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This question is related, and I think what I'm asking in this question is an attempt to get to the bottom of the grammar of it.

  1. These things[A] are essential to have[B] in a foreign country.
  2. That dress[A] is suitable to wear[B] for the occasion.

In these two sentences noun phrase A is the object of verb B. The adjectives seem to link two parts that are syntactically and semantically connected.

  1. Vitamins[A] are essential to maintain health[B].

Here np A doesn't seem to be either the agent or the patient of verb B. The agent is the generic you or the reader or anybody. "Vitamins are essential (for us) to maintain health". And the same happens with the sentence I quoted in my previous question:

  1. The preposterousness of the situation[A] was simply too strange, too unreal, too funny to stifle[B] the uncontrollable giggles.

A and B are not directly linked syntactically. A neither performs the act of B nor sits on the receiving end upon which the act is performed. The answer to my previous question points to an omitted agent. With this post, the questions I am asking are:

(1) What kind of adjectives allow this? With what adjectives exactly can we say things like that? Not all adjectives work in such a construction, do they?

  1. ?Those things are good to stay healthy.
  2. ?The city is beautiful to be happy.

These lines sound weird, and "good" and "beautiful" don't seem to work as "essential" does. Why is that?

(2) Does the syntactical relationship between NP A and verb B change when we go from 1, 2 to 3, 4? What are the syntactical relationships respectively in 1/2 and 3/4? Especially in 3/4 where the NPs don't seem to be either the agent or patient.

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  • If you have answer, post an answer.
    – tchrist
    Jan 15, 2023 at 20:30

1 Answer 1

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It's a little difficult to figure out what the question is about. But I'll guess it's really about infinitives and not about vitamins, as the title would suggest.

All the numbered example sentences contain infinitive phrases following predicate adjectives, so maybe that's the structure being asked about. Most of these infinitives are Purpose infinitives -- you can add in order in front of the infinitive to without changing meaning. These are all about the intentions behind the actions.

  • essential to have X, suitable to wear Y, essential to maintain Z

(4) I don't really understand, but (5) and (6) are simply choosing the wrong predicates. Happy isn't a predicate that takes a purpose infinitive. Happiness is not something humans are in charge of, unlike wearing clothes. There is no particular term for the set of predicate adjectives that fit into this construction -- there are, after all, thousands of such constructions and they can't all have their own name.

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