Usage of the last / the first to V

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I have learned that there is no meaning of the future in "the first one / the last one to V" as in

 

He was the first person to cross the continent.

 = He was the first person who crossed the continent.

 

However, today I learned that there is also a meaning of the future in "the last one to V" as in


He is the last one to give up.

 = He is the last one who will give up.

 

He is the last man to succeed in the attempt.

 =He is the last man who will succeed in the attempt.


And then the last / first to V also have the meaning of the future?

 

Thank you so much and I hope to make my point clear to you.

edited Feb 05 '13 at 16:29 Hans Contributor

3 answers


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There is no sense of past, present or future in a to + infinitive verb.  The fancy, linguistic way of saying this is that to + infinitive is not inflected for tense.

 

So you have to pay attention to the main verb(s) in a sentence to decide whether the statement is talking about the past or future.

 

I was the first person to suggest the idea = past meaning

I will be the last employee to sign the contract = future meaning

 

This particular construction is unusual for a basic simple present meaning, and the only context in which it could make sense would be a statement describing habitual or routine events. She is always the last to give up; He is sometimes the first to go home. Otherwise, this construction is used for past or future. 

 

He was the first person to cross the continent is about the past because of the past form of beHe was the first person who crossed the continent has the same meaning, but the change from to + infinitive to a past-tense relative clause is unnecessary and does not add anything extra. 

 

Sanjay's suggested sentence, using the perfect infinitive to have crossed, is also correct; but, again, changing  to + infinitive to a perfect infinitive does not add any extra shade of meaning with be in the past tense.  [However, the perfect infinitive is often used in a sentence like this with be in the present tense to make the past event sound more important now.  He is the first person to have crossed the continent.  It does not sound correct, however, to use this type of construction when talking about a historical event accomplished by someone who is no longer alive, as is presumably the case in this example.]

 

He is the last one to give up does not make sense to me without an adverb of frequency as in the examples above.  It does not mean He is the last one who will give up.  He will be the last one to give up is the the sentence you need for a future meaning.

 

I hope this helps.

link answered Feb 06 '13 at 02:21 Shawn Mooney Expert

Thank you so much as usual and then "She is always the last to give up; He is sometimes the first to go home." are for the future or the past or either one is fine, depending on context?

HansFeb 06 '13 at 07:50

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I think the sentence must read like this:

He was the first person to have crossed the continent.

He is the last one to have given up.

link comment answered Feb 05 '13 at 16:45 sanjay Expert
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HsKyH7,

 

Please tell me your name again.  I lost it in a previous answer.

 

I will answer the follow-up question posted above, as well as your excellent supplementary question on the same page where you posted your supplementary question: http://www.grammarly.com/answers/questions/11991-you-are-the-first-to-see-my-house/

 

Shawn

link comment answered Feb 06 '13 at 15:05 Shawn Mooney Expert

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