2

I am working on a fantasy language and am perplexed by the true meaning of the word "to" in English, at least when it appears before a verb, as in these sentences.

I want to go somewhere.
I want to go to eat
I want to go play
I want to go skating

I'm not sure if you can "stack" more than two verbs together ("to go to eat", or "to go play"). If you can, it would be cool to see examples. But then the main question is, how do you write these sorts of sentences in a language without "to" (essentially stacking verbs). Do you just leave out "to" altogether, and just put the verbs one after another, or are there some particles involved, etc.? What if you can stack 3+ verbs in a sequence, how does that work in languages without "to"?

Actually thinking more on it, it appears I am stacking 3 verbs (want + go + eat), and you could make it 4 with "would" (I would want to go eat). But can it get any larger? (Tangent question, main question is how to do it for arbitrarily long verb chains in a custom or natural language).

1
  • "I want to go to eat tonight" is a perfectly valid construction, and works exactly the same in, for instance, French. "Je veux aller manger se soir." Dec 25, 2021 at 18:41

2 Answers 2

3

Most (?) of natlangs do it differently, not by using this "infinitive prepositions". To have some real life examples:

  • if there is an (morphologically marked) infinitive, it is often used in this case: Slovak "Chcem ísť niekam" (want-1P go-INF somewhere) and "stacking" works as expected: "Chcem ísť jesť" (want-1P go-INF eat-INF). English is in fact also in this class (but the infinitive is marked with a "preposition").
  • if there is no infinitive, you can kind of assume the second verb to be a subordinate clause and use whatever you do for subordinate clauses: Bulgarian "искам да ям" (want-1P that-CONJ eat-1P).

As for the "would", that word is kind of overloaded in English, but in this case "I would go to eat" it is a conditional and that one is usually expressed differently (note there is no "to" following), either by a dedicated verbal inflection (if your language has them), e.g. Italian "andrei a mangiare" (go-1P-COND to eat-INF), where the "a" is a preposition required by the verb "andare", or a separate conditional particle. Slavic languages often do both, e.g. again Slovak "Išiel by jesť" (go-3P-COND would-COND eat-INF) where the "go" is conjugated as if in the past tense (common form for the conditionals) and the "by" is an uninflected conditional particle (I switched to the 3rd person, because 1st person requires an auxiliary verb and that would unnecessarily complicate the sentence).

3

The to in English marks an infinitive, which is often used as a verb complement:

I plan to eat a burger.

Another way of expressing the same relationship (that your intention is to eat someting) would be

I plan eating a burger.

(That sounds a bit odd to me, though, as plan would probably be used more often with a to-infinitive rather than an ing-clause). This almost sounds to me like me planning while I am eating.

If your intention is not just to eat, but to go somewhere to eat, you say

I plan to go (out) to eat a burger.

You can add some modality, and say

I would plan to go to eat a burger (if I had the time to do the planning).

Basically you're adding more features to your verb group.

The question now is, what do you want to express, and then you need to think about how to do that. You seem to be coming from the other direction, trying to replicate the form/structure and not the function of English verb constructions.

I would think of what you want to say:

  • semantic content: this is done by choosing a particular verb (eat, go, plan)
  • pragmatics: be judgemental/evaluative (talk/chat/gossip/converse/...)
  • modality: how likely is it? Do I have to do it? Am I abble to do it? In English you use modal verbs for that (can, would, should, must)
  • tense: when does it happen? Past, future, present? This is done by modals (will) or morphology (planned, ate, went)
  • link with subject/object: for redundancy, do you want to have shared features between the subject or object and the verb? I eat, but she eats. You could be inventive and have the verb agree with the object (*I eat a burger, *I eats two burgers)
  • ...

You don't need to express any of this (apart from the semantic aspect) through the verb. You could have separate words that signal any of these, or use word order: if the verb is before the noun, then it means you disapprove of what happened, if it is after, you're fine with it (that would be an odd example, but hey, it's your language and you can do what you want to).

Or you could have affixes that you attach to the words (which is like regular past tense markers in English).

Some verbs (and nouns) take complements, eg anything related to planning/thinking. Or other verbs that relate to actions: I'm waiting to start, or I'm waiting for Godot to arrive. So for longer verb groups you're probably looking at having such verbs at the beginning.

So the length of verb groups really depends on what you want to put into it.

2
  • 1
    Was it really necessary to point out that it is anglo-centric, that's kind of a rude thing to say. Obviously I have a bias, I live in California!
    – Lance
    Dec 10, 2021 at 1:05
  • 2
    @LancePollard It was not meant to be rude, I was just pointing out that this is something that occurs in English, but not necessarily in other languages. I apologise if you felt it was offending you. Dec 10, 2021 at 9:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.