"to-infinitive" is short for "in order to"?

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Ocham, Mar 6, 2013.

  1. Ocham Senior Member

    I have an etymological question. I’ve heard “to-infinitive” which means purpose is the shortened form of “in order to”. Is it true? I don’t think it’s true. On the contrary, I guess “in order to” is the form made by adding “in order” to “to-infinitive.” Am I right?
  2. boozer Senior Member

    On no authority whatsoever, I agree with you - they are probably not related. My guess is just as good as yours, though. :)
  3. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    That etymology is almost certainly wrong. Without even looking it up, I'm pretty certain that "to" comes from mediaeval Anglo-Saxon (compare the German "um etwas zu tun"), whereas "order" is derived from French and therefore will probably have come into English after 1066.
  4. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Moderator Note: Thread moved to EHL.
  5. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    The infinitive with to is what of the original dative-infinitive. In dative, Nouns often function as adverbs, in this case obviously a dativus finalis describing aim or purpose. Adverbial usage of the dative infinitive can already be found in Old English.


    I now had time to look for an OE example. This is from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles for the year 449:

    Anno 449. Her Martianus and Valentinus onfengon rice, and ricsodon seofon winter. And on hiera dagum Hengest and Horsa, fram Wyrtgeorne gelaþode, Bretta cyninge, gesohton Bretene on þæm stede þe is genemned Ypwines-fleot, ærest Brettum to fultume, ac hie eft on hie fuhton. Se cyning het hie feohtan ongean Peohtas; and hie swa dydon, and sige hæfdon swa hwær swa hie comon. Hie þa sendon to Angle, and heton him sendan maran fultum. Þa sendon hie him maran fultum. þa comon þa menn of þrim mægþum Germanie: of Ealdseaxum, of Englum, of Iotum.

    ... Hengest and Horsa ... came to Britain ... to help the Britons, ...

    This is not yet a perfect example as to fultume is a common noun and not an infinitive in dative case with to to express purpose but is shows that the basic logic (to+dative=adverbial of purpose) was there. I'll keep looking for better examples.
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2013
  6. Giorgio Spizzi Senior Member

    Keith is right. Moreover, English to, German zu, Dutch toe, etc. seem to come from Indo -European DO /do/, a direction operator which we still find in the Russian preposition and prefix "do" with the meaning "in the direction of", "before and as far as (a point in time)" and in Latin, in words such as "donec" and in Italian, in "quam+do —> quando", etc.

  7. Cenzontle

    Cenzontle Senior Member

    English, U.S.
    I wonder if some of you can answer this question about the "to" that means "in order to", the use with a verb that expresses a purpose:
    When it's not a verb, but rather a noun phrase that expresses the purpose, we often get "for":
    (1) Ï'm going to Louisiana for a vacation, for some relaxation, for a business meeting, etc.
    When the purpose is expressed by a verb, we get "to":
    (2) I'm going to Louisiana to see my true love.
    But in the traditional song "Oh Susannah", we get both:
    (3) I'm going to Louisiana, my true love for to see.
    Likewise in the traditional American Negro spiritual "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot":
    (4) ...comin' for to carry me home.
    I've always assumed that "for to" represented an older usage, and that our simple "to" was a way of avoiding the apparent sequence of two prepositions.
    Can anyone shed light on this?
  8. CapnPrep Senior Member

    It's the other way around. The preposition to has always been able to express purpose or intention on its own. But as it lost its prepositional identity before the infinitive and started to become a grammatical marker with no meaning at all in many contexts, speakers probably felt the need to reinforce the notion of purpose by adding for.

    The OED's examples for simple to go back to the late 9th century. The first attestation of for to is from the late 12th century. So it's a very old usage, but definitely not older than simple to.
  9. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    For + to-infinitive was a frequent combination in ME where one would simply use the to-infinitive today or for+gerund. To my knowledge, this didn't exist in Old English. Wiktionary compares it to Danish. It could be Old Norse influence. In ME many word forms and constructs borrowed from northern dialects (which were heavily influenced by ON stemming from to Danelaw times) gained ground in the literary language. Some survived and some didn't and were "pushed back" to dialectal use. This might well be one of them.

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