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?

Gratefully,
Navi

Original Post

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?"

Thank you very much, David,

How about:

A) They have a servant to clean the house, another one to do their shopping and yet another one to do all there is to be done in the kitchen.

B) They have a servant for cleaning the house, another one for doing their shopping and yet another one for doing all there is to be done in the kitchen.

 

Do either of the above work?

(You know I can't stop asking questions about the infinitive and the 'for gerund' constructions!!)

Gratefully,

Navi

 

navi posted:

Do either of the above work?

Hello again, Navi,

I can't say that I like either of those sentences. Instead of (B), I recommend:

A1) They have one servant who cleans the house, another one who does their shopping, and yet another one who does all there is to be done in the kitchen.

A2) They have one servant clean the house, another one do their shopping, and yet another one do all there is to be done in the kitchen.

Instead of (B), I recommend:

B1) The have a house-cleaning servant, a grocery-shopping servant, and an all-star kitchen servant.

Even if we accept (A) and (B), they don't prove that (1) or (2) carry hidden implications about other servants or other job descriptions. Just because someone has a servant S1 to do chore C1 doesn't mean he has another servant S2 to do chore C2 or that S1 does or does not do C2 in addition to C1.

Thank you so very much, David,

Yes, I agree with you. Having a cook does not mean one also has a chauffeur! But I wasn't even going for that interpretation. I find your analysis of my '1' very astute. But the 'restriction' you discovered in this construct (the sentences marked with *?) is a true gem! I hadn't thought of that at all. It looks like a real discovery to me. I wanted to mention that in my last post in this thread, and I hope this will be my last post in this thread, but I suspect that in a while I will be back with another infinitive question. There is no end to 'infinitive questions'!!

Respectfully,

Navi

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