Is there a rule for this I can learn? We read a text yesterday, and the sentence contained the phrase "the biggest disaster to ever happen". The full sentence was:

"The sinking of the Titanic was one of the biggest maritime disasters to ever happen.."

Why do we not say "The biggest disaster that ever happened" if it was in the past? Is there a difference between the two?

Thank you.

  • 1
    Was "the biggest disaster to ever happen" the full sentence? It sounds like there should be a context/qualifier i.e. "the biggest disaster to ever happen in the age of steam" or "the biggest disaster to ever happen in a generation". – Pam Mar 21 '18 at 10:04
  • I'm sure there's a previous thread comparing/contrasting the choice between to-infinitival and that-clause as used here. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 21 '18 at 10:47
  • 1
    is this the historical present tense? – WendyG Mar 21 '18 at 12:45
  • 1
    Sorry for not being totally clear. The complete sentence was "The sinking of the Titanic was one of the biggest maritime disasters to ever happen.." – Tan Mar 21 '18 at 13:43
  • 1
    In that case the favourite would prolly be "ever to happen" but it's a style choice. There's no clear rule but did you notice, almost no-one ever used "biggest" there? Can you find a case where anyone chose "biggest" and not, for instance, "greatest"? Anyway, since you are talking about one of the greatest disasters ever, what did you hope to compare to it? Don’t you think any kind of “biggest” must by definition be the exception that proves whatever rule? Isn’t that part of what “biggest” means? I'd prefer "greatest" and so what? – Robbie Goodwin Apr 4 '18 at 22:00

Both versions seem alright to me. In the English Corpus (many English books over the years) the phrase that ever happened seems to be used much more than to ever happen.

Consider this ngram comparing the two.

This ngram considers "(*) that ever happened" in which (*) is replaced by other words (the ones which occur the most). It shows thing that ever happened and things that ever happened are more common than to ever happen.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.