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Wikipedia lists one use of to-infinitive verb forms as being a 'modifier of certain nouns and adjectives':

  • the reason to laugh
  • the effort to expand
  • anxious to get a ticket

Some other examples:

  • Don't you have work to do?
  • Everybody needs somebody to love.
  • Do you have anything to drink?

What verbs can't be used in this way?

For instance, this pair of sentences is similar (but not identical) in meaning and both are grammatical:

  • ✔ Do you want anything else to eat?
  • ✔ Do you want to eat anything else?

but the infinitive-final sentence here is not:

  • ⨉ Do you want anything else to get?
  • ✔ Do you want to get anything else?
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    Do you have anything to drink? and Do you have to drink anything? are grammatical but very different in meaning and (deep) structure (one uses the 'have to' semi-modal). Aug 29, 2023 at 13:27
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    And in fact 'want to eat' and 'want to get' don't show noun complementation (modification is not the term usually used here) but catenation with a to-infinitive. // 'Is there still something else to get?' shows that [to] get is not barred on grammatical grounds, but that the slots are not totally free, because of semantic constraints. 'To get' involves a sense of requirement (and might be borderline acceptable in "Have you brought all the books in? Do you want something else to get/fetch?). Aug 29, 2023 at 13:46
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    What makes you think any verbs can't be used in this way? The implication of Wikipedia's modifier of certain (some) nouns and adjectives is that there are some other nouns and adjectives that can't be used in this way, but that says nothing about restrictions on which verbs can be used. Aug 29, 2023 at 13:47
  • Thank you, these points are well taken. I was struggling to think of examples with 'to get', which seems silly on reflection.
    – Quppa
    Aug 29, 2023 at 14:09
  • Modifier infinitivals are a special case of relative clauses. For example, in "Don't you have work [to do]?", the infinitival "to do" is an infinitival relative clause modifying "work". But infinitivals don't modify adjectives (like your "anxious" example) but they do function as complements, where they have to be licensed by the head adjective. A great many (but not all) adjectives license infinitival complements. "Anxious" is one of those that does.
    – BillJ
    Aug 29, 2023 at 16:50

3 Answers 3

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Infinitival clauses can modify nouns, but they don't modify adjectives, though they do complement them.

Modifier infinitivals are a special case of relative clauses. For example, in "Don't you have work [to do]?", "to do" is an infinitival relative clause modifying "work", where the meaning is modal, as in "Don't you have work that you can/should do".

But infinitivals don't modify adjectives (like your "anxious" example) but they do function as complements to adjectives, where they have to be licensed by the head adjective. A great many (but not all) adjectives license infinitival complements. "Anxious" is one of those that does.

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    Why is "to get" not modifying "anxious"? It seems to me that "I am anxious to get up" is a modification of "I am anxious" in exactly the same way that "I make an effort to expand" is modifying "I make an effort". Aug 29, 2023 at 20:07
  • @DJClayworth The same reason that in "I ate a sandwich" the NP a sandwich isn't modifying the verb ate. It's the complement of the verb, not its modifier. Aug 29, 2023 at 20:18
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    In I am happy to help — what do you call to help in your grammar? Aug 30, 2023 at 0:59
  • @TinfoilHat It's called a 'complement'. Aug 30, 2023 at 7:49
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To address your main question, this sentence is, in fact, grammatically correct:

  1. Do you want anything else to get?

To see why, compare it to the obviously correct sentence you mention:

  1. Do you want anything else to eat?

Sentence (2) is correct; it means "Do you want anything else that you could eat?" Sentence (1) is also correct; it means "Do you want anything else that you could get?"

The problem is that sentence (1), though grammatically correct, doesn't make semantic sense in most contexts. After all, if I'm offering something to you, it doesn't make sense for me to imply that you'll need to get it.

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    Why does Do you have anything else to get? work where want does not? Also, where are you getting a modal sense of could? If you answer the question, it would be I want pie [to eat] — not I could want pie [to eat]. Aug 30, 2023 at 1:05
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    @TinfoilHat There's a general rule that infinitival relative clauses about present or future time can be paraphrased as finite ones with a modal, usually can/could/should (see Huddleston & Pullum (2002)).
    – alphabet
    Aug 30, 2023 at 1:08
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    I took a look at CGEL... Take it out question format to understand: I want something else [for me] to eat is not modal. On the other hand, There is something else to eat could be modal — in two different ways: 1) there is something else you can eat [instead of peas] or 2) there is something else you need to eat [you have peas left to eat before dessert]. Aug 30, 2023 at 1:49
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    @TinfoilHat The meaning of "I want something else to eat" is equivalent to that of the modal "I want something else that I can/should eat". Get it now?
    – BillJ
    Aug 31, 2023 at 11:04
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There are no verbs that are excluded from this. The definition says that the infinitive can be a 'modifier of certain nouns and adjectives', but doesn't say it applies to only certain verbs.

Not all verb+noun combinations are going to be valid, but there is going to be some noun that works for all verbs. For example, Wikipedia gives an example of using "to get" (the verb you indicated could not be used in one of your examples).

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  • Modifier infinitivals are a special case of relative clauses. For example, in the OP's Don't you have work [to do]?, the infinitival "to do" is an infinitival relative clause modifying "work". But infinitivals don't modify adjectives, but they do function as complements, where they have to be licensed by the head adjective. A great many (but not all) adjectives license infinitival complements
    – BillJ
    Aug 29, 2023 at 16:19
  • How about modal verbs, or the verb beware, or the verb used, or the verb rumour? There very clearly are verbs excluded from this. Aug 29, 2023 at 20:23

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