‘To’ be­fore a verb

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - INSIGHT - Co-or­di­nated by JANE F. RAGAVAN english@thes­tar.com.my

IT IS a gram­mat­i­cal rule that a verb pre­ceded by “ to” should be fol­lowed by the base word of the verb. I have come across verbs pre­ceded by “ to” that use other forms of the base word, for ex­am­ple: “Ply­ing var­i­ous trades refers to work­ing in dif­fer­ent oc­cu­pa­tions.”

Is it cor­rect to say that “ to” can be fol­lowed by a par­tici­ple or per­fect tense? How do I ex­plain this to stu­dents of English lan­guage? –Ra­jah

“To” has more than one func­tion. It is com­monly used as a prepo­si­tion, when it comes be­fore a noun, noun phrase, pro­noun, or gerund (i.e. –ing form of a verb act­ing as a noun). It can also be used af­ter a verb to form a phrasalverb.

In the sen­tence you have given as an ex­am­ple, i.e. “Ply­ing var­i­ous trades refers towork­ing in dif­fer­ent oc­cu­pa­tions.”, “to” is part of the phrasal verb “ refer­sto” and “ work­ing” is a gerund.

The online Ox­ford Ad­vanced Learner’s Dic­tio­nary, in def­i­ni­tion #12 of “ to” as a prepo­si­tion, gives the fol­low­ing sen­tence as one of its ex­am­ples: “I pre­fer walk­ing to climb­ing.”

Here, we see an ex­am­ple of the use of a gerund af­ter “to” (i.e. “climb­ing”) as well as one af­ter a non-phrasal verb (i.e.” walk­ing” af­ter “pre­fer”).


The gram­mat­i­cal rule you men­tioned, when “to” should be used be­fore the base form of a verb, refers to “ to” as an in­fini­tive­marker and not a prepo­si­tion. You can find de­tails of this func­tion of “to”, with ex­am­ples, in the same dic­tio­nary at:


Us­ing ‘other­wise’

I HAVE a ques­tion about the mean­ing of “other­wise” in the con­text of this sen­tence: “A pathogen in­fects other­wise healthy hosts.”

Does it mean it in­fects healthy peo­ple or it in­fects im­muno­com­pro­mised peo­ple? –Lee

The sen­tence means that it in­fects healthy peo­ple. “Other­wise” there means “in other re­spects”. ( Con­cise Ox­ford English Dic­tio­nary). The hosts re­ferred to are in other re­spects healthy ex­cept for the pathogen in­fec­tion.

The fol­low­ing sen­tence from a med­i­cal web­site makes a dis­tinc­tion be­tween “other­wise healthy peo­ple” and “im­muno­com­pro­mised peo­ple”:

“Vi­ral pneu­mo­nia in adults can be clas­si­fied into two clin­i­cal groups: so-called atyp­i­cal pneu­mo­nia in other­wise healthy­hosts and vi­ral pneu­mo­nia in im­muno­com­pro­mised­hosts.”

med­scape.com/med­line/ ab­stract/12376607

Smiled and smil­ing

I HAD gone round ask­ing a few teach­ers about this sen­tence, which was trans­lated from Malay: Ali is smil­ing at her mother the minute he reached the air­port.

( Ali tersenyum pada ibu atau tersenyum kepada ibu atau senyum pada ibu atau senyum kepada ibu.) –AhMoiChong

First of all, let me make your orig­i­nal sen­tence gram­mat­i­cal and clear. It should read: “Ali smiled at his mother the minute he reached the air­port.”

“Reached” is a sim­ple past tense verb, so “is smil­ing” shouldn’t be used. An­other past tense verb should be used there, not a past con­tin­u­ous tense, be­cause Ali’s smile be­gan at a pre­cise time: “ theminute he reached the air­port.” So, it should be “ smiled” and not “was smil­ing”.

Also, I as­sume that the “mother” con­cerned is Ali’s and since Ali is male, it should be “ his mother”. I don’t know the con­text of your sen­tence, but if she is not Ali’s mother, but the mother of a girl or a wo­man, what you have writ­ten is cor­rect.

Now for the trans­la­tion. It should read: “Ali senyum pada ibunya se­baik sa­haja ia sam­pai di la­pan­gan ter­bang.” If you want to be more ex­pres­sive, you could write: “Ali mem­beri senyu­man kepada ibunya se­baik sa­haja ia sam­pai di la­pan­gan ter­bang.”

Swan for stu­dents

WITH ref­er­ence to your an­swer to the ques­tion ti­tled Is or are on Oct 6, may I know which is the lat­est edi­tion of Michael Swan’s Prac­ti­cal English Us­age? What it the full ti­tle of the book? Where can I get it please?

What is avail­able in Malaysia is: Michael Swan, Prac­ti­cal English Us­age, 3rd Edi­tion, New In­ter­na­tional Stu­dent’s Edi­tion, 2005.

This is ac­tu­ally not much dif­fer­ent from Michael Swan, Prac­ti­cal English Us­age, 3rd edi­tion, 2005 (the reg­u­lar edi­tion).

The two edi­tions may look dif­fer­ent, be­cause their cov­ers are in dif­fer­ent colours. Also, the pa­per qual­ity is bet­ter in the reg­u­lar edi­tion, and its main en­tries are in a red­dish orange colour.

The main dif­fer­ence, how­ever, is a dif­fer­ence in con­tent in sec­tion 575. The in­ter­na­tional stu­dent’s edi­tion is five pages shorter, be­cause in Sec­tion 575 of the reg­u­lar edi­tion, “Taboo and Swear Words” has been re­moved. This sec­tion is five­and-a-half pages long. In its place in 575, we get a sec­tion called “take”, which only oc­cu­pies half a page. These changes ac­count for the five-page dif­fer­ence in the two edi­tions.

I would rec­om­mend buy­ing the stu­dent’s edi­tion, be­cause it is far cheaper than the reg­u­lar one. The cheap­est price for the reg­u­lar edi­tion I have seen on the In­ter­net is £21.20 (RM106, of­fered by Ama­zon.co.uk), about dou­ble what we would pay here for an in­ter­na­tional stu­dent’s edi­tion. And that doesn’t take into ac­count the price of pack­ag­ing and postage.

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