Infinitive phrase as a Subject Complement

hothead2692

Member
British England
"They are to protect the leader at all cost"

I already know the infinitive act as a subject complement but what I really want to know is its function to the subject. Does the infinitive act as a noun, adverbial, or adjective?
 
  • Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I'm afraid I don't understand your question, hothead. I have the feeling you've parsed the sentence wrongly: "are to" here has a meaning similar to "must".
     

    hothead2692

    Member
    British England
    I'm afraid I don't understand your question, hothead. I have the feeling you've parsed the sentence wrongly: "are to" here has a meaning similar to "must".
    I'm confuse about the sentence too because it came from a novel. The context is when a captain is ordering his team to protect the leader.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Hello Hothead,

    You mustn't confuse the subject complement construction - my aim was to protect my leader at all costs - with the use of the phrasal verb to be to + bare infinitive which expresses obligation - you are to go there means you must go there. The second is a form used by people giving instructions - you are to complete your reading of the first chapter by Wednesday's lesson.

    In your example you are faced with the second construction. This sounds like an officer issuing orders to his troops.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    This is an old thread, but I'd like to ask if there's any merit to distinguishing the "subject complement construction" from the OP. In the OP, "to protect the leader at all cost" complements the meaning of the subject by specifying the action to be taken by the subject. So, why shouldn't this be called a subject complement?

    Not that name tags really matter, but still...
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Well, there is certainly some similarity, and I think as far as words go, we may even have the same structure. Consider four uses of an infinitive clause as complement:

    (1) They must protect the leader.
    (2) They are to protect the leader.
    (3) They intend to protect the leader.
    (4) Their intention is to protect the leader.

    I think all three of (2)–(4) contain a to-infinitive that is complement of its main verb, and (2) and (4) contain the same main verb be. That is, I don't regard 'be to' as a two-word modal verb in (2), distinct from the ordinary verb be in (4), and taking a bare infinitive. However, it has entirely different semantics. I don't know if that corresponds to some subtle syntactic difference I'm missing.

    In (2) 'are' is a modal verb, in the semantic sense that it changes the modality from fact to duty: we don't know they are protecting, only that they should. In (4) 'is' is the equative copula: A = B and therefore B = A; to protect the leader is their intention. Okay, I think I now see how CGEL (the Cambridge Grammar) would distinguish them. The to-infinitive of (2) is a catenative complement of the modal verb 'are': a verb phrase is chained to a previous verb, as also in (1) and (3). But in (4) we have a predicative complement of 'is': as also (not equatively) when the wall is blue, the car is a Ford. In the latter case the complement is predicated of the subject, not the verb.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Thanks, ETB, for the analysis. As always.

    I've got a question for you regarding this:
    ...
    In (2) 'are' is a modal verb, in the semantic sense that it changes the modality from fact to duty: we don't know they are protecting, only that they should.
    ...
    In (2), do you really think it's "are" itself that provides the modal sense? I wonder why not think of "to", not "are", as the one that provides the modal sense.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    That's possible. You could get a similar modal sense where the use of be is an ordinary factual one, like these:

    They are instructed to protect the leader.
    They are under instructions to protect the leader.
     

    VicNicSor

    Senior Member
    Russian
    It's just a modal verb, "to be to (do something)". The "to" itself doesn't "provide the modal sense", since you can say "Their intention is to protect the leader." without any modality. It's the same as "to have to (do something)". "Have to" in "All I have to do is go to bed" is not the modal verb; in "I have to go to bed", it is.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    The key difference between modal 'be to' and modal 'have to' is that 'have to' is usually phonetically fused: you get /f/, /s/, and /t/ in 'have to', 'has to', and 'had to'. So this has been reanalysed into some kind of single-word verb with a new declension (as have 'used to' and 'supposed to'). But there are no phonetic arguments for suggesting 'be to' is a compound verb. It's 'be' + 'to' with a special meaning for the combination.
     

    Englishmypassion

    Senior Member
    India - Hindi
    The key difference between modal 'be to' and modal 'have to' is that 'have to' is usually phonetically fused: you get /f/, /s/, and /t/ in 'have to', 'has to', and 'had to'. So this has been reanalysed into some kind of single-word verb with a new declension (as have 'used to' and 'supposed to').
    I think "ought to" as well.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    There are other phonetic reductions in colloquial, unstressed positions, but they aren't used when the combination is under stress. Modal 'have to', however, continues to have its special [f] and other phonetic changes:

    A: Are you gonna do it? B: Yes, I'm going to. [two distinct words]
    A: You oughta do it. B: I know I ought to. [two distinct words]
    A: You hafta do it. B: I don't have to. [ft]

    Oddly, modal 'are to' doesn't like being under stress like this, or even stranded at the end:

    They're not aware yet that they're to protect the leader, but they are to. :thumbsdown:

    In any case, there's still no phonetic reason to treat modal 'are to' as in any way fused.
     

    VicNicSor

    Senior Member
    Russian
    I can't think right now of "have + a "to infinitive" being not the modal verb.
    I want all I have to belong to you:D
    In any case, there's still no phonetic reason to treat modal 'are to' as in any way fused.
    But there is a grammatical reason, isn't it...
    Audrey and Jimmy (are to) (be married) in June.
    In sentences like this and the OP we must consider "be to" as one compound verb adding a modal sense to the following verb, right?
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    That's what I'm saying: I see no reason to. 'To be married' is a phrase that contains the connotation "scheduled to". A pile of papers might be marked 'to be filed': they are to be filed, and they are the papers to be filed. 'To be filed' can be used on its own as a label, and as a post-modifier of a noun, as well as directly after be, so it contains the modal meaning. (I question whether 'are to be married' has the same modal meaning: no-one is saying they ought to be, or should be, or must. But I'm not sure if this is an important difference. 'To be filed' is intermediate; the connotation is "need to be".)
     

    VicNicSor

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Yes, in "Audrey and Jimmy are to be married in June" it's not modal, it's about arrangements. And it's a bit different from the OP when it's really modal and means 'must'.
    As well as it means 'must' (doesn't it?) in "The papers are to be filed." And when you say "The pile is the papers to be filed.", you use "to be filed" as a post-modifier. But the verb "to be to", in dictionaries and grammar sources, goes as one structure having several meanings.
    In the sentence "Their intention is to protect the leader.", "be" and "to" don't have any special meaning when used together...
     
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