"He was out to get me."

'Out' is not a verb, so 'He was out' looks like subject/linking verb/PA, except that quite plainly 'out to get me' carries the full meaning, because 'He was out' on its own means one of several completely different things. How do you analyse a construction (and there are many) where a 'modifier' in fact changes the meaning completely? 'To get me' isn't just adverbial to 'out', it changes the meaning completely. And, yes, a lot of verbs work this way, where their meaning is only clear from their complement. But 'out' is most simply analysed here as a PA. Can an adjective require a complement? Or rather, can a specific meaning of an adjective require a complement? And are there instances where an adjective can only have a particular meaning when used as a PA?


1 Answer 1


He was ready to fight.

She was prepared to listen.

They were eager to learn.

They were out to lunch. [this one is a joke, but it is the structure nonetheless]

We are happy to go.

I am pleased to help. They were out to squeeze us.

The structure here is not a modifier. It is: Subject + adjective + infinitive where the adjective points to a state of mind and the infinitive links the verb with the subject.

  • Three things. First, in 'out to lunch' 'to lunch' is not an infinitive, so it is an entirely different structure. Second, most of those adjectives don't 'need' the infinitive--'He was ready' is fine, 'He was out' is a completely different meaning than 'He was out to get me'. Thirdly…'the infinitive links the verb with the subject'--I don't understand what you mean here.
    – Dunsanist
    Jul 4, 2016 at 14:40
  • Surely the infinitives can be analysed as adverbial to the PA. My issue is not that 'to get' isn't adverbial to 'out', it is that it changes the meaning of 'out' completely--yes, to a state of mind. But surely in 'ready to fight', 'to fight' modifies 'ready', without altering the meaning of 'ready'.
    – Dunsanist
    Jul 4, 2016 at 14:46
  • The out to lunch was a joke: think about it though, to lunch is a verb as well. That said, I see no adverbs here at all. For me the TO is a linking element. It links the state or condition the subject of the clause is in (a state or condition of readiness, happiness, preparedness and even being out, for example) in reference to what comes after the to.
    – Lambie
    Jul 4, 2016 at 15:18
  • 'They were out to lunch him…whoops, I meant lynch.'<<A New Zealander might say this. You see the 'to' in the infinitive as a linking element? Is that a different role than the way an infinitive normally works?
    – Dunsanist
    Jul 4, 2016 at 15:21
  • I don't know. I don't think English linguists use that type of analysis. I got it from a French linguist who studied English called Adamczewski who says it is an "operator" that "links" the first phrase (here a subject and predicate) to what comes after it. Here's the book: books.google.com/books/about/…
    – Lambie
    Jul 4, 2016 at 15:35

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