Reply to "infinitive/gerund"

Hello, Navi,

A plausible answer to each question is: "They pay the servant by the hour."

navi posted:

1) Why do they complain about cleaning the house taking too long? They have a servant to clean the house!
2) Why do they complain about cleaning the house taking too long? They have a servant for cleaning the house!

Can we tell if they have only one servant or more?
If they have one servant, is cleaning the house the only thing that servant does?
If they have more than one servant, does the same servant clean the house every time?

I don't think the sentence "They have a servant to clean the house" indicates whether they have one servant or more than one or whether the set of things that the servant does includes more than cleaning the house.

The sentence "They have a servant to clean the house" is like "They have someone to clean the house (for them)" / "They have someone who cleans the house (for them)." "Someone" is simply specified to be a servant.

Thus, I don't see "They have a servant to clean the house" as specifying what type of servant they have or as specifying the job duty of a certain servant that they have. In short, I don't see "to clean the house" as restrictive. Compare:

  • He has someone to proofread his paper.
  • He has a tutor to proofread his paper.
  • He has an editor to proofread his paper.

Interestingly, when "someone" is replaced by another noun phrase, the nouns that are possible in that construction do seem somewhat restricted by the semantics of the infinitival. The following seem extremely questionable:

*? He has a sister to proofread his paper.
*? They have a priest to clean the house.
*? She has a boyfriend to fix her car.

As for "They have a servant for cleaning the house," I don't think that sentence goes well with the first at all. I see that sentence as answering the question "What do they have a servant for?" (i.e., "Why do they have a servant?").

Lastly, I find the first sentence of each specimen awkward. I recommend changing it to either "Why do they complain about its taking too long to clean the house?" or "Why do they complain about how long it takes to clean the house?"

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