0

I know that after ordinal numbers (the first, the second etc.) we can use to-infinitive clause. E.g:

Ethan was the last person to understand the joke.

My questions is when the above construction acts as the subject of a sentence. Consider this:

Plant scientists have been trying for years to genetically modify flowers for aesthetic purposes. The first to go on sale were blue carnations produced by Florigene of Melbourne, Australia, in 1996.

What is the criterion for choosing were after the infinitive? (is it in agreement with the first or the first [flowers])

The sentence is taken from: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126952-000-valentines-day-special-say-it-with-flowers/#ixzz726Lu0bW6

0
0

This is what is known as synesis, or notional agreement.

It’s “sense over syntax”; the meaning rules the subject-verb agreement.

Compare:

Plant scientists have been trying for years to genetically modify flowers for aesthetic purposes. The first [modified flowers] to go on sale were blue carnations produced by Florigene of Melbourne, Australia, in 1996.

and:

Plant scientists have been trying for years to genetically modify the carnation for aesthetic purposes. The first [modified carnation] to go on sale was the blue carnation produced by Florigene of Melbourne, Australia, in 1996.

2
  • What part of speech is 'first' here? Does a further deletion (of the to-infinitival clause: 'The first was/were ...') make a significant difference to agreement? Jul 30 at 19:06
  • @EdwinAshworth: The deletion of the to-infinitive clause would not make a difference in agreement, at least in this case. For “part of speech,” check in with your preferred source. An ordinal adjective? A pronoun? For the “part of the sentence,” the subject functions “like a noun.” Sorry for all the quote marks, but the labels themselves are ... “subjective.” Jul 31 at 1:16

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.