The first two sentences mean the same thing, and so do the last two.

(1) She's obviously the person to finish the job.

(1') She's obviously the person who should finish the job.

(2) She was the first person to finish the job.

(2') She was the first person who finished the job.

The emboldened clauses are all relative clauses, and those in (1) and (2) are infinitival relative clauses.

In general, the relative clause is not a complement but an adjunct/modifier of the antecedent. In (1) and (1'), for example, both the relative clauses are adjuncts/modifiers of the antecedent person. Clearly, they are not complements of person.

In (2), however, it seems that first licenses to finish the job. If so, is the infinitival relative clause complement of the antecedent first person? Or is it still adjunct/modifier of the antecedent just as it is in (1).

How about (2')? Does first licenses who finished the job? Is the infinitival relative clause complement or adjunct/modifier?

In short, is the relative clause always an adjunct/modifier of the antecedent? Or is it sometimes a complement of the antecedent?

  • The first thing that comes to my mind is that there's already plenty of mystery about the should with relative infinitives. The second thing is that you didn't mention object relatives, which are more common than subject ones; She's the first person one should talk to/the first person to talk to about that. The facts seem the same, though. I wouldn't worry about licensing; that's not really syntactic conditioning. Apr 6, 2020 at 18:14
  • @JohnLawler What do you mean you wouldn't worry about licensing? Do you mean the infinitival relative clause in (2) is still an adjunct regardless of it being licensed by first?
    – JK2
    Apr 7, 2020 at 0:41
  • I don't understand infinitival relative clauses; but to the extent they represent tensed relative clauses (modal or no), I should think that whatever category label you want to apply to one, you should apply to the other. As to first: (a) it's a superlative and has very specific scope; (b) I would say that first modified the N' person who finished the job, not either the noun or the clause. Apr 7, 2020 at 1:51
  • @JohnLawler (a) Since when have ordinal numbers become superlatives? (b) Since first follows the (determiner), it's not a determiner but simply a modifier. So first person who finished the job is clearly N'. Now, in this N', what's the antecedent of the relative clause? Is it first person or person? You seem to be saying that it's the latter, but I'm not sure why the former cannot be the antecedent.
    – JK2
    Apr 7, 2020 at 1:58


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