...close to finding the killer

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htrix

New Member
English- Wales, Welsh
Hello,

I have a question regarding the following sentence:

"Police believe they are close to finding the killer"

My student wants an explanation as to why we are using the -ing form in "finding" after "close to". He's picking up on the "to" and confusing it with an infinitive.

Here's what I've arrived at so far:

  • The tense is present progressive, containing BE + -ING (and if our meaning is present progressive, we have to use be + -ing)
  • "close" and "to" are working together to create a complex preposition.
  • "finding the killer" are working together to create a noun phrase- we could replace it with a single noun such as "love" and the sentence would still make sense.
  • The "to" is functioning as a preposition, not a particle- therefore, it can't be a to-infinitive.

Does this explanation make sense? More to the point, is it correct?!

Thank you in advance!
 
  • wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    "finding the killer" are working together to create a noun phrase
    'Finding' here is a gerund, that is, a verbal noun.
    It combines the two functions: that of a noun (governed here by the preposition 'to') and that of a verb (with its own object 'the killer').
     
    Last edited:

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Welcome to the English forum, htrix! :)

    There is no present progressive tense in your sentence. An -ing form of the verb is tenseless.

    Otherwise what you say makes sense, although I prefer -ing clause to noun phrase. I would also not talk about particles, which are often prepositions.

    The standard example of a preposition + non-finite verb is I look forward to seeing her.
     

    htrix

    New Member
    English- Wales, Welsh
    Thank you for the welcome!

    So, in explaining this to him, would you recommend the following? -

    • (Make no mention of the tense, because I got it wrong anyway!)
    • "close" and "to" are working together to make the complex preposition "close to";
    • "finding the killer" is an -ing clause, and we always use VERB-ing after a preposition.
    • (Make no mention of particles either!)
    Would you recommend using a to-infinitive sentence to illustrate the difference in meaning? e.g. contrasting "Police believe they are to succeed" with "...close to finding the killer"? Or would that only confuse matters?

    I've just finished my first week of teaching an advanced class, so your advice is very much appreciated!
     

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    I agree with your changes.

    It can be difficult to know when something is a preposition or part of the infinitive.
    An example of this is in a previous post (close to being/be).
    Here the -ing clause is given an alternative name (gerund-participial clause). But then a new sentence is introduced (Will we be close enough to see anything?), where to is part of the infinitive. If you contrast this with your sentence, confusion is likely to follow.

    This problem only seems to arise with to (e.g. I'm interested in reading science fiction compared with She would interested to hear your views).

    So if you want to contrast the -ing form with the infinitive, I would use a different preposition.
    For example: She is afraid of dying and She is afraid to die.
    But I would avoid using The police believe they are to succeed, which is a special form of the verb to be.

    The preposition in your sentence is to rather than close to. The latter can be regarded as a compound preposition, but close is really an adjective (e.g. The police are very close).

    Good luck anyway in finding a satisfactory solution to this problem, if only by trial and error. :)
     
    Last edited:

    htrix

    New Member
    English- Wales, Welsh
    Wonderful- thank you again!

    Between all the lesson planning that I have to do and finding a satisfactory explanation for this question I wasn't sure I'd have much of a weekend left! Much appreciated- I can now relax.

    Thank you again!
     
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