painting a house is on my list of activities I need to complete before Thanksgiving.
  • Not many people enjoy painting a house.
  • Nora is one of the few women in the village who enjoys painting a house.
  • Prosecutor: Where were you on the night of the murder, 10 weeks ago?
    Defendant: At a "painting a house" gathering.
    Prosecutor: ... and what were you doing exactly?
    Defendant: Painting a house.
    Prosecutor: What were your witnesses to your alibi doing?
    Defendant: They were painting a house.
    Judge: What would you be doing tomorrow if I grant you bail?
    Defendant: Painting a house.

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