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1. He is eager to please.
2. He is easy to please.

The sentences are very similar, only one adjective has been changed. In both sentences he is the grammatical subject but in No. 2 he is actually the object of pleasing, he is not the person who does the pleasing.

So when you hear a couple of English words, there is no way of knowing what the speaker is going to say! Ambiguity like this is of course possible only since there are so few inflections in English. In my native language the first word makes it all clear.

There must be adjectives that make it impossible to know whether he is the real doer or just the grammatical subject - I just can't think of any at the moment. I wonder if anybody can help me find one?
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Hello CB

It's not quite what you're looking for; but here's a similar ambiguity:

1. Ronaldinho looks hopeful.

Which may mean either:

2. R. has an expression on his face that implies hope.

— R. feels the hope.

3. I have grounds for believing and hope that R. will be [fit].

— I feel the hope about R.

(Of course, "hopeful" doesn't mean "fit"; the adjective in square brackets is inferred from the context.)

MrP
Do you mean something like

The chicken is ready to eat.

?

CJ
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CalifJimDo you mean something like

The chicken is ready to eat.

?

CJ

Exactly. Very good, thank you. The chicken is ready to eat is also a good example of a sentence in which both an active and a passive infinitive can be used. Of course the ambiguity is gone if we say the chicken is ready to be eaten.

Cheers
CB
Samples:

"He is eager to please."

"He is easy to please."

"He is easy to understand."

"The chicken is ready to eat."

Unfortunately, it is not as simple as one may think.

"Eager" is an adjective, "eagerly" is an adverb.

"Easy" is an adjective, "easy" may be an adverb, "easily" is an adverb.

"Everything comes easy to her."

"I did it easily."

"He is easy to <transitive verb>" may hardly have any other meaning but "He is easily <transitive verb>ed"

"He is easy to please" = "He is easily pleased."

What makes confusion is, among else, the fact that certain adjective asks for certain preposition in order to define its complete meaning.

"He is easy with pleasing."

"He was easy on pleasing [us]."

However, if you use intransitive/transitive verb, say "cry",

"He is easy to cry."

You can't define precisely did you mean:

"He is easy to cry for."

or

"He easily starts crying."

Then, I guess you wouldn't use this construction at first place.

"please" means: give pleasure, like, be what somebody wants

"He is easy to please."

"He is easy to give pleasure."

To whom? but it works this way: "He is easy to pleasure."

"He is easy to like." "to like" what?

"He is easy to be what somebody wants." Well, I can' resist to complete this "He is easy to be what somebody wants him to be."

Step by step:

"He is easy to like." Obviously there is no object that "he" could like. In order to complete and get something meaningful out of this, the only way is to return back to "he" "He is easy to like." = "He is easy to like him." = "It is easy to like him."

Then why "He is easy to give pleasure." does not work the same way? Believe or not, because "give pleasure" already has an object - "pleasure", you just can't add or assume another one and that to be within a pleasant style of writing.

Further, "he is easy to be what somebody wants." is too long. There are too many words and you can't refer back to "he" after "... what somebody wants ". Thus you should add "him to be".

The form of "to <infinitive>" is regular with passive

[Collins Cobuild, English Usage, page 315 (ref. infinitives, warning)]

"I resent being made to feel guilty."

You may then ask yourself where is the passive here. It is hidden

"He is [been/made/born] easy to please." = "He is [been/made/born] to be pleased easily."

"He is [been/made/born] eager to please." = "He is [been/made/born] to please eagerly someone."

So, here is the key:

1. The verb should be transitive, or at least have among others the transitive meaning.

2. The expression after "to" should be as short as possible.

3. Find the adverb of the used adjective and try to use it.

4. Find the possible meaning of the adjective - what attributes it declares: general ability, shape, color, age... : "eager" says about the ability to perform, "easy", in this case, says about the inner attribute.

5.Try to change object and verb in order to examine its possible idiomatic usage, for example: "He is easy to please." -> "The book is easy to read", "A camel is easy to ride" (Contrary, "A camel is eager to ride" does not work, but "a camel is eager to run" does.). If it works then you should suspect your case.

6. Try to change the preposition "to" with another one.

7. Try to complete a passive form.

8. If it is the case of self-transitive expression, you should be able to form the meaningful expression. For example: "He is eagerly pleased." has a seriously different meaning from "He is eager to please [anyone/someone]."

9. You should examine the context as well.

If we apply the complete examination to "The chicken is ready to eat." we see that it may have two meanings:

"The chicken is ready for you[us/them/...] to eat."

"The chicken is ready to feed."

The answer lies in the context where you find this sentence.

So, the general answer to your question is that "it is easy to do" is an idiomatic usage. In other examples, try following the rules above.

I hope this helps,

Aleksandar
If you think in the sentence

He is easy to please

easy is an adverb, then you can use easily instead of it:

He is easily to please.

You won't find many traditional grammarians, of the Otto Jespersen school, who agree with you. I don't. I assume you consider difficult an adverb in this sentence:

He is difficult to please.

Your post is so long that I didn't bother to read all of it. We seem to disagree on some major points of grammar and I certainly won't try to learn anything from your English. My English, or Finglish, is unidiomatic enough as it is.Emotion: smile

Cheers
CB
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He is easily to please.

is altogether wrong, I agree.

The adjective-adverb relation, which I have mentioned first, is just one of the point one should consider in solving the puzzle you asked about - not the most important, not the least important.

I gave a correct usage of an adverb He is easily pleased.

I agree that my mail is long and tedious to read, but on the other hand nobody said your topic is easy. Sorry, easily solvable Emotion: surprise)

If other people find it useless as well, I ask a moderator to delete it (or I'll do it myself)

It is not my English or your English, I tried to collect from different sources a detail account on your question that solves this mystery you asked about as detail as I had time.

I apologize for being extensive,

Aleksandar
I never thought it was a puzzle. English is full of expressions where words don't mean what the dictionary says they do and the actual subject isn't necessarily the word that looks like the subject, and after most of the inflections disappeared in the Old English and Middle English period, peculiarities like the one I mentioned in my very first post arose. Since the early invaders (Angles, Saxons and Jutes) came from different areas on the continent, they didn't speak exactly the same language, and that combined with massive Viking and French influence has added to the colourfulness of the language. It has also contributed to the fact that today's Brits don't always understand each other very well. People spoke Old Norse in some remote Scottish villages up to c. 1700, so how could they have learnt to speak English in such a short time? Emotion: smile

Delicate differences in meaning persist to this day in different parts of the Anglo-Saxon world, and you need not travel very far to encounter them: 100 miles from Central England to Scotland is enough. The thing I like best is the fact that there is no Language Academy to unify the language. Everybody can assume the role of an expert, you and I just like those who know better.

Cheers
CB
Cool BreezeDelicate differences in meaning persist to this day in different parts of the Anglo-Saxon world, and you need not travel very far to encounter them: 100 miles from Central England to Scotland is enough. The thing I like best is the fact that there is no Language Academy to unify the language. Everybody can assume the role of an expert, you and I just like those who know better.

Ok, CB, I am not going to ramble about this any longer.

As you wish. I just don't understand why you are going so wide into history when your question was very specific, and I gave my answer based on my experience and research and research of others. I am not an expert, but it does not mean that I can't answer some questions of yours or anyone's.

Your starting question has very little with the history of English language, apart from the fact that it has an element of condensed writing. I may understand that I annoyed you with my alleged attitude of all-knowing-wizard. But, I can't help you about that - it is your personal opinion. I gave a strict analysis, and I guess you can tell the same for any analysis in this world, that a person who wrote it was peculiarly boring.

Your question is not simple, and it is not only you who asked it and is interested in answering. Trust me on that. Thus, the things like this are needed. I wish millions of time to have instructions like this for specific questions - they are extremely rare.

Nevertheless, your opinion is valid. It is strange that we need so precise a tool to define a language nuisance which we use every day. But, we do.

Or what exactly you wanted us to do: read your question; say, yes, you are right, it is strange; English is strange and it looks sometimes insufficient; and ... nothing. If this is what you wanted I deeply apologize and I regret writing anything and spending my time in this forum. However, if you want to believe me, your starting question is important one and I thought that others might add something, not go on arguing why I wrote anything.

Can you dispute anything I said? Please do, I want to know more as well.
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