That lawn will be a bear to maintain.

I am interested in the infinitival clause at the end there and how it relates grammatically to the rest of the sentence. Is is a complement or a modifier? Also how do we mentally reconstruct the clause at the end, which has no subject or object.

Is the sentence above related to the following types of sentence?

  • This sentence is easy to read.
  • It was a tough decision to make.
  • The prospect was too dire to contemplate.
  • The Shard took three years to build.
  • Dangling to infinitive?
    – user140086
    Commented May 25, 2016 at 9:52
  • 1
    Was there a question over what 'wood shingles' are? They are bits of wood used the same way as roof tiles, often made of Cedar.
    – Spagirl
    Commented May 25, 2016 at 9:55
  • See also shakes, in particular, cedar shakes.
    – Drew
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 20:51

3 Answers 3


The lawn will be a bear to maintain.

I see this as an example of a 'hollow' infinitival clause functioning as complement to the NP "a bear". Hollow clauses derive their name from the fact that some non-subject element is missing. In this case, the object of "maintain" is missing and can be represented by gap.

Like most non-finite clauses, the infinitival clause here is subjectless, though it’s understood to be some arbitrary person(s). If we posit a plausible subject, we get:

That lawn will be a [bear (for us) to maintain __], where gap is understood as object of "maintain" and is anaphoric to "that lawn", and the square brackets enclose the NP that contains the infinitival clause.

The same principle applies to your other examples. The slightly odd one out is The prospect was too dire to contemplate, where the infinitival is licensed by "too" and hence is an 'indirect complement'. In all the other examples, the infinitival is licensed by the head of the phrase that contains it.

Note: the not very transparent term 'hollow clause' was invented by H&P in the absence of a traditional term.


It seems like a nominative, probably the subject.

To maintain that lawn (subject clause) will be (verb) a bear (predicate nominative).

The order seems to be an idiomatic sequence rather than a grammatical restructuring.

  • 2
    It seems to me like it's a "bear infinitive".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 22:02

The sentence

[1a] That lawn will be a bear to maintain.

meets every requirement for a tough construction except that the adjective is replaced by a noun phrase, in this case a bear. Since this is clearly a figurative replacement for an adjective like difficult, let's see if we can classify the sentence as easytough or prettytough.

Can we transpose to a dummy subject? Yup --

[1b] It will be a bear to maintain that lawn.

Can we drop the infinitive? This is a borderline no --

?*[1c] That lawn will be a bear.

If we decide no, then this is an analog to an easytough construction, making the infinitive a complement.

But I say borderline, because the determination might arise from the semantic consideration of mixing the ursine into lawn care. Take the sentence

[2a] The wedding will be a nightmare to attend.

We can still transpose to a dummy subject:

[2b] It will be a nightmare to attend the wedding.

but we can also drop the infinitive:

[2c] The wedding will be a nightmare.

We have a more general statement -- the wedding could be a nightmare to attend or to plan or to pay for -- but it's still grammatical with the same general meaning.

But this problems doesn't arise from a nightmare (or more accurately, a noun like nightmare). Substitute the adjective nightmarish, which sounds more descriptive than evaluative to me. (Although that may be because I have one particular wedding in mind.)

The missing subject is no problem for a tough construction any more than it is for a passive voice construction:

That lawn is maintained with difficulty.

The missing object is a co-referent to the subject, i.e., the lawn, and generative grammarians may pick whatever mechanism allows them to parse the sentence and still sleep at night. The reference to a bear is evaluative, so Boutalt's approach will work for the lawn, unless, of course, we're talking about some strange, two-dimensional topiary. The wedding case may be more of a nightmare.

  • I understood your answer, but it was pretty tough. +1 Commented May 25, 2016 at 19:15
  • 1
    The wikipedia article tough movement mentions that some noun phrases also behave this way.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 23:42
  • Another driveby downvoter, a scourge upon this site.
    – deadrat
    Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 23:39

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