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In the construct one of the best places + to + infinitive, the infinitive refers to an activity that a person can do.

Example

Cape Breton Island is also one of the best places in the world to ride a bike

I wonder if you could use the same construct making the infinitive refer to an activity the place can do/provide.

Example (My example):

Ours is one of the best universities in the world to provide such a training

Here, I am not saying for instance "one of the best universities in the world to receive such a training"; rather, it is one of the best universities in the world to give you that training. Can "one of the best universities" be used that way?

Thank you.

  • 3
    Your question is very interesting. Unfortunately, I think many readers here won't understand how grammatically interesting it is and will try to close it. You might want to ask your question on English Language Learners where it will definitely get a good answer. – Araucaria Apr 10 '16 at 10:08
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    @Araucaria: Thank you for saying this, because the point (or quite honestly the problem) you raise has been a source of frustration to me on this forum. With my interest in nuances such as that above, I am often understood as a "learner," although I've spoken English my whole life. And the biggest irony is this: when I eat my pride and ask a question (which I think is good and deserves linguistic consideration) on the learners' website, the answers I get presume a level of English FAR BELOW my almost-native command. They rarely address what I am really asking there. Really, thank you. – asef Apr 10 '16 at 10:16
  • Maybe you might want to put that you've spoken English your whole life in the Q? It might prevent people from closing it. – Araucaria Apr 10 '16 at 10:29
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    @Araucaria. You know, I'd rather show it, and I think I do. – asef Apr 10 '16 at 10:35
  • I don't see any close votes, questions are put on hold when the answer is obvious to anyone whose level of English is native-like. When questions clearly don't show any research, when the OP does not provide any context or insight. All things which this post demonstrates. I'm surprised by the low view count though, perhaps a catchier, or more descriptive title is in order here? – Mari-Lou A Apr 14 '16 at 4:13
3

It's a little hard to classify exactly what the use of the infinitive is doing in this scenario, especially since English doesn't have a special word for it (unlike a gerund, subjective infinitive, etc.). As an interesting side note, however, Latin does have a specific term for it that is sometimes used in English in similar scenarios - the supine.

It's often used to describe the purpose of something or the capacity in which something exists/can do something (a vague description, I know, but it can be used for a lot of things and there isn't exactly a singular definition out there). Your first example could essentially be translated to Cape Breton is also one of the best places in the world for riding a bike, making use of the gerund form of "to ride" and using for to express purpose - using the infinitive has the same connotation. Your second example is also perfectly valid.

1

TL;DR:

Both your examples are grammatical and the infinitive can indeed be used both ways.

Long Answer:

I'm not yet very good at grammatical analysis of your examples, or at provision of thorough comparison between the two constructions. I'm just going to try to point out the main difference between the two and provide more examples of each.

In your two examples, the to-infinitives complement the adjectival phrases that precede them (here, the superlative best) in two different ways. Let's add the subjects of the infinitives and rewrite them:

  1. Cape Breton Island is also one of the best places in the world (for you) to ride a bike.
  2. Ours is one of the best universities in the world (*for the universities) to provide such a training.

I put a star before the second phrase to indicate that it's ungrammatical to actually include it in the sentence; it's there just to point out the understood subject.

Now the difference has become clearer: in the second example, the subject of the infinitive ("universities") is the same as the noun described by the adjective best (again, "universities"). I'll call this construction the second type (or type 2).
Whereas in the firs example, the subject of the infinitive ("you" (or whoever!)) is not the same thing as "places": you ride the bike, not places. I'll call this one the first type (or type 1).

For starters, let's search COCA for "one of(†) the best to" and examine the results:

  1. As a former pro bowler, he was known as one of the best to roll a ball down these lanes.
  2. ... if I'm considered one of the best to ever play this game, I won't have been ...
  3. The notion that Jackson gives the Vikings a better chance to win than one of the best to ever play the position would have seemed laughable at the beginning of the year.
  4. Oh, Marvin was one of the best to ever do it.
  5. Seymour says he wants to be considered one of the best to ever play the game.
  6. It was probably the worst time in human history to be a human being, but it was also, he had to acknowledge it, one of the best to be a wildlife biologist in your own back yard.
  7. He was never the same again. He went from one of the best to confused in a very short time.
  8. If he never won another race, people will see him as one of the best to ever grip a steering wheel.
  9. I'd never put myself in his class. He's one of the best to play the game.
  10. The Barry legacy may have started with Rick, one of the best to play the game, ...
  11. He might prove himself to be one of the best to come out of Three Willows.
  12. The Black Angus rib eye is one of the best to be found.
  13. But that's what many people wanted, and Bouguereau was one of the best to do it. He was a great painter.

Apart from No. 6 (which is of the first type), and No. 7 (which is a false positive), all other results are of the second type.

Searching COCA for "[be](†,‡) the best to" yields 41 hits, most of which of the second type. Here are some examples:

  • type 2:
    • Tolerant of heat and humidity, rabbiteyes are the best to grow where winters are mild.
    • She had no doubt that he was the best to do anything that needed doing.
  • type 1:
    • He outlined which door he felt would be the best to get into the house.
    • ... doing the thing that they thought was the best to do.

There's nothing so special about the superlative "best". We can try all kinds of adjectives that take a to-infinitive complement:

"[be] the first to": 4574 hits. Example:

  • type 2: Lettie was the first to admit that she was cold. " I'm freezing, " she said.
  • type 1: - (Couldn't find any.)

"[be] the last to": 394 hits. Example:

  • type 2: John is the last to go.
  • type 1: - (Couldn't find any.)

"[be] the most ... to" (with a gap of up to one word): 636 hits. Examples:

  • type 2: Switzerland is the most likely to join Japan in the knockout rounds, ...
  • type 1: It's one of my favorite tournaments, and it 's the most fun to play.

So far, I've set the search conditions so that best, first, etc are all used as pronouns. That's because finding type 2 examples are much easier when the attributive noun is absent. Actually, in all the above, most of the results are of the second type.

Now let's set out to find type 2 constructions when the attributive noun is present:

"one of the best ... to" (with a gap of up to one word):

  • type 2:
    • The PISA assessment is one of the best assessments to evaluate critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
    • She is one of the best players to ever step on to the tennis court.
  • type 1:
    • Ironically, one of the best places to capture the old feel of the neighborhood opened in 1997, ...
    • ... they have one of the best chances to knock off the regular-season champ on a neutral court.

"[be] the best ... to" (with a gap of up to one word):

  • type 2:
    • In fact, it might just be the best thing to happen to them.
    • ... Fiorina argued that she was the best Republican to go up against the other woman in the contest.
  • type 1:
    • That's the best time to target the planet through a telescope.
    • ... costly insurance may not be the best way to protect yourself.

"[be] the first ... to" (with a gap of up to one word):

  • type 2:
    • If that happens, it would be the first carrier to enter the gulf in 16 years.
    • I'll be the first one to go to the Congress and say we need more money.
  • type 1:
    • Would you say that's the first thing to do, address that credit card debt?
    • But the current crisis is the first opportunity to limit such dangers, ...

"[be] the last ... to" (with a gap of up to one word):

  • type 2:
    • You were the last person to see Terry Anderson as a free man.
    • Scent is the last sense to leave a dying person.
  • type 1:
    • This is the last week to do your end-of-year tax planning.
    • That was the last chance to see that movie.

"[be] the most ... to" (with a gap of up to two words):

  • type 2:
    • Are you saying that Dan Quayle is the most qualified person to be vice president of the United States?
    • Metzenbaum seemed to be the most likely senator to pursue the tip.
  • type 1:
    • Are you telling me that's the most relevant thing to discuss?
    • He's the most interesting person to talk to that I've ever met in politics.

Both type 1 and type 2 can be found after some other constructions that require a to-infinitive. This may seem outside the scope, but I'll include a few such results from COCA too:

  • type 2:
    • That sounds too good to be true.
    • I'm anxious to see this movie.
    • The storm was strong enough to pull the buoys and their anchors ashore, ...
  • type 1:
    • ... the pay was too good to refuse.
    • I'm very anxious for it to be made available.
    • That alone was hard enough to bear.

Actually, there's no need for one of or [be]. They're there in the hope that more irrelevant results are cut out.
If you search for [verb], COCA gives you all the different forms of that verb; e.g., [be] means am or 's or were etc.

-1

Semantically, infinitives are words from verb family meaning "to be/to do" something. They are verbs in their pristine condition. This pure meaning of verb we modify, change or mutate by imposing on it other meanings of time, fact, commands, activity or passivity.

Primarily, infinitives serve the functions of a noun, a verb or, at times, both. Infinitives behave even like an adjective or adverb. * That was a game to watch.(inf.as adj.)

Describing a noun is the work of an adjective. The infinitives in the post descrbe the "best universities" as do adjectives. Adjectives qualify, and the quality is imposed by someone else external to the thing or being attributed. So to speak, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder; she's beautiful (adj) beacuse we think her so. It is this adjectival use of infinitive that imposes the limitation on nouns qualified. The use of infinitive in the example of 'university' is correct, qualifying in the like manner of an adjective. As for myself I would use participle (providing). Infinitives are a bit philosophical.

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