I am quite confused about the usage over infinitive verbs and gerunds when talking about nouns.

For example:

A car for transporting people.


A car to transport people.

both have the same meaning.

The same goes for,

A video for teaching kids geometry.


A video to teach kids geometry.

But why is it that when I say,

A person to talk to.


A person for talking to.

the latter does not match in terms of meaning with the former? The way I'm constructing the sentences hasn't changed compared to the first two examples, yet "a person for taking to" does not have the same meaning as "a person to talk to", while also being quite an awkward expression by itself.

Could anyone explain why this happens?


In my opinion, "A person for talking to" makes it sound like this person's (sole) purpose is for you (or just anyone) to talk to them. It makes it sound like this person is designed for this purpose or role. When the to-infinitive form is used, as in "A person to talk to," it makes it sound like this is a person that you can talk to, but someone who is not designed for this purpose (they have their own life). It is just someone that you can talk to, because this person is your friend or whatever, and it puts the focus on this aspect... that you can talk to this individual, that they're open to you doing this with respect to them. It is not about this person's given role or function in a general sense, that is a description of their identity, as in the cases of "A car for transporting people" and "A video for teaching kids geometry."

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The difference is that the phrase "a person to talk to" ends in a preposition (which is poor practice anyway; "a person with whom to talk" is more correct).

For instance, you wouldn't say "a bicycle for riding on" or "a house for living in." It just sounds unnatural. You would say instead "a bicycle on which to ride" and "a house in which to live."

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  • @ PlasmaStarfish "A person to talk to" sounds fine to me; it's "A person for talking to" that sounds very unnatural. – BillJ Dec 13 '15 at 18:28
  • @BillJ Yes, perhaps I didn't make myself clear. While "a person to talk to" sounds correct, and is used in everyday speech, use of a gerund instead of the infinitive makes the phrase sound awkward if it ends in a preposition. – half_an_egg Dec 13 '15 at 18:44
  • Oh, right. Yet "A catchy tune for humming to" and "A nice rhythm for dancing to" seem okay. I agree that "A person for talking to" sounds odd, but I can't put my finger on a syntactic or semantic reason why that particular example does, and some others don't. – BillJ Dec 13 '15 at 19:07
  • @BillJ I get what you mean, but I don't think the two examples you give sound quite right. Perhaps there is no hard-and-fast rule, though. – half_an_egg Dec 13 '15 at 20:32
  • I'm inclined to think it's the prep "for" that is the culprit here. This sense of "for" implies purpose, and it's not unreasonable to say that a car's purpose is for transporting people and that a video's purpose may be for teaching people. But we can't say that a person's purpose is for talking to. – BillJ Dec 13 '15 at 20:48

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