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to be worn

Posted: Sun Nov 10, 2019 5:26 am
by navi
1) This is an expensive coat to wear on a hiking trip.
2) This is an expensive coat to be worn on a hiking trip.

Meaning: It is not wise to wear such an expensive coat on a hiking trip. You shouldn't wear it on a hiking trip. It is too expensive for that.

Are sentences '1' and '2' correct and do they correspond to the given meaning?

I suspect that '2' might mean: This is an expensive coat that should be worn on a hiking trip.

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3) This is an expensive tie, to wear at high-end gatherings.
4) This is an expensive tie, to be worn at high-end gatherings.

Are '3' and '4' correct?

If they are, do they imply that the tie should be worn only at high-end gatherings?

Gratefully,
Nav

Re: to be worn

Posted: Mon Nov 11, 2019 1:10 am
by Erik_Kowal
Have you checked the price of hiking gear lately?

Re: to be worn

Posted: Wed Nov 13, 2019 11:59 am
by Phil White
Erik_Kowal wrote:
Mon Nov 11, 2019 1:10 am
Have you checked the price of hiking gear lately?
You really are getting the hang of this humour thing, Erik. Well done! I liked that.

Navi, there are a couple of things going on here.

Firstly, your sentences 1 and 3 make use of an idiom, whereas sentences 2 and 4 do not.

The idiom (too) + ADJECTIVE + TO-INFINITIVE is strange in that the notional subject of the to-infinitive is entirely missing, and we might expect the passive to-infinitive, as you suggest in sentences 2 and 4. But the idiom is fixed and has its meaning. Whether or not the "too" appears in the idiom is really neither here nor there - it merely reinforces the meaning of the idiom. (You would have to adjust the syntax of your sentences to accommodate the "too" - "too expensive a coat to wear".) But the meaning is that the coat/tie is inappropriate for the occasion.

Because we are dealing with a fixed idiom, you cannot split the parts of the idiom with a comma. This makes sentence 3 nonsensical, however you try to interpret it. As well as being syntactically flawed, the sense is obscure: Of course one might wear an expensive tie to such a gathering.

As far as the commas are concerned, it goes back to the defining/non-defining issue. Generally, we use the terms "defining" and "non-defining" to refer to relative clauses, but they are equally applicable to any adjectival phrase. I have said before that I find the terms unnecessarily confusing. I find it far simpler to regard commas as indicating parenthetical information in cases like this:
  • The teacher said that the students who had finished their work could go.
    Not all the students had finished their work. Only those who had finished their work could go.
  • The teacher said that the students, who had finished their work, could go.
    This corresponds to "The teacher said that the students (who had finished their work) could go". In other words, the commas indicate parenthetical information.
In your sentence 2, which does not use the "too xxx to yyy" idiom, a comma would make the "to be worn on a hiking trip" parenthetical or non-defining: "This is an expensive coat (which is to be worn on a hiking trip)."

It is hard to find any sensible meaning for sentence 2 without the comma. I can imagine that some people may try to mix the idiomatic "too xxx to yyy" with a passive infinitive to try to make the syntax more acceptable, but I don't think this would be normal. And I can think of no scenario where a defining adjectival phrase makes sense.

By the same argument, sentence 3 makes no sense because the comma splits the idiom, and sentence 4 is a perfectly good parenthetical indicating that the tie is suitable to be worn at such a gathering.