I came across this question today.

Q: the correct expression for blank.

The documents ____ immediate attention are on top.

1. Requiring 2. To require

I know the answer is 1. Requiring, however I don't know why number 2 can't be an answer.

As far as I know, a to-infinitive can define a noun, like "books to read," so to me, number 2 can be an answer. But at the same time, I know "documents to require" looks very awkward. I just don't know why. Could you help me?

2 Answers 2


You are right, in some cases you can use to+infinitive to describe a noun:

I have books to read, work to do, people to call.

However, this only works with verbs that imply the action would be performed with the references nouns being the object of the action. That means that if I describe the actions from my earlier example being executed:

I read books.
I do work.
I call people.

If the noun that you describe would be the subject of the action, this doesn't work:

Documents require attention.
People read books.

In these cases you cannot describe documents or people using to+infinitive:

*Documents to require attention
*People to read books

Instead, we use the active or present participle to describe them:

Documents requiring attention
People reading books

  • Doesn't work. Some people read books. They're readers. Some people do books. They're accountants. The people to do books are accountants
    – deadrat
    Mar 2, 2017 at 19:05

First of all (fussy point), I think you wrote 'documents' in its the singular form when it should in fact be plural (the 3rd-person plural verb 'are' refers to it later in the sentence).

You should try to accustom yourself to the term 'documents requiring' so that you are more comfortable with that aspect of grammar. In general, try to read up on when it is appropriate to use present participles like requiring, and when you should use the infinitive, as into require.

  • "Just learn it" hardly explains why "I have books to read" is correct while "I have documents to require attention" is not. And the question was not whether document to reuqire is correct, but why it is incorrect.
    – oerkelens
    Mar 2, 2017 at 15:48
  • You're never going to find an answer for that. Even if you do, it will be complex and grammatical and unsatisfying even if you can follow it. I agree I haven't given you a proper answer, but I don't think there is a proper answer. Mar 2, 2017 at 15:53
  • 1
    Have you read my answer? Is it incorrect, complex or unsatisfying? I agree it is grammatical - but that is kind of the whole point of this website. We like grammar here at ELU :)
    – oerkelens
    Mar 2, 2017 at 15:56
  • Sorry @orkelens, I didn't bother scrolling up so I assumed that you were the person who had asked the question . It's only that the person asking the question seemed not to feel that the infinitive sounded wrong, so I was telling him to research it and make it sound right. That's mainly because I didn't have a proper answer myself and I did not believe that I could find one with any amount of research.Your answer proved me wrong, so +1. Also, I was using 'grammatical' as a synonym for 'needlessly convoluted', but it was the wrong word in context now you mention it. Mar 2, 2017 at 16:08

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