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Tech shares wobble to start the year FXS

What is the function of "to-infinitive" here?

I would like to know the grammar. I don't think the to-infinitive means the purpose since we wouldn’t make the tech shares wobble in order to start the new year.

I also can’t understand how “to start the year” can mean “at the start of the year”.

Should I consider this usage of to-infinitive as a purpose? If so, please let me know why.

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    Probably best analysed as a temporal adjunct.
    – BillJ
    Jan 3 at 8:36
  • I think it's colorful journalese, but I'll see if I can find other examples (might not be easy though). I wouldn't expect to see this much outside journalism.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 3 at 10:17
  • In that news headline it's not the result of the wobbling but the temporal context of the wobbling; paraphrase: as the year begins. But in other contexts a similar phrase could express intention or purpose in addition to having a temporal role: "We have a big breakfast to start the day." Or even a photo caption in the Boy Scouts Daily Trumpet: "Scouts have a big breakfast to start the day."
    – TimR
    Jan 3 at 13:03
  • @EdwinAshworth Is this usage common or only used in journalism? It’s my first time to hear about the function of to-infinitive to mean a temporal qualification. I also can’t understand how “to start the year” can mean “at the start of the year”. Should I consider this usage of to-infinitive as a purpose? Jan 3 at 13:14
  • @TimR Can I use to-infinitives to mean the temporal context such as “as the year begins”? I thought when we use to-infinitives as adverbs the meaning is the purpose, intention, or the result. Is there any other function of to-infinitives as adverbs? Jan 3 at 13:24

2 Answers 2

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Tech shares wobble to start the year

This is a headline. Headlines need not, and often do not, follow standard grammatical conventions. The purpose of headlines is to grab the reader's attention.

Headlines concentrate on emotive words and phrases and often, for impact and because of shortage of space, have omissions.

To start the year appears to be a free modifier - a sentence adverb. It modifies the main clause "Tech shares wobble."

As a free modifier, it can front the sentence: "To start the year, tech shares become unstable."

"To start the game, I will blow my whistle".

In this, it is clear that the purpose of blowing the whistle is "to start the game.

It does not matter if you do not see "to start the year" as a adverbial phrase of purpose: nevertheless it is - but with omissions that the native speaking reader will understand.

The native readers use their intelligence to work out that the sentence literal meaning is:

"In order to start the new year, tech shares wobbled."

The native readers realise that the year would have started regardless of what tech shares did, and they realise that the reporter is obsessed with shares/tech and therefore the author has tenuously related the new year to shares/tech.

And they further realise that this is simply a dramatic way of saying "Tech shares wobbled at the start of the new year."

And they realise that this headline is simply a way of attracting attention to the article.

EDIT 20240108

The phrase "to start the year" can be understood as "to mark/acknowledge the start of the year".

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    Just a temporal adjunct.
    – BillJ
    Jan 5 at 15:26
  • Greybeard has a point. It's way of turning a simple temporal adjunct into a headline that native speakers have become inured to. And so many would comment that it's just a temporal adjunct. Jan 5 at 20:18
  • 1
    The literal meaning of Tech stocks wobbled to start the year quite certainly does not literally mean In order to start the new year, tech shares wobbled. That would be ludicrous. Like without wobbling tech stocks we'd've had no new year? This wobbling was not the instrument by which the new year was brought into existence. And that it's a headline does not matter in this instance.
    – tchrist
    Jan 6 at 2:31
  • @tchrist That would be ludicrous. I rather hoped I had conveyed that idea with The native readers realise that the year would have started regardless of what tech shares did, and they realise that the reporter is obsessed with shares/tech and therefore the author has tenuously related the new year to shares/tech.
    – Greybeard
    Jan 6 at 20:20
  • Try it with the other common nonfinite clause type: Starting the year tech stock wobble, but then moving through the year tech stocks become boring as they stabilize, until ending the year tech stocks go wildly chaotic. The meaning is the same as with the questioned infinite clause. We use temporal adjuncts such as these every day in ways undreamt of by simplistic little categorization flashcards used to teach EFL students the rudiments of English prepping for their exams, whether these are NPs, PPs, AdvPs, or nonfinite clauses of either common sort.
    – tchrist
    Jan 6 at 21:25
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Transition, not Purpose

Should I consider this usage of to-infinitive as a purpose? If so, please let me know why.

No, you should not. It cannot be changed to in order to or so as to without changing the meaning. This is probably an instance of using the to-infinitive as a transition in a discussion and applying to the entire sentence. See below for

express a transition in the development of a narration or discussion

I checked several grammar books but as far as I know most to-infinitives as adverbs means a purpose, an intention, or a result except for enough to, the reason for the action, and etc. I can’t find the correct function that suit this case.

BillJ mentioned that this to-infinitive is probably best looked at as a temporal adjunct.

To-infinitives can do a lot of different things in English; even when we restrict those uses to adverbial modifiers, there are more possible types of use than are normally detailed in any but the most detailed professional treatments of English grammar.

Materials for English language learners usually only mention a couple of the most common sorts of these, namely the ones that acts as purpose adverbials and result adverbials, both usually modifying the verb alone instead of some other constituent like the entire sentence.

Materials that do detail other "types" will use their own classification systems with their own names for the "types". It's not a policed namespaced. So you get talk about to-infinitives types like "condition" or "consequence" or "sequence" or "intent" or "means", besides ones like "purpose" or "result".

For example, from Subordination and the English Infinitive in Études anglaises 2008/4 (Vol. 61) pp 455–468 we find:

Circumstantial uses of to infinitive clauses also occur. The following are examples:

  • a. He sent over to find out why he had not seen me at the meeting. (purpose)
  • b. He rose to be head of a college. (result)
  • c. Quarrels in the past have been patched up between them only to break out again. (sequence)
  • d. Who are we to measure another man’s courage? (consequence)
  • e. They must be crazy to go on. (consequence)
  • f. To hear him, you’d think he was drunk. (condition)

These "condition" types are also addressed in The Use of the Infinitive by Wenyuan Gu in 2019. Five types are listed: A:Purpose, B:Result, C:Reason/cause, D:(certain conjunctive uses: as if, as though), and F:Condition.

F Condition

Sometimes the infinitive can be used to express condition. In such a case, the infinitive is placed before the main clause, as in

  • To hear him speak, you would think he owned the whole world.
    (= If you should hear him speak, you would think he owned the whole world.)

The most detailed readily available reference on all this, including referenced to earlier work by linguists like Quirk, can be found in A syntactic analysis of the functions of to-infinitive phrases in The Jakarta Post by Nadia Aprilia Listyantari. Here's just a tiny portion of all that, parts that are relevant to your question:

Egan (2008) explains to-infinitive phrases as adverbials mostly appear as purpose or result adverbials (p. 102). Biber (1999, p. 828) states: “to-infinitives are almost always used to convey purpose and the other notable use of to-infinitive is to show result” (as cited in Egan, 2008, p. 102). According to Egan (2008), to-infinitive phrase which function as adverbial may describe a situation, viewed as a whole, is profiled as the most desired, by the main verb subject (p. 103). Slightly the same, Frank (1972) describes to-infinitives as adverbial may modify the entire sentence, the verb, the adjective, or the adverb (pp. 342 – 345). It is described as follow[s]:

a) Modifying the entire sentence.

A speaker may give comments on the subject under discussion: to tell the truth, to speak strictly, strange to say, to be honest.

  • (48) To tell the truth (truthfully), I don't agree with your decision.
  • (49) Strange to say (strangely), he can get a job easily.

A speaker may also express a transition in the development of a narration or discussion, which are: to change the subject, to return to our subject, to begin with, to conclude, to take a simple example, to mention a few examples (Frank, 1972, p. 342).

  • (50) To begin with, we are going to discuss this situation together.
  • (51) To take a simple example, I am going to use a picture.

b) Modifying the Verb

An adverbial in a to-infinitive phrase that occurs in final position is usually connected with the main verb. There are two types of to-infinitive that modify the verb, which [are] restrictive and non-restrictive. The restrictive modifier is usually not separated by [a] comma or can be moved to other adverbial position[s]. The non-restrictive modifier requires commas. There are four types of adverbial to-infinitive phrases, names phrase of purpose, condition, result, and cause. Adverbial to-infinitive phrases as phrase of purpose can be expressed by using so as to or in order to.

  • (52) I have to come to apologize.
    (I have come in order to apologize)
    (I have come so as to apologize)

  • (53) She came to Jakarta, (in order) to find her father.

As a phrase of condition, the to-infinitive phrase may also show condition, such as in:

  • (54) He will do anything ( to have / if he may have ) the opportunity to get the job.
  • (55) One would support ( to look at him / if one [were to] look at him, ) to take care of his life.

The next two type[s] of adverbial to-infinitive phrase may appear only in the final position. It can be written with or without commas, depending on whether a pause comes before them in speech (Frank, 1972, p. 344).

According to Close (1977), adverbial to-infinitive phrase as a phrase of result may cause confusion with phrases of purpose (p. 74). According to Quick et al. (1972), the main difference is that result phrase is factual rather than putative (p. 754). In other words, in phrases of purpose, the action might be unfulfilled, but in phrase of result refers to the fact.

  • (56) He comes to the party to find his girlfriend cheating on him.

In adverbial to-infinite phase as phrase of cause, the to-infinitive phrase can be seen that this kind of phrase can be replaced by because to indicate a cause.

  • (57) He rejoiced ( to meet / because he met ) his old friend.

As you've just read above, some of the less common types can have restrictions on their placement, like only at the beginning or only at the end, and some typically have commas included in certain positions. Ordering restrictions as well as customary punctuation may be relaxed in newspaper headlines, albeit at the writer’s peril lest hilarious “crashblossoms” ensue.

I think that in your case, the to-infinitive of this type that normally comes at the beginning has been placed at the end.

  • Tech shares wobble to start the year.
  • To start the year, tech shares wobble.

You can look at this as a to-infinitive of condition, and probably a sentence adverbial as well. Keep in mind that it's actually the year that's doing the starting; the stocks are not starting the year. So it's like the year is starting out.

  • Starting out the year, tech shares wobble.
  • As the year starts out, tech shares wobble.

Summary

As I said at the beginning, there are many more possible uses of to-infinitives than you'll discover in quick summaries. That's because the "rules" you are given are derived after the fact from observation of actual language. There will always be less common cases that don't get described in basic materials but which are completely grammatical to native speakers.

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  • If it is used as to-infinitive of condition, why doesn’t it mean “if”? Jan 8 at 0:11
  • @MangoGummy Oh you're right; I misread "condition" as something slightly different. I don't know what "to-infinitive of XXX" to call this case. I know it's normal in English, and I strongly believe it falls under what's mentioned in "a) Modifying the entire sentence" because that one comes very close to explicitly mentioning this case: "A speaker may also express a transition in the development of a narration or discussion, which are: to change the subject, to return to our subject, to begin with, to conclude, to take a simple example, to mention a few examples (Frank, 1972, p. 342)."
    – tchrist
    Jan 8 at 0:21
  • For me all the examples such as to begin with could be interpreted as to-infinitives as the purpose or the intention. Jan 8 at 5:41
  • @MangoGummy It's not an "in order to" or "so as to" thing.
    – tchrist
    Jan 9 at 0:09
  • As BillJ succinctly puts it, 'merely a temporal adjunct' (= 'at the start of the year'). Feb 7 at 12:36

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