*Mary to be accepted at Boston College would be great.
For Mary to be accepted at Boston College would be great

  • 1
    Is this just a homework question?
    – Draconis
    May 1, 2018 at 4:10
  • Yes it is for homework
    – sliz1019
    May 1, 2018 at 4:13
  • 4
    This could be an on-topic question, but it would need more context. What syntactic theory are you using, for one? What work have you done on it so far? Just plain homework questions on here are likely to get closed.
    – Draconis
    May 1, 2018 at 4:32
  • I see no contrast -- they're both grammatical.
    – Greg Lee
    May 21, 2018 at 20:51

1 Answer 1


Because in English, to-infinitivals with an overt subject always require a subordinator for. See Huddleston (2002, pp. 1178-1181). Here is another example but in complement position:

a) It would be strange for you to stop talking.

b) *It would be strange you to stop talking.

Huddleston, R. (2002). 'Non-finite and verbless clauses.' From Huddleston, R. & Pullum, G. K. et al., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Edit: For the historical origin of the construction, please see my answer to this question.

  • 1
    Yes... but why?
    – fdb
    May 1, 2018 at 11:56
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    Well, you don't generally find an answer to "why?" questions with syntax. In this case, when an infinitive complement clause appears as the subject of a sentence, and it's a full infinitive clause, with its own subject, as here, the infinitive complementizer for...to is required in full -- i.e, the for, which marks the infinitive subject, (to marks the verb phrase) is required -- because otherwise the addressee is likely to interpret the subject of the infinitive, instead of the infinitive complement itself, as the subject of the whole clause, It's preventive.
    – jlawler
    May 1, 2018 at 16:26
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    @jlawler. Are we talking about English, or some "universal" language laws? Off hand, I cannot think of a similar construction in any other language. Presumably this usage has a history?
    – fdb
    May 1, 2018 at 20:57
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    why questions in linguistics are the most important and imho most interesting. If a language theory cannot or does not purport to explain observable data (i.e. address why questions), then it ceases to be a real scientific enterprise and turns into a pastime for "admirers of languages".
    – Alex B.
    May 2, 2018 at 2:41
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    @Araucaria tbh I was hesitant to change it because I wasn't sure if I should just correct the error or follow your original comment and revert it to the older version. May 21, 2018 at 17:59

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