interesting to read [role of to-infinitive?]

Discussion in 'English Only' started by JungKim, Dec 13, 2012.

  1. JungKim Senior Member

    (1) The book is interesting to read.
    (2) Do you have something interesting to read?

    In (1), "to read" modifies "interesting".
    In (2), which does "to read" modify? "something" or "interesting"? Or does it not matter which?
  2. boozer Senior Member

    Looks to me that in (2) both 'interesting' and 'to read' modify 'somrthing' because 'something' can happily exist without either or both - I mean, grammatically.
  3. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    It feels more like it's modifying 'something', that is the sentence is more likely equivalent to (2a) than to (2b):

    (2a) Do you have something interesting that you could read?
    (2b) Do you have something that is interesting to read?

    But offhand I can't think of any syntactic or phonological test for this, or any variation that could show any real difference in meaning.
  4. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    English - British
    In sentence (1) 'interesting to read' means 'interesting as reading matter'. 'To read' defines the scope of 'interesting'.

    Sentence (2) would most probably mean 'Do you have {something interesting} to read?
    In other words: 'Do you have some interesting item available for reading?'
    ''To read' states a purpose and defines the scope of the enquiry as a whole.

    Sentence (2) could equally well come from someone who wanted something to read, or from someone able to offer reading matter to the other person.
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2012
  5. Garbuz Senior Member

    'Interesting to read' should be regarded as one unit (syntactically an attribute) modifying the object 'something'. If we further split 'interesting to read', 'interesting' would be the kernel word and 'to read' the adjunct.
  6. JungKim Senior Member

    So you don't think that "to read" in (2) modifies "something"?

    You don't seem to accept (2a) or (2b) in etb's response. Am I reading your post right??
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2012
  7. JungKim Senior Member

    In (2a) "interesting" is not directly related to "reading". If so, then in what sense could "something" be "interesting" unrelated to "reading"??
  8. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    I think wandle and I are in agreement, to answer your two comments, in seeing the structure as '[something [interesting] [to read]]' rather than '[something [interesting [to read]]]'. It's something interesting, and it's something to read, and the two modifiers are nested. The relative clause paraphrase makes the nesting explicit. (An adjective and a verb phrase, even if at the same level, have to be in that order with respect to each other: :cross:something to read interesting.)
  9. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    English - British
    Given the sense in which I have understood (2), 'to read' is expressing a purpose which defines the meaning of the sentence as a whole. In other words, it modifies the verbal idea 'do you have?'

    As I read it, 'something interesting' could be replaced by a comparable expression such as 'a good book':
    'Do you have a good book to read?'
    We can take it further: 'Do you have anything on exploration to read?'

    In each case, 'to read' is an overall purpose.
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2012
  10. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    Actually, yes, the purpose clause can be either in the noun phrase (NP) or an adjunct in the main clause. Given this, it may be separable, so we can easily make syntactic tests for the two structures:

    Something interesting to read would be nice. (in NP)
    Something interesting would be nice to read. (adjunct or in adjective phrase)
    :cross:To read, I'm looking for something interesting.

    That last contrast with genuinely independent purpose adjuncts:

    To keep up my spirits / to fill in time, I'm looking for something interesting.

    But it may be the shortness of 'to read' that stops it being acceptable in front. Are there any two-word infinitive purpose adjuncts that can go in the front? Formulae like 'to sum up' or 'to resume' don't fit the bill.
  11. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    I was thinking about the groupings of "interesting" and "to read."

    In the shop where there are many interesting things (candelabras made from whale skeletons, Lincoln's cribbage set), but no books obviously on display: "Do you have [something interesting] [to read]?" Here "to read" looks like it's modifying a baseline "something interesting."

    In the bookstore where every item appears to be a word-search book or a Dan Brown novel: "Do you have [something] [interesting] [to read]?" Here "interesting" looks like it's modifying a baseline "something to read."

    So my sense is that the use of the sentence affects its underlying semantic and even grammatical structure, even though there might not be any visible changes.
  12. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    English - British
    Take a similar question: 'Do you have anything to eat?' (as asked by a hungry person).

    Here, in my view, 'to eat' does not define a particular type of thing that the person is asking about.
    The question does not really mean 'Do you possess anything edible?'

    The real meaning, as I see it, is 'Could you give me something with a view to eating?'
    In other words, 'I want to eat. Could you help me in my purpose?'

    Likewise, 'Do you have something interesting to read?' does not usually mean 'Do you possess some interesting reading matter?' but 'Could you give me (or: May I offer you) some interesting item with a view to reading?'
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2012
  13. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    Two different things here.

    1. Yes, in English we are occasionally polite; we prefer not to say "I want..." and instead ask "Do you have... ?" I agree that in this case the sentence could be paraphrased as you've done, but that does involve making a decision about the meaning of the underlying phrase - which we can do in this context.

    2. I was just trying to look at phrases like [noun] [modifier] [infinitive]. It seems to me that sometimes the accent is on the modifier and sometimes on the infinitive:

    I'm just looking for a nice place to settle down. (accent on the verb)
    Did you see his mansion? That's a ridiculously nice place to live! (accent on the modifier)

    "Something good to read" could mean "something good to read" or "something good to read," depending on how it's used.

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