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Through English grammar books, I understand that a proper preposition is always necessary when the verb in a to-infinitive before a noun is an intransitive verb, such as:

There is no place to play in.

But what about these forms?

A church is not a suitable place to play pop music in.
A church is not a suitable place for playing pop music in.
A church is not a suitable place for playing pop music.

The first and the last form look more natural to me, but I couldn’t find any clues about the differences between the second and the last form in English grammar books or dictionaries. I slightly remember that a Howard Sargeant's book about English preposition contains this content.

Which is grammatically correct between the second and the last form? What are the differences if both are available?

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  • I think you will find a difference here for written and spoken English.
    – Lambie
    Jan 24 at 17:04
  • The second form seems wrong to me. It often occurs in spoken English because speakers can easily lose track of the earlier grammar of the sentence, so they add redundant words.
    – Barmar
    Jan 24 at 21:00

1 Answer 1

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A) A church is not a suitable place to play pop music in (it).
B) A church is not a suitable place for playing pop music in (it).
C) A church is not a suitable place for playing pop music.

Which is grammatically correct between the second and last form? What are the differences if both are available?

Added the elided (it) above as a pronoun used to substite for the noun (church as place) being described .

One way to rephrase a such sentences is:

  • A church is not a suitable place in which to play pop music.

Examples A and B employ the use of a preposition of place (as described on EnglishCLUB) that modifies the subject as it exists as an enclosed space. Without a preposition of place (as in example C), the aspect of the subject (church as place) as a point (physical location or conceptual construct of such) is what is being described.

Although it is not standard, a similar rephrasing as above could be:

  • A church is not a suitable place at which to play pop music.

Less awkward, perhaps:

  • A church is not a place where it is suitable to play pop music.
  • A church is not (such) a place where it is suitable to play pop music in (it).
  • A church is not a place that is suitable for playing pop music /(in it).

Contrasting B & C in the original question: Example B (also A) describes the concept of playing in an enclosed space, whereas example C describes the concept of playing at a location. It reflects the difference between:

  • I’m playing music at the church tomorrow. (broad)
  • I’m playing music in the church on Sunday. (specific)

The use of in in examples A and B shifts the focus to describe the practical action of playing in a church. Of the two, example A may be preferred as the more concise. Example C might be preferred over both, in this case, because the point of the sentence reads more about the philosophical concept of playing pop music in a church, rather than it does about engaging in the physical act of playing pop music in a church. Naturally, this can change in a different context, for contextual reasons, not grammatical (except to the extent that the different context requires it).

Difference between noun+to do+preposition VS noun+for doing (+preposition)

The title question is slightly, but not insignificantly, different from the question in body. The most appreciable difference is that to do is an expression of a verb in its infinitive form which can be used as a noun, adjective, or adverb. This special form can be useful when discussing actions without actually doing the action, as in the original example: to play pop music.

While, for doing is a prepositional phrase which is: a group of words consisting of a preposition, its object, and any words that modify the object. Most of the time, a prepositional phrase modifies a verb or a noun (adverbial phrases and adjectival phrases, respectively). In the original example: for playing pop music is adjectival phrase that modifies place.

  • Use this computer to work on homework, not to play games.
  • Use this computer for working on homework, not for playing games.

Certainly, there are other permutations outside the scope of this question, but the best choice will likely come naturally when composing a thought for actual communication rather than for a hypothetical example. Likewise, the choice to use a [verb phrase] + [prepositional phrase], will also arise organically from need.

  • This computer is optimized for playing games (on it).
    Writers may choose to use a form of the prepositional phrase (on it) if there is a chance that someone could think, from context, that the physical object could be optimized for use as a prop in party games, for example. Or, omit it because that's what they actually mean to say.

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