4

"There are infinite ways to..."
"There are an infinite number of ways to..."

One of my colleagues wrote the first sentence, but it didn't sound quite right to me. The second version seems more grammatical to me. Are both of these grammatically correct or is one version preferable to the other?

  • Or also "an infinity of ways". – Peter Shor Feb 8 '12 at 2:59
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The OED’s second definition of infinite is, when it is used with a plural noun:

unlimited or indefinitely great in number; innumerable, very many, “no end of”

There this supporting citation with ways from 1775:

Thus there are . . . infinite ways of being vicious, though but one of being virtuous.

However, the entry describes this use as being now archaic or rare. It is probably best avoided for that reason and because, as the other answers show, its use is controversial.

In the example, an infinite number of ways is preceded by There are rather than There is because an infinite number of premodifies the plural ways. This contrasts with the infinite number of ways, where singular number is the head of the noun phrase and so would require singular agreement.

  • +1 for the well-documented answer. It surprises me that this use of infinite is described as archaic, I'm sure I've heard the expression "infinite possibilities" more than once from British speakers (and I remember it because I like it myself). – Irene Feb 8 '12 at 10:33
  • @Irene‘Archaic or rare’ but, yes, me too. The sense in which you have heard it may possibly that given in definition 1b: ‘in loose or hyperbolical sense: Indefinitely or exceedingly great; exceeding measurement or calculation; immense, vast.’ But the supporting citations show it used chiefly with a singular noun, typically ‘importance’. – Barrie England Feb 8 '12 at 13:45
  • @Irene 'Infinite possibilities' is certainly far from archaic. A complication is that the phrase may have developed from the usual sense of 'infinite' after the OED's second definition dropped out of common use, and may be an example of hyperbole; dictionaries don't always pick up on these usages. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 14 '17 at 13:27
  • I'd say that another way to avoid it is that "infinite" is already understood to mean "indefinitely or exceedingly great", as @BarrieEngland pointed out, so to use it to mean "innumerable" misleads readers (or leaves them unsure which sense is meant, if they know the problem). To have innumerable options is one thing; to be faced with a seemingly endless task is quite another. – Rosie F Sep 21 at 15:05
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I agree with you, but your colleague is not alone: many people do use "infinite" to mean "infinitely many". For example, "infinite ways" occurs in thousands of books (according to Google Book Search), "infinite possibilities" in tens of thousands, "infinite reasons" in hundreds, and so on.

0

I understand the first to mean that there are ways that are infinite, not that there are infinitely many ways. Just like I would understand "There are good ways to ..." to mean that there exist ways that are good. Whether it's "correct" or not though is not easy to answer as there aren't precise rules you can follow to tell. Grammar's not like math.

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I think the first one seems problematic a bit. Infinite has a sense of "very great in amount or degree" and in this sense, it is possible to say "infinite patience", "infinite variety", "infinite capacity", "infinite care" e.t.c. But, since infinite may not collocate with ways e.g "infinite ways", it sounds awkward or strange.

The second example should be "There is an infinite number of ways to..."

protected by tchrist Jul 14 '17 at 20:16

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